Interview: Upbringing: Daughter

Delve into the influences and upbringing of Daughter singer and multi-instrumentalist (ooh, fancy) Elena Tonra.

Armed with the unenviable task of succeeding 2013’s dazzling ‘If You Leave’, Daughter - made up of Elena Tonra, Igor Haefeli and Remi Aguilella - are now trailblazing once again. Namely, with ‘Not to Disappear’, their sophomore album released today, which is set to continue exploring a particularly fascinating (and hauntingly romantic) sound. One that’s now a stalwart on Radio 1 playlists, ‘ones to watch in 2016’ lists across the collective blogosphere and has since launched Daughter from strength to mesmerising strength. Of course - and as the maxim (er, sort of) goes - with the pudding, must come the proof.

Here, one third of Daughter, Elena “I should get a dog, or something” Tonra, discusses with DIY the foundations on which this other-worldly trio was born, her inspirations growing up and how London set the stage for what came next and what is yet to come.

What was the first gig you ever went to?

To be honest, it wouldn’t have been a big one. I didn’t go to actual gigs when I was younger, because I had no money! It was one of my brother’s bands gigs. I don’t remember what they were called – I just remember it was him and his friend Jim, who used to come to my house and torment me and throw my toys out my bedroom – so I never really appreciated them! I actually went to a Bloc Party gig in Brixton, I can’t remember what year it was, but I was in secondary school. I was only 16 or something. I remember feeling that I didn’t know any of the words, so I was just jumping around.

What musician or band did you first obsess over?

Jeff Buckley. He was the first ‘hero-status’ person which made me go, “Oh my god”. This just goes to show how cool my Dad is. He bought a Jeff Buckley album and I said “I don’t know who this is”, and we just listened to it, thinking “Oh, wow. Good purchase, Dad.”

I had this amazing compilation CD called ‘Girls With Guitars’, it was a very strange title. I remember my favourite song on there – which, strangely, wasn’t guitar-led at all – was Joni Mitchell’s ‘Blue’. I remember thinking “this is the most beautiful thing in the world.” Stevie Nicks was on there, too. That was my introduction to girls playing guitar. Pre-that, however, I was a massive Destiny’s Child fan. Beyoncé has been with me through my pre-teen years and teenage to now. But I was still, weirdly, fixated on Jeff Buckley as my hero.

Is Jeff Buckley still an inspiration for you?

He’s going to be a life-long love, I think. Definitely. Probably more than anything else. Musically, I was writing poems as lyrics, but had no music – which made for a weird situation. So I had poem, but with a melody and no guitar! I needed to know how ‘do’ that as well. But, he will remain a life-long love, for sure.

Jeff Buckley - ‘Mojo Pin’ (Live in 1995)

” I don’t really think that we know what our sound is. It’s really three heads, thinking about the same thing, but in very different ways.”

— Elena Tonra

What was your first CD?

It was either ‘Girls With Guitars’, or Destiny’s Child’s ‘The Writing’s On The Wall’.

Did growing up on the outskirts of London play an important role when it came to discovering music?

Yes, I think so. We were quite lucky because we had some local venues – especially in Watford and Harrow, where there was a pub in which we had our underage-smokey-drinky-jams – but, basically, the main time I went to gigs was for smaller, local artists. That’s how I met the [London gig promoter] Communion guys. I was going to these gigs at different places in London. The fact that I could nip in and back out again meant that I could see lots of bands play and meet lots of people, which led to me gigging relatively early.

So, when Daughter became what it was, how did you find its sound?

It’s almost like three very different brains working at the same time, and for us to think “this sounds like something we want to listen to together!” Initially, it first started with Igor. He was in my class [at college] and we got to know each other there, and I asked him if he wanted to play guitar. It was that realisation of what I was doing and what he was doing went really well together. He was much more production-minded and technical in his way of thinking. A weird combination, but it worked. We knew Remi from also being at the same college and him playing in class work and his technique is really different, more so than any drummer I’ve ever seen before, with his jazz and percussion background. I don’t really think that we know what our sound is. It’s really three heads, thinking about the same thing, but in very different ways. We don’t think about it that much.

When you’re writing, where’s the inspiration drawn from?

It’s very personal. I’ve never written anything that isn’t personal, or that doesn’t have a truth in it. I don’t do very well writing when I’m with other people – I need the space to say everything I want to say. What’s also quite nice is that we three have an unspoken understanding – and that I trust them – to not ask “what’s going on?” It’s almost quite like a therapy session especially if the tracks are vengeful. It’s like, “A-ha, fuck you!” There’s not a lot on [‘Not to Disappear’], but ‘To Belong’ is quite slyly saying “you’re a dick”, but I remember on the E.P. ‘Love’ being a big one. I felt so much better after writing it. There are these things that you need to get out.

Daughter - ‘Numbers’

“‘Not To Disappear’ felt more spontaneous and more trusting”

— Elena Tonra

What did you draw from for ‘Not To Disappear’?

I think I have changed in some ways, but I think I’m still very much the same. I think that we started off with this weird two years of touring and being in a totally different world that we’ve ever been in. We started somewhere new – in our heads, at least – and in a place we hadn’t been to in a long time. It was all about seeing where our brains were at, and what we were thinking. For the first album, those songs changed as we toured it over the years. The way that they were written was different, too. A few of the songs I hadn’t written anything down for, so I just said “I have a good idea”, pressed record and went with it. ‘No Care’ was done like that and ‘New Ways’ was too. It felt more spontaneous and more trusting.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given? Who from?

My Grandfather always used to say – it was about people talking about other people, he hated people being unkind to other people – “say nothing, and keep saying it” as a way of warning us not to speak badly of others. Not really advice, more like “shut the fuck up”, but, I think it’s true and I think that it’s a good thing. I tend to over-share, almost the opposite. Say everything.

What’s the best piece of advice that you could give?

I don’t think I’m qualified. But, in a writing respect, honesty is key. I think it’s almost that if you’re saying how you feel, it’s a beautiful (but terrifying) thing. I try not to edit things out, or rephrase what I’m saying. It’s a massive criticism of me, but I just want to think that I haven’t ever been untrue in my work.

When you were starting out to, who would you have liked to been compared to?

I think when you’re starting out as any band, you get compared as a point of reference. I think some people get really insulted, but it’s just the brain categorising things. Often, and when people did compare, I would always think “really?” but when people mentioned Sigur Ros that was always nice. We’re all big Radiohead fans, too, and a few people have mentioned that, which gets us excited. We were always very concentrated on ‘our thing’, rather than being aware of what others would like to have compared us to.

We were just trying to make the most beautiful thing we could.

Daughter’s ‘Not To Disappear’ is out now on 4AD - read the five-star DIY review here.

Tags: Daughter, Upbringing

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