— by Chris Harris
Their two bands might not sound all that much alike, but the members of hypnotic dream-pop quartet Dirty on Purpose have more than a few things in common with Au Revoir Simone, an up-and-coming, Casio-centric, all-female pop trio.
Both acts, for one, are comprised of young musicians who hail from small towns across the U.S. but now call Brooklyn, New York, home. Plus, Erika Forster, an Au Revoir Simone keyboardist/singer, was once a Dirty on Purpose member before she grabbed her Yamaha and joined Heather D'Angelo and Annie Hart. And there's also the bond Hart will be forging with Dirty on Purpose drummer Doug Marvin this September.
"People often make fun of me and Doug for being far too cute and in love with each other," said Hart, Marvin's fiance. "We both play in these indie-rock bands that are very intertwined," reflected Marvin.
Marvin has a point: the bands share more than engagement rings and rural roots. According to him, both groups' lyrics focus on a common thread of childhood nostalgia, "innocence, and maybe naivete, because we're all very non-cynical people. It's just kind of who we are — we're not jaded. We can't help but put that forth in the music."
Dirty on Purpose, who formed in the fall of 2002, boast four songwriters and three main vocalists ("No one wanted to be the lead singer," joked guitarist George Wilson). Their woozy rock has drawn comparisons to Sigur Rós, Belle and Sebastian, Mogwai and the Cure, and the group has shared the stage with buzz bands like Arcade Fire, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Wolf Parade and the Decemberists (they're currently on tour with Say Hi To Your Mom through August 11 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina).
Dirty on Purposes' beginnings can be traced to the Pourhouse, a Brooklyn dive bar where guitarist Joe Jurewicz hosted an open-mic night that paid performers in beer. Wilson and Jurewicz initially bonded over a shared love of '90s indie-rock act, Bedhead. The two began performing improvised pieces together, which usually cleared the watering hole.
Wilson later signed up DJ Boudreau after meeting the bassist at a rooftop party, but Dirty on Purpose couldn't secure a drummer. Boudreau mentioned the band's woes to his pal, Marvin, who played guitar for another group. As luck had it, Marvin's first instrument was the drums, and he was recruited for the band. Several months later, Wilson discovered an uninhabited warehouse in Brooklyn's Greenpoint neighborhood, and the boys started erecting walls and fixing up the place. Eventually, this building served as the band's practice space.
"We call [the space] Death by Audio," explained Wilson, adding that the renovation consumed three months. It was in this space that the band would record some of its earliest demo material. "We started this band for fun," he continued. "None of us had any goals of doing anything other than writing some songs and getting together and playing music. There are no egos and anyone can bring any idea to the table."
In 2004, the band first issued its debut EP, Sleep Late for a Better Tomorrow, and followed it up last month with their first full-length, Hallelujah Sirens. "The music we're making is what I would've wanted to be listening to in my beat-up old station wagon, driving around the country," said Marvin of the band's effects-laden guitars and minimal, low-key rhythms.
"People often remark that we don't really sound like we are from New York, or we don't have a sound that's necessarily, like, 'right now.' But I think that when you're writing songs, you sort of go back, and the emotional terrain you explore is like the emotions you felt when you were 16," he added.
Despite all their mining of past emotional experiences, the band isn't without a sense of humor, as evidenced in the video for Hallelujah's first single, "No Radio." "It started off with this real upbeat guitar track, and it just made me want to move my feet, and I was like, 'Oh, how funny would it be if we made this video that was like '80s Jazzercise?' " Boudreau said.
"And two months later," Marvin added, "I found myself in short shorts, jumpin' around."
Au Revoir Simone have a similar — though less leg-warmer-heavy — appreciation for '80s kitsch. Their moniker was inspired by an exchange between Diane Salinger and Paul Reubens in 1985's "Pee-Wee's Big Adventure." The synth- and vintage-drum-machine-loving trio formed in 2003 following Forster's departure from Dirty on Purpose, with a single goal: to form an all-female keyboard band.
"We just kind of started playing keyboards in Erika's bedroom — little baby ones from garage sales, like the little Yamahas and Casios," said Hart. "We were going to cover sinister pop songs, but then we just started writing more of our own music, and then we started getting invited to play at shows, and then everything just snowballed into where we are today."
On June 27, the group — fresh from an opening slot on We Are Scientists' recent U.S. tour — released its debut, Verses of Comfort, Assurance and Salvation, a set of gentle, airy songs that recall Stereolab and St. Etienne. One of Salvation's tracks, "Through the Backyard," attracted enough attention to land on an episode of TV series "Grey's Anatomy."
Touring also brings the group attention — "We get a lot of marriage proposals," said Hart — but it allows the trio to reach out to their favorite demographic: young girls.
"My favorite thing about being in an all-girl band, besides having two wonderful ladies in the band with me who I get along with splendidly, is the reaction we get from the audience," Hart said. "The girls come up to us afterwards and just thank us for being in a band, and thank us for being women who play music.
"It's just such an honor to be inspiring young girls."
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