Angels and Demons: Getting to know Envelopes
“We are 5 people; 4 guys from Sweden and Audrey who’s French.”
Getting to know Envelopes isn’t hard. After seeing them charm teethy smiles from a Barfly audience who seemed to be of the opinion that Friday night’s alright for….pouting, I decided the prospect of an interview with another hack who knew very little about them, (and who offered the added lure of being half-cut), would be too good for them to refuse. Rather surprisingly, they agreed.
The next day, I wander down to their café-cum-studio on the Hackney Road sometime in the afternoon while everyone else is either glued to the football or packing out my bus with early Christmas shopping. A nervous looking but friendly Fredrik emerges from a back-room and leads me through to the meet the others.
Having been together for little over four years, I think Envelopes first came to DiS’ collective attention in the middle of this summer past, when they shared stages with kindred spirits Clor up and down the country, resulting in an album review brimful of fawning praise. ‘Demon’, the brilliantly skew-whiff, self-produced album in question was built by Henrik and Audrey (both vocals/guitar/keyboard) Fredrik (guitar) Martin (bass) and Filip (drums) who is home in Sweden today. When I say they built the record, I mean it in a very literal sense of the word; each song bursts with enough whizzes, pops and bangs to colour and texture the album in such a way that it could hold the attention of a Ritalin guzzling goldfish. From what I heard of a new track, (possibly destined for inclusion on a fresh EP due early next year), their crackerjack pop is a craft that looks set to endure.
After introductions are made, the reason for Fredrik’s earlier nervousness becomes clear.
“Did you see the Hells Angels in the Café? I don’t think they like us too much. They already asked Henrik if he was gay. It’s quite intimidating; every time you go out there you have like, 12 pairs of eyes on you, or whatever. I think they are on a drive or something.”
In light of this, we leave the two vocalists busy in the studio and, after clawing our way through the watchful gaze of the leather-clad mob, make for a small café up the road in Shoreditch. Over caffeine and glazed donuts Martin and Fredrick affably talk me through their album, scared horses and fugitive slices of Einstein’s brain.
First things first; how did you meet? Being scattered across Europe must have ruled out the regular routines of forming; meeting at school or down the local indie-disco, for example…
Fredrik: Audrey was an exchange student in our, (his and Henrik’s) hometown. She befriended Henrik and some months later he was going to Paris to study French, so he called her and they were hanging out, sharing an apartment for quite a long time. And he was, basically, not taking too much time with his studies. He was mostly sitting at home and recording songs and stuff. And then it turned out that she was adding melodies and other parts to the songs. Audrey has this special sort of melodic sensibility which has turned out to be one of the trademarks of the sound.
It is a very distinctive sound. The band seems very much based on writing what I’d call ‘decent pop songs’, with a lot of depth and structure.
Fredrik: How much stuff have you heard?
I’ve had the album for a while, and I’ve heard a couple of live sets…
Martin: I think that’s where the depth is. It’s in the relationship between the instruments and the production and the structure…the lyrics are more like a vehicle for a melody. It’s not a message.
Fredrik: The lyrics are often things that Henrik comes up with off the top of his head, different lines that he is using when he is singing and stuff. But then sometimes it comes together and seems to have meaning when he puts it all together. We’re not very literary; our lyrics are not made for any kind of deeper study. It’s not like we are sitting down and discussing the themes of the songs.
Where did the line about lip-gloss come from in ‘Glue’?
Fredrik: I don’t know! I mean, the origin of some of the lyrics in the song are from a very interesting documentary about a Japanese pathologist who was travelling across America trying to track down Einstein’s brain; after the autopsy. And he was mentally, so disturbingly, committed to this pursuit. He was meeting new people and was like (Adopts ‘authoritative’ Japanese bark) “Do you have Einstein’s brain? Einstein’s brain, do you have it?” and then the people he met would try and tell some sort of funny anecdote like “Maybe I had a slice of Einstein’s brain a couple of months ago but I don’t have it anymore”, but he was not interested in these stories around it all, he was almost rude, interrupting. If they were talking about something he would interrupt (adopts voice again) “But you have Einstein’s brain?” They would explain, “No, no I don’t have it anymore”. He’d be “Where I go, where I go?” ‘cos he wanted to get a new clue on the way to get a piece. Since then Henrik was always saying “Excuse me, I’m looking for Einstein’s brain”.
