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Notion 064 Feature: We Were Evergreen

A conversation with the delightful French trio in the recording studio as they wrestle with translating their exceptional live shows into a unique debut album and working out how to mimic the sound of a pigeon. 

WORDS / Michael C. Lewin
PHOTOGRAPHY / Rio-Romaine
STYLING / Aaron Francis Walker
GROOMING / Cathy Ennis using Bumble & Bumble and Mac Pro

French trio We Were Evergreen innately understand life’s messy magic: a democratic trio, Fabienne, William and Michael do that most important thing a band can do – create a world at once deep and resonant that we all want a part of. Their music, a strange folk-pop-dance-world hybrid that must be experienced to be understood, transports you through a combination of joyful harmonies and rich beats into this strange visual world of myths and literature.

They’re noted for their incredible live shows: their chic Gallic charm worn lightly and giddily, completely winning. Currently holed up in a south London studio with Alt-J producer Charlie Andrews, they’re in the process of completely reimagining their music for their debut record.

In conversation revealing their wonderful three-headed egalitarianism, discussing the process of finding that photograph of where they are right now: drawing a line against the past, looking forward, running towards it; not knowing what’s there, but excited to find it and all the more excited by that mystery of the creative process.

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NOTION: Do you notice anything different about the songs you’re writing now that you’re trying to construct a full album in the studio at once? Does that change your process of writing?

MICHAEL: The fact that we’re now at this point in our life – let’s say ‘our path’, as ‘We Were Evergreen’ – means that there are things that we want and things that we don’t want anymore. We’re going in some directions that we like, and I think the studio right now is for trying out those directions. Often we’re surprised about where we’re going, and sometimes we’ll find ideas, and they’ll push the ideas that we have altogether, and then Charlie will push us in one direction that we weren’t possibly expecting… So I think the key idea in there is that we’re letting ourselves be surprised a bit, and finding really cool sounds that we like, that we find original, and that we want to keep. It’s basically about trying to find what defines us right now

NOTION: What choices have you made? Can you tell me specifically those choices? What aren’t We Were Evergreen? We can think in the abstract, or we can think in very specific terms. What have you actively decided against?

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FABIENNE: What we don’t want is to be invaded by gimmicks, or ideas as to why we were doing the songs for a live purpose. There’s always a way to arrange it all together and to make it interesting, extended in a live version so that the audience is enjoying it. What we want to do is to go for simplicity. I would say what WWE is not now is this chaotic thing that we had before; we don’t want to be like psychopaths, but we want to go for the right melodies or the right moments and just to balance each other more.

WILLIAM: What WWE is not is the work of one person. It’s definitely the work of different people and of different things. Different things and different people working on one thing, trying not to make a mess of ideas.

F: It was already the aim when we recorded Leeway to restrict ourselves, but in a good, positive way. We still don’t know if it’s going to be on the album or not; we need to think about it. We’re still really happy with the song, but it’s something we need to-

M: -but it definitely feels like it was more of a stepping stone towards what we’re doing now, and I think we’re going towards an even more exciting direction, because we’re taking more choices. I think now we’re trying to get rid of more and more, even though it’s not an easy job, because there’s so much behind us. There’s five years of songs, and I think we’re really going for ‘now’, and not ‘now plus yesterday’.

F: And also because we want to – it’s a big word – but we want to stay honest. We don’t want to change just for the sake of changing; we try to stay true to what we really believe in. It’s just like how we evolve as people. If anyone thinks back to what he was five years ago… We want to keep something ‘essential’ in the songs, avoiding ‘fake images’, because that’s something that we can fall into.

NOTION: So what’s the big picture for the album?

F: we all grew up with a love of the proper album, being really interested in an album as a sort of coherent piece of work. So it’s a big task to have all the songs in perspective and to see how everything fits together in a nice, developing way, but that’s not too repetitive or… in the theme. It’s something that’s really important for us.

W: we were going to do a blend, but then when we arrived in the studio, we were like ‘no, we’ll just make the choice’ – not deleting the past, but letting go.

F: It was quite easy. We all agreed quite quickly on that.

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W: It was really frustrating in a way, because you kind of think ‘maybe I’ve grown, so I know better; the sound that I want to use, the lyrics that I want to say… but I could take my old work and make it happen like I want it now’. But in fact, maybe not! So you’re just guessing that what you’ve done had to be done like that at this point, and you have to let it go this way…

M: The thing is, you need to have ambition. If there’s something you really feel strongly about, and you think ‘I need to do these 25 songs on an album’, because otherwise there’s no other way that I could see this record; that may be a different thing. For us, we felt that it was time to let it go, and it was really the right thing to do

NOTION: So now that you’ve moved away from ‘live’ constructions of songs, what happens when you go back to gigging?

W: What’s definitely going to happen is when we go to play these songs live, we’re going to take the ideas of the album and develop it as much as possible, because you can’t put everything you’d like to put in a song on an album, so you have to express it live.

NOTION: What’s inspiring the lyrics? Michael, are you still primarily writing those?

M: Yeah. I think in the choices that we made with the songs, sometimes the choices are not lyric-based, but I think the songs that we’ve now done all fit together thematically. There’s also…

W: The question of territories.

M: Territories, places

W: we’ve moved. Before it was about being French in London, trying to do an English job – which is music – in a character sort of way. England is a music country compared to France, which is more of a food country, if I can summarise things.  It’s interesting to try to live somewhere else and to dream about moving and travelling

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M: And the question of moving forwards, backwards, memory… that kind of stuff. What I’m trying to do – this sounds very pretentious, but it’s the only time I can talk about it – but what I’d like to create with all this is to have a sort of personalised mythology; what is the essence of mythologies, the common point between all the mythologies of the world, and I think what I’d like to create with the lyrics of these songs is to find those key elements and create our own little mythology around it, in the sense that we’re taking the same elements, but personalising them to us and to our times… All the themes and characters… every song has a theme that is linked to a myth – some known myths, and some lesser-known myths.. but they’re all linked

NOTION: You told me about your music having a visual edge; is that true of the music you’re making now? A cinematic approach, being about a lot of images coming at you in the way it sounds…

W: We keep imitating our own sounds during our recording. If you have a strange sound, we’re going to find something that the sound could belong to.

F: Sadly this afternoon it was a pigeon.

M: Something that sounds like a pigeon.

W: It could be a monkey or whatever. Anyway, so we kind of figure out the sound in the music we’re doing. Also, each time we’re mixing, we kind of ‘direct’; like ‘hmm what would be the video for this?’ It’s kind of obvious sometimes.

F: And also we have – this sounds a bit mystical – but sort of like when you have colours that you associate with songs. It’s funny because sometimes we don’t share the same thing, but it’s really something that can make you feel how the song could be as one, because if some kinds of sounds or a part doesn’t fit the colour, like ‘this is not orange’… It sounds a bit stupid, but I think it’s a kind of a synaesthesia; we see it as having a visual aspect. Not on all the songs – sometimes it doesn’t happen – but it’s a good way of being.

W: If you give everything to the listener, he doesn’t listen. It’s the difference between cinema and theatre. In cinema, you give everything. In theatre, you suggest, and people think ‘hmm I think it could be like that’. We don’t want to fix it. We want to let anyone (read into it/decide the meaning?)… like for example if we play a silence, if we play nothing, but you can hear the silence, we just want to let people imagine whatever they want.


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