Anonymous Brooklyn electronic artist Autre Ne Veut's pop is an almost disconcerting bundle of soul, Top 40 R&B, and hypnogogic stylistics, but it's probably the sheer emotion (or literal "soul") behind it that makes it most surprising. Marked by cheesy synth tones, falsetto vocals, and the upfront and clear production values of the ‘80s pop greats, his synthetic loner ballads are touching in their sincerity-- even if their drama always verges on the hyperreal. The enigma of ANV is just at home in Dan Lopatin's (of Oneohtrix Point Never and Games) Upstairs lineage of peripheral electronic producers as it is in the widening freak niche carved out by Olde English Spelling Bee, which is perhaps why his debut LP, out this past August, made sense as a co-release. Over email, I tried to peer a little further into ANV's mythos.
AZ: Who is Autre Ne Veut? And why is he so mysterious?
ANV: Autre Ne Veut is a moonlighting Id persona and has, since about 2005, been a repository for what felt like inappropriate emotive behavior in the professional world. Any sense of mythos attached to ANV is primarily a function of the fact that I'd prefer to keep my name out of print, so for that reason, I'm actively working to preserve a clean Google search.
AZ: Was there anything that particularly inspired the ANV sound?
ANV: The earliest ANV sound that I was really happy with-- perhaps best exemplified by “Tell Me”, “Loveline”, and “Emotional” [from Autre Ne Veut]-- was, aesthetically, the culmination of attempting to merge an intellectual respect for sound-craft with an affinity for traditional, popular song-craft. The results are a failure, but in my estimation a happy one. Since then, the sound has been a function of attempting (and again failing) to reappropriate those initial fortunate accidents. In my mind, hypnogogia aside, this is just failure-pop.
AZ: Do you think about or struggle with the idea of originality very much?
ANV: The work of cultural anthropologist Ernest Becker suggests a shared human condition, a perpetual anxiety due to a cognizance of our impending death. Becker asserts that our cultures and sense of self-worth are buffers against this. We create communities of symbolic meaning in order to imbue our lives with significance. So on the one hand, we struggle to live up to certain societal standards in order to find acceptance. On the other hand, we all look to be distinctive (or "original") in one way or another, because it is this distinctiveness that provides us with a clear role within society's bounds assuring our necessity and our "purpose" for living. Being "original" in this sense is probably just a natural impulse for some people. On the other hand, true originality (two bad words in a row) is really nearly impossible. We cite folks like Duchamp or Cage as great innovators, yet they, too, borrowed heavily from tradition. We're impossibly linked to this universe, to our cultural detritus, and to our corporeality.
So, do I aspire to be "original"? Yes, certainly, even if not always consciously. That said, I directly stole a few lines from Stevie Wonder's "Tuesday Heartbreak" in “Artimis”.
AZ: There’s something futuristic about your sound, though I can't tell whether it stems from the Bonnie Raitt-style ‘80s pop balladry or from the more contemporary synth textures, the slightly chopped-up edge. Is this something you try to explore?
ANV: Nick of Time has some terrific tracks, but I don't think of Raitt as particularly futuristic. I've been having this ongoing conversation with a few friends of mine about the representation of the future at any given moment-- think eXistenZ, A Brave New World, or The Time Machine. Futuristic, then, is more aptly a genre than an antecedent to the actual future. While I’m always wary of assuming that the current moment in history is special or distinct, the prevalence of computing has brought us to, I think, the first moment in history when the futuristic is the same as the future. Historically, the best dystopic representations have been allegories used to explore timely political issues; in my estimation, this is still the case, but now we're living that dystopia, flashing gadgets and all.
