When asked about their upcoming show at the iconic Hollywood Forever Cemetery, the members of London-based experimental folk band Daughter are quietly enthusiastic. “Is it okay to say I want to walk around and look at tombs and stuff?” drummer Remi Aguilella asks. His bandmates, singer Elena Tonra and guitarist Igor Haefeli, assure him the desire is normal. “Good,” Aguilella says. “Didn’t want to seem too spooky.”
Spooky or not, a graveyard may be the ideal setting for a band whose lyrics are tinged with more than a hint of macabre. “I’m sorry if I smothered you/I sometimes wish I’d stayed inside my mother/Never to come out,” Tonra laments at the end of “Smother,” the second track on their debut album If You Leave, released in March. Daughter’s particular brand of haunting, melancholic vocals backed by ambient instrumentals has garnered increasing attention for the multinational group. (Though the trio met as students in London, only 23-year-old Tonra is English. Tonra’s boyfriend Haefeli, 24, was raised in Switzerland, and Aguilella, also 24, in France).
In October Daughter made their U.S. television debut on The Late Show with David Letterman. This weekend, they play San Francisco’s Outside Lands Music Festival before continuing their tour with Brooklyn indie darlings The National in L.A. We met up with the band during a special recording session for music streaming service Rhapsody to talk about musical influences, touring, and their growing popularity.
I understand that Daughter started out as Elena’s solo project.
Elena Tonra: A few songs carried over from when I used to play solo, but I tend to think of the two things as quite separate. I’d asked Igor if he could play guitar for me for a few gigs, and we started jamming and experimenting more with writing. We’d known Remi for a little while, and we kind of all jammed together.
What are your musical interests?
Igor Haefeli: I’ve grown up listening to electronic music. In Neuchâtel, the small city where I’m from, there was more of that than live gigs. I listened to that and Radiohead, Sigur Rós, those kinds of things. I’m interested in texture and atmosphere.
Remi Aguilella: I grew up playing a lot of jazz and classical music. Those elements probably influenced my playing most.
Elena: I’ve always followed the more singer-songwriter style, especially when I was younger. I used to listen a lot to Bob Dylan, Neil Young, David Bowie, James Taylor—loads of people that had a strong poetic way of writing. Now I’m getting more inspired by ambient, electronic music.
Your own lyrics tend to be quite bleak. Do you see that changing ever?
Elena: The moments I find inspiring are kind of bleak. I don’t think I’ve ever found that level of happiness where I’ve thought, “Oh, I want to write about it.” Unless I massively cheer up or find something else as inspiring, I don’t know. Maybe, for my sanity’s sake.
Many of your songs are quite intimate. How does that translate to the live stage?
Remi: There’s been a good evolution. We went from playing really small shows in small venues, to bigger stages supporting other bands to festivals. Gradually playing to slightly bigger crowds helped us have an idea of how we want to play our songs live. If we’d gone straight to open-air stages, it would’ve been very scary.
Igor: We want what Elena’s saying to come across, so when we play much smaller rooms we’re also stripping things back. As the venues have gotten bigger, we’ve expanded our sound. Now we’ve got a fourth musician (Luke Saunders, 21) touring with. It’s been a constant progression.
Any preference for festivals or smaller shows?
Elena: Not really. Festivals have a kind of looseness. You don’t really get a sound check; it’s a bit disorganized and kind of stressful. But they have a sense of freedom; you don’t really know what’s going to happen.
Remi: The crowd is different as well. When you play a headline show, the crowd knows you a bit more. They’re more attentive.
Igor: People are so much more attentive at headline shows. I personally feel more under scrutiny, which is nice because they obviously know the songs. At the same time, at festivals, there’s something a bit wilder. It feels like everyone’s there to have a good time.
This is your fourth tour of shows in the States. How do you like it?
Igor: What’s so interesting is the crowds are so varied. We always look forward to coming to the U.S. because crowds are a bit more rowdy.
Elena: We’re supremely awkward people. If we were more talkative, it would probably break some sort of ice, but it's okay. The really hushed audiences are very respectful; it’s really complimentary.
Igor: Yeah, super respectful, but you end up questioning what the response is. And then after the show everyone says, “Oh, it was great,” but until then you’re freefalling.
Elena: Maybe we should play party music and then we’d know.
How's it been touring with The National?
Elena: The National are awesome. They’re really supportive of us when we come off stage, which gives us a lot of confidence.
Igor: It’s also nice to have approval from your peers, especially peers who are ten years into their careers. It’s meant a lot.
Any thoughts on playing Los Angeles?
Remi: Really excited. Actually, the first show we had in L.A. somehow the monitors on stage were playing a Hispanic radio and there was no way of getting rid of it, so for the entire gig you could hear people talking in Spanish while we were playing.
Elena: We always have a lot of fun when we’re in L.A. Igor was born in Santa Monica, which he doesn’t say enough.
Igor: My godmother lived there for a long time, but every time [we’ve been here] we've stayed in West Hollywood. But the crowds in L.A. have been really warm—like the weather.
Daughter opens for The National tomorrow night at the Greek Theatre, and Sunday at Hollywood Forever. The band returns to L.A. October 8 to headline a show at the Wiltern.