Feb 2019 12

One of the darkwave scene’s best kept secrets, Autumn has returned with great aplomb with a newly lit fire. ReGen Magazine speaks with the Minneapolis trio about their history and resurrection.
 

 

An InterView with Julie Plante, Jeff Leyda, and Neil McKay of Autumn

By Ilker Yücel (Ilker81x)

Hailing from Minneapolis, Autumn may have never achieved the same heights of recognition and acclaim as others in the flourishing darkwave and goth/rock scene… but it was certainly not due to a lack of talent. On the contrary, the band earned a sizeable following thanks to a singular and dramatic blend of Julie Plante’s impassioned vocals, the resonant bass lines of Jeff Leyda, and the ethereal guitars of Neil McKay, all of which coalesced into a haunted and hallowed sound that few in the scene could match. On the band’s 1996 debut The Hating Tree, Autumn was guided by the mixing/production team of William Faith and Chad Blindman, breathing a darkly sensual ambience into songs that could rival The Cure’s Pornography for enraged grandeur alone, a style the band sought to refine with tighter song structures and a sleeker tone on 2000’s Return to the Breath. However, aside from live performances and some odd compilation appearances, this would be the last audiences would hear from Autumn for nearly two decades, ended finally in late 2017 with a new single, “The Fall.” To hear this song, it was as if Autumn never left, full of the nocturnal and chilly atmosphere that defined the group’s sound, taken even further with Faith and Blinman once again lending their skills to breathe new life into Autumn on 2018’s Chandelier. Having toured in the summer of that year with Clan of Xymox, Autumn has returned with a bang, and ReGen Magazine is privileged to have had the opportunity to speak with Julie Plante, Jeff Leyda, and Neil McKay about the band’s history and resurrection, touching on their storied past, a bit of gear talk, and some hints about an even brighter future to come.

 

What can you tell us about the goings on during the years since Autumn’s last album? What finally led to the three of you putting Autumn back together?

Plante: Although it took all that time to put the new album together, we’d only officially ‘broken up’ for about five years. We all had a lot going on in our lives and it just became harder and harder to keep it all going. Working full-time already eats up most of the day, and both Neil and I had kids to raise as well. We still enjoyed making music together, but there are only so many hours in the day. But even still, I always felt we weren’t finished with this project, and finally it became evident that the time was right to formally give it another go.

Leyda: The band took a backseat from 2001 through 2008 as life (kids, careers) took up more time. Tess Records also folded around 2002, so our second album didn’t get a lot of publicity and we didn’t tour behind it. By the end of 2008, all of our personal lives were taking fairly severe turns and the band was one of the easiest things to jettison so we could focus on healing and coincidently enough, returning to the breath. In hindsight, it may be that not having the band – the one constant thing we’d had all those years earlier – may have been a contributing factor into our own personal turmoil. By 2009, it was unofficially over, but we never had a chance to say goodbye to our local audience, so in 2010, William asked us to support Faith and the Muse. So, we put a last show together to say goodbye. We all kept in touch as we are all still great friends, and not too long ago, decided to give it another go and everything just clicked again, as we had some unfinished business to get to.

McKay: In 2008 when I decided to leave Autumn, I was trying to figure out a few things. One was my marriage (which ended a year later) and what was going on with the artist in me. I was actually torn at times trying to figure out if I even had time to write music, though I played guitar and composed everyday. I was allowing what I do for a living (Dakota/indigenous language revitalization takes a lot of energy!) and my musical side to compete with each other and it wasn’t working. So, we had some time off, but getting back together was like riding a bike as they say. At our first practice, it was the second or third song when we got our mojo back and realized in our hearts and spirits that we weren’t finished with each other musically. Like Jeff said, we had some unfinished business.

In the years since we last heard from Autumn, what would you say has affected your outlook the most – both in an artistic sense and as human beings – and how do you feel this is represented in the music you are now creating?

Plante: For me, I think I have healed a great deal from specific traumas in my past. And, when I became a mom, I think I was able to find a new passion within me for my own healing, because I wanted to be the best mom I could be for my girl, and I knew I needed to take care of myself better than I was. It inspired a lot of personal growth, and this has set me on a better path.

McKay: When I write, most of what you hear is emotion and feeling at the time. I’ve always written like that, but I guess in recent years, I’ve tried to let the instrument in my hand do some communicating as well. All of my guitars have different songs in them. For instance, the song ‘Chandelier,’ that was all Telecaster. I just plugged it in, dialed up a sound in Guitar Rig, and wrote most of it in about 20 minutes. When I sit down to write a song or idea, I like to play a single chord, a note, a certain sound on one of the various virtual synths I have and see where it takes me. What will more reverb or a different chorus pedal do to this sound right now? What chord will come next? What place will this take me to? How does this make me feel? Is this a guitar part I’d like to learn to play if I heard it from another band? I have in recent years fully embraced my artistic side and though I love my job, there are days when I just want to stay home and play guitar and write, especially when it is cold and dark outside.

