“Melodies are like enigmas.” Avenir meets The Dø
We met up with Olivia Merilahti, one half of the The Dø, after the French-Finnish pop duo’s show at Brixton Electric – the 130th of their “Shake Shook Shaken” tour. For their third studio album they gave up their guitars for drum machines, a choice we couldn’t support more enthusiastically – their new singles “Keep Your Lips Sealed” and “Trustful Hands” are absolute bangers!
Avenir: What have you been up to since the release of your second album “Both Ways Open Jaws” in 2011?
Olivia Merilahti: We toured until 2012, and very quickly after that we started writing [“Shake Shook Shaken”], individually at first; we don’t usually give ourselves a lot of time. We felt a sense of urgency to write this album.
A: Your sound has evolved a lot between your second and third album, what motivated that change?
O: It was a mix between a natural change and something we actually instigated. We like to experiment with songs; without being super geeks, we like to try different tools. We started using drum machines and we discovered we could do a lot from just a box, with plug-ins and stuff. Where we come from, musicianship is very important and the instrument is sacred, so synthetic sounds were looked down on and we wanted to make them sexy.
A: Can you tell us more about the writing and recording process for “Shake Shook Shaken”?
O: We worked separately for the first six months and just sent each other ideas, and then when we felt ready we started recording. It was quite simple, and at the same time we were building our studio in a disused water tower in Normandy.
A: You’ve got a real talent for melodies, do you wake up with them or does it take you a long time to refine them?
O: Writing melodies is like drawing. A good melody is one of the most important things to me. They either come very naturally with the chords I’m working on or I have to work on them a little more. Melodies are like enigmas; I go for long walks and I usually manage to find the solution to the enigma.
A: Reynald Gresset’s film “Miracle” is so beautiful, how did that collaboration come about?
O: It was difficult for us to pick one song [for a music video] so we went to the producers, Iconoclast, because we knew we wanted to work with them and they came back to us with a script including almost all the songs from the album. We felt really honoured that it led to that kind of story; the film has a real depth to it.
A: The film follows two characters, a boy and a girl, from childhood until they become young, and then fully-grown, adults. Do you feel like it represents your evolution as a band?
O: I don’t know, it could be. I just cried when I got the treatment for the film. It’s a very universal story; the car crash is a symbol of change and of being completely bewildered by it.
A: The video for “Trustful Hands” that you shot in Tokyo looks like it was so much fun to make!
O: It was! We were supposed to do a “proper” shoot but we’d been on the road so much we couldn’t find one day when everyone was available. So we just decided to improvise and use what we had around us.
A: You have some great dance moves in this video and on stage; have you ever practised contemporary dance?
O: I have, a little bit, but I’ve always improvised a lot. On this tour I worked with a choreographer called Marion Mottin, she a genius, she’s incredible. She doesn’t direct, she just goes from what you have, she reads your body and tries to lead you towards where you’re supposed to go.
A: It must have been so traumatic playing a gig in Paris on the 13th of November, when did you hear about the attacks that were happening?
O: When we walked off the stage. We were wondering why people started leaving before the end of the show, during the last ten minutes. It’s not usual for people who come to see us in a venue like the Olympia to leave early. Then we had to stay in the venue for hours; they closed the main entrance so people had to leave through the emergency exits and through our dressing rooms. It felt like the show didn’t happen, like it had been wiped out because there was something so terrible happening.
A: How have you been handling it since?
O: It’s been terrible. We’ve only started talking about it very recently amongst the band. There have been only a few days when we don’t think about it all the time. I must say, I’m happy to leave Paris [Olivia is moving to Biarritz], there is such a heavy atmosphere there, with candles and flowers on every corner in front of people’s doors… it’s a huge shock. It gave a beautiful energy to the end of the tour though; we’ve never experienced that much enthusiasm at shows in France.
A: What’s next for you now that you’ve finished this tour?
O: The plan is to rest and to try and get a life! We’ll carry on with the band but we’ll take our time, we’ll do our own things first and carry on when we actually can’t wait anymore.
A: Do you have a highlight from this tour?
O: We’d never played at Le Zénith in Paris, and we never thought we’d manage to have a sold out gig there, so that was dizzying. It was too big for us but we made it! We felt a mix of “What the hell are we doing here?” and “Wow! This is a magical moment, so many people in one place for you…”
Interview Luna Cohen-Solal