Photography by Timothy Cochrane | Words by Kate Parkin
Whispering out from the speakers of teenage bedrooms across the land, Daughter’s anthemic ode to the heady rush of ‘Youth’ is fast becoming a Youtube covers sensation. The band seem oblivious to the attention, sheltered within the confines of backstage ahead of a Beirut support slot, huddled against the driving rain outside.
With a fragile, slightly awkward beauty, lead singer Elena Tonra is both compelling and shyly disarming in her sweetness. The two boys, slightly rumpled with sleep, lounge quietly on the sofas. Previously a solo project, Eleanor was joined by her boyfriend Igor Haefeli on guitar and college friend Remi Aguilella on drums. They met while studying at The Institute of Contemporary Music Performance in London, becoming a fully-fledged group just two years ago.
“I suppose I just didn’t enjoy doing the solo shows because I find it quite scary,” says Eleanor, softly. “I first started mainly gigging with Igor, he just filled in for a few shows, then we started arranging stuff.
“It’s very difficult to get the sounds that were in my head to actually work,” she says. “Remi and Igor really bring their strengths to what we have now”.
Often compared to Scandinavian acts like Jonsi and Bjork, Eleanor is in fact a London native, while Remi and Igor hail from France and Switzerland respectively. Igor also has a French mother. “I was born and raised in France and then moved to London, because I wanted to explore the scene I guess and play music. I come from a really small place in France and you see a lot of great international bands coming to the cities, but it’s pretty rare to see a regional band playing those really good venues.”
As we get round to discussing those heartfelt Youtube covers, they look slightly taken aback when I suggest that they might prefer people to just buy the record. Eleanor whispers, “I don’t think it’s a bad thing. I haven’t really watched them too much, just because I find it quite surreal I suppose, but not really in a bad way. It is flattering I think… quite strange but good!”
Igor agrees. “I think especially that they relate to it and feel like they want to sing it. Personally, when I was learning guitar, the songs I really liked, I tried to cover”.
“Someone showed me a drum cover once of ‘Youth’,” says Remi. “I remember going on Youtube and finding it and suddenly it’s the part you came up with being played by someone else.”
Eleanor gently furrows her brow beneath her heavy bangs, “Surreal…”
Remi laughs. “Exactly, surreal!”
Playing live their partnership becomes clear, communicating with shy glances and the faintest of smiles, backed by Igor’s shuddering guitars, with the technical subtlety of former jazz drummer Remi gently weaving it all together.
As the main lyricist, many of the songs are deeply personal to Eleanor. I wonder how difficult it is to share them with other people. Are there any she wouldn’t want to be heard?
“Yes, when I think about them too much.” She hesitates. “When I don’t think about it, it’s just a song and then suddenly I think, ‘Arggh shit, why am I telling everyone!?’. It’s like a moment of realisation.” Brushing it off with a shrug she adds, “Then I think that people already know my secrets anyway so it’s fine. There are days when you’re playing a song and you get reminded why you wrote it and it can upset me a little bit. But while I’m on stage I try not to get too silly about things.”
“So has having others to share the songwriting process with helped?” I ask. Igor answers carefully. “I think that it’s a work in progress and it’s something that will take a long time for Eleanor to feel freer to let us other people into a song.” He adds as Eleanor laughs softly in the background, “because she’s been so used to doing things by herself that it will only grow as the months and years go by.”
Currently writing and producing their debut album, Igor is on co-producing duties with Rodaidh McDonald, the man responsible for both records by The xx. Eleanor explains, “We’re writing quite a lot of new songs and we don’t have a huge amount of time to live with them. We’re very much going on instinct and mood, following naturally where we think it should go and they are quite dark at the moment, a bit morbid maybe. I suppose it’s maybe easier for me to write about things like that.”
Darkness certainly becomes Daughter, with previous songs like ‘Love’ (from the band’s ‘The Wild Youth’ EP) carrying the biting sadness of love lost, twisted and tangled up with surging electro at its heart-rending conclusion. ‘Home’ has the slow percussive shuffle of Feist, with all of the shuddering, enveloping sadness and none of the joyful hum. The lyrics too provide little insights into the hurt contained within: ‘I think I should be a little bit more confident in myself, in my skin’.