Tell us about the songwriting process for Chandelier – I know ‘The Maiden’s Child’ has been gestating for some time (prior to the album, I’d heard a demo version and one that I believe was on MP3.com or something like that), but how much of the material is culled from unfinished songs and how much of it was brand new?
Going back to an older song like ‘The Maiden’s Child,’ what was different about how you approached it recording it for Chandelier versus when you first wrote it?

Plante: The music on this album spans the whole time period. Some are songs we wrote and had even performed live just prior to when we previously broke up, and many others have been written since we got back together, even working out the details right up to the time we were heading into the studio again. ‘The Maiden’s Child’ was always a song that I felt didn’t sound as good on any of our recordings as it did when we played it live, and for me at least, that was the primary reason why I didn’t really want it released previous to the new version. We decided to give it another shot because Neil and Jeff and William still really wanted us to get it out there, and I think I felt like this last time around, we got the sound right on the recording, so it felt like the right time to release it.

Leyda: Roughly a third of the material on Chandelier can be dated back several years, but we reworked nearly all of the old stuff in some way to get them into this album. What is interesting is that ‘The Maiden’s Child’ has historically always been a kind of outcast song that musically never really fit too well with other songs we were writing back then (I remember playing it live for our CD release party for The Hating Tree), but on this album, it has absolutely found a permanent home and it still surprises me how well it fits in with the material next to it.

From a lyrical standpoint, you’ve stated that the album is ‘a work of celebration, built out of all those broken pieces, built from all those broken places’ and a ‘transition, both for the band’s sound as well as our personal lives; love, loss, hope.’ With this in mind, in what ways does it reflect on your past material – in other words, how do you look on the words you wrote and sang differently?

Plante: Like any art, any song is really just a snapshot in time. For me, I always feel like at whatever point you decide that something is a finished song, it has thus managed to capture a feeling, mood, reflection, or memory in some way that feels solid. But it is only one page of a life’s story. Everything keeps moving and changing, and so for me to sing the words I wrote 20 some years ago, it is like looking in a photo album or reading an old diary… I remember where I was and what it all meant to me then, and, it turns out, it has continued to be a very therapeutic process in getting to sing them again now, especially now. I am able to revisit some very dark times in my life without feeling like I am going to drown in them, and it really feels powerful to be able to share that with others. It is a way to show the resilience we all have inside ourselves.

In my ReView, I’d noted how Chandelier not only showcased the classic Autumn sound that we heard on the past two albums, but also introduced new elements – or more accurately, more prominent use of elements like piano and electronics, which were present… just not as pronounced. How did you approach these sounds from a songwriting perspective? Was it simply a matter of finding the right sound for the right song? Were they written with those sounds in mind, or did it grow from the production process?

Plante: In particular, since both ‘Soul Song’ and ‘Away’ are about my love for my daughter, I had to have my full voice present, and so I had to have piano in there. My voice as a pianist was my first voice, and I didn’t feel I could fully express what I had to without having that be a part of it. ‘From Under the Waves’ came from an electronic piece written by another artist (Andrew Davies, project Doubleplusten), who had asked me to write something for one of his tracks, and while I really loved the mood I set with it, it didn’t fit in so well with the rest of the tracks he was putting together for his new album, so I asked him if we could kind of run with it and put it on our album instead. I was very grateful he gave us the green light, because I really loved it. In general though, we are all big fans of a lot of electronic music, so it is a natural progression for us to work more of that into our repertoire. Neil had an electronic part he had written that I just fell in love with, and that turned into ‘Last Confession,’ which is one of my favorite tracks on the whole album.

 

 

McKay: I fleshed out ‘From Under the Waves’ trying to keep as much Andrew in it as possible while still trying to sound like Autumn. It was pretty bare bones so had to figure out a chord progression to match what Julie had put vocals too. There were a few variations while we were working on it. Actually, the final version is still quite new to me as I am a little more accustomed to the demo we had done for it before recording the album. That happens sometimes. For ‘Last Confession,’ I had two electronic pieces that I had put together. I was going for an EBM sound, sort of like Covenant. I was thinking Julie could sing on it as a side project. When I gave it to her, she surprised me by saying we could work on it as Autumn and it evolved quite nicely. That is one where the last quarter of the song sounds different from what I had imagined and was working on, but Julie had some great recommendations and thoughts on how it could be different. I’m happy with how it turned out, but I think that song in particular always sounds better live.

Speaking of production, you once again worked with William Faith and Chad Blinman, making this a reformation not just of the band but also of the creative team behind The Hating Tree. Reflecting on the first album, what would you say you learned the most from these two, and how do you feel the material you wrote after on Return to the Breath reflected that?
Going into Chandelier, what do you feel was different about working with them this time around? Knowing and having worked with them before, was there ever a moment that you felt surprised by what they were bringing to Autumn?

