The brother and sister duo Au Palais are David and Elise Commathe, who've been building a quiet buzz around their moody, electronic dirges. Their new EP Tender Mercy is out this week on one of our Now Issue’s "Labels To Watch", The Sounds of Sweet Nothing. We caught up with the duo over Skype for some filial banter and to talk about their burgeoning music career. Stream Tender Mercy below, and check out the duo stateside at Glasslands in January.
Stream: Au Palais' EP Tender Mercy
How did you guys get your start in music? DAVID: I think we’ve always been doing it. I mean Au Palais started technically when I was living in Japan and I was making minimal techno tracks just for myself and Elise told me to start making music for her to sing to. I had never heard her sing except like one time at karaoke. ELISE: Shut up! We come from a family where our grandfather was a conductor and a composer. I’ve got ten years of classical piano training, like we had to do music, but it wasn’t something we ever considered [professionally]. Au Palais just started a bit fluidly, but it wasn’t until maybe the past year that we got a bit more serious about it. DAVID: There’s like two years worth of abandoned demos that will never see the light of day. The songs that became the EP and the ones we’re playing live now, those are maybe from 2010 on.
Why'd you choose a French name? ELISE: I studied a lot of French history of a certain period, so I just really loved the idea of the Sun King phase—we just wanted to evoke something of that era. DAVID: Like something gilded and ornate. ELISE: A bit ostentatious. As Canadians, you grow up with so much French around you, and you take it for granted, and then when I moved to London, I couldn’t believe how much I noticed the lack of French on all the packaging. DAVID: Yeah, you just get used to like the back of a cereal box being the left in English and the right in French. ELISE: And so it came to this period where I was actually missing it. I take comfort in French. It’s really bizarre.
What is your opinion of the music scene back home in Toronto? DAVID: Drake is funny cause he was an actor on a high school drama in Canada. So Canadians know him as that, right? He disappeared and all of the sudden, he’s hanging out with like Lil Wayne and everyone was like, what? It’d be like if—I don’t know—like if Screech from Saved by the Bell disappeared and came back as... ELISE: But in Drake’s defense, I love that new album. DAVID: Drake aside, there are a lot of bands coming out of Toronto. ELISE: It’s really bizarre 'cause Toronto is such a small scene, and I almost feel like maybe all of us who made music just disappeared and went into our homes and made some albums and then apparently we all ran away to London. I’m sure we all went to the same university and we just don’t know it. DAVID: Yeah, we’re all hanging out in the background at the same parties.
What brought you to London? ELISE: In my other life, I’m a graphic designer, and I moved here almost two years ago for work. David was still in Tokyo and we were doing everything cross continental. I had gone home to Canada to record [this past summer], and I wasn’t going to leave London, so it was more like, You’re coming here. London has always been a hub of music, I feel like everyone from, like, Lana del Rey to Azealia Banks is like, Oh, I’m moving to London. You get this really interesting vibe that something is happening here right now, and we are just randomly a part of it. ELISE: If we were to move to any other city we would go to New York. DAVID: I’d go back to Tokyo. ELISE: I couldn’t get a visa for the States, but we’re Italian so we can just live here. America’s so hard to get into.
Were you guys in other bands before Au Palais? ELISE: No! I have never done anything music-related until this. It’s really bizarre. DAVID: I was. I put in my time in terrible guitar bands, playing in crumbling dives.
Were you hesitant about singing for the first time? ELISE: I had crippling stage fright up until like a week ago. Before I got on stage, I would have my manager grab me by the shoulders and say, “You can do this!” Before every single show David would tell me about Cat Power: “Once I saw her, she mumbled incoherently, she walked off the stage for ten minutes, she vomited, she came back, she did it.” I didn’t even tell anyone for a long time that I was in Au Palais. No one knew I could sing. Even my own mother was like, “Oh, who’s singing?" Everyone’s reaction when they first heard it was like, "Who is, who is the singer?" I’m like, "It’s me!"
What’s it like working with your sister and vice versa? DAVID: It’s great. ELISE:From the age of like 14 on, we’ve gotten along. DAVID: I tried to push you out of the carriage when I was three years old. ELISE: David tried to kill me a lot when we were little…our birthdays are two days apart. When it’s your sibling, I think you can be a lot more honest, you never have to worry that he’ll never speak to me again, cause I can just call Mom and be like, David won’t talk to me. DAVID: In other bands I’ve played in, there’s always a little bit of underlying tension between the members—you know the bassist wants more bass time or whatever and it hasn’t been like that with us. ELISE: Being a designer teaches you so much about constructive criticism. It’s all about improving the product, making it better, and I think that really helps. DAVID: Elise art directs the songs, like a 20-minute epic that dissolves into noise. ELISE: I’ll be like, "Okay, this part, this part, this part, chop this, extend this—perfect!"
How did you guys get involved with the label The Sounds of Sweet Nothing? ELISE: Well, we just put one song up on a MySpace page in the end of July or beginning of August, and the next day one of the bigger digital PR companies in London tweeted it. My friend who also works in PR emailed me, and was like, "People are talking about you." Within that day we were contacted by a bunch of boutique labels. Ned Hodge, who runs Sounds of Sweet Nothing, is a mutual friend, and I just wanted someone’s opinion in the industry [to advise me]. He [asked to hear the songs] and then he freaked out and was like, "Oh my god, we’re having a meeting right now."
Your Bandcamp description says: "We record music at night." What does that mean? DAVID: Yeah, I mean, it, it makes it sound like it was like just like a deliberate choice but it just kinda worked out that we’re always, always recording at night. ELISE: A friend told me, "Your music is really good bender music." DAVID: I remember this one time we had this party at my friend’s flat in Tokyo. Twelve people slept over, and it was a small room so everyone literally had to sleep like vampires, like they’re packed in. I just remember waking up the next morning and you could probably see the booze fumes above us and it was just like everyone was feeling terrible and I remember my friend just put on like…Collected Ambient Works: Vol II by Aphex Twin and everyone was just lying there motionless…I wanted to go for that with Au Palais.
Does all this sudden attention feel strange? DAVID: A little bit. I think for me seeing people write about my music is really bizarre, and seeing our music up on like major publications like The FADER feels like, this can’t possibly be real. ELISE: I think we’re just going with it. When people say to me, "Oh, what do you do?" There’s this huge pause 'cause I don’t know what I am anymore. DAVID: I guess I still tell people I’m a paramedic but I gotta stop doing that. ELISE: I feel pretentious if I say I’m a singer, but then if I say I’m a graphic designer I’m like, But I don’t do design, now I sing I made a joke that was like: David, saving lives by day, saving the dance floor by night.
Do you have plans for a full-length album? DAVID: Yeah, we’re working on it right now. It’s a little brighter. We took a lot of inspiration from like early ’90s house music—full-on operatic vocals. ELISE: Just blame it on my love to dance. I was like, David, we need to write a dance song. DAVID: There’s also like plenty of dark shit in there, too, so don’t worry that’s still around. ELISE: Don’t worry the moody depressive songs will be back.