Au Revoir Borealis (despite having one of the coolest names I’ve come across) is a Michigan-based band that explores dream-pop, slow-core, and other assorted musical subgenres. With a penchant for delivering beautiful lyrics (delivered by one of the best vocalists in music today), and transcendent music, Au Revoir Borealis is indeed a band to look out for. Especially since they have begun to work on a follow-up to their acclaimed “Tienken” ep.
How did Au Revoir Borealis form, and how did you come up with your name?
Steve – Justin and I originally started hanging out and playing together. We experimented with various things and eventually, our friend Mike wanted to join the fun. Some folks we knew were organizing a stage for music at a street festival in the Detroit area and we decided to put our hat in the ring. It went OK for its time. It was the summer of 1998. However, I would never go back and do that particular thing again, but hey. It was learning experience. We learned some things and had a good time. Steph was in attendance at that show actually. She had been friends with Justin since high school. Not long after that performance we decided we needed a female voice and Justin recommended Steph. She came in and hung out while we played. When she was given the opportunity to step up to the mic, she came through in a big way. It was unanimous that night that she was the perfect fit. And now it’s known to people all over the world – Steph has a remarkable voice. That’s it in a nutshell.
How did you get your start in music (particularly Stephanie with that wonderful voice)?
Steph – I think having a piano in the house sort of started me on the right track. I played by ear, but didn’t do too much writing until later. As much as I collected music and loved it, I was more of a spectator until I went to college and really got serious about playing guitar and actually writing songs. My early stuff was more folk influenced– my friend Casey and I would sit in a dorm basement with good acoustics and play and record for hours. I sometimes dig out the old tapes for kicks. It was a couple years later that my sister commanded me to “talk to Justin about his music and do music with him.” I’m glad she did. About 15 minutes into the first time we got together, the framework for Heavens Downward was written. And so it goes….
Steve – I’ve always been in music. Both sides of my family host several musicians. My dad was a jazz bassist for a number of years. My mom’s side has country roots deeper than an old oak tree. I was always interested in playing music while growing up as a child. I started playing music myself at age 10. Once I noticed that I had somewhat of a musical ear, I never looked back. That’s all I did throughout school. No sports or other after school activities. I went home and played until my parents made me go to bed. I loved how notes and chords not only sparked energy, but could change the mood and character of a room by the way they were played. I’m still fascinated by that.
What is the songwriting process like for Au Revoir Borealis?
Steph – My part in the songwriting process has mostly been to write and write poetry…. When we’re all together, generally Steve or Justin show us an idea and as we freeform with it, a structure takes shape–sometimes very quickly. If I already have lyrics written, it doesn’t take long to weave them into the music that the boys are playing. Waldorf Theft Song came together in just a couple minutes. Of course, I didn’t really have lyrics written for that one. Still don’t, really.
Steve – Sometimes, as we’re warming up for a rehearsal, we’ll take some time to jam and have some fun. A lot of our song ideas come up in this fashion. We’ve been together and played together so much over the last several years that we’re able to read each other when we lock into a groove. We recognize that twinkle in each other’s eyes when we all mutually know a new song idea has been conceived. When that happens, it usually only takes about 10 minutes to write the song. That’s a great feeling. Then we all sit down and wrestle with the structure until we feel comfortable with the arrangement.
What is your approach to the beautiful lyrics you write? Do you have any predominant themes that you try to convey in your lyrics?
Steph – I’ll take the long way around to answer that…… I think one of the things that really bonded us as friends is the fact that we all have a fascination with our environments, and nature and beauty. It’s funny to think of the times we’ve crowded around to look at a picture someone took of a crazy looking tree on the way home from work, or how when we’ve just spent time looking at the sky and the way the sunset burns down one half in the evening. Or the times that we’ve been in the car listening to the stuff that happens between various AM radio stations– the sort of “music” it creates… or those “heck, YEAH!” moments that happen when Steve concocts a sonic wall of doom with multiple pedals and amps.
I’m also deeply inspired by other people’s writing, film, and other art. Fredrick Buechner’s writing has inspired lots of poems, and Mark Helprin’s Winters Tale has inspired at least a couple of songs…. I’ve been teased that I like that book mostly because it involves a lot of snow. And I love snow. And cold. And not beaches. Unless maybe it’s nighttime and there’s northern lights or they’re covered in ice. *ahem*
ANYWAY… These are the things that we try to convey with our music. Sometimes we’re overwhelmed at how amazing and beautiful the world can be. That would be an overarching theme to almost everything we do. Most of the lyrics I write are a result of that.