So how does that relate to the song?
Fredrik: Well, obviously the first line of the song…
Martin: - but is it any other line? I mean does it relate to any other line? Does anything after that even connect to it?
Fredrik: Yeah I think so – obviously it’s jumping to someone’s self-obsession with something. There’s a man in a room with a blackboard. There’s a narrative, an argument, a general sense of annoyance, perhaps.
I get the impression that there’s no grand plan for the Envelopes. I find it quite admirable, in a way, because a lot of bands today seem to have a mission statement. They seem almost contrived beforehand, that they have a certain, set idea that they want to try and present.
Fredrik: We don’t have an agenda, we are about doing interesting, entertaining stuff, firstly for ourselves. What we are hoping is that people can pick up on what we do ‘cos we can offer something that not a lot of other people can. We want something that becomes more than the sum of its parts.
Perhaps in keeping with that, I find it hard to detect many obvious influences on the musical side of things…
Fredrik: This is always a tough question, ‘cos it’s not very obvious in the song writing that there is an aspiration of an end result that is similar to our influences. Obviously you take bits and pieces – the way songs are arranged, ‘this sounds good’ – and you get a little curious of trying it yourself. I think something that makes it unique is Audrey’s guitar. All of us have this early 90s indie rock baggage- Pavement, the Pixies etc- where you have a background of appreciating certain ways of doing something. But for Audrey she has had a lot less connection with this pop culture. I was still reading pop magazines when I was 16 and she never did this, I don’t think. Maybe that’s why she sounds quite original.
What about music currently coming out of Sweden? Is there a scene as such?
Fredrik: Sweden is very small but the pop scene is very big for being such a small country. Lots and lots of indie kids running around.
Are there any Swedish bands that you particularly like at the moment?
Fredrik: Yeah there are lots. You like the Knife? (I do) There’s one very good band called Suburban Kids With Biblical Names, who do this kind of Magnetic Fields stuff. They are very wonky. Bands like Radio Department who are indie royalty in Sweden. The strange thing is that we know them all but we didn’t fit it into what was going on over there.
Martin: When we were trying to get gigs in Sweden four years ago there wasn’t much room for wonky stuff. It was more like you should be serious in a certain way, otherwise you’d be perceived as a joke.
Was it more dead ahead indie rock; with bands like Mando Diao dominating?
Fredrik: The Strokes became very big in Sweden. I think the Hives were very influential…they are good for what they do, but there were so many people doing riff-rock with a shouty guy.
Sorta like all the Libertines-esque bands in London today?
Fredrik: Yeah exactly, I’ve never seen so many bands sounding like that or wanting to emulate something…you can really see it in a lot of bands that they want to try and tap into that energy. From an artistic standpoint it’s a bit depressing because it’s very limiting.
The first album sounds like a good platform to maybe develop things a bit more. At the moment it’s poppy, but do you feel you’ll ever lose that accessibility?
Fredrik: I feel the new album will be more accessible than ever.
Martin: I think we will write catchier tunes! Some people get put off by the muddiness of it, the lo-fi aspect…
What were you friends and family’s reaction to it?
Fredrik: They are never very impressed really. One friend is always saying “Oh it’ll never be as good as this classic pop” - Suede etc.
Martin: I think it took people a couple of years to appreciate it, it was almost too wonky.
Fredrik: I think a lot of our friends have a hard time thinking beyond that it’s just a funny project we were doing in our spare time. If you give it to someone you don’t know then they tend to take it more seriously. Sometimes you play it to your friends and there’s shouting about brains and they’re like “Yeah, you had a good time”.
As you say, when you do go away, how does that affect your work? Is it hard being holed up with the same four people all the time?
(Long pause before laughter)
Fredrik: Yeah, it’s hard. In the beginning it’s fine, a new environment and we’re always really keen to make the new record. But towards the end of the summer it started to become very tedious being there, and this autumn we’ve had big problems with a creative block. We get on each others nerves too much. There is no escape, yeah you can go outside but all you see is fields and you’ve seen that for the past 7 months.
Why did you choose to setup base in York?
Fredrik: Before we got signed we were never a band living and rehearsing together. It was a thing for the holidays and when we met it was something fun to do. Obviously then we had an opportunity to make this some kind of career and then you need to get your act together and learn how to play. So then we needed a practise space etc, and if you add all that up its impossible to stay in London, so you have to be in a cheaper place. Since we had this holiday vibe, in a summer house with some nature outside the door we wanted to try it and the label found a very cheap house where we could all live.
How are you finding the locals?
Martin: We don’t meet them. It’s very isolated (Proceeds to give directions to the farm they call home, which sounds like it is buried deep in the wilderness). This road doesn’t lead to anywhere except the farm. Also, in the beginning it was extremely hard to understand the farmer. (A brilliantly typical Yorkshireman who can be found on the video page of the bands website).
I heard his story about you scaring his horses…
Martin: We wanted to record the drums outside so there wasn’t any reverb on the drums. One of the horses was really upset…
Fredrik: We were on a different side of the house to the horses so they couldn’t see it and it confused them. They were running around in the field and they couldn’t stop. Horses are very stupid animals; they need a leader to feel comfortable and when they don’t have anyone to look up to they can freak out. The farmer, he freaked out and started screaming and came over and took the sticks off our drummer. It’s funny ‘cos it was right at the end of the tape and you can hear him on the drum track like “Uh! What are you doing!”…it’s a b-side on the sister in love single. Is it still audible?
Martin: I dunno.
Fredrik: Maybe some time we can go to the moors or the desert and play a gig there sometime.
Any other strange encounters with the livestock?
Fredrik: It’s usually hard to approach them. For example, the pigs all live in this huge common room in a layer of mud and shit. They do strange things; fuck each other all the time…it’s best not to approach a pig once they’ve reached puberty. It’s funny about when you are talking to the label about how the band is perceived because this farmhouse angle was used a lot in the beginning…There were at least two photo shoots with hay and I think this is coming to an end now…
Martin: It’s beginning to feel old.
Hmm, end of the farm angle? So what’s next?
Fredrik: We don’t really know ‘cos we don’t know where we are gonna end up. We’re going to finish the record next year and do a lot of touring.
How’s the current tour going?
Fredrik: We are doing this tour with the Villains (Vincent Vincent and the…) and we did a couple with Bearsuit. They’re pretty similar; they share the same aesthetic as we do - except it feels like they are even less interested in making hits than we are. Yeah who am I kidding, we’re pretty interested in making hits I think?
Fredrik: Occasionally we’ve stayed at promoters houses. There’s this place in Lancaster called ‘Feedback’ which is run by a very enthusiastic DIY couple – and there you eat dinner at their place and sleep in their bed and stuff…
…The same bed?
Fredrik: No, there is a lot of room. Also, there was Benicassim. For us, that was one of the highlights of our career. I hope we can go back some time. We won a demo competition as a French band, and we got to play to a decent amount of people in the middle of the day. We got to hang out backstage, with an open bar, a pool, a lot of decent bands. Belle and Sebastian…
Fredrik: Yeah although I got a little annoyed with that concert, he was too drunk…
Who? (finding it hard at this point to process their accents)
Fredrik: Arthur Lee was depressed that day and very drunk or stoned or something. I kinda lost my patience after a couple of songs because it was pretty shambolic.
Ever see yourself going that way?
Fredrik: We tried it already, actually and it wasn’t very good.
Martin: We were too drunk…
Any other problems on tour?
Martin: Not with the Villains no, they’re good people. One time a band borrowed our backline and trashed it. They kicked over the drums and a fender amplifier.
Fredrik: Yeah, they pissed me off. At this point I don’t even care if they make any good music. They just weren’t respectful and later when it turns out our amp is busted we talked to their manager at the place and they said if there was any damage they will pay for it. Then they change their minds and tell us if we want any money we will have to call the police. It’s out of order as our sound guy would say…
Have you picked up any other slang or expressions while you’ve been in the UK?
Fredrik: Richard the sound guy he is from London so he is like “In..innit” all the time…innit.
With that I left Martin and Fredrik walking back to their bandmates. Back to the studio where they would probably stay all night, and back to the ‘Angels with their menacing frowns. Thing is, if they actually took the time to sit down and talk to the boys, there’s no way they wouldn’t like them.