Annie Hart’s solo debut, Impossible Accomplice, is a subtle stroke of ethereal genius. Fresh off appearing twice on David Lynch’s Twin Peaks reboot with her New York dream-pop band Au Revoir Simone, Hart solidifies herself as a singular talent with her first solo album.
It’s nearly impossible to separate Hart from Au Revoir Simone, but Hart manages to focus the former’s blueprint with tighter arrangements awakened by a synthesized reel of melting intimacy.
Hiding within these sweltering and textural soundscapes, pure dance pop radiates to elegantly balance out her velvety harmonies. Her wistful lyricism is conveyed with veracity. Together with the album’s humming iridescence, Hart’s sincerity envelops the listener with the warmest embrace as she treads upon themes of love and broken relationships.
While undoubtedly somber, Hart simultaneously draws from the danceability of ‘80s new wave and infuses an endearing sense of hope and happiness. Beneath the skin of all this love-tinged melancholy, a drum machine palpitates like it is the album’s heart, mourning fractured relationships. With such melodic intelligence and mystifying grace, Annie Hart unearths a hue of elation in the midst of brokenness.
Possessing pristine vocals and masterful keyboard musicianship, she accomplishes a swelling ambiance with pop subtleties that will inspire warmth in the most cynical and broken of hearts. Hart lays off the darker tones that Au Revoir Simone often explored and offers something more lovely—a pop-oriented balm for those who share her pain.
RIFF chatted with Hart over email about carving out a unique image, embarking on a solo career, working at Fred Armisen’s home and Twin Peaks.
RIFF: Naturally, your name is synonymous with Au Revoir Simone, but how have you been able to separate yourself as a solo artist?
Annie Hart: I haven’t actually tried to separate myself from Au Revoir Simone, or even thought about it. I think the comparisons between both entities’ music are inevitable, and it’s nearly impossible to branch out and do your own thing without traces of your past volume of work popping up in people’s minds. Also, I’ve always been creating music that I like to hear, and since I’m not remarkably wealthy to buy more musical instruments nor talented at playing a variety of them, I’m working with basically the same sonic palette that I did with Au Revoir Simone, less Erika [Forster] and Heather [D’Angelo]’s voices.
How has the writing and recording process as a solo artist differed to Au Revoir Simone’s?
At first it was absolutely petrifying. I really relied on my bandmates for their judgment and approval. My view was that if we came up with something that all three of us liked, then it must be good enough to present to the outside world. But slowly and surely, as I got deeper into meditation and trusting myself to know what I liked, I just went with it and embraced what I liked and hoped that this particular music would find people who like the same weird things. So what if a song had only two chords and no chorus? It resonated with me and I left it alone.
What type of artistic freedoms have you been able to wield now that you are embarking on a solo career?
Well, aside from … having strange [song] structures, the biggest freedom I have is trying any idea I deem worth trying without any fear of judgment other than my own. I’m not always confident that my idea is good, and even if I saw potential in it, I would see a similar potential on Heather and Erika’s germs, so why not work on those? Strangely, they would often like ideas of mine that I didn’t really like, and sometimes those songs ended up on the records! … It’s the luxury of time, taking time away from and toward an idea, and working on it for months and sometimes years, leaving space for my mind to see it as an outside observer.
What does the future hold for Au Revoir Simone?
I have no idea! We have an undeniable magic. We’d get lost in these synth-scapes for hours and hours, practicing so much and just playing around with sound combinations until they were hypnotizing. I’ve never had that experience with anyone else; that total lack of wall between composers and sharing the same brain. Every now and then we toy with the idea of getting together to play a concert. We’ll all see together where that ends up!
You, Erika and Heather appeared on the Twin Peaks reboot not once but twice inside the iconic Bang Bang Bar. How did the relationship between Au Revoir Simone and David Lynch come about?