My use of synthesizers is more of a pragmatic inevitability than a deliberate throwback to the eighties. I think that people tend to associate the eighties with synthesizers. At some point, an instrument is simply a tool. Luckily, a synthesizer is a tool that can allow one musician to produce a plethora of different sounds on his own. I find it a bit bizarre that the critical body seems inclined to peg contemporary musicians that use synthesizers as somehow particularly nostalgic when nostalgia is a thread that runs throughout popular music, and has for decades. Personally, I don't often feel nostalgic, in music or in life. Really, ANV is a process of attempting to move myself and let off some steam. But maybe the writers are somewhat correct: as a product of the eighties, I likely lack a certain critical ear, and these sounds simply feel natural.
AZ: That split between the ‘80s and the ‘00s is something that binds you to other New York artists like Laurel Halo, Gatekeeper, and Oneohtrix Point Never. Is there any sense of community there for you?
ANV: Dan (Lopatin) and I are very close friends, have been for years, and I'm lucky enough to ride his coattails to the extent that any of this stuff is published or reaches the public. Gatekeeper are great aesthetes, something that I found compelling when they were just a MySpace page in Chicago. Laurel I know through Dan. She's the real deal, and possesses a nuanced and complex musical mind. I imagine that she'll have a long career as a producer (perhaps even more so than as a performing artist) if she wants it. More than any of us, she will probably flourish beyond this current fad.
So the community for me, if there is one, is basically a function of knowing Dan. That said, all of those people that you mentioned are, in my estimation, very intelligent people who can carry decent conversations, a characteristic that seems to come across in their creative output. I appreciate that quite a bit.
AZ: People often mention soul and R&B as big stylistic points; did you actively work on tapping into these genres?
ANV: Without a doubt, soul and R&B are in there. And producing music is an active process. I suppose as a rule, I tend to find music that is explicitly emotional and/or sexual to be more compelling than that which lacks these qualities. I'm speaking musically, of course, not lyrically. I find the sexuality of Ginuwine’s “Pony” to be carried by the rhythm and arrangement, more than the barely-masked metaphor.
AZ: Theatricality and drama seems central to ANV, especially in the falsetto and prominence of the vocals, the overtly "positive" synth tones. Would you agree with that?
ANV: There are very few words on this record. In line with Cocteau Twins’ Elizabeth Frazer (or scat, mouth music, glossolalia, etc.), a big part of this project is expressing subjectively real emotions without specifically telling the listener which emotions they are. I suppose that it's an attempt to tap into something that's more pre-linguistic, an aural Rorschach test, open to a range of misinterpretations. Allowing myself to be dramatic, at times affected to the point of melodrama, helps move things along. I'm not sure that I would call this a brave act. It is just displacement, not unlike Michael Stipe's murmur.
AZ: The really well-lit party footage from the "OMG" video points to a kind of cultural desolation, to the horrors of mainstream pop culture. The video for "Soldier" leaves us with a similar uneasiness. What draws you to this kind of imagery?
ANV: It's probably fairly obvious, but I find "mainstream pop culture" to be quite fascinating. As I see it, the shit tends to implicitly say more about our culture than most of the middle-minded output, which attempts to hold a mirror to society, ever could. My work included. It would be great to take explicit credit for what you're getting at, but just like the rest of the assholes out there, a lot of my decision-making is driven by instinct.
Luke [Wyatt]'s video for “Soldier” was really his creation. We had a conversation, and then he put it all together. I thought it was quite striking, so we kept it. As for the "OMG" video, it's just the preamble to some Russian porn targeted at an imagined American porn-viewer. It just so happened that it matched phenomenally with the music, but in a sense it's the most political of the videos, intended to highlight the inherent violence of this brand of sexuality.
AZ: Also linked with that weird feeling of desperation is the soldier theme, which we encounter on the album cover and in the track title "Soldier.” How would you describe the relation between Autre Ne Veux and the Iraq conflict?
ANV: This iconography is intended to be understood symbolically. My soldier is a cry for our shared humanity.
AZ: Are you working on any upcoming projects?
ANV: Well, this whole project is compulsive. I don't really stop working on things, so yeah, there's more to come.
Autre Ne Veut is out now via Olde English Spelling Bee