Daughter’s Elena Tonra Talks New Record and Her Intimate Relationship with Sad Songs

Daughter

Building on their 2013 debut, London-based trio Daughter has found a bold and much more direct approach to the art of songwriting and production through their latest record Not to Disappear. They collaborated with producer Nicolas Vernhes, who is well known for his work with artists like The War On Drugs, Deer Hunter, and Animal Collective, in an effort to really open up their sound and provide what Elena Tonra (singer/guitarist) says was “a real injection of energy”. Vancouver Weekly had the pleasure of chatting with Tonra and got some juicy insights into her roots, the bands experience in New York making the new record, and her take on honesty and how it has shaped her writing process throughout her career. 

Vancouver Weekly: You work under the moniker ‘Daughter’ and I’m sure you’ve been asked about what that means in interviews loads of times but I’m curious to know if that name has changed for you over the years?

Elena Tonra: I think so. In terms of how it used to relate to my writing when we started. I was writing a lot about my family, my childhood and I still think that I do that but I think it feels different now. It feels like I’m growing up with that name but I’m on a more mature version of it. You think of a band name and it almost takes a few years for it to feel right – to not feel strange. But it’s like, ‘oh ya, we’re called Daughter,’ of course we are but for the first year we would awkwardly say, ‘hellllooo, we’re Daughter’ [giggle]. I’m sure it’s probably the same with every single band name.

VW: Is writing a difficult process for you or is it often times something that just flows out of you when the timing is right?

ET: I think it’s very much when the timing is right or when inspiration strikes. I wouldn’t say it’s a difficult process but it’s definitely sporadic. I can’t write all the time. I can only write when I’m feeling inspired. And usually I’m feeling inspired when I’m feeling low. It’s kind of a tragic process. A lot of the time when we are on tour, I’ll have a few ideas here and there but the writing mainly starts when I’m alone or in a place somewhere that feels a bit more settled – heartbreak and being loneliness are great combinations [laugh].

VW: You seem drawn to sad songs. Do you ever write when you are happy?

ET: I have, but they haven’t necessarily been the best songs I’ve ever written. Ya, I don’t know. It’s a strange thing, maybe I just haven’t been happy enough to shout it from the heavens.  

VW: What was the first song you really felt proud to share with people?

ET: I had a friend in school. He played guitar really well. He taught me a few chords and told me to go away and write something with those few chords. Then he said, ‘you know if you want to play them for me, that’s fine’. And then I remember sitting at this house party with him and I told him that I’d written this thing. I’d never really played songs for anyone before except when I jammed with my brother. But I’d never played any of my own stuff. So it was a moment of trust when I played that song for him because he was a really good friend. It was really nice because he was like, ‘Yay, this is really good’…and I was like ‘it is?’ Maybe I was about 13. The quality of that song, in hindsight, was not great but it was just nice to have that person to share that with.

VW: You worked with producer Nicolas Vernhes on this last record. What was that like?  

ET: Brilliant! It was really cool. We went to New York to work with him in his studio. Igor and him co-produced the record there but we’d been demoing for ages. It was so nice to have his opinion after having just the three of us in a room for a year and a half. He had these ideas that pushed us in different directions, which is what we needed. We played with a lot of sounds and electronics when we were there.

We were in New York for two and a half months. We were living in an AirBnB in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Every morning we would walk to Nicolas’ studio and be there from the morning until the wee hours – long but beautiful days. It was so nice to work on something in this like secret place because no one really knew what we were working on. It was the five of us including David who was engineering… the only five people in the world that have heard these songs.  

I’ve never lived anywhere else but London and after a couple of months, I felt like a bit of a local. I knew where I liked to go for my morning coffee and which supermarket had the best selection of peas. I’d love to spend more time there but we’ll see.

VW: Often times working on a new album can signify a change or a fresh start. What shift, if any, does Not to Disappear represent for you? 

ET: This album has opened up a door for me. I think stuff about my grandmother and about my own personal life came out in this record in a very particular way. I think that it’s a shift in maybe my own comfort. Even as a band, our sound is more aggressive on this record. We are growing in confidence and we feel like we can explore sound and not feel confined to the sound that other people think we should sound like. Going into this record, we were like, ‘we know we sound a certain way or we know that we like certain things’ cause we’re three people with quite specific tastes but I feel that this album gave us the opportunity to not think about what people expect this album to be like. Let’s just make this album the best thing that we can.  

VW: A word I’ve noticed that comes up a lot in when it comes to your music is honesty. Why is honesty important for you in music? 

ET: Because I think without it, I wouldn’t see the point. From my perspective, I can’t write if I’m bullshiting. I just have no desire to do that. The reason I started writing in the first place was because I wanted to talk about things I couldn’t tell anyone else so I’d just write them down. I’d write these kind of poems or songs and shove them in a drawer and never talk about them but at least they were there. The therapy element in writing is something I need. For me honesty is so important. You can hear when people aren’t being honest. If I don’t feel it, then I can’t say it. 

VW: What lyrics stand out to you from music you’ve heard this year?

ET: I love Savages new album and especially the song ‘Adore’. It’s beautiful and it has some really lovely, passionate lyrics in it. “Is it human to adore life?”

On the flip side of that, I love Kurt Viles’ latest record and I love ‘Pretty Pimpin’ because I just think it’s one of the best songs I’ve ever heard. I love how humorous and kind of wacky it is. I love the idea that he’s like I don’t know what day it is and I don’t know who I am anymore but I’m really fucked up. I think it’s great! That song for me is honesty in another way – in a comical and brilliant way.

Ricardo Khayatte

Ricardo Khayatte

Editor-in-Chief