David was on his book tour for Catching The Big Fish and we were invited to play alongside him at a bookstore here in New York. We were both interviewed in front of an audience. It was packed! When we finished, his people said, “David really likes you,” and we said, “Great!” then they said, “No, David really likes you.” He ended up inviting us to play his museum opening at the Fundacion Cartier in Paris, the opening of the nightclub he’s involved with over there, Silencio, and doing an awesome remix for us. He’s been this amazing guiding light and huge supporter. We really owe so much to his vociferous appreciation of us.
Have you played David Lynch Impossible Accomplice yet?
I haven’t! I have a hard time sending people music, but now that you mention it, maybe I should!
Impossible Accomplice as a whole seems to tread upon the tonal marriage between happy and sad that prevailed in the ‘80s new wave scene. Did you intend to pull from this era?
I definitely was listening to a lot of new wave and its derivatives when I was composing this set of songs. I really love that marriage between synth and live bass and tried to do that as much as I could. And that can be with a drum machine or a live drummer; they both add a different kind of magic to the music. I listened to Tubeway Army, Gary Numan’s first band, a lot. I also got into really analyzing New Order and how they use instrumentation and honest-sounding lyrics to captivate the listener, and also make you dance. I love Paper, this rad synth kind of punk band from Sweden. I really like how all these musicians have kind of aggressive and not always in tune voices, and it works with the gritty textures and raw emotions way better than something polished would.
“My Heart’s Been Broken,” arguably the best track on your album, exemplifies this happy/sad contrast with ethereal synthesizers and heartbreaking lyrics. To whom or what does the song refer?
It was the last track I finished. I wrote it as the last song in this event my friends and I do that we call “Song Challenge.” “Song Challenge” was apparently started by Justin from the Vaccines. The idea is you write and record a bunch of songs in one day and then play them for your friends. I absolutely love it, but it is also nerve-wracking since my vocals are usually out of key and my lyrics usually trite or mumbled, or both.
I kept the chorus from that day, which seemed like a good starting place for a story, and I wrote the verses very unusually for me: I wrote down in my notebook what I thought the mumbled words from the demo were. I thought they turned very poignant. … I got the idea in my head that the song was about someone in particular I was having tension with, someone who was really upset and thought I was mad at her, and didn’t understand what she was going through. She wasn’t listening to me in person; just kind of putting a wall of anger around her emotions. I wanted her to know that my heart had been broken as well, and I empathized with her emotions and life’s trajectory—that I could relate to her pain and wasn’t judging her, or angry.
Who was “Hard To Be Still,” a love song, written about?
I wrote this one for my husband, Doug Marvin, who is really amazing. I don’t know how I started on the idea, but I have absolutely never been able to write an unabashed love song about [anyone]. I think the real vibe cuts the cute factor and I’m able to be happy with the happy lyrics. I released it as a single because I asked a bunch of people which song was the single and they picked that one.
The song credits include Fred Armisen, at whose apartment you recorded the bass and drums. How did that all go down?
Fred is a big Au Revoir Simone fan and sent us a fan email a while back. We started writing back and forth a little and then invited him to our next show in Portland. Luck would have it, he wouldn’t be around for the time before the show but he offered us to stay in his apartment. I was actually going to be in town for a few days prior so I took him up on that. He had a little mini studio in the room I was staying in and I couldn’t resist hooking it up to my GarageBand and just messing around. Things fell into place from there. I wasn’t even going to tell him I did it there, but I did after he complimented me on the song and he was so psyched it got started at his place.
What does the title, Impossible Accomplice, mean?
The title is actually something I read in an interview in the Rough Trade store magazine! It was an interview between two women, describing how they met, how the other one seemed like a “possible accomplice” to art and life adventures. I flipped it in my mind and mulled it over while I made the coffee and suddenly it struck me how that word pair echoed the sentiment across the record. Most of these songs are about love that I couldn’t have for some reason or another. I just couldn’t have what I wanted at the time, and the person in question was just not happening although they seemed perfect. I think of “accomplice” in the way that the two women in the interview did, like someone to share life with, but also maybe get in trouble with. Now I see that these people were impossible accomplices due to life situations or character flaws, or that they treated me like garbage and I shouldn’t have been worshipping them in the first place.
Follow writer Kyle Kohner at Twitter.com/kylejkohner.