Bukowski, Dislocation And Dancefloor Epiphanies: Essaie Pas Talk
From extracting and reciting seminal poetry by Charles Bukoswki on the desultory astral blues of their debut EP to conveying uncanny after dark delirium on the sequenced synthwave cycles of their latest material, Marie Davidson and Pierre Guerineau have etched out an interesting course as Essaie Pas, since opening their account with a self-titled cassette for Téméraire Records in 2011. Their name, meaning ‘don’t try’, comes from the epitaph engraved on Bukowski’s headstone, an anti-maxim which might be interpreted as nihilistic resignation, yet in this instance is used an inspiriting fuel and a reminder of letting creativity flow instinctually. ‘Nuit De Noce’, a release which collected many of their earlier efforts, acted as a compendium of their first steps. It demonstrated a duo beyond genre exercises and reverent gestures yet allied to dark fixations. ‘514 376-9230’, a promiscuous skulk of high and dry noir scuzz, retook Bukoswki as its cue, turning the profound cry of modern discontentment expressed in his famous poem ‘462-0614’ into an illicit street scene, as if soundtracked by Rowland S. Howard and Francoise Hardy.
Like the band’s name it's a song which came out of Marie’s profound appreciation for Bukowski, a writer she was first introduced to by Pierre: ‘Bukowski is my favourite writer, in phases of intense depression in my early twenties I would often turn to his stories or poems to find comfort to deal with everyday life. It’s actually Pierre who introduced me to Bukowski, I remember he gave me a copy of “Septuagenarian Stew” when I was 21, he said he thought I’d like it. As soon as I started to read, I knew Hank would become a great companion, his dark humour and his great storytelling are the best remedy to depressive states’. This inclination to openly share inspirations has fed into what Essaie Pas has become, as well as the roots of the project’s inception. Marie and Pierre initially met at La Brique in Montreal, five years before this first release. A converted warehouse space with a DIY disposition it incubated many of their first involvements in the experimental rock and noise scenes that were proliferating in the area at that time. Having both played in several projects together, improvising and sharing ideas in the process, they developed their own language and ‘built a great artistic connection’, a fertile creative interaction that became increasingly more significant, eventually ‘mutating into a love affair’. Theirs is a collaboration pervaded by both artistic commonality and intimacy, as Marie reveals:
‘Our creative process is never ending so we often take home some discussions we were having in the studio. We also joke a lot when we work as we would do when we walk down the streets or buy groceries. This is the luxury of sharing your life with your creative partner, there is no limitation of time and space on where you should be as husband and wife versus your role as artists. I think that’s how it should be.’
It’s an encouraging outlook to take, one that seems to draw on their shared enthusiasm rather than a professional pressure to succeed. Such an attitude finds past echoes in Pierre’s teenage endeavours and mildly hedonistic habits in subsequent years: ‘I was in a couple of psychedelic jamming bands as a teenager, playing electric guitar, keys and electronics. My first electronic device was the Electribe ES-1, I would compose dub infused tracks with organ delayed chords and horror movie samples, and basically just smoke a lot of weed and jam in my friend’s basement. After leaving my hometown I kinda stopped doing music for years, I wasn’t doing much at all to be honest, basically just getting drunk and high as often as I could. It’s really after moving in Montreal and meeting inspiring people and musicians that I started doing music again, it was a very mind opening time for me.’ In a climate of prematurely cooked hype littered with bands who hire PR firms before writing a decent tune, Essaie Pas are anomalous in the natural course they’ve taken. Frankly it’s nice to hear that the duo’s productions are more a result of serendipity, even – to consider Pierre’s recollections – lassitude and self-indulgence, instead of careerist impulses. Although it could be argued that every artist attempts to perpetuate the idea of something organic defining their character, judged by the convincing steadiness of the sonic transitions Marie and Pierre have made since their formation, there’s little room for falsity or exaggeration in the duo’s reflections. After earlier psych-contorted ventures Davidson and Guerineau have drawn nearer and nearer to analogue driven club music, albeit a style in which the theatrical stoicism and retro angularity of Minimal Wave is a significant inheritance. 2014’s split release with Police des moeurs and 2015’s outing on Teenage Menopause – a 7” release decorated with an ambitious piece of optical art – were especially indicative of this shift, something Marie attributes to going out to clubs, raves and after hour parties: ‘We both come from an experimental-rock background that also involved ambient and psychedelic music. I am a long time Disco fan but it’s around 2012 that I’ve discovered myself a true passion for Electronic music. Going to wild parties where DJs and live acts would play EBM along Italo Disco, Techno and Chicago House really opened my mind. It’s also around that time that I’ve started working with sequences, that was it! I drop the violin, the guitar (I was really bad at it anyways) and spent most of my time trying to figure out how machines work together. “Demain est une autre nuit” is the product of that, influences of our travels and the parties we went to. Pierre and I are curious people trying to always stay in evolution, we didn’t mind feeling like newcomers at the time, all these new elements were feeding into our creative process.’
