In Under The Influence, The A.V. Club asks a musician to pair three of their songs with a non-musical influence.
On its second album, Not To Disappear, Daughter pushed itself outside the box, but people kept trying to put the band back in. On 2013’s If You Leave, the three-piece was consistently tagged as being a neo-folk act, despite there always being more to it than that simplistic description. Not To Disappear expands the band’s arsenal, focusing more on ambiance and electronics, which adds depth to the band’s songs. The A.V. Club sat down with Daughter—vocalist Elena Tonra, guitarist Igor Haefeli, and drummer Remi Aguilella—during the band’s most recent U.S. tour to talk through three songs, their off-kilter influences, and how they need to make a music video that pays homage to ’90s rap videos.
Elena Tonra: “New Ways,” the lyrics for that were influenced by something I saw written on a toilet cubicle. I don’t know if that’s good.
The A.V. Club: What did it say?
ET: I can’t remember where it was. I’d like to say it was in Sweden, or maybe it was Scandinavia, but I think it was Sweden. There was loads of graffiti everywhere, and there was one that was, “I need new ways to waste my time.” So I nicked it from that. I saw it and I loved it. As much as it makes sense for that context—people sitting, having a wee, and writing messages to each other—I was thinking in my brain that, in life, I need new ways to waste my time. So it stuck with me.
AVC: Did you immediately write it down?
ET: Yeah, I did it. It was a weird moment for me in there, having a lovely little wee. [Laughs.]
AVC: Did this come before you had the music down, or was this the last piece of the puzzle?
Igor Haefeli: We had musical ideas to start with on that one. It was an idea that I came up with. We had recorded an EP at Air Lyndhurst Hall studios in London with a classical ensemble, and I was messing around while we were setting up, kind of trying different loops, and I ended up doing something that I really liked. So I recorded that on the spot and saved it. When we started writing the record, I brought that, and I had this idea of having bassier notes on it. I mentioned that to Elena, and she kind of came up with the progression. Quite quickly it felt like something that was actually the first song that felt like something that could be part of the record. And you wrote a lot of the lyrics, if not all of them, kind of on the spot.
ET: I tend to keep all my lyric notes in one place, my phone especially. I always store things and then forget about them. So when it came to trying this, I thought I had a few ideas for that part. We had the guitar loop and had kind of built that, then I was like, “Alright. I think I’ve got some lyric ideas.” Then I found that, and then I remembered the toilet moment. Then everything sort of came out in one go. Even that song, the idea around that, we had these video ideas of psychopaths and these visual ideas. We kept calling it the “Driving Through L.A. Song,” because we had this image of top-down, hair-in-the-breeze kind of thing. It’s really weird how these little, random things went into this song.
I don’t know who wrote that on that toilet that time, but I am so happy they did. Do we have anything else toilet-related?
IH: I think “To Belong,” and this may go a bit deep, but I could relate it to our laminates back on the U.S. tour.
ET: What do you mean?
IH: That song’s kind of about a feeling that you had, can I go into that?
ET: You can. I’m just wondering how you’re going to get to the laminates, but go for it.
IH: It has to do with that feeling that you might have sometimes about being on stage and not feeling like you’re in the right place. Is that something we can talk about it?
ET: And the laminate is a symbol of touring? I can see that. Though that, touring alone, didn’t inspire that. But totally, that’s an element of it, isn’t it? It’s a weird thing where you should feel totally elated having a crowd of people clapping at you after playing, and it is beautiful, but some days you don’t feel anything, and it’s a really horrible feeling. That’s what the song is showing. That kind of horrible side of it, where it doesn’t do anything for you anymore. You don’t want to be the person everyone thinks you are.
IH: To me, it relates just because I remember particularly a night in Boston where we had conversations about that. We had a dayroom in a hotel, and we hung out there and had a chat. It was really high up and we had a good view in this popular neighborhood of Boston, and there were all these people around, and that image stayed in my mind. When we were working on “To Belong,” that was an image that stuck with it and stuck with me. It carried through in my visualizing of the sound of the track.
