This is the raw transcript of our interview with Elena Tonra about her Ex : Re project, the interview was meant to be published in french but we had this english version and so we thought it might be of interest for all the english fans, so here it is, the whole thing, uncut, with a lot of interesting stuff ! For instance did you know the ten years old Elena was a R’N’B fan ?
Music From Before The Storm
Le Cargo ! : Is it ok if we start with a few questions about Music From Before The Storm, to get things in the right order ?
Elena : Oh (a little surprised) no worries, It’s just… Do I remember that record ? (laughing)
Le Cargo ! : How did it happen exactly, Daughter making the soundtrack for a videogame ?
Elena : we were approached directly, to be involved I think the producer of the game [told us] “We feel that maybe Daughter would maybe be something Chloe would listen to, as a character”, it kinda felt the right fit so they approached us and we were actually not aware of the game, not of the first one. So we did our research, so… yeah it was really striking as a concept to have a real life reality-based game, obviously with a touch of the supernatural in the original. You have these decisions that influences yours interactions later on. It was very inspiring also to have a female central character and... yeah it was great ! So we were very excited and then we were thinking... about how we would do this, we’ve never made a soundtrack before, we don’t know to do. So we approached it i guess like we would [if we were] making a record. Obviously we had the scenes, the script and the themes and we were kinda of trying to think about things in a different way. Say “Okay how do you make a song sound like grief ?, how do you make a song like friendship ?” and yeah just trying to paint these pictures with the music. So... it was great !
Le Cargo ! : I’ve read you usually start with the lyrics, was it difficult to do “just” music, to express ideas just with [music] notes and sounds ?
Elena : yeah definitely it was more challenging. For me especially, it was more challenging just because I feel like my instinct is to write words rather than music. But actually it was a good test, for myself to tap in more into my musical brain and less my “writing one”. So it was definitely challenging but also really rewarding I think, to work and then learn from that and maybe also to bring that into the ex:re project. I maybe opened myself up a bit more to kinds of music, thinking about music and arrangements and production, slightly more that maybe I would have done in the previous Daughter albums.
Le Cargo ! : It’s funny you say that because I think Music From Before The Storm is more “raw”, a bit more of a rock’n’roll record, a bit more rough too, in Ex:Re there’s more electronica, it’s soft[er], the guitars are quite “quiet” for most of songs, so [they are quite different but] there’s something from the former that came into the last one ?
Elena : I think it’s just more in the method rather than the sound
Le Cargo ! : You’ve rented a recording space to work on Music From Before the Storm, the same place you used when you started writing for Ex:Re ?
Elena : yes... so we rented for Music From Before the Storm, a kind of writing room which was really great.
Le Cargo ! : Was it a studio, with some recording gear, musical instruments ?
Elena : It was within a complex of studios, so it was really well insulated and the sound was great. No instruments but It had an upright piano but that was it. We brought the rest of the stuff we brought in, our own recording gear and made it into a space to record . But actually having a piano there was another thing that really changed the way I was writing. Just having the instinct of playing on piano rather than playing on guitar and i think that is in both Before the Storm and Ex:Re, actually Ex:Re has a lot more piano than maybe I would have thought about using.
Le Cargo ! : Guitar is your first instrument, it’s the one you compose with usually ?
Elena : Usually yeah
Le Cargo ! : This time [on Ex:Re] some songs are guitar-driven, but also some songs with piano ; some songs were the drums are very “strong”
Elena : Yeah, drums are super important to the record I think.
Le Cargo ! : To finish with Music From Before The Storm, I think it was a great record but I think lot of people didn’t treat it the same as your others records, as a full Daughter LP as it was a soundtrack, [for a videogame]. Which is the shame because there’s some of your greatest songs on it.
Elena : oh.. thank you !
Le Cargo ! : You didn’t think about touring, doing a little more promotion for it ?
Elena : Well… yeah it’s interesting… I guess we weren’t really touring at that time, I think Daughter has stopped for a kind of break after this record was released. I guess also it’s quite a big sounding soundtrack at times. It feels like that it would require a lot of people on stage to really translate it [well] without using lots of backing tracks and we would love to do things always live. I mean ...I definitely wouldn’t rule it out, one day having a special show to play this songs live, I think it would take quite a lot of preparation, a lot of thinking about, like how do we arrange this, how do we translate this. cause I guess the freedom of doing something you think will only be on a record, it’s like “ok we’re gonna put five layers of this or do this etc.”.... it’s endless.
