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Meet our BOTW: We Were Evergreen

A number of cute little Gallicisms crop up in our conversation with Michael Liot, the lead singer in Paris-via-London indie pop trio We Were Evergreen. Among our favourites is the word ‘organism’, which he utters every time he means to say ‘organisation’ (it means both ‘organism’ and ‘organisation’ in French).

When we give the musician a call, the band are in the tour-bus on the A14 and have just released their remarkable debut album ‘Towards’, a diverse affair that merges oddball acoustic instruments with glossy electronic beats and honeyed three-part harmonies. Produced by Charlie Andrews (Alt-J, Marika Hackman), the album was four years in the making and certainly worth the wait. Here, we speak to Liot about Paris, change and the Charango.

Planet Notion: First things first, tell us about being Parisian.
Michael Liot: When we were in Paris, it was cool because we started out doing mostly loads of pubs and little venues and working our way to bigger ones. There are some very nice venues around in Paris. If you compare it to London, it’s just a bit smaller. But that means you can do the circuit more quickly, in terms of venues. You end up knowing people and bands perhaps more easily than in London, where there’s a massive number of people doing different things.

The good thing, I think, is that you’ve got support from lots of organisations which are there to help young bands out, what we would call ‘springboard’ contests. There are a lot of them in Paris. You can get, like, residencies for a bit, you can play a place for a few days, you can hone your sound, and you can hone your rehearsals and live sets. So Paris is good for that. The focus is on working out the sound in live conditions.

PN: We had a chat with Joseph of Metronomy earlier this year, and he told us that everything seems a lot more relaxed in Paris, too. There’s not quite that same-old sense of competition and scenester superficiality that London has.
ML: Maybe. Everything seems to take a bit more time in Paris, so in that sense, you take more time to actually get things done and do things. London is more like, things happening more quickly, in terms of how you work with the industry. But it does seem that people take the time in Paris, when you need to record something, or rehearse, or get live sets, to get shows… All that kind of stuff, it takes more time.

There’s also more hesitation, perhaps. As in, people are more willing to be interested in a band, maybe later, when there’s an album out. There’s less media excitement being there before, at a very young stage. Whereas in London, every week there’s a new act that people are talking about that have just released, like, one demo or one song on the internet and everyone’s screaming over that.

In Paris, it does always seem like there’s less going on. I don’t know whether it is that there is less going on, or if there’s just fewer people. People more focus more on certain acts. They change less. They’re less frivolous, maybe. I don’t know if that’s the right word.

PN: So, what inspired your move to the UK?
ML: We were asked to do an acoustic show in a flat three years ago in London for something called Sofar Sounds, which organizes shows in intimate settings, in living rooms. When we were there, we figured, ‘let’s just go and see what happens’. It was our first show outside of France, and we were asked to come back because people said, ‘oh, it would be cool for you to come back and do some actual live shows’, and so we did.

There was about six months of going back and forth. Then, we finally decided that it was maybe worth it to actually settle there and try it out. It was a challenge, and not something that a lot of people from Paris had had the opportunity of doing, so we thought, ‘well, we don’t know anyone else who’s doing that, but let’s try it and we’ll see’. We don’t regret it, because it’s been great and we’ve been able to have a team here and people who believe in us. And that’s really helpful.

PN: I’m really enjoying your album at the moment. It’s quite rare to name an album after a preposition; why exactly did you call it ‘Towards’?
M: Basically, the whole album is about movement, and position. We somehow felt that it would fit in with the name, and also our evolution as a band. It’s pretty much all about evolution. We started out with a very different sound. We’ve evolved from a certain set-up five years ago and we’re now at a stage where we basically sat down with our producer last year, and said ‘what do we want to do with this album? Do we want to do a compilation of what we’ve been doing for the past five years? Or do we want to do something which says what we’re doing now?’ And we basically thought, what we want is something that we’re really excited about, which is new stuff, something that’s now. The only problem was for people who had been following us.

We just figured that we needed to evolve and do the stuff that we were really excited about. So, there is the idea that it’s all part of a bigger evolution. And although it is the first album and the first step, it does feel like we’re going somewhere in a bigger evolution.

But also because we like travelling. Our instruments and our influences are from all around the place, and we wanted it to feel like when you listen to it, it takes you from one place to another, and then back and forth, from more obscure sounds to lighter sounds, something more mystical, more rhythmical, something more upbeat. There were dynamics that we’d been looking for before that we really tried to work on with this album with Charlie [Andrews], our producer. To really work on the grooves, the dynamics, to have something more live and dynamic that we didn’t have before. It felt good to have that.

PN: What’s the weirdest instrument we can hear on the record?
Michael: In terms of actual instruments, I play a Charango, which is a Bolivian mandolin. There’s harp sounds, there’s a kick that’s been done by a beach ball racket. We played around with a lot of stuff that we found in the studio, and made sounds from other stuff, like synths that are actually guitars but made to sound like synths. We pitched them down, and also xylophone pitched down to sound like it could almost be a synth, and then just loads of distortion.

- Huw Oliver

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