AVC: People have this idyllic view of being in a touring band, but the reality is that everyone has a day where they don’t want to go to work. This song seems to express both sides of that. Both the beauty of being in a touring band and the strange obligation that comes with it.
IH: Absolutely. I think it’s a weird relationship that you have with all these people as well. In a way, there’s that sort of community and that communal sharing of a feeling or an emotion that we’re trying to give them and that they’re here to feel and receive and share. It’s weird because, again, even with the whole idea of not necessarily wanting to go to work, it’s a dynamic that fluctuates throughout the day. And sometimes you’ll be surprised because you might not feel like you want to go on stage, then you’re on stage and suddenly you have an amazing time and everything’s changed. We’re lucky to have that unpredictability that keeps things interesting, even if it’s a bit of a roller coaster sometimes.
Remi Aguilella: It’s such a weird thing, because we kind of have to realize that we’re humans and that we’re going to have some bad days. But, at the same time, I’ll go to gigs and I’ll be like, “Oh, that’s weird. They’re having a bad day.” But you never think that you’re going to be OK with it. You almost forget about it. You’re like, “They didn’t play this song,” or it feels like they didn’t have too much energy. And it doesn’t really matter where you are; you should always be performing the best you can, because people, no matter where you are, got really excited to come and see you. That whole thing, it’s just bizarre.
AVC: You start with these pure intentions of wanting to create something, and then you end up having to do all the business stuff that comes along with it.
RA: I remember seeing an artist—I won’t name it—he…
IH: It’s a he!
RA: I’d been a fan for a long time, and then I saw him doing an acoustic session…
ET: Oh, it’s Mark Knopfler! I’m just kidding. [Laughs.]
RA: It was really strange, because it was for a corporate thing. On stage there was so much energy. And as soon as he came off stage he was a totally different person. He looked really, really sad and out of his element, and it was really depressing to watch. On stage, even though it was a corporate thing, people we’re really going for it and having a great time. Then you could kind of see his… I don’t know if it was his real personality, but I don’t know. It was weird.
ET: Some people have a shield. You wear a mask.
IH: It’s like they’re a stage character.
ET: There are a lot of comedians that just are not funny in real life. They’re actually complex, serious people that can get up on stage and be the most hilarious person in the world. It’s really interesting.
RA: It was a massive extreme. You hear stories of people doing that. But, to witness it, it was like, “Holy shit.” This was something different. There was something there.
RA: I recently read a comic book, and pretty much every night we’ve been playing it since, I’ve been picturing a music video to what the comic book was about. It’s so strange. And it’s not really the story of what happens in there, but the colors and all of that. It’s weird. I see almost like a weird, slow-motion thing of someone running through this kind of end-of-the-world-type thing. Every night I’ve had that weird déjà vu feeling. I don’t know if I’m just drawing from something I’ve seen in a movie. I don’t know what it is, but it keeps happening.
AVC: Do you notice that happening often, where something new sparks a new connection to an old song?
IH: For me I have the opposite, where a book has totally stuck with an album, so every time I hear the album I think of the book. I read the last Harry Potter and was listening to the third Interpol record, Our Love To Admire. And to me that’s totally connected to the book. Despite the fact that, lyrically speaking, it has nothing to do with the book.
ET: I’m just picturing Harry Potter with Paul Banks’ singing voice, which is great.
IH: It’s so funny, because music works in a way where it uses many, many different departments of your brain. We were talking about it the other day that music therapy works so well with people that have Alzheimer’s, because it’s the last thing to go. It’s one of those last things that stays connected, and it brings a lot of comfort.
AVC: Now that you’ve envisioned this potential music video, are you going to make it?
IH: Well, that’s an old song from our first record.
RA: I actually know the guy who drew it, so I’m not sure if that’s what did it.
ET: I feel like we have so many music-video ambitions that would be ridiculously out of budget.
AVC: Like a ’90s rap video where you’re all in a mansion and there’s a tiger or something?
IH: We’re 20 years too late for that.
ET: Yeah, but I guess we’ll have to try it.