Le Cargo ! :So there won’t be any songs from this record in the future Daughter show ?
Elena : well (with mischief in her voice)... I can’t say never because there are some songs I really like and i’d really love to play [live]. So if there’s a way to do a version of the songs… It might not sound exactly as the record but I’d love to do like “Dreams of William” or something where it’s like.. this kinda big, I’d love to do that. So… hopefully…(laughing) one day... we’ll just need to practice. (laughing)
The genesis of the project
Le Cargo ! : So when this was over, you put Daughter on pause, that’s when you started to write for Ex:Re, on the text that comes with the record, you says it felt sometimes like vomiting ?
Elena : (laughing) Yeah ! ….it was a bit… it was a very strange time. Like a ritual, to just [go there] everyday, I felt like I had [to come], cause the studio was there, after Before The Storm, we were still renting the place, it was kind of some free time in there. So it was just going in, emptying my brain and then going home, and then just like repeat, repeat... Almost like a machine… just trying to empty this.. feeling or this kind of sadness about missing someone
Le Cargo ! : It was just you and a sheet of paper, writing or did you start writing the music at the same, doing some demos ?
Elena : I did quite of lot of actual full recordings, it was me and piano lots ot the time but also I recorded tracks and demos, they were kinda rough, it was like I put something like a guitar loop or maybe I’d use a drums loop and I would just keep it going and kinda “freestyle” over it for a length of time. But they were never like polished, finished demos, I just took theses ideas and arrived at 4AD to see Fabian. To cite Fabian, “what is all this madness ?”. So that was funny that he decided to make the record, properly.
Le Cargo ! : To continue with the writing process, you also talk about the “New York Retreat”, when you wrote part of the lyrics for “The Dazzler” and “New York” was it the same time or before ?
Elena : These two songs were written on the same week-end. They’re about very specific, actual events. Well I actually didn’t really know what I was doing at the time. I thought I was maybe writing for Daughter, this was before Ex:Re was even maybe a thing. I didn’t know I was making a record. At that time, I was just having a time to write and I couldn’t write. I felt I had a writer’s block, I just couldn’t think of anything good.
So it was just sort of writing about what happened that week-end, what I felt, what I thought and sometimes in the moment it was happening, I’d write them down and they become the songs, which is kind of interesting because I just thought of them like some pointless sort of prose.
Le Cargo ! : Does New York have a special meaning or does it just happened to be the place where you were ?
Elena : New York is actually pretty special for me because we made the second Daughter record there and so I really did love my time there, I do really love there… so yeah, it just happened to be the place I was in at the time that I wrote these songs. And so it’s a factual “this is where I was” but also it was made special by New York : where I was staying was near to where I made the record and I saw friends I hadn’t seen in ages and it’s kinda felt like this familiar territories. But also within that, going to a familiar place but then realizing everyone else has moved on (laughing)... and I’m just stuck. I’m back in this place and I feel like I’m in this really bad lonely cycle and everyone else is doing really good things. So it was hard but I do love New York.
Le Cargo ! : There’s this thing with big cities, you live in London I think, sometimes I think they can help to create this kind of melancholy, put you in the mood for [sad] stuff ? Do you feel this too ? Have you always live in a big city ?
Elena : Yeah, I always have. I’ve always lived in London. I was brought up in a kind of suburb so I wasn’t realIy in the city when I was growing up. But I’ve lived now in the city for a long time. It’s a strange place because there’s so many people but you can feel so lonely. It definitely does that but there’s an excitement to cities, there’s so many things to do and you can have a really great time. But when you’re alone in a big city, you’re really alone.
Le Cargo ! : You did How Not to Disappear and Music From Before the Storm back to back, why not just take a break… (Elena laughes) for healing maybe instead of recording about the bad stuff ?
Elena : I know… I know...
Le Cargo ! : You needed this perhaps ? You seem to be always writing ?
