For The Dø, it’s all about the two: a coupling of two genders, two nations and now, two full-length albums. And there is also the band name, which officially denotes the first tone of the solfége scale, as well as containing the first letters of The Dø’s duo: French multi-instrumentalist Dan Levy and Finnish singer Olivia Merilahti.
Since meeting in 2005, they’ve conquered France, as the first band to top the French charts singing in English, and their snare-driven “Playground Hustle” has showed up in multifarious media without ever being released as a single.
They’ll be plugging their new album Both Ways Open Jaws (Naïve) at Postbahnhof on December 1.
How would you describe your album to a deaf person?
Olivia Merilahti: Interesting question! I like the word indie, because that is how we make our music. Very independent, synthesizing whatever musical genre you can recognize. We distill all kind of sounds around us and inject it into our music. We also like to hear people describe it as “primal”.
But how indie can a hit band be?
OM: We are 90 percent independent. Even for the first album we came to the labels with the product in our hands – the music, pictures, artwork. The same with the second. We are very stubborn and are trying to keep it very personal.
Dan Levy: That is our constructive, artistic side. But after that we need to work with people. We know that touring costs money, and the musicians cost money. We need an agent and a manager, a band, and it’s…. you know, my parents had a restaurant for 35 years and they were only two and did everything alone. And one day they decided to employ one cook. And it appeared to be wonderful being able to employ people. You are able to share your music or other passions with people you employ.
Your press kit states that “even our faithful fans will be surprised” by the new record.
OM: For us, the album is just a logical continuance – we keep making music even though we are on tour. That’s not easy. I write and compose songs in dressing rooms or wherever I can. We did not change the way we make music.
The only difference is we concentrated only on The Dø for a year and a half now. With the first album, we were writing music for contemporary dance or movies at the same time. In that sense, it might be more intense.
DL: It is more raw.
OM: We are really inspired by new sounds or instruments that we buy, like harpsichord or harp.
Using a Renaissance instrument seems very freak-folk.
DL: It is an instrument where you cannot have any nuances, which is really interesting. It was used by The Beatles and Jimi Hendrix, and it was always my dream to buy one, so now I did. Though I did not use it having them in mind, but out of my classical background.
I am really into 20th-century classical composers like Bartok, Stravinsky or Debussy. After them, I am really into the jazz of the 1950s and 1960s. And yes, I like The Beatles and Frank Zappa, but also Radiohead and Nirvana.
How does it work with your genders? Is there an anima and animus to your music?
OM: That’s a tough one.
DL: This sensibility, apart from the cliché, is really there. Olivia puts the word into the songs, and she writes the melody. I am more drums, percussions, and maybe we would not do the same music alone. Before I met Olivia, I was doing only music, no vocals, not ‘cause I am male, but it was just my music.
OM: I guess you can say I am a melody and he is the rhythmic part!
DL: In a studio I am very difficult – I am like, in the war. I am always fighting for something. We are really not creating music in the same way. Olivia needs to have a table, a guitar and a pen in front of her. I need to have the sounds, to record sounds. I am more into the sound process, and she is more into the songwriting process. Sometimes we mix and write the music together on the same piano.
We are two, so even if I don’t have any ideas, I know Olivia will bring something fresh and new, and the other way around. So we are not afraid of empty space – we’re excited!
Was there any time when you had a feeling you created something that was not understood?
OM: The only thing that we struggled with at the beginning was in France, we had this hit “On My Shoulders” and they did not know the rest of our stuff, so many people thought we were a one-hit wonder.
How did they react when you sang in English? Are you a different person?
OM: I guess I am. I hardly ever sing in French. I went to school in France, and that is a kind of academic language for me. English is my musical language and Finnish is my intimate language.
Being Finnish and French, doing music in English stretches national borders to form a common European cultural space.
DL: When you play in Paris or London, it is more about the critics. The most exciting gigs we did were Mexico, Istanbul and Zagreb. It is really bizarre, because we did not expect anything from Zagreb, I prepared the crew for 20 people, and it was completely full – Mexico too. And in Istanbul, they are so happy when you play the song. They scream and sigh, “Oooh”!
OM: We love to play in Istanbul or Croatia: there is a certain young energy, which is very strong and you can feel it in the air. It is not so established – meaning, the European culture is little by little getting there, but they are still exactly in between, which makes it a bit crispy.
Your album is so full of surreal images. Perhaps national boundaries take second place to inner life.
OM: We daydream all the time, but we are very close to our family, friends and simple life things; we shop and do the laundry. We are not the Ibiza sort of people. I have some friends who are addictive types, and showbiz did not help or add to that; they are just fragile, and that – is very sad.
The Dø w/ Vienna, Thu, Dec 1, 20:00 | Postbahnhof, Str. der Pariser Kommune 3-10, Friedrichshain, S-Bhf Ostbahnhof