One third of dream-pop trio Au Revoir Simone, Annie Hart has been releasing synth records for over twelve years. But with the band currently a few years into a Hiatus period, Annie has been slowly carving out her own career as a solo artist.
Despite releasing her debut album Impossible Accomplice to strong reviews this September, it’s no secret that the development of the record was slow. Taking just over three years to finish, her second pregnancy decelerated everything. Having to balance the demands of motherhood with her career, Annie found herself chasing time and opportunities to be creative. For the first time in her adult life, the music had to come second.
In addition to raising two kids, unique challenges as a solo artist created new doubts in her writing process. Having written with her Au Revoir Simone bandmates since 2003, Annie had to question her own creative decisions more than ever before.
Impossible Accomplice – a synth-pop record of eight tracks – is an exploration of some of the most formative years in Annie Hart’s life. Written from the perspective of a woman in love and happily married, the record chronicles the heartbreak and failure of a past relationship(s) – but from a place of newfound stability and well-being.
I met with Annie in early Autumn following her show at London’s Shacklewell Arms. We discussed her newfound status as a solo artist, the writing process behind the album and the related challenges involved.
When did you start writing this album and what made you go solo?
I started writing the songs when Au Revoir Simone were still touring. That was in 2014. “Breathing Underwater” was actually supposed to be an Au Revoir Simone song. But then I got pregnant and everything just massively slowed down. I thought I was going to finish it by the time I had my baby, but I never did.
I was one-hundred-percent bullied into going solo. My old bandmate and my friend Keith from We Are Scientists both ganged up on me after hearing a few of my tracks. They were like, “if you don’t release these songs, we’re punching you in the face”. They were doggedly insistent that I released this record. I couldn’t say no.
Was it difficult going from writing with a band to writing alone?
I found it really hard writing by myself at first. I had a really hard time dealing with that transition, but that’s because I got so used to writing with a band.
There were only a few Au Revoir Simone songs that I wrote from start to finish. Usually one of us would come in with three quarters of an idea and the rest of us would finish it. I’m really good at writing bridges for other people, but I’ve actually struggled on this album for myself.
“I get paranoid when people praise my solo stuff. I’d rather get harsh criticism. I need to know if I’ve got spinach in my teeth.”
What exactly made that transition so hard?
All three of us in Au Revoir Simone were really big perfectionists. We really cared. Almost to a fault. But it always made me confident when we all agreed on something. We were all really honest, so we always knew it was good to go when all three of us agreed it worked. Now I get paranoid when people praise my solo stuff. I’d always rather get harsh criticism. I need to know if I’ve got spinach in my teeth. The same goes for my music. In that sense, it was a little daunting to go without getting that guaranteed honest criticism.
The record was written over such a long period. Did you find yourself picking the songs apart over time?
Totally. I really picked it apart. I’d pick it apart some more if I could! The song “Run To You” for example. I still don’t feel like that song feels reckless enough to me.
Do these songs feel a lot more personally yours?
Definitely. I feel like I’m a very slow and careful writer with lyrics. I didn’t always have the luxury of time to write when I was with Au Revoir Simone. It’s natural that the other guys would often change the path a little. I spend most of my time on lyrics now. I’m really able to just delve deep into my own head and put out whatever I want.
How do you approach songwriting then? Do you start with lyrics?
The process is weird for me. I’ll be walking down the street and I’ll think of something – a phrase or whatever. I loop it in my head to the beat of my footsteps. I’ll then go home and figure out the chord progression that I want under it. Then I usually mumble over the chord progression and work out new melodies. Certain vowels in my mumbling will randomly match those melodies. At this point, I have to figure out the words to replace the mumblings. Then, from the words that I’ve chosen, the story of the song emerges. This can all happen over weeks or months, but it’s pretty standard for me now.
I don’t know if the songs that I write make sense to other people, but all of my songs have complete narratives in my head.
Much of the album details a past relationship and heartbreak. Was it at all difficult navigating those past experiences?
I just really wanted to get to a place where I could truly feel like I could forgive myself for decisions I made in the past. I used to think to myself, “why was I with him? I was so stupid. Why couldn’t I see that he was such an asshole”. I had been beating myself up a bit about it. This album was a process of forgiving my younger self. It allowed me to deal with my hang ups. He was just a kid too, an idiot like me.
How do you think that process may have influenced the album’s sound as a whole?
For me it’s actually the opposite. The sound influences the writing. Many of my songs, “I’ve Been Seeing You in My Dreams” and “Breathing Underwater” for example, started with me playing this synthesizer I’m obsessed with. I don’t really know how, but somehow finding a rhythm in that synth brought out the emotion of those songs. It’s the same with “Hard to be Still” too. I always just try a bunch of sounds and it all snowballs from there. Emotionally and sonically. What resonates with me before anything is sound. Specifically, synth.
People might hear this record and be like “oh, this album sounds really similar to Au Revoir Simone”. No shit. That’s my specialty. That’s what resonates with me. I doubt I’m ever going to go and play power chords on guitar.
What’s next on the horizon for you?
Take my kids to school every day. Make dinner for my kids every day. Then I’m trying to find time to write songs for my next album.
But yeah, I’m not planning anything more than another Annie Hart record right now. I’ve got a two record deal. I have a whole bunch of new songs, so there’s definitely another album to come. I really like what I’ve put together so far too.
Stream Annie Hart’s Impossible Accomplice on Spotify.
Buy her record here.