By Christine Leonard
CALGARY – Born in the winter of 2003 out of the fertile imaginations of Montreal moog rockers, Duchess Says is an electrified new wave punk crossover band with a flare for the dramatic. Drawn from the ranks of the Church of Budgerigars, bandmates vocalist/guitarist Annie-Claude Deschênes, guitarist/bassist Philippe Clément, percussionist Simon “Simon Says” Besre and keyboardist/guitarist Ismael Tremblay decided to take their quest for spiritual satisfaction to the next level.
Their royal lineage began with an ecstatic burst of synth-rock, bass feedback, lo-fi pummel, and hyperbolic noise. Popping up in venues ranging from store window displays to abandoned buildings, the members began the process of recording and releasing their first tentative tracks in 2006. A full-length debut, Anthologie des 3 Perchoirs (Bonsound/Alien8 Recordings), which appeared in 2008, brought their energetic blitz to a dance floor climax only to leave fans dangling until they finally returned in 2011 with In A Fung Day T! (Bonsound/Alien8 Recordings). Making the leap to the Slovenly Recordings label, the punked-out philosophers reemerged in 2016 with their latest album, Science Nouvelles, an ambitious and line-blurring work that challenged the musicianship of the space-goth art-stars as never before.
“We realized it was, in fact, kind of hard to play the studio songs,” Deschênes acknowledges. “So, we chose half of the album to play live and it forced us to experiment and just to create new songs. We want to do an EP or an album, we don’t know yet. It depends on how many ideas we will have.”
This Dadaist thought-incubator has been a goldmine for Duchess Says, as each new album finds the group deconstructing their approach, adopting and adapting unique styles and intense inferences.
“Whether it’s through jamming or playing shows, there’s always inspiration from things, like movies. Yesterday I went to see Suspiria, it’s a Dario Argento story, and the day after we saw it we created a song that was inspired by its atmosphere, because we were like, ‘My God! I want to continue to be in this vibe!’ So, it was inspired by cinema, just as we are constantly being inspired by life and art. I think we cannot just like be comfortable in our sound. And, I don’t think we’ve necessarily found our sound. We’re always looking forward to find something like new effects and instruments. It’s like a laboratory and we’re just having fun and we’re not afraid to try really different directions or songs.”
Adept in exploring their own personal chemistry, the quartet has a cultivated a knack for tapping into the emotional root of their creative urges. Addressing each doubt and conviction with artistic sensitivity and the desire to convey a meaning that goes beyond language.
“This new EP, or album, will be more based on the urgency we’re feeling right now,” Deschênes intimates. “It’s just the realization that life passes really quickly and we don’t have the time to be in a full deduction mode and calculate everything. We’re aware of the time that’s passing really quick and we want to do something really nervous that’s about capturing the moment right now. Ultimately, I think it will be more straight to the point than usual. I think it’s just like a complete forward momentum; really nervous, really intense! I hope the new stuff will be innovative, create a lot of energy, and a lot of dancing and having fun.”
Baptised by fire on more than one occasion, Duchess Says has performed their textured cinematic rituals for live audiences at Eurockéennes, the Osheaga Festival, and the Festival of Emerging Music. They’ve opened for Yeah Yeah Yeahs on tour and have even contributed their sonic theatrics to the soundtrack of the film The Tracey Fragments. Still, Deschênes attributes their viability to the intangible aspects of performer and audience interplay. A choreographed and yet totally spontaneous pas de deux that elevates both halves of the greater whole.
“We recognize that we’re all similar and okay. Just like stop everything, and stop the superficial stuff and have fun together and build something together. Because the crowd is a big part of why our show is fun. When the crowd has no inhibitions, it just becomes crazy and make (they) it really creative and interesting. Because I can make something, but the people sculpt it in a way that I could never do it just by myself. So, it’s like a team work or something.”
Forced to confront the uncertainty of transitioning songs from studio to stage, Deschênes tries to make her music more accessible by incorporating multimedia elements that illuminate her more elusive concepts and imbue each event with energy and light.
“Art is really important in our performance,” she relates. “I think what’s difficult about the studio session is that when we do a live show there’s a third dimension. There’s an additional explanation of the vision we have because we have a direct connection with the public. For myself, I try to make the music visually palatable for the audience.”
Cultivating a sense of decorum amongst the chaos and subterfuge of a Duchess Says experience, Deschênes persists in her mission to deliver the mythological word of the band’s befeathered Church by transforming herself into a High Priestess of Precise Artistic Dialog.
Duchess Says performs Jan. 18 at the Big Winter Classic (Calgary)Anthologie des 3 Perchoirs, BIG Winter Classic, Duchess Says, Le Mode Juste, Suspiria