interview with Technique Niquee
The New Puritan ReView;
The French have a more delicate way of putting it: "technique niquee". For Danielle Cezanne and Karen Plante, this became a less-than-subtle description of their musical endeavors while living in Paris more than half a decade ago. Thusly christened, the pair have coupled their efforts with a succession of accompanying musicians who continually departed due to "artistic differences". The earliest and longest running line-up managed to release a psyche-shattering self-titled cassette, an LP titled Substitutes For Learning, and a couple of tracks on a Mpls. compilation tape called Oh! You Mean Minneapolis.
Critical acclaim was always within reach, but always with a vague reference to some eclecticism the band themself seemed unaware of. All the unimaginative critics in the world couldn't prevent the band from continuing to forge out their passionate vignettes of existential daydreams. With yet another line-up, the band set out to record a single, during which the two original members found themselves deserted once again. Nonetheless, under the nome de plume "Before I Hang", a 45 was released, followed by rumors of the band's final break-up. Within less than a year they were at it again, performing with a newer and more powerful line-up, performing and recording new material for a tentative E.P. and a forthcoming compilation 7" single. Danielle [violin, sax, vocals], Karen [guitar, vocals], and Mike [drums] share with us some of the tribulations of sticking it out in spite of general cultural unawareness.
When exactly did the name come to you?
Danielle: It was when we were living in Paris and we played this guy our music, and he said, "Oh this is technique niquee - it's French slang for fuck technique". That was a name we could live up to. It's not really derogatory, you have to have technique in order to twist it up.
Karen: I think we've got evolution on all different levels - writing, singing... we just like to play.
What inspires you the most to write?
Karen: We had both kept journals for years, so we were just drawing from our experiences.
Danielle: Some songs were like that. I couldn't really sing - I had a poem, she had the music, so we'd just come together. She'd have something she had written about a dream, and I'd give her something that I had.
Have you ever been conscious of any sort of a theme running through your material? The new single almost picks up right where you left off a few years back.
Danielle: Yeah, it turned out to be a theme, but it wasn't an intentional theme. The words to the songs were written at really different times.
When did it occur to you that these themes might actually be recurring?
Danielle: When we read it in a review.
Karen: I was really glad; I felt that someone had thought about what we were doing. I thought that it became more than we had intended it to be, which is always a nice thing. I was thinking about infinity and repetition and the cycles of life - and that having to do with life and death too. So it all kind of tied together, but it wasn't a contrived thing.
Danielle: Why did we take pictures like that in Paris? Standing like we're hanging...
Karen: Yeah, and the idea of repetition being a sort of slavery. This guy did these photographs of slavery quarters down south, and all the slavery quarters looked totally like that - like looking into infinity, the repetition - monotonous; being chained to this... thing. When I saw those pictures I just went, "My God! This is just like the cover!"
Do you think you are more affected by your surroundings, or do you generally try to create your own environment?
Danielle: I always just wanted to be a writer, since I was in second grade.
Karen: I think most of our songs are based on personal experiences. Most of them are... an emotional thing, or some kind of pain or grief or something that makes you search yourself.
Danielle: I think we were lucky, because a lot of our experiences were shared; so that if she was singing about something, I was there, I knew the whole thing and I could relate to it emotionally by what I played. Or, we would experience the same thing at the same time, so it makes it easier to collaborate, too.
There has always seemed to be a sense of the two of you actually being the nucleus of the group. Has there ever been much collaboration with any other bandmembers?
Danielle: This band is the first one where I've felt a real interaction. Jay and I wrote a song together, more or less - actually it was the whole band - but it was the first time with somebody else other than Karen.
Karen: Jay writes a lot of bass-oriented songs, which is working with our sound perfectly.
Danielle: All our bass players in the past have really been guitar players who consented to play bass, and so it made them unhappy from the start, really. Jay is a bass player; that's all he wants.
How did you end up using the original band name, following the single's release?
Danielle: We changed the name of the band so that we could start over, so that there could be four equal quarters. But then it was weird, these guys fit in so much better, and we went back to the old name.
Given the amount of time you've played together as well as the personnel changes, does it ever seem strange that you're still able to do this?
Danielle: It's been kind of hard, but Karen and I were always together no matter who left the band, so it didn't matter. It was harder to play.
Karen: Morale got really low.
Danielle: Sometimes we just felt like we were spinning our wheels.
You've certainly made an immediate comeback within the last year, what with the new rhythm section and a new baby.
Karen: Things are really looking up. This is the first time I really felt like I was in a band.
Danielle: It's kind of like dream come true.
Karen: It is, because I can see us going on the road and having fun.
Mike: There's very little conflict.
Danielle: We have really good communication, I think, and that's what helps us a lot. I mean, even criticism.
Karen: Even if someone doesn't agree, everybody says, but not in a hurtful way.
To what do you credit your musical influences?
Danielle: I think we just started making it up as we went along.
[speaking to Karen] You never really learned a guitar song and derived the next song from the structure of someone else's music. It was just kind of made up from the start. Maybe living in Europe, they used to play all those Celtic songs. Maybe there's some kind of international thing in there - that just happened, it wasn't contrived. Maybe it's the instrumentation, too. I saw two women playing mandolin and guitar, and it was just like, their music, but then right away you think, "oh, it's folk".
Karen: Speaking of the instrumentation, when we first started out, and Danielle was playing violin and saxophone, and I was kind of experimenting with using my voice as an instrument, so it kind of like this free-for-all... we just did whatever we heard in our heads at the time.
You've mentioned in the past that some people are confused by your approach. Do you perceive the sound as being unique in any way?
Karen: Surprisingly, I would say that we weren't directly influenced from... I don't know, I've never felt like we tried... "okay, now we're gonna write a blues song", you know what I mean? We always tried partly what we felt comfortable with, which is a certain limitation...
Danielle: I learned "Rebel, Rebel"on guitar, and then I wrote "Break That Glass"", and it sounds nothing like "Rebel, Rebel".
Danielle: I bet time has been kind of a big influence on us though.
Karen: That's true. The art idea of just getting up there, and the spontaneous thing of just letting things go.
Danielle: That was our first kind of thing with Tim Piotrowsky [former vocalist / guitarist of Duck Kicking Vulture and also Grant Hart's first post-Husker Du solo venure, Yanomamos. I met him at an art show and brought him home, and it turned into this bizarre thing with his words and us just playing the emotion behind it.
You've played at schools, galleries, bars...have you developed any affinity for certain types of venues?
Danielle: It hasn't made a difference to me. In fact, sometimes the art settings are harder to do. You don't have as much control over the sound, you can't amplify like in a bar.
Mike: I think the art crowd is a little more open to what you're trying to say.
Karen: Yeah, and there have been times when we ended up playing for the wrong crowd or something, but we've never built up that big of a following of our own fans yet, so we kind of take what we get.
Danielle: We started out playing at MCAD [Minneapolis College of Art & Design], which was great.
Karen: People seem to have an open mind, I've noticed at our shows that people always listened to the music, and even if they're not totally into the music, they seem to be interested in hearing it.
Danielle: It seems that we get the most compliments from other musicians.
There are lot of local musicians who are fiercely loyal to other groups from this region, whereas people in other towns might be more objective, having never heard you before.
Karen: That'll be a whole new learning thing. We'll probably have a lot more experiences with that on the road.
What kinds of obstacles do you forsee when that starts to happen?
Danielle: I think our biggest problem so far has been the sound, because our sound is complicated - not only the instrumentation, but the... like someone said, organic instruments - you know, acoustic instruments, with the electric. Not only that aspect of it, but just the high-end of female voices with the high-end of a violin and saxophone mixed in so it doesn't kill you, and the complexity of the music. Polyrhythms and poly - riffs going together, it hasn't been a simple three-piece - the Beatle format, so it's harder. The sound can make or break us.
Mike: We've had as many sound people as we've played out.
Having your own sound technician would undoubdtedly help.
Karen: That's what we're really looking for, kind of a fifth member of the band who is dedicated to the sound.
Now that you seem to have settled on a lineup, what are your immediate plans? Karen: We're hoping to release something in the next six months. We thought we'd start with a single; it'd be nice to follow it up within about six or seven months maybe. I think that's what we need to do right now, put out a lot of vinyl.
How have your previous releases fared with the media or the general public?
Danielle: We've gotten really good reviews.
Karen: We've had really good reviews from Italy; we had a huge article written about us - about a demo tape.
Danielle: That was the first time we ever played together, and they wrote this whole article that was in the newspaper. They did a long-distance interview by phone. In France and England, we got good reviews in Option. Rockpool gave us a good review on the single, too.
Why do you suppose there has been so much speculation about your sound?
Karen: I think it has ties to other things...
Danielle: If we think it sounds like pop or something, and say, "this is our most normal song", people just shake their heads no.
That seems like a consequence of live performance, though. If there are recordings of some sort, people can listen to them in any kind of environment they choose to create for themselves, which is kind of hard to do in a bar, for instance.
Karen: I think that leaving a document and having something to show for all your years of dedication and what you believe in... it would be really sad not to. To give it up at this point would be absolutely impossible, because I feel like there's so many albums... there's gotta be so much stuff out - even if not to make it big or anything. Maybe years from now, there's gonna be some of those audiophiles who know everything about the band, or people are gonna maybe appreciate it in different ways... just to have something to show for your life.
Danielle: Even if we haven't played them in a while, I think the songs themselves are good. That's how I felt when I heard the Velvet Underground - several years later, you still feel like it has something to say right now. I hope our music can do that.
© J. Free / New Puritan ReView; 1991