An Interview with Daughter
“You never really know how to make an album” – Elena Tonra speaks as she shrugs softly, her voice as timid and precise as that of her recordings. She sits, all in black, wedged between her bandmates Igor and Remi on a sofa backstage in Manchester’s Albert Hall a couple of hours before they’re scheduled to play. While it may be true that nobody ever handed Daughter an ‘album making for dummies’ instruction manual, it is clear to see that they are definitely well versed in the construction of incredible sets of music. With two albums that reached the top 20 in the UK charts and four separate extended plays, they’re certainly not new to the art of album-making. We sat and spoke with Daughter about how their transition from solo musicians to an award winning trio over the past six years has occurred, and how even musicians of their calibre aren’t past the self-doubt of artistry.
Us: Firstly, how are you guys? Are you looking forward to the gig tonight?
Elena: Yeah, I think it’s going to be great! The venue is absolutely beautiful. If our show is good and beautiful as well it would be great. It’s the sixth show of the tour i think, so still kind of getting the new songs together… but it’s very exciting.
Us: We normally ask every artist how they got in to music. Was it something you did when you were young or something that you discovered as you got older?
Elena: I was writing from a really young age and hiding lyrics and poems and things in draws secretly [laughs]. I learned to play guitar because my brother played guitar and piano, but I was never actually very musical in that way. I could never read music or write music but I kind of just picked up a guitar when my bother wasn’t around and self-taught the basics. I had a friend at school who taught me how to finger pick, so I learned accidentally, I guess. It was definitely writing that started it all for me.
Us: Can you describe your music in a few words?
Igor: Ah that’s always a tough one… and what reassures me is that when I return the question a lot of people find it hard. I don’t exactly have the adjectives to describe our sound, but what I can say is we focus as much on the songwriting as we focus on the atmosphere and the texture, causing an equal balance between the two.
Us: How about the name? Was that something linked to your childhood?
Elena: I was doing things under my own name for a while which was… awful [laughs]. When I met Igor at college we moved on to do more with two guitars. I didn’t want that to be under my own name because it wasn’t my own thing. I really wanted it to just be a one word titled project and Daughter seemed to be a natural choice that i just first thought of and that it suited the way i write because i think i am quite a child at times… and with how sensitive I can be it kind of felt right. With my lyrics talking a lot about my childhood it just seemed like a good fit. I think it was a bit weird at first, but it just fits now, it feels like I am the narrator.
Us: I get that with the lyrics, they feel like narrative poetry. Do you start with lyrics first and then compose the music around it?
Elena: I think it really depends. The first album and EPs were more based on lyrics with a guitar part to accompany it and then we built on top of that, but with the new album we tried to be as open to how songs would come about as possible. Some started with music and I started ranting over the top, other songs were lyrics and writing first and then building on top of that.
Us: You mentioned the first album If You Leave, there’s definitely a different tone on the first album than on Not To Disappear. Can you explain the transition you made as a band from the first album to the second?
Igor: How it evolved sonically has a lot has to do with the fact that we played live a lot. We sort of grew in to the songs of the first album which we hadn’t really played live before, so going around the world and playing the songs allowed for the natural evolution that happens with music over time. We started collecting more guitar pedals and became more in tune with music and creating certain sounds which we then applied to the new record. The live potential of the music was always in the back of our mind when making the new album.
Elena: I think we definitely kept the focus on the live performance a lot more with this album, it was all recorded in one studio too.
Us: Is the feel of the live performance different now? How did the change in tone translate to the live shows? Do you find yourself playing heavier now or do you slip back in to the mellow vibe of the first album?
Igor: I think it’s a bit of both. We’re definitely still learning how to play those new songs.
Elena: I think even some of the old album songs have seemed to match how the new album material is played. Songs like winter have definitely progressed and gotten louder on stage since the first record was made.
Igor: And the new record is a lot more layered, so we’ve tried to bring that to the stage as well. We’ve had a fourth musician with us since the previous tour too but we’ve definitely raised the bar for her [Lucy] in terms of what she has to do now. There are a lot more sounds to trigger.
Us: Did you suffer with second album syndrome?
Elena: [Laughs] I don’t know, I think it was really good to go into it feeling like we had the experience of making the first. We knew what we didn’t want to do and we definitely went in to it with a clearer idea of how to make an album which in itself is weird because you can never really know how to make an album. I think we tried as much as possible not to think about the first album, that was the main thing. If you start overthinking about how it relates to the first one it leads you to second guess everything. We wanted to just make what we wanted and hope everyone likes it.
Igor: I think people tend to take a long time to make the first album, and then because of success they put too much pressure on themselves and come up with the second album pretty quickly. We definitely thought that until it was ready we weren’t going to go in the studio, we were just going to keep on demoing and play around with the arrangements more. We had two EPs before [the first album] which totalled at 8 songs so you kind of could say that was like a first album. For me I definitely don’t think I had that kind of second album syndrome in mind.
Us: Yeah I remember it being about 18 months ago when I read somewhere that you guys had started work on Not To Disappear. I was just about to ask when you mentioned the time it took to make the album whether you guys gave Not To Disappear as much space as you did for If You Leave.
Elena: I think we didn’t just want to rush it. It was nice to feel like you’ve put everything you could into it. We’re very lucky because we have two beautiful independent labels who are very like “just make something great guys, just do what you want” [laughs]. It’s as if there was no pressure to rush.
Us: The final thing we want to ask you guys is about the music video for the new single Doing The Right Thing. It was so heartbreaking. Was that the feeling you were going for? Do you think it compliments the song well?
Elena: The story of this song made me very upset. We worked with a team who did the Still video for the first album. We were still mixing the album and we really wanted to make three amazing short film videos so we trusted them to do it, which wasn’t hard seeing as they were so good. They went away with the music and came up with these concepts. It’s just the result of those three days of shooting…
Us: Just three days?
Elena: Yeah, it is so beautiful and heartbreaking. I saw the script written for what they were going to shoot and was just thinking wow… this is going to be really sad! But it is so beautiful and it describes the song and that feeling really well. It was good to go down that very real route as opposed to a more abstract one.
Us: Thank you for speaking with us, good luck for the show and the rest of the tour!
Interview originally conducted by Samuel Lindblad, Zoe Kent and Emefa Setranah.
Stream Not To Disappear on Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/album/0ojaCwRiJ63YX6ucXASFdU