Interview: Avec Sans

I met up with the gloriously delightful Avec Sans prior to their stint of shows in Italia, the country of great pasta and greater coffee apparently. The electronic pop duo consists of Jack St. James and Alice Fox, who released ‘All Of Time’ in the summer of this year, with the promise of new releases on the 2015 horizon. 

We chat to Avec Sans about their possible distant French family connections, about when Jack did punk and Alice was into folk music… (say what?), their fantastically fashionable collaborations and also the most secret, but the best, view of London (psst, it involves wee – tee hee).

Lets start with the basics! How did you guys meet?

Jack: It was kind of a combination of things that came together at the same time. We were both in bands previously that had come to a natural end, and we actually knew each other through a mutual friend. We sort of knew each other from going to the same gigs and so on. We were both complaining that we didn’t have a project and our friend was like “why don’t you two try writing together”. So it was through right time and a guy actually pointing it out and saying that “you do that and she also does that”.

Alice: And it’ll work well!

And if I remember my French from school, Avec Sans means With Without. Was that intentional?

Jack: We have two versions of why; I’ll let Alice explain…

Alice: Well one version is just that it sounds nice and it looks nice. I did quite like the idea of song writing and what’s behind the meaning of the song, the presence of it and the absence of something. Everything about it sounds and looks beautiful.

We have a sign on stage with us, neon Avec Sans, that just looks good. And it just felt right it locked in.

Jack: I think you said you wanted to be called with without something, this and that. Then you just figured out the French.

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Do you have any French connections?

Alice: Yes! We both do actually.

Jack: It’s tenuous…

Alice: Both of our bloodlines go back to French aristocracy.

Jack: My great great great great great great great whatever was La Bastille and you were La Bailesse.

Alice: I think we possibly came from the same… We’re like distant relatives.

And you’re from London, so what’s a typical day and night in the life of Avec Sans?

Jack: Well typically we’re in just in doors working with music… But… We like going to a lot of gigs. We went to see our friends Cuckoo Lander last night and then tonight our friends Kate Boy are playing XOYO so we’re hoping to catch that. A Brooklyn band called Paperwhite is playing. We like to go to a lot of gigs.

All of our friends are into music so generally we all turn up to a venue and enjoy some music.

Alice: I love the Breakfast Blub in Hoxton Square. Broadway Market, I love Broadway Market. Every now and then there’s an outdoor vintage fair and I’m never really sure when it’s going to happen. Sometimes the stars align and I’m there when it happens, they have all this vintage and they give you a bag. It’s basically by weight. It’s £15 for these epic proportions of actually quite decent vintage.

Jack: Shall I give the best London tip about The Shard?

Alice: For a more corporate day out…

Jack: We decided to do The Shard, for the toilet you have to go down from the observation deck that is just full of people and your peeping over people’s shoulders. You go down one floor and ask the security guard, he then opens up a wall. It looks like the regular wall that is actually a door. So he pushes it and there’s a big line of bathrooms, all of which have huge glass windows on them. So you get the best view of London in the toilets of The Shard.

Alice: The whole side of the building is open so it’s your own viewing platform and you just pee with London.

Jack: Quite liberating.

Alice: Anyone with binoculars, it’s just a row of people peeing.

Lets hope some weirdo doesn’t find that out…

Jack: Well now they are!!

You guys have been in like every genre, ever, what made you choose electronic pop? Did you fall into it naturally? 

Jack: Personally, I was very fed up with punk music. I was very much into punk and hardcore and that sort of stuff. I was just bored of it at the time. There was an incredible few years of punk music and then we just started doing the same thing over and over, for me anyway. Electronic music offered this infinite amount of possibilities. There are no parameters. Its not guitars, drums, bass – that’s what you can use.

Alice: I find it a bit boring now to watch a guitar band. For me, my first job when I got out of university was so jammy. I ended up as a researcher for a TV channel in Manchester, and they just got these TV shows that they were doing. It was a local channel so it was quite low budget. They just said to me “here’s three hours of music TV a week, book bands”. So I was booking bands like Passion Pit and Cut Copy and Holy Fuck and all sorts of exciting bands. So I’d gone from… I used to like folk music back in the day. Anything chill and I still like things like Bon Iver. But I was booking all of these Friendly Fires, exciting, upbeat bands. I think that’s when my taste expanded. I found The Postal Service really late on and I was like “oh wow, I want to make music that sounds like this”. It took a little while to transition between the two things.

