Monday 18 December 2017

Lock up your daughters

Eamon Sweeney

Eamon Sweeney

So, how do you drink your whiskey?" asks Daughter's exotically named guitarist and producer Igor Haefeli. "Not for now, but we need to know what we should mix a nice Irish whiskey with later."

Phew, we've an interview to crack on with and we weren't expecting Shane MacGowan to show up. The hottest girl/boy trio since the Yeah Yeah Yeahs are relaxing backstage, sans beverages, a few hours before a sold-out show in Dublin's Button Factory.

This brisk box office business is pretty impressive considering that they haven't even released their debut album. The last band to stuff this joint so early on into a fledgling career is The Strokes, way back in the hazy hyped mists of 2001 when this venue had the more straightforward name of the Temple Bar Music Centre.

At the opposite end of the sonic spectrum, Daughter really couldn't look or sound any more different, purveying a singular blend of atmospheric rock that has echoes of The xx and Brian Eno.

A section of their fridge is packed to the gills with Leffe, that potent Belgian beer brewed by monks that could knock you for six even after two bottles. "We just ask for a premium brand beer, which can end up being anything from Stella to Leffe," Haefeli explains. "It's a little surprise each time."

Ah hospitality riders, those mysteriously exotic gratuities that artists receive as part of their performance contract, immortalised in rock history by Van Halen insisting on picking out the brown M&Ms, Jennifer Lopez's pure white dressing rooms and Eminem insisting on a pond being built and filled with koi carp.

Daughter aren't quite on that level of diva-esque indulgence yet, but they're having a little fun with the freebies request list nevertheless.

"We have a different rider for each gig," Haefeli reveals. "We've so many bottles of vodka and rum, but I don't think anyone in the band even drinks vodka."

"There might be an occasional swig, but that would be it. We need to vary the booze and work on the tea selection while we're at it. We've so much English Breakfast at the moment."

Wide-eyed singer Elena Tonra is extremely charming and ever so slightly shy, recalling how the band landed their first television appearance on David Letterman, of all places.

"It was the most terrifying thing we've ever done," Tonra says. "The surroundings were surreal. My knees were shaking, but thankfully, I don't think you could see them quivering like jelly on the broadcast. It was very surprising that we were asked to do it in the first place and completely out of the blue."

As every other emergent band turns green with envy, I wonder how such an illustrious slot came about.

"Our label in the US is totally separate to 4AD," Tonra answers. "Someone from Letterman caught a show and quite liked us. Considering we only had two EPs out, I'm still not sure what the hell we were doing on there."

"We weren't even too sure about playing it in the first place," Haefeli adds. "We didn't feel like we were ready for it. Everyone told us that we'd be completely crazy not to do it, so we tried it and it was excellent."

As Tonra says, Daughter aren't just on any old record label, but the esteemed 4AD who gave the world The Pixies and the Cocteau Twins and whose current roster includes Bon Iver.

"The calibre of our label mates is pretty insane," Tonra agrees. "It's not pressure as such, but you do feel like you're part of a group of extremely creative people. It's inspiring, but you feel like you have to stand up to the plate, which has to be a good thing.

"Major labels scare the shit of me, so it wasn't a hard decision for us to go with 4AD. Over the course of a few months we got to know each other better.

"It was massively surprising that they really liked us. We played stuff that we'd never play to anyone else apart from our manager and my mum. It was nice to able to trust someone with new material."

Before 4AD came knocking and Daughter were even a band, Londoner Elena pursued a career with an acoustically based solo project.

"It really wasn't any good," she claims. Ah, modesty will get you everywhere. "No, seriously, it wasn't!"

"I was playing solo shows. But I found it all too much to be onstage all alone with a guitar. I found it quite limiting just being me.

"So I stopped. I wanted to branch out and meet other people, but it was a good start. I'd been writing for a few years now but I'll look back and cringe at those older songs now.

"I think the old songs are all shit, but sometimes you have to start shit to progress to something. It was very much a work in progress."

Work in progress or not, without these humble solo origins there would be no Daughter.

"It's how I heard of Elena in the first place," Haefeli explains. "She was doing a gig on her own and I just happened to be in the room. It was an Institute of Contemporary Music and Performance (ICMP) showcase in London.

"I really liked it. Everyone who was there was really drawn in by her voice."

The aforementioned Institute in London's Kilburn also boasts Radiohead's Ed O'Brien amongst its alumni. It became the focal point for a disparate trio who come from three different countries. Igor hails from Neuchatel, which he jokingly calls "Switzerland's Newcastle", while classically trained drummer and percussionist Remi Aguilella is French. "I'm technically from London," Elena laughs. "Well, out in the sticks in zone 6 or somewhere."

Seeing that they're selling out the Button Factory on their first Irish visit, bigger rooms must surely beckon?

"Yeah, or maybe half this size!" Elena laughs. "We're not going to get too carried away.

"We're just going to take it every day at a time. We were very pleasantly surprised this show has sold out. We certainly didn't think we were capable of playing a venue this size in Ireland."

Thanks to soundtracking The Vampire Diaries and Skins and having two hit EPs in an era when the emphasis is on single tracks or albums, the audience already appear to know the words to every single song on the set list, as Daughter conduct a dreamy performance in loud pop that also serves as a perfect lesson in moody restraint.

"Singing on my own was never really me and I always wanted to make more noise," Elena adds. "I'm very happy it's worked out this way."

If You Leave is out today. Daughter play Forbidden Fruit on Sunday, June 2

Irish Independent

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