But as with any contemporary artists liberated by openness to new sounds and new experiences and an attitude unconfined by genre based preoccupations, these revelations and inheritances run into other areas, beyond one fixed focus. The duo have detailed a fond admiration for Klaus Schulze and Giallo soundtracks, stylistic evocations which also find root in their music yet remain inseparably combined in a modern, highly defined translation. It’s precisely that prowess at alchemizing familiar elements into a novel and prismatic vividity that affirms a project based on a compulsion to take those influences in new directions rather than an uninspiring case of fawning homage. These are ideals Pierre is keen to emphasize as inherent in their thinking: ‘Essaie pas has never been a conceptual project. We’re both music lovers, we listen to a wide variety of music, so I guess that’s reflected in our work. Music is music you know, whatever tag you feel like putting on it. Especially now, 2016, internet era – hybridization times – genre segmentation seems a thing of the past. We always like to explore new ideas, new sounds, new instruments, it seems like life is too short for repetition. But hopefully though all those experimentations, something like our identity stands out, with all its contradictions.’ According to Pierre’s expansions on this theme, their process also speaks of an appealing guilelessness: ‘There’s no such thing as a regular procedure, but what happened a lot for this album is that we plugged in the machines, programming sequences of synthesizer and drum machines until we got something exciting. Then we record it on the computer and start building a basic structure of a track. I like to picture the recorded sounds as matter, that we then work with, edit, manipulate and process. Then we make overdubs with virtual or hardware instruments and eventually add vocals’.
The aforementioned album in question “Demain est une autre nuit” (“Tomorrow is another night”) was recorded over a period of fifteen months, between tours. As in previous material Davidson and Guerineau both share vocal duties, uttering laconic, occasionally imagistic lyricism with a typically Gallic air of detached allure. On latest effort “Le port du masque est de rigueur” (“Wearing a mask is required”) that air of detachment is markedly felt yet delivered with steely conviction. An urgent perilously paced fix of EBM tonnage and death disco that careens into seething acid and impellent krautrock, it’s undoubtedly their strongest material to date. It was an idea that had been in prior gestation, according to Pierre: ‘I had this idea for a while, of a frenetic and repetitive song about a man being obsessed with the ghost of an impossible relationship, becoming nuts as he wanders through the city in the frenzy of a weekend night. I already had some of the lyrics and the idea of a girl’s mantra but no music, and a year later, as I was playing a motorik beat with a TR-505 through a delay pedal, I found the perfect basis for it’. The song’s theme of unfettered obsession found a suitable visual mirror in Larissa Corriveau’s video: ‘For us the shooting was super-fast. In one afternoon she shot the close-up scenes with nothing more than a flashlight and polystyrene mannequin head. And coincidentally shot during Halloween, the live show takes place in an abandoned garage turned into Montreal's idiosyncratic underground venue 820PLAZA. The dancing scenes wearing masks, costumes and makeup give a strange new resonance to the lyrics. The outdoor night scenes come from Larissa's personal documentations.’
Despite a sense of peak form “Demain est une autre nuit” wasn’t without adversity. Pierre identifies the time of the album’s production as a period of transition – preceding their first European tour and living between places after having lost both their studio and apartment: ‘We were mostly living at night with what was kind of a feeling of disorientation, a feeling of being a stranger everywhere, even in your own town. Then we were lucky to be invited to share the Phenomena festival new offices outside of business hours. So we would go to this empty industrial space every night to do music and record.’ The character of such a space seems to permeate ‘Demain est une autre nuit’, it’s heavy, pregnant, post-industrial atmospherics and it’s pervasive, almost consuming air of melodramatic darkness. It’s as if their experience of such dislocation and difficulty has been more rigorously channelled, what Pierre classes as ‘moments of crisis’, experiences which ‘left a mark strong enough that I wanted to share it, as something cathartic and also because it might resonate with other people’s experiences’.
Luckily after these trials and tribulations the band were noticed by DFA after supporting Factory Floor on the Montreal leg of their North American tour. But even then their fortune seemed precarious, as Marie explains: ‘The show went not so well. Everything got delayed that night and by the time we were setting up on stage to sound check, the promoters (that had nothing to do with Factory Floor or the label) came to us and said that we would only get 2 minutes of line check, not more. We were both pretty nervous and insist that we need at least 10 minutes of sound check, we won but the promoters were pissed off and decided that they would make us suffer for that. They made us feel unwanted all night and even told our friends from Femminielli Noir (also playing the show) that they would make sure that no promoters in Montreal would ever book Essaie Pas again. Looking back, I find this story pretty amazing, Kris from DFA was at the show and liked our set, we stayed in touch afterwards and he encouraged us to send music to the label when we would have new material, of course we did. I don’t have the need to mention the name of the Montreal promoters but if they ever read this interview I send them my love. Ha!’
A sensationalist might claim that the fruition of ‘Demain est une autre nuit’ and it’s appearance on the DFA label is a small miracle, considering these circumstances. In a more level headed respect, it’s a significant coup for the duo after years of gradually and naturally finding their feet. Edified by Bukowski’s disillusioned exorcisms and invigorated by the excess and freedom of club culture, they’ve reached an impressive impasse after spells of misfortune, hindrances that might otherwise derail a less firm footed collaboration. Essaie Pas are a duo situated in the lineage of cultish European synth music but more than that, are the product of a love affair born out of genuine passion. A testament not so much to a simplistic reading of ‘don’t try’ as proof that never ruling anything out and remaining alive to consequence pays off.
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