Duchess Says: The Wavelength Interview

Purveyors of: Moog rock, post-punk science, and homemade religion.
File next to: LCD Soundsystem, Liars, Erase Errata, Les Georges Leningrad
Playing: Night Three of WL16, Saturday February 13 at The Garrison. Get tickets!

Duchess Says just destroyed the Dominion Tavern in Ottawa for the second edition of the Megaphono Festival, and Wavelength’s Jonny Dovercourt was there to witness it. The crowd was packed tightly at the front of the stage, so singer Annie-Claude Deschênes, who bears a striking resemblance to a Molotov cocktail, took the opportunity to wrap the audience in industrial-strength sandwich wrap. She then devoured them with a possessed, evil gaze. No one in the crowd was able to take their eyes off Annie-Claude the entire show, as she pivoted and enacted the band’s fierce, driving psych-punk with frenetic hand gestures. The Garrison will surely be sawdust after this hard-hitting and long-running Montreal crew makes their long-awaited Wavelength debut next Saturday (February 13) for Night Two of the #WL16 Festival. Jonny caught up with the band the morning after their Ottawa show to find out more about their forthcoming science-themed album and their devotion to their own invented religion, before they piled into the van, cackling madly.So last night, Annie-Claude, you wrapped the audience in plastic. Was that planned?

Annie-Claude: No, it was a last-minute plan. I found the roll in the backstage so I decided to take it. [laughs] A last-minute plan.

Does that happen regularly? Crazy stuff just happens at shows?

A-C: Yeah, most of the time, but I like to be really spontaneous with the audience, not to overthink it.

Why do you think it’s important to involve the audience that way?

A-C: Because it’s cool to try to create something. I think to only sing and play music is not enough, I like to try to create more of a show.

When you stare down the audience, what do you want them to feel?

A-C: Just like we are living something together, and not to be shy, to let go of their inhibitions and have fun. It’s the moment that we have together, so let’s do something crazy.

With your hand motions, it looks like you are being possessed by the music. What are you feeling in that moment?

A-C: I think it’s more like to place the ideas at the right place. It helps me to visualize the lyrics and what I have to say.

It sometimes looks like you’re conducting the sounds of the band too, like a conductor. 

A-C: [laughs] Not really.

It’s going to be great to have you guys at Wavelength next Saturday. When was the last time you played Toronto?

A-C: It was with PyPy, our side project, at the Silver Dollar.

Was that a couple years ago?

A-C: Three years ago.

So you guys have been away for a few years. What has Duchess Says been doing on your time off?

A-C: We built a music studio because we wanted to be able to record our next album, so that’s what we did. We just finished recording our last album.

What’s the new album called?

A-C: Sciences Nouvelles.

Is there a theme to the record?

A-C: Yeah, science a bit.

Simon Besre (drums): Psychological science, and space science, sound science, liturgical science…

Do you guys read a lot of science or watch a lot of science TV shows?

S: Yes [laughs]. We have basic cable right now so we only watch Discovery Channel and TLC!

A-C: For my part, it is more aesthetic. It’s more about taking the aesthetic of science with our church, the Church of Budgerigars, and mixing it together.

Can you tell me about the tenets of the Church of Budgerigars?

A-C: All the members are inspired by the Duchess, or the Spiritual Budgie, in their everyday life. I mean, if you were a painter, it’d inspire you. For my part, when I wake up everyday thinking of the Budgie, it inspires me in the composition, or just in my life, when I get dressed or go to work.

When did you find the Budgie? How did the Budgie come into your life?

A-C: It’s a long story, but the first time we saw the Budgie, it was on an old paper from my grandmother, it was called the Church of Budgerigars. At the beginning, I just looked at it and I found something strange, but I didn’t go far in it, and finally two years later, I just started to dig more and started to read the papers, and I realized it’s a really crazy thing, so we all talked about it together and we decided to make it live again.

So… the Duchess is a budgie?

A-C: Yeah.

Do you own budgies yourselves?

A-C: Yeah I used to, but they’re all dead now.

Oh. Did they talk?

A-C: Not really. They were singing military songs. [laughs]

So, what’s the plan to release the album into the world?

A-C: The plan now, we’re looking for a record label. We’re talking to people but, we haven’t decided yet which company we’re going to go with.

Okay, well I hope you choose well! Do you feel like there are a lot of barriers to breaking into the rest of Canada as a francophone band?

A-C: As long as we are popular, not really. We don’t care, I mean we’re in this band since, how many years? Like 12 years, and its never been a problem, never never. I mean, I don’t think people care so much about that. It could be the language, we don’t even have to talk and I think people can understand. We just made a song about that, that is called “Talk in Shapes.” No more talking, no more languages! Just talk in shapes with movements and whatever.

J’aime ça!

[all laugh]

So 12 years is a long time for a band to stay together, all the old 2003 dance-punk bands broke up. How did you guys stay together for so long? What’s the secret?

A-C: I think we’re doing music for the good reasons. We’re not doing it for the industry, to be on the hype, and we have to make an album in one year absolutely. For us, it’s a way of living. It’s really deep and I think we are all together in this. The important thing is to do music, and to do albums that we like. So, I think everything feels really authentic and that’s why I think we can live for 12 years and just have fun together.

So, what’s going to happen at The Garrison next Saturday?

A-C: I think it’s a good thing that the show happened yesterday because like I told you, it makes me think maybe I’m going to push a lot on this show. The visual maybe, or just get something in my head, I don’t know. It just lit something in my head and I’m really motivated, so I can tell that it’s going to be something special.

Don’t miss Duchess Says when they play The Garrison Saturday February 13 for Wavelength 16. Get your tickets or festival passes here.

— Interview by Jonny Dovercourt