Essaie Pas on New Path
We catch up with Marie Davidson and Pierre Guerineau, aka Essaie Pas, to chat about their latest album New Path, plans for 2018 and Philip K. Dick's A Scanner Darkly
Montreal-based electronic duo Essaie Pas – which translates to ‘do not try’ – are husband and wife duo Marie Davidson and Pierre Guerineau; set to release their fifth album New Path this month, we interrupt their breakfast on a beautiful day in Montreal to chat about their new music, plans for 2018 and their interest in Philip K. Dick’s dystopian sci-fi novel A Scanner Darkly.
We managed to catch the French-Canadians performing in Utrecht as part of Le Guess Who? festival towards the end of last year – the day before they released New Path’s lead single Futur Parlé in fact – and the whole show was a rollicking assault of pounding dark techno. “That was our first show after a year and a half,” Davidson confessed with a wry laugh at the end of their set. “That was true... It was great, we had a good show. It was lots of fun,” she tells us via Skype. “It was special for us,” Guerineau adds, “a great place and conditions to start the tour… it was a bit stressful because it was the first time we actually tested the new set but we were super happy by the result and excited.”
What instantly struck us about their live set is that everything sounded massive so we’re keen to find out the process behind writing and recording their music, and if they focus on how it will translate from the studio to the stage. “No, not at all, I don’t think it’s a good idea, because if you make music and you think about how it will sound live and you focus on that then when people get to the recording there’ll be something missing,” Davidson firmly states. “I think [the] music process should be always treated in a neutral way... music is music. It should good all the time. It should be as you want it all the time. No compromises.”
“Sometimes when you play a lot of shows live and you are doing kind of the same set every night," Guerineau adds, "we think for the next show we’re gonna compose a new song… Playing shows sometimes stimulates us to compose new material but it’s also [important] for us to keep it exciting every time, to have something new to present.”
Futur Parlé was a definite set highlight for us at Le Guess Who? so we were excited to hear the new album. When we first listened to New Path it was during a walk home through The Meadows on a cold dark Edinburgh evening. It gave us a deep feeling of unease with its eerie synths, deep basslines and thunderous crashes, and we definitely walked home quicker that night. When we divulge that fact, the pair find it hilarious. For us, it was interesting to have this instilled sense of paranoia and tension purely from the music, as when we first listened to New Path we were unaware of its affiliation with A Scanner Darkly.
“We both find the book is still really relevant with [the] actual social, political, spiritual climate of our society,” Davidson tells us. “Surveillance cameras, paranoia, split personalities, drugs, you can find these things within our society or contemporary lives. Which for us was very interesting. Almost, like, funny in a way but also very sad and alarming, so we decided to pay tribute to this book... It’s dark but it’s full of humour like the way we like to make our music. It’s heavy music but there’s also a little bit of jokes and a lot of playfulness in the way we work.
“This album is not gonna change the world, right?” Davidson continues, “It’s a very experimental techno, or whatever, electronic album… but the process of making it between Pierre and I of course helps to deal with our own story, our own addiction, our own deceptions, again with humour. Humour is really the key. Beyond the album, the exercise of working together, addressing those issues, thinking on them then dropping these ideas together and just talking with each other. Joking. Going deep. Deep talking, that’s a process that’s kind of healing.”
The album borrows its misleadingly optimistic title from the rehab clinic as featured in the 1977 novel, and the blue flowers which adorn its cover are in reference to the Substance D-producing flowers, which also lends itself to one of the song titles: Substance M. When we ask what the ‘M’ refers to we are gently reminded that the pair are French-Canadian: “It’s the French translation,” Davidson explains. Of course it is, we sigh, as the ‘D’ in Substance D stands for ‘death’ and death in French is... ‘mort’. We then find out that the record was originally to be called Substance M, but the French translation of the novel is titled Substance Mort and “we realised it was a bit too close to the name of the book,” says Guerineau, “and liked the idea that New Path…” “...is a path that is going nowhere,” say Davidson, finishing his sentence.
To avoid any spoilers, jump forward a paragraph now. In the book, New Path is “using the addicts, killing people slowly, putting them in a position where they have to go to rehab and then you work for the same business producing the substance for new people to get addicted,” Davidson explains. “It sounds like a Black Mirror scenario,” Guerineau adds, “but I’m sure Black Mirror writers are definitely influenced by K. Dick.”
“I really sincerely recommend reading it – it’s not as dark as you think it is.” Davidson continues, “I mean it’s super dark but there’s a looooot of humour. That’s why we really both got fixated on this book. There are so many layers.” “It’s also really a personal story – as a writer it was an exercise of grief,” Guerineau tells us. “He was actually an amphetamine addict, K. Dick, and he lost a lot of friends and so it was also like a really personal book and you can feel that.”
“There’s a really nice quote at the end of the book which we took inspiration from,” Davidson explains. “The epilogue is actually K. Dick talking himself and dedicating the book to all [the] addicts and friends that he’s lost on the way… and then he put himself in the list. It’s really touching.”
The thing that strikes us most about this record is that it really excels at setting the scene. It’s full of ominous sounds, with big atmospheric moments and there’s something just very cinematic about it. We wonder if the duo have ever thought of soundtracking? “It’s a dream for us – we’ve always wanted to do it,” Davidson excitedly says. “We’ve done it a little bit in the past actually but not a proper film: documentaries and short films and music synced with fashion, but we’d definitely loooove to score, it’s a dream but it’s kind of a hard industry to get into.” “Actually,” Guerineau chimes in, “if anyone is reading this interview and looking for someone to compose the music, hire us!” he concludes with a laugh.
So how is New Path going to be elevated to the stage for their upcoming dates this spring and summer? “We’re working with Christopher Royal King who did the video for our track Futur Parlé,” Guerineau tells us, “we really like his universe and his way of working so we’re developing right now with him some live visuals to go with the show, which I think is gonna add another dimension to the music.” Davidson adds: “Chris has been a long time friend and we love his music – he makes music under [the name] SYMBOL and he makes very crazy visuals… he’s very gifted. A very cool guy.”
We finish our chat by telling Davidson we’re looking forward to seeing her again in the summer back at Primavera, but this time as Essaie Pas of course. We caught her solo set there last year, so we ask the very simple question: did you ever get the drink we saw you shouting for? We're met with a reminiscent guffaw from Davidson: “I did!... That set! The sound guys, they brought me a broken mixer then they couldn’t figure out the effect on the vocal, that’s why I looked so pissed… I was so pissed ‘cause I was nervous. It’s a big stage, it’s a big crowd, I was like ‘guys, this thing is not working’, so I got really stressed and then it worked, and then I was like ‘okay, I think I need a drink’," she trails off into laughter, concluding that the show ended up being "super fun", and once again finding humour in darkness.
New Path is released on 16 Mar via DFA Records