Give us an idea of how the “tienken” ep came about. What was the recording process like, and are you happy with this recording?
Steve – After Steph joined the group, we spent a lot of time honing and developing a small set of songs we were happy with. We didn’t have much money as we were all poor college students at the time. A friend of ours named Scott Lyon had just built a studio and wanted to have us in to test everything out. He also wanted to help us get a few songs down as well. So we went into his studio in August of 1999 and that¹s how the recording started. We tracked the basics live and then did overdubs. At a certain time during the process, the studio developed some technical problems and we had to put things on hold. We ended up playing a bunch of shows over the course of the fall and winter so it was hard to get back into recording because our schedule was getting pretty full. Right about the time we were ready to jump back in and get the recording rolling again, we were asked to contribute a track for a tribute to Nick Drake. We couldn’t turn that down. We had saved up some money by this point and were able to buy some recording equipment. So we did the Drake tribute and then started thinking about how to finish the “Tienken” recording. We’re a very hands on group. We like to be involved in every aspect of what we do so we can understand how it works. So we decided to finish Tienken on our own. We finished the overdubs, vocals and mixing at Justin’s house sometime in May of 2000. Then we had it mastered by a friend of Gary Murray’s, worked out the artwork together and released it in October of 2000. I’m quite happy with the recording. There’s always issues I can find that could be improved upon, but there comes a point that you have to realize when a recording is what it is. You’ve done everything you can do and no amount of money or time will solve anything. I think it’s a solid first statement. We’ve had a lot of amazing feedback from it. I’ll always have a warm place in my heart for it since it’s our first release.
Steph – We recorded Tienken because people were asking us to, but also because we wanted to archive some of the stuff that was flying around at practice. Basically, we just hooked a few things up in Justin’s basement and spent long evenings at it. Justin is a bone fide recording whiz. Gary Murray (from LN) recommended a friend of his for the mastering process, so Steve and I drove down to Ohio and got to hang out there for a while. At the time we released Tienken we were pretty happy with it. I think we value it more now as a historical snapshot of what we sounded like and where we were creatively. There are certainly things we’d do differently now, but I think it was a good start. I can’t believe how far it’s gone, and how many people have heard it. It’s all very overwhelming and humbling.
How has bringing your lush sound into the live format been? Do you have any cool or interesting live stories to tell us about?
Steph – Every live story is a cool story, somehow. We’ve met so many amazing people. I’m naturally a pretty shy person until I really know someone, so it’s been a mish-mash of awkward moments and kind people and doing our best. We’ve played some really good shows, but there have been a couple pretty wretched ones where everything has gone wrong too. People are still interested and as nice as ever though. We’ve gotten to meet and play with some fantastic bands– people we’ve been listening to forever. That’s been humbling and wonderful.
Steve – I always love the live performance part. I’m very much a live music person. I really enjoy the studio, but there isn’t as much of the immediacy as there is in the live environment. Our sound live tends to be much larger and more rock, but still dreamy and soothing. I don’t know if that makes sense or not. It’s a lot of fun to crank up the reverb on the guitar and watch everyone vibe out to it. As for cool live stories, we haven’t really had anything too crazy happen at our shows. Our audience has always been pretty cool. No one has been too unruly. There have been a lot of really wonderful moments and fun people. It¹s been amazing.
What was it like to work with Gary Murray on Ln’s wonderful “Novel”?
Steph – It was a rollicking good time! Actually, at the time we didn’t know we were working on anything for an album, though… Gary had just come up for the weekend and we ended up making lots of music and being goofy around Justin’s house. We ran the mics from downstairs up into the kitchen for the acoustics–one more place to check off on the “unlikely places to record” list. It was like a little vacation for all of us. Gary is so full of great ideas.
Steve – Gary is one cool cat. He is a dear friend of ours and a remarkable songwriter. I have infinite amounts of respect for him. It’s funny, we were asked to play a show with Jessica Bailiff and Gary was filling in on drums for her at the time. All of us were big LN fans so meeting him was cool. We all clicked really well and have been good friends since. We really had no idea where any of the stuff we recorded that weekend would surface. We thought about doing an Au Revoir Borealis/LN split EP or something and putting the material we came up with on there, but none of us were able to work out the details. When Gary put together “ovel” he decided he wanted to include some of the stuff we recorded. That’s one of my favorite musical memories. It was such a good time. I’m sure we’ll end up recording again. We’re always talking about all the different kinds of records we would like to make together. Wait till you hear the recording he just finished. It’s way cool. I believe it’s going to be called “Gravity Gun”. Very beautiful.