Elena : I really wanted to take a break, it was supposed to be a holiday. This is my holiday (laughing). Yeah it’s strange … and I’ve joked with people about this very surreal kind of illness and compulsion to just have to keep writing. But this is what I’ve doing since I was a young teenager. So I’ve doing this, just the writing process, writing how I feel, writing how I think. Because I’ve been doing this for so long, that’s how I’ve dealt with things, then that‘s how I’ve dealt with everything so this seems like the perfect way to deal potentially the most heartbroke I’ve ever felt in my life so… yeah (laughing)
Le Cargo ! : you start to write before you start to play music or didn’t happen at the same time ?
Elena : I’ve started writing quite young and I didn’t really know how to play an instrument so I would just write and then just hide... (laughing) just hide these papers in drawers and hope my brother or someone else wouldn’t go in and looked at it. It was like write stuff down and I’d just hide it and I hardly looked at it, it was just like I got to get it out and hide it there.
Yeah I did that for years and then I taught myself to play guitar and then those words suddenly became songs, It all kind of made sense then, but for a long time it was just secret messages.
Le Cargo ! : Was it hard to have people see these words that were secret before, to show your music to the world ?
Elena : It’s always a bit a strange but firstly I guess the song version of the memory you’re writing about is never gonna be the exact… pain, it’s always gonna be an abstract version or a more poetic version of the “scene”. I feel like when you’re singing a song about something, it’s very different [from] if I was reading an account of something. You know, if I just stood on stage and I read a diary… (laughing) I wouldn’t be able to do it. There’s something about it, being a song, it takes away the reality, even though if it’s very real, it becomes something else.
Le Cargo ! : [the song] gets its own life...
Elena : Yeah exactly, but It’s always been a struggle... Ever since I was a tiny child, very small, maybe something like 5, I’d alway really like singing , so I used to sing a lot. .
Le Cargo ! : You were in a choir, a church choir ?
Elena : Yeah, when I was a kid and I always enjoyed it. I really wanted to sing to people but I would always really want people to close their eyes or turn around (laughing) and not look at me but I really enjoyed this. It came with constant practice while being on stage, really wanting to do that, wanting people to hear it but also this real shyness and kind of …. introverted nature, which is completely the opposite of that [first] feeling. I’ve been like this since I was a child, I like being on stage but at the same time it terrifies me so it’s just trying to balance these two things.
Le Cargo ! : it doesn’t look like this on stage :)
Elena : (laughing)
Le Cargo ! : About the recording of the album, so you worked for about a year…
Elena : Yeah, maybe even more actually .
Le Cargo ! : Then you came to 4AD (Ex:Re and Daughter label), you worked with their “in house” engineer, Fabian Prynn, at this time you knew this would be a solo recording ?
Elena : Yeah I knew that quite early on, with the writing, that it was becoming something [else than Daughter stuff]. Especially with “New York”, “Dazzler”, “Romance”, those songs felt like... “Too sad”... All of them actually felt like this is another... part, I need to express this on my own. Or in my way that is the only way it can be expressed for me because it’s about someone I cared - still cares - about, someone I loved so much it would feel very strange to have the end of this letter [signed] “Elena, Igor and Remi”(laughing). It doesn’t make any sense.
As you know I did work with Fabian which I guess is still very much a collaboration, we worked so closely together. it still feels like what I’m saying is how I want to say it. The intention is very clear and direct as I wanted to do, it’s remained that way but yeah it was great, I mean Fabian is just amazing, an amazing producer, an amazing drummer…
Le Cargo ! : Yeah we saw him live in your BBC 6 session and he was amazing indeed.
Elena : Oh my gosh… yeah
Le Cargo ! : and there Josephine Stephenson, the cello player, I thought at first it was you doing the backing vocals but it’s actually…
Elena : On the record we blended the two of us together
Le Cargo ! : in the BBC 6 session she’s got a wonderful voice
Elena : She’s got such a beautiful voice, really, angelic.
Le Cargo ! : and there’s one more we don’t know, the person on keyboards ?
Elena : Jethro
Le Cargo ! : will they be the ones who tour with you ?
Elena : Yes, it will be the four of us. It should be great ! I’m so excited about that, we’ll be coming to Paris as the four of us are.