Plante: We didn’t really get to work with Chad in person this time around, but just knew we could trust him implicitly to get it right when it came down to the final sound polishing, and he did a great job. Working with William again just felt like falling back into conversation with an old friend, like we just could pick up right where we left off before, just a wonderful experience and so much fun. We spent almost as much time laughing as we did recording, so those precious sessions were the highlight of the year.

Leyda: Recording Chandelier was such a completely different experience than what we’ve had in the past. The technology has advanced so much that going into a studio to record no longer makes sense, and thanks to William, we were able to set up a portable studio in each of our houses and were able to track in a setting we were relaxed and comfortable in. We had no deadlines to fret over, no cramped studio spaces to wedge ourselves into to try to track in, and no compromises in how many tracks we wanted to use or how many takes it may require to get there. We were all really relaxed this time around and I think the creativity on the album shows it. I hope William and Chad are willing and able to continue working with us for as long as there are songs to record; this is a team that works extremely well together.

This is the gearhead nerd in me, but I remember first speaking with Neil many years ago via e-mail about music and particularly how much of his sound stemmed from that ’60s Jazzmaster (if I remember correctly, handed down to him by his father). I’ve come to associate that guitar with him and the band, and being a guitarist, I know it’s rare to stick to just one; I’ve seen pics with Neil using a Gretsch (I think?) hollow body now. I also recall the drum programming was done on a K2000 (or was it a K2500?). Anyway, nerdiness aside… Obviously, the song and the music comes from the people, but what sorts of new or current tools did the band employ and in what ways is the band’s sound shaped by them?

McKay: You are correct sir! I have a 1963 Fender Jazzmaster, which I did use on a few songs when we recorded Chandelier. My awesome father did gift it to me. I recently gave him a Fender Jaguar, which he loves! When we play out now, I have been using a Gretsch Silver Falcon, which I love and I’m using all pedals now instead of pedals/rackmount like I did for years. It’s a good fit for what I do. As far as drums, I have all the drum machine sampled I could ever want, and I write and demo everything in FL Studio, which we use when we’re writing in our practice space.

Autumn conducted a U.S. tour in August and supported Clan of Xymox as well. Although you’re no strangers to live performance, what can you tell us about the experience of touring and what sorts of challenges it presented to you?

Plante: I actually think I handled touring a lot better this time around than all those years ago, because I was not taking care of myself back then and struggling with my mental health big time. Now, despite living with chronic pain and other medical issues, I felt stronger and ready to take the stage every night. It was a pleasant surprise.

Leyda: Touring was more fun than I remembered, or perhaps we were in a better state of mind this time around and were better prepared. There were surprises nearly every night, and we learned to never try to predict how a show is going to turn out until it’s over. Supporting Clan of Xymox was indescribable. Being able to share a stage with a band I’ve followed and admired for decades is something that my 19-year-old self would never have imagined would be possible and it still seems surreal months later.

McKay: The Xymox tour was a dream come true. They’ve been one of my top five bands since 1985. Funny story, my parents lent us their mini-can, which I toted Xymox around in when we toured with them for three shows. I tried hard not to fan boy too much. Xymox wanted me to thank my parents for the use of their van. They are great guys and sound as good as ever! This summer’s three-week tour with Autumn was better than it has ever been. I think the three of us felt that way. One fan in Boston came to our show and had The Hating Tree album cover painted on the back of his coat. I didn’t even know that someone would do that, but it certainly made our day!

Are there any particularly fond memories of the tour that you’d like to share – either from on stage or off?

Plante: The best part of every day was simply riding along with Jeff and Neil and laughing all day long over the same bad jokes. Equally precious were the moments when people would come up to us at the shows and share stories of what our music has meant to them over the years. These were the greatest gifts of the tour – the opportunity to meet and connect with people and know that we have connected across so many miles over so many years… it is pure magic.

McKay: We met so many nice people and cool bands and DJs as well. Thanks for coming out and supporting us. Also, a shout out to Avoxblue and The Secret Post! We played with a number of bands on tour and sometimes it’s cool to play with a band who has a similar vibe/feel to what we are doing.

Is there anything you’d like to add? What’s next for Autumn?

Plante: Although a little late out of the running gate, we have a video for ‘The Fall’ out now, and we are planning for more touring in 2019. And, of course, we are back to working on new material! So, keep spreading the word if you enjoy our work, because we need everyone’s support to keep making this happen!

 

 

Autumn
Website, Facebook, Twitter, Bandcamp
Sett Records
Website, Facebook, Twitter, Bandcamp, YouTube

 

Photography by…
Craig VanDerShaegen – courtesy of Craig VanDerSchaegen Photography,
Bobby Talamine – courtesy of Bobby Talamine Photography,
and Autumn

 

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