Signed to James Murphy’s legendary New York imprint DFA, Montréal’s electro duo Essaie Pas exacerbates its demons and nocturnal obsessions on Demain est une autre nuit. We recently caught up with them.
The air in Montréal is heavy with a heat wave. Based on their public image, Pierre Guerineau and Marie Davidson will no doubt be wearing black today, which isn’t exactly refreshing during a heat wave.
Yet, at the exit of the Laurier metro station, the pair is almost unrecognizable: Marie is wearing a carefree smile instead of smokey eyes, and Pierre is wearing a blue T-shirt in lieu of his usual tailored suit.
Light years from their press photos, in other words.
“It’s true that people have a lot of preconceived ideas about us,” admits singer and keyboardist Davidson. “People see us as this really serious group, but it’s not a calculated image. Offstage, we’re really fun-loving people who like to joke and party. People know that in a party, you won’t find Marie sulking by the bar, but jumping up and down on the dancefloor.”
“I think it’s the album that projects that kind of lugubrious image,” says bandmate Guerineau, who also sings and plays keyboards. “Next time around, we’ll dispel any doubts: I’ll be bare-chested on the album cover, surrounded by balloons!” he jokes.
“I believe our music and lyrics share a common universe. That’s probably why language was never an issue for DFA.” – Pierre Guerineau of Essaie Pas
Launched last February, Demain est une autre nuit is the duo’s :”first real album,” according to Guerineau, but their “fourth public release”, in Davidson’s words. Demain is replete with the torments, obsessions and demons of both musicians, and explores the confines of techno, darkwave and synth-pop without setting any limits.
“We went through very difficult moments during the making of the album,” Guerineau confides voluntarily, but vaguely. “Obviously, our music reflected this, but I do believe things will change and evolve. It’s always been the case, as a matter of fact.”
From an “illegal and self-managed” studio to DFA
Borderline-obsessive music lovers, Davidson and Guerineau met at the now-defunct Montréal studio, La Brique. Its hallowed halls were home to many a pivotal artist of Montréal’s underground scene from the turn of the decade: Dirty Beaches, Grimes, Sean Nicholas Savage and TOPS, to name but a few.
“I’d go there almost every day for seven years,” reminisces the still-nostalgic Davidson. “It was a mythical, self-managed place, part venue, part rehearsal space.”
Pierre Guerineau arrived in Montréal from France in 2006 and set foot into said studio very shortly thereafter. “For awhile, it was the only stable thing in our lives,” he remembers. “We’d change apartments and relationships very often, but we’d always go back to La Brique.”
Through a common friend, singer and producer Xarah Dion, the pair got to know each other. They started out as an experimental rock trio, alongside Simon Delage, after which Essaie pas dabbled in electro-blues on Nuit de noce, their third EP, released in 2013 on the Brussels-by-way-of-Paris label Teenage Menopause.
The self-launched mini-album, released on Bandcamp, got the attention of Kris Peterson, one of the heads of DFA Records, the New York City-based label founded by LCD Sounsystem’s James Murphy. “Kris was looking for a local band to open for Factory Floor at the Belmont,” says Guerineau. “That night, we didn’t have time to talk with him, but he purchased a copy of Nuit de noce.”
“He wrote to us shortly thereafter to tell us he really liked it,” Davidson continues. “He asked us to send him our new songs when they were ready. We were flattered, but we didn’t think it was serious.”
“It’s mostly that we were doubtful… Our new material was totally different from what he’d heard,” Guerineau adds. “But we went ahead and sent it to him, and he liked it. Everything was made official very quickly.”
Being signed on such a label is almost historical for a Québec-based band, especially since the duo mostly sings in French. “Kris never mentioned the language. He even wrote: ‘I don’t care!’,” says Davidson laughing.
“I believe our music and lyrics share a common universe,” says Guerineau. “That’s probably why it was never an issue for DFA. People don’t need to understand the words to get the atmosphere, the feeling.”
Night Owl Music
The duo’s lyrics are delivered in a cold, detached manner that perfectly reflects the saturnine music upon which they rest. Far from depressing, the overall atmosphere of Demain est une autre nuit is nonetheless more dark than light. “It’s got a nocturnal, strange and sensuous vibe. It takes on a whole new dimension when you listen to it at night,” explains Davidson.
“But in concert, it becomes very danceable,” adds Guerineau. “We love to make people dance, and speak directly to them. We seek to touch every individual in a crowd.”
The lyrics are about being obsessed by nightlife, partying and love (and the typical addictions of that scene), and they had a therapeutic, almost cathartic effect on the two artists. “I write about stuff that was part of my life at a certain point,” says Gurenieau, who’s 34 today. “When all that was going on in my life, I had a very hard time talking about it…”
“It’s about our life, quite simply,” adds 28-year-old Davidson. “They’re themes we’ve covered before, notably in a more humorous song like ‘Danse sociale.’ We talk about our DIY scene, parties that get busted by the cops, illegal pop-up bars, people who do drugs and fuck in the bathrooms.”
Their willingness to sing about “people who forget themselves in the solitude of partying” has brought the duo a bona fide media frenzy throughout the world, thanks in part to excellent reviews in esteemed publications such as The Guardian and Pitchfork.
And their recent tour has confirmed that it wasn’t just smoke and mirrors. “There were a lot more people waiting for us to get on stage than usual,” says Davidson. “For such a niche band like ours, it’s quite something to sell out small venues in Europe and the U.S.”
Featured on the Polaris Prize long list, Essaie pas is seeking international exposure much more than local success. “To this day, I’m still convinced that not a single Montréal label would risk signing us,” says Davidson. “Our music had a lot more chances to grab the attention of label from abroad.”
“That being said, we have to be honest and say that we never sent our music to anyone who didn’t ask,” adds Guerineau. “It’s not that we wanted to sabotage our career by keeping our music to ourselves, but let’s just say we’re not willing to compromise.”
In other words, Essaie pas is the spearhead of Montréal’s little-known but effervescent electro scene, whose other key players include Bataille solaire, Xarah Dion, Police des mœurs, Jesse Osborne-Lanthier and many others. Like all of them, Eassaie pas are aiming for the top regardless of trends and other musical boundaries.
“Even though we all make different kinds of music, we’re all united by our desire to break the rules and push the limits,” says Guerineau. “In other words, we like to step out of our comfort zone.”