Le Cargo ! : In the BBC 6 Session, you guys seems to function really good as a band, everything is already in place, you rehearsed a lot already together ?
Elena : We did actually and we’re still are. I’m really a rehearsal... fiend. I need [it] a lot. Maybe it’s a confidence thing, when you feel like you’ve rehearsed a lot, you have the confidence to be like “ok I know what I’m doing, I’ve got this, I put that pedal on at that moment, I do this and I do that”... It’s almost like a kind of checklist, like I know what I’m doing. So we rehearsed a lot and we still are.
I think it’s also nice because they’re very different musicians to me. I’m very self-taught, I don’t always know what notes I’m playing, what key I’m playing, what chord ; Sometimes if it sounds cool , I’ll just do that. Whereas… Josephine is a composer, she’s very classically trained, she’s got this genius brain for that. Fabian like Josephine, are these very very musically gifted people and so that’s really inspiring for me because I can’t just decide “cool, this sounds ok” , I need the rehearsal, they don’t need any rehearsals, they’re fine, we need to rehearse for me.
Le Cargo ! : You’re self-taught but now you play guitar, bass, keyboards, you’ve learnt a lot through the years, actually I was just in front of you at the last Paris show and i was really impressed because while singing, you were also managing a pedal for vocals, guitar effect pedals, another guitar or a bass every song…
Elena : (laughing) the “switching”... yeah but it becomes a kind of dance, It looks ridiculous, even Igor is saying there are ways to make it simpler. But I’m thinking actually I kinda like it, it’s really make more sense as this complicated mixture of clicking than if it was all simplified and up to someone else, I’m a bit of a control freak (laughing)
Le Cargo ! : Was it the same in the studio when you were recording ? How is it with Daughter, do you have this kind of conflicts, you know like “this guitar is too loud” or “this part is too long” ?
Elena : (laughing) I think there’s always a healthy kind of creative differences between all of us. I think what makes our sound is actually three different people coming together and complementing and also sometimes at opposite poles in certain sensibilities in places. I actually think a healthy amount of conflict and differences is actually good. But it’s like anything, you spend too long in a room with two friends, you’ll probably have an argument... (laughters) It just happens like that.. But we’re good, we’ve been together for 8 years now , we know how each other’s brain work. It’s cool, it’s like knowing people inside out.
Le Cargo ! : Working with Fabian, who has a very different feeling in his drumming for example, did it change the way the songs turned out on the record ?
Elena : The drums actually played such a huge role I think in the record. Basically what happened is that I took the demos from my little studio to Fabian and I guess at first we were just seing if we would work well together, we were trying it out because someone has suggested it at 4AD, [said ] “You should jam with Fabian”. And I knew him from just “around”, from going in there and saying “hey Fab !”. So we took the songs and played them, just vocals-guitar-drums or vocals-piano-drums and we kinda rebuild the songs back up again.
Le Cargo ! : It was a bit like working live, not just recording, you worked on the songs together and then recorded them ?
Elena : yes, we basically got the core of songs, as I said, vocals and guitar or piano, we knew what the drums were gonna be, we recorded together live in a really beautiful London studio called RAK. We recorded the drums and the guitar at the same time and sometimes the vocals, we didn’t keep all of those vocals (laughing) so I had to record them again.
We wanted the core of his songs to have a very live feeling so it wasn’t just played following a metronome or recorded into the computer. Some songs have click but the feeling of playing in a room together was important. “Liars” was us together in a room, “Romance” “Dazzler”, actually lots of these songs are from that session.
Le Cargo ! : The cello was added later ?
Elena : yeah, a lot of things were added on top later.
Le Cargo ! : The cello goes well with your music and your voice, you used it first for on “All I wanted” [from Music From Before The Storm] I think
Elena : We didn’t use any cello on the album, just bow guitar.
Le Cargo ! : I meant the live version at the Asylum Chapel, it’s Josephine playing actually, is that when you met her ?