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You recently covered Kate Bush’s track, which had a really great reaction, and when you started you covered Bon Iver.

Alice: That was the very first thing we put online. We just thought “can we do an electro pop version of a folk song?” Because that’s obviously where I came from. And we thought well, who’s the anti-electro pop person and that’s it.

Jack: With Kate Bush and Bon Iver people just love them. And you think, “oh my god am I just ruining it? Will they turn on us?” But no it was a really great reaction.

Alice: We put that track online and this blogger apparently trawls Bandcamp for recently uploaded stuff and he found it and he wrote about it. Within 8 hours of putting our first track online we’d been offered a London show. It was mental. Within days we were getting major labels emailing us and saying “Hi, who are you?” kind of thing. I suppose that’s the beauty of the internet, you can put something online and it explodes.

So are covers something you enjoy doing?

Alice: We find it really easy to do.

Jack: Well, it’s easy because the songs already there.

Alice: Exactly.

Jack: And what we like is a good song, so if the hard bits done it’s just putting your spin on it.

Alice: We’ve done three now and we’ll probably do some more as well. I want to do Mariah Carey for Christmas. Why not it’s Christmas. (Still waiting on this Alice, maybe for 2015 Christmas?)

Jack: Bold move.

So when you’re working on your own stuff, what’s the setup with production and writing? Do they grow simultaneously or…

Jack: It’s generally, I’ll operate the computer and Alice just sits next to me and we go through sounds.

Alice just sits and looks pretty.

Jack: No, no, Alice sits next to me and we go through sounds until Alice’s ears go “ooo” or I go “ooo” and then we just produce the song from there. Once we’ve got a structure, Alice will then do the top line of it by herself. I’ll glue it together and mix. We’ll produce something together and then Alice does her thing…

All Of Time was released a couple of months ago now, what were the inspirations behind that track?

Jack: Musically, I used a sample which I shouldn’t have used.

Alice: Sssh.

Jack: I was in a position where I’d written 15 ideas and none of them were quite what I wanted so I just took an orchestra piece and did something with and then I got that lead sound. Then Alice was like “oh put some chords in there” and then the song was there.

Alice: It could never ever be identified…It’s okay.

Jack: We’re just tempting fate now.

Alice: And it’s just a song about a really dreadful relationship.

Leave it at that… And it’s a free download.

Alice: Everything is at the moment. Because while we can, we shall. We’ve stolen our fair share of music over time. When you’re at this stage it feels like what’s the point? Just let people have music and spread music around. I think that in the future, looking forward, you can’t rely on physical musical sales and digital music sales to be an income, unfortunately. Right now, we just want people to listen to it really, so we’re happy with whatever way it is.

Jack: And if people want to buy it on iTunes they can, and if they want to stream it on Spotify they can.

Alice: And we really appreciate that people are actually buying it as well, it feels like a bit of a gift really. Our managers have also been really cool about that which is really nice. I’m not sure how much longer they will be. For now it’s great.

Avec Sans have just visited Italy to perform a few dates!!! I caught up with them before their trip about their Italian adventures…

Jack: The Italians have been awesome to us.

Alice: I think this is the 6th time. We love Italy so much, I had no idea how beautiful it was. I feel like it’s ruined me forever eating or drinking anything else again because all the food is incredible. And coffee, I never liked coffee until this year. We’ve got our own stove and stove top pot and espresso…

So what’s it like travelling to play your music? Reaching further and further afield?

Alice: It’s really exciting.

Jack: It’s bizarre, to fly to the South of Italy and then drive even further South to play a festival and for us to be like a headliner going on at 3am or something, and people were there and they knew the music. It was just, it was odd. It was really odd. Exciting odd.