Give us some information on the new recording you’re working on. How does it compare to “tienken”? What are your feelings towards the new recording?
Steph – The new record rocks in a way Tienken was just starting to, I think. A couple of the songs on the new album have been around as long as the ones from Tienken, but were waiting until we were ready for them. We have this sort of catalogue of “back burner” songs that occasionally spontaneously appear during practice. They sound a little different every time, as we morph and grow musically. Then one day something clicks, and next thing you know they’re the ones we like the most. We’re really proud of the new recording. It’s taken a long time due to lack of time and money, but it is definitely worth it for us.
Steve – I’m a big fan of the new recording. I think it sounds more mature. The songs on “Tienken” were about 2 years old when we released it. This is a much more accurate portrayal of where we’re at right now. I can’t say that it’s any indication of the future because we are always wanting to try new things. This new recording is much more rockin’ than “Tienken.” It sounds and feels more like our live presence. Very big and open. We had engineering help from Kevin Wes Williams. We was the private sound tech/engineer for The Church for a number of years. He really helped us out a lot and did a good job capturing our sound and energy. I’m excited to get it out and get some feedback. I think it’s definitely a good second step for us.
What is in the immediate and long-term future for Au Revoir Borealis?
Steve – Well, life has changed a lot. Justin got married. Steph got married. Mike is married. Not that that really hinders the music. The whole Au Revoir family is very supportive. However, we’ve got a revolving door on a couple positions in the band since Justin and Mike have had a lot of other responsibilities that keep them from participating 100% of the time. Right now, we’re working on the final tweaks to the mixes before we master the new recording. We’re hoping to get it out by year’s end or early 2004. We’ll see. Depends on what happens with record labels and promotions stuff. As for long term future? We try to take one day at a time. As long as this new recording is successful enough to make another one and we can pay the bills, then we’ll keep going. No matter what, we’ll always be making music whether it’s for the masses or just for us and our friends.
You always give the BEST recommendations on your email list. Give us a rundown of some of your favorite cd’s that music fans should run and buy.
Steve – Cool. I’m so glad you enjoy the music recommendations. I always run across new music from friends that own record stores, friends on tour, music press, college radio, NPR, etc. I’ll shy away from some of the obvious musical answers. Bark Psychosis has always been a favorite. I love their records. I think they’re out of print, but you can still find them. I highly recommend their releases “Hex” and “Independency”. Lately, I’ve been getting back into David Sylvian’s album “Secrets of the Beehive”. It’s a stunning record. Very quiet, intimate, dark and moody. The cover looks like it could have been a mid 80s era Clan of Xymox cover or something. The new Pernice Brothers album is very good. So is the new South album. I heard some of it the other week and it will be worth the money when it comes out in September. I’ve also been enjoying Mogwai’s latest, Polyphonic Spree’s recent, Starflyer 59’s new one, the up coming LN disc and Brian Eno’s “Neroli” album. There’s so many more, but those are the ones that jump out immediately. I¹m all over the place. I¹m infatuated with genres and how they shape one another and blend into each other.
Give us your breakdown of the dream/slow/ambient music scene in your area (Michigan). Why do so many great bands come from that area?
Steve – The Detroit music scene is so diverse it’s amazing. There’s so many bands. I don’t know if it’s because of the gray weather or that there’s just tons of people who have nothing better to do than lock themselves inside and make noise, but there are quite a few people making music in our neck of the woods. The Great Fiction is a band we’ve played with quite a bit. They have a new recording coming out soon. I’ll be shocked if they don’t turn a lot of heads. Delta Waves is another cool group from the area. Paik is a group that makes some of the most dense instrumental/dreamy rock noise I’ve heard in a while. Leaving Rouge is a band that isn’t very dreamy per se, but they are a noteworthy bunch. Then there’s our friends Windy & Carl. I shouldn’t have to say anything there. Their names speak for themselves. Beautiful people. Judah Johnson, Fuxa, Midwest Product, O Death, Indoor Park, Larval, Morsel, etc. There’s more artists around, but there’s a solid scene here. You can go out and catch some amazing sounds pretty much any night of the week.
Any other comments?
Thanks for this opportunity to chat. It’s been fun. We’ll have to send you a copy of the new record once it’s all wrapped up. I think you’ll dig it. We look forward to getting it out and getting back out to see all the fans we call friends. We’ve been incredibly blessed by the people who come to see us play or buy our records or email us. We’re very honored that people like our music. If anyone decides they want to drop us line, they can visit www.aurb.org and email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks for the time.