Oh yeah, the live version, it was the first time we were working together but I’ve knowed Josephine a bit before that and I really admired our work. She’s just a friend and at some point we were saying ”maybe we should work together on something “. We discussed this at my house one day, over a cup of tea maybe, [said] “yeah we should definitely do that”. She kinda went away and just arranged this beautiful version of the song, we were really lucky with that, the venue, the space with this windows, the director we worked with Simon, the singers, the musicians we worked with… So yeah, she’s a total genius, she’s really, really brilliant.
Looping, closure and Jeff Buckley
Le Cargo ! : There’s a lot of little pieces of music looped in the song, sometimes it’s just one or two piano/keyboards notes but they bring a lot, were them in the original demos or is this something you added later ?
Elena : To be honest a lot of these loops are actually from the original demos, the loop was a tool that use to write with, so I would basically recorded something for how many beats [I needed] and then I would just drag it and loop it for a long time, to allow me to sing whatever came into my head, and so the loop was just something so that it wasn’t complete silence. And then after a while, it was actually like : this loop … it couldn’t be anything but this loop… cause it was the only thing that makes sense here. so yeah we kept a lot of them.
Le Cargo ! : You got so used to hear the songs with the loops so in the end you couldn’t imagine them without the loops
Elena : Yeah, and to be fair the loop in a symbolic way actually makes a lot of sense because it’s all about this looping, this cycling feeling of being stuck somewhere, emotionally or stuck somewhere mentally. It’s like constantly running in a loop.
Le Cargo ! : As you’re talkin about cycling, the records starts with a song meant as a beginning, it’s obvious in the lyrics, but the last song “my heart” is not really a closure song, it’s as if the story is still open. Is that something you intended ?
Elena : I don’t know if I intended it, for me it’s a peaceful... , it’s kinda like I know that this person is still… I guess the meaning for me, I don’t want to dictate what other people would read from me, is that I know that I have still have this person in my heart, that they have my heart maybe, is more the way to think about it. But I’m actually at peace with that and I’m at peace with knowing it’s over. I think that was what I wanted to get from that song, no matter what happen there’s always be a love for that person, it doesn’t necessarily have to be the end of me. I have to be ok with being in love with someone that is not in love with me. (laughing). That’s the most closure I think you can get, it’s to just let it go and be like “it’s Ok”
Le Cargo ! : The music of this song have a peaceful quality that reminds me of Jeff Buckley,
Elena : Yeah ! (cheerfully)
Le Cargo ! : I think Grace was your first record ?
Elena : Yeah, it was probably my first, that was probably the changing record, the record that changed my world in a way... Grace was like... as soon as I had it, it was like something that lit up, like I’ve never heard before.
Le Cargo ! : What kind of music did you grow up with ?
Elena : Quite various, my parents were always playing Bowie, Neil Young, Bob Dylan. I guess it was their era of music, the seventies. We used to grow up watching tv reruns of the 70 Sounds of ’70s , which is... (laughing) such a really good show, The Old Grey Whistle Test . They would put us in front of the tv and we would just be watching Bowie in his beautiful green jumpsuit and red boots and just playing guitar. It would be like “wow who is this ?” So I had a really good musical upbringing in that sense.
And then I was really into… R’n’B, Destiny’s Child were a big early [favorite band], when I was 10 or 11, I don’t know... was it The Writing on The Wall or The Writing’s on the wall ?, let’s call it that, the one with “Say my Name” and the others songs… I just loved all the vocal harmonies ; there’s one version of “Amazing Grace”, it’s the hardest thing to sing and how I would sit and I’d try and sing every single person’s [part], (laughters) I’d try to sing a four person rendition but as one solo ten years old girl.
Le Cargo ! : Did you ever get any singing lessons ?
Elena : No, never actually. No, and actually even later, I never did that. I have never really felt like a singer, I’ve always felt like a writer that then uses their voice to talk, to channel [words]. So yeah I never did the formal singing thing. Which maybe I should do at some point, I would love to learn how to scream
Le Cargo ! : ??? like a metal singer ?
Elena : That would be really cool, but I can’t do that, I don’t know how to do that
About the videos
Le Cargo ! : You’ve released two music videos for the record so far, one of them from Iain Forsyth & Jane Pollard, the same people who already made three for Daughter, why did you choose to work again with them ?
Elena : I just love them so much and they’ve become really good friends. And just the fact we made, it’s not three but four music videos with them. They did our first music video ever for “Still”, from our first record
Le Cargo ! : oh I didn’t know that
Elena : They just have some ways of capturing the music in visuals. I trust them so much. Whatever they want to do I know it’s gonna be really emotional and really beautiful. I think it’s really good when you have relationships like that where I could trust you to go and make something and I know that it would be great.
I felt like that also with Antonia [Luxem] who made the “Romance” video, she’s my housemate and she’s amazing, really , her brain is beautiful. I just knew it was gonna be great. I’ve been working a lot with friends, especially with Ex:Re, I think it’s a friends record, Ian & Jane, Antonia, Marika [Kochiashvili] who did the front cover photo, she’s also a really good friend. It feels like it’s been surrounded by friendships, which is really powerful.
Le Cargo ! : In the “Romance” video, I was a bit surprised to see you dance (Elena laughs), was it something difficult for you or they just told you to do it and “ok, no problem” ?
Elena : i’ve always really wanted to do a dance video, I’ve always really wanted too , always felt like it would be a very strange thing to do for me because I’m not a very gifted dancer but I love dancing. But it was actually quite fun to make because it’s all my friends that are in that room, even though it feels unfamiliar... it’s like a room full of friends and full of smoke and no one can really see me and they were all drunk so it’s fine. (laughing)
Le Cargo ! : In the other video, there’s Fabian playing the concierge as a little cameo. As you said there’s friends in the Romance Video, are they other Daughter members in it ?
Elena : Igor is in it but Remi’s not sadly, Remy was on tour at the time ? Remy lives in America, actually Igor’s living in America for a bit but yeah I got Igor, I was like “You’ve got to be in there”.
Le Cargo ! : Was it shot in New York ?
Elena : No the “Romance” video was shot in London, Antonia created a club, she filled the room with smokes and light, it’s just amazing what she did.
Le Cargo ! : It’s funny you say it was just friends around you because in the video you seem to dance alone, you touch nobody and nobody is concerned about anybody else
Elena : Yeah totally it was actually quite hilarious because it was a room full of friends and people kept trying to talk to me and was like “You don’t know me, don’t look at me”, I kept dancing past them , “stop looking at me” (laughing), my friends were like “whaaaat ??” as we were all getting increasingly more drunk… like “- whaaaaat ? - just stop looking !!!!” (laughing). So yeah, it was fun the idea was to be completely alone but it actually could only work so well because it was a group of friends, because I felt really not judged,it had to be a group that I knew to be able to dance like that.
Le Cargo ! : You’re not the main character in the second one, the Dazzler video, is there a reason why you didn’t want to act in this story ?
Elena : I’ve always featured, not always but a lot of time, in Ian & Jane’s videos, I’ve always been on the TV, so actually in “still” I’m in the TV, in “Doing the right thing” I’m also in the TV. (laughing). So I was kinda like I needed to be in the TV again, It’s like a running thing in their videos. And also I think with “The Dazzler” it’s very much my memories of what happened, that song is a really a note by note account of something very literal but to see someone “take it on”, it was great, I think I couldn’t have done that performance. Maxine [Peake] just created this totally devastating and beautiful performance, it made so upset the whole day, in a good way, like get emotional the whole day just from watching her, because she’s such a legend and so to have her recreate my song in acting, it’s just the cooling thing ever.
Le Cargo ! : Do the numbers in the fortune cookie have a meaning ?
Elena : (mysterious tone) Maybe it does…
Le Cargo ! : You said there were some code lyrics in … I think it’s Romance or The Dazzler
Elena : Yeah there’s some codes in this record, some codes that only the person this record is for will ever understand, it’s like a secret language. But actually the fortune cookie number is something. I’m not gonna say what it was because I think it’s quite fun. I didn’t know what it was, Ian & Jane invented for the video and then they told me and I was like “wow that’s great !” but yeah I guess you just think about ways you see numbers and how they would maybe translate to letters and then maybe you’ll get there… it’s just fun, it’s nice !
Le Cargo ! : It’s something for the Internet to research !
Elena : yeah (laughing)
Le Cargo ! : Thanks a lot for answering these questions
Elena : thanks for asking them (smiling)