Alice: We’ve just been announced for a big international music festival, so next year we’re going to be getting way further afield as well. This year it’s been Europe, but…

Jack: We can say North America right?

Alice: Yeah, we’re going to North America.

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Have you got a dream venue, anywhere in the world?

Jack: If it’s a dream… I want to rebuild the Astoria and play at the London Astoria.

Alice: Think further afield…

Jack: Since I was a kid all I wanted to do was play London Astoria. Okay, further afield, The Bowery Ballroom in New York.

Alice: Yeah! I think that will probably happen next year. We’re hoping to play New York as well next year. That’s looking pretty likely. We really liked The Bowery Ballroom when we went.

Jack: We spent a year writing one song and the cover that we did, just trying to get everything in line for releasing and becoming a band. At the end of it, we’d spent so long in this room writing music, so we went to New York and then it was “I want to live here”.

In Italy, you DJed at the launch of Sandro. Do you think that link between music and fashion is important to keep?

Jack: Massively.

Alice: Absolutely. We’ve done loads of things like Vogue making us track of the day, Dolce and Gabbana made us band of the year last year, which was bizarre. We were like “what? Seriously? How did that happen?”

Jack: And our friends Haerts came second.

Alice: We actually designed a shoe for Swear and that was launched through Farfetch.

There’s a really connection between music and fashion, and I think, especially electronic music as well because it has an aesthetic. I would love to work with designers to create really interesting things for on stage.

Jack: Well you are!

Alice: Yeah, there’s a designer called Mairi McDonald who I met at London Fashion Week recently and I’m going to be wearing some of her stuff and we’re going to be DJing her London launch next month. So it has already started and it’s something that’s fascinating. I love aesthetic. I’d love to get more involved.

Our Kate Bush cover ended up on New York Fashion Week runways and we were like “how did that happen?!” First thing we knew, we’d been tagged in it on Instagram. I played it and saw the runway, for a few seconds it didn’t trig that it was me singing. It’s something I want to get more involved with.

What stage designs would you want? Are we talking extravagant?

Alice: I think people like Goldfrapp, when I saw her play live she had this incredible creation that was a million strands and a wind machine that just went up so the whole thing was a big ball of craziness. And Bjork as well. But I also know that, in previous bands I would go on stage in a golden cape in a pub and it just didn’t quite work. I’m binding my time but the golden cape will return. The bigger the stage, the bigger the dress, I would like it to be.

What have you got planned for the horizon then… Songs? Tours?

Jack: Next year should hopefully be busy for us. We’ve played our last show for this year last month.

Alice: Apart from the Italian tour.

Jack: Well we can’t turn down Italy. We decided we’ll take time off and get it all in line. Writing new music, release some new singles, do some gigs in America, play more of Italy I hope. So yeah, the plan is next year is full steam ahead.

Finally, you’ve got to pick a song for each of these…

A song that makes you happy.

Alice: At the moment, Taylor Swift – ‘Shake It Off’.

Jack: I can’t choose that as well, so… Bombay Bicycle Club – ‘Shuffle’.

A song that makes you get up and dance.

Alice: Beyoncé – ‘Single Ladies’. These are all quite shameful but year.

Jack: Pendulum – ‘Slam’. Something with drum and base, I don’t dance much so it would have to be drum and base.

A song that you could listen to on repeat.

Alice: Oh! These are really bad from me but… The Knack – ‘My Sharona’. Seriously love that song, over and over and over.

Jack: Jon Hopkins – ‘Light Through The Veins’.

Alice: You’re so much cooler than me. That is a beautiful piece of music.

A song that would be the soundtrack to your life if you were in a movie.

Jack: I’ve already done this, but mine is Bombay Bicycle Club. I’ve often said that if I my life had end credits, I want ‘Shuffle’ on there.

Alice: Urm…

Jack: You’d want My Sharona again wouldn’t you?

Alice: No, no. That’s so hard.

Jack: Postal Service?

Alice: Yes! Maybe Postal Service – ‘Such Great Heights’.

And a song that inspires you.

Jack: Apparat – ‘Song Of Los’.

Alice: I’m so rubbish with the names of songs… Purity Ring – ‘Fineshrine’.