Taking things to a lighter place, I note that a recent interview commented on the artworks of ‘The Wild Youth’ and second EP ‘His Young Heart’, both of which feature pictures of a young Eleanor and her family. They laugh at my suggestion that Remi and Igor should be next and Eleanor explains the importance of having a connection to her past. “In the two EPs it was really important to embarrass myself and to have that link with that silly picture with me and my brother. Maybe in a way it made it less daunting to release something that has something familiar on it, made it a bit less scary, almost. But I think a lot of the songs have a running family theme to them. I write a lot about my parents and my family so I think I should probably carry on talking about them”. Laughing, she adds “Whether or not they’ll allow me to use anymore embarrassing photos or not I don’t know. But I’d like to.”
Daughter plan to release their debut album in January via 4AD, just in time for their first headline UK tour. It follows on from a two week American tour in October and one week in Europe in November, making for a long and busy road ahead. Eleanor smiles, determined. “It’s not going to be easy. But, you know, pressure’s good, right?”
New single ‘Smother’ with its sliding guitars and lushly orchestrated harmonies hint at a break from their usual Spartan sound, while still keeping the same soul-wrenching lyrics at its core: ‘Sometimes I wish I’d just stayed inside my mother, never to come out’.
Backstage the debate rages on about what songs to include. Igor emphasizes that there won’t be many songs from the band’s previous releases. “We just kind of want to keep on progressing,” he says. “There might be one or two, we’re still weighing it up. It’s more about making something that glues together.”
Eleanor interjects, “It would be a nice touch to maybe just have one song.”
“So we’re not completely denying,” nods Igor.
Earlier this year they released a T-Shirt for mental health organization Mind, through offbeat charity scheme The Yellow Bird Project.
“They make T-Shirts basically that combine an artist with a charity and we were given the opportunity to choose, so we chose to work with Mind,” explains Eleanor before suddenly wavering and becoming fragile and birdlike.
“I thought it might be a really good idea and I really wanted to choose that charity.” Her voice fades to a whisper. “I think it relates quite a lot to…” She trails off as Igor finishes, “to the project.”
Personal demons aside, this year has been a confident one for Daughter. Currently on tour with Beirut, they have seen a slew of appearances at major festivals including Bestival and Latitude, and last year enjoyed support slots with Cloud Control, Sharon Von Etten and Mercury Prize nominated Ben Howard, who continues to champion the band.
Often mentioned in the same breath as female artists like Laura Marling, Eleanor is keen to make a distinction. “I think I’m quite different,” she says. “I’m not really a girl singer. I mean I am a girl, I’m not really a woman, but it’s not really like that, it’s more of a collaborative thing.”
“Maybe you’ll come across it more in the record,” says Igor. “Maybe not, but we’re very much in our own little bubble; we’re not really worrying about what other singer-songwriters are around.”
The band are elated to be having a break from the studio. Remi, in particular, enjoys the twist and turns of playing live. “I grew up listening to and playing jazz music,” he says, “so I don’t think I’ve ever played the same thing twice. Your mood is definitely going to define how you’re going to play that night, or what you’re going to create, or where it’s going to take you. Especially for jazz, but also for any kind of interesting music.”
Describing their previous recording experiences as “claustrophobic and intense”,
Eleanor explains, “It consisted of basically being trapped in flat for weeks on end, but I think when it’s not quite as crazy and confined it can be really great. It’s almost like a blank canvas, you can just start and chuck ideas at something and the whole creativity of it is amazing.”
She adds, “I think we’re massive perfectionists, to the extent of where sometimes it’s a bit ridiculous. There are times where we don’t agree on stuff, but with the album I don’t think we really have time. It’s our initial thoughts going out there, which will be terrifying but interesting. Because otherwise, knowing us, it would be five years from now and we’d still be tweaking something.”
Igor shakes his head. “Nah,” he says as Eleanor scowls at him disbelieving. “We would! Ok, maybe not 5 years, but…” She trails off again and Igor roars. “That’s for the second record,” he says.
I leave with an image of them still trapped in the flat, surrounded by recording equipment, constantly tweaking and reshaping their sound, only it’s five years later and they look like bedraggled castaways on a deserted island. Finally reconciling themselves to the past, it seems Daughter are ready to move on.
Originally published in Loud And Quiet 42. Read the issue in full here.