The last time we’d seen her, she was tugging us by hand onto the narrow stage at Baby’s All Right. The first time we’d seen her, she was wrapping a crowd in plastic in the cozy confines of Shea Stadium. There were a few commonalities with each show, it seemed; their affinity for tiny rooms, her propensity for close contact. But other than the key ingredients, a night with Duchess Says is an unpredictable one. In the same way, there was no telling where a long-distance phone call with Annie-Claude Deschênes – the expressive frontwoman of the Montreal moog rock band – might lead. But the intensity of their performance was top of mind when she said hello.

On stage with Duchess Says


Her native French added a warm accent to her words, evoking memories of the stirring singing voice that Duchess Says fans remember from live encounters. However, her English was effortless and incisive as we dug into a lively discussion about their musical process, inspiration, upcoming album, and one-of-a-kind stage presence. Annie-Claude explained what it’s like to be in her shoes when such a fiery show is in motion. “It’s tough to explain,” said Deschênes, an audible smile gracing each word as we conversed. “I’m a really quiet person. But I hear one note of the band, and it just switches in my head. Something switches instantly. I have no inhibitions, and I really want to make the moment worth it, and experiment as far as I can with the people. So it’s like a switch,” she said. As one might glean from her expressions of joy during their gripping, high-energy shows, that switch is a welcome departure from the real world. “I’m doing music [sic] since I was really young, and I think I always use music as a kind of therapy, to express myself and just stop being stuck in…” she paused momentarily to select the best word. “Stuck in rules.”

Duchess Says


“I think that having the chance to perform in front of people is super fun,” Annie-Claude added. “And I think the people help to influence it. It’s like a moving sculpture with the public; to make visuals with the music.” According to the songstress, the participatory element is always part of the plan – but exactly how it will unfold each night is uncertain. “In fact, the plastic was to put our people close and together…like, more people close to me,” she explained. “Because I need that. I need people’s energy – more than I was thinking at the beginning. I realized a few years ago that I really need the energy of people, and I’m finding cheap ways to do it. Like with tape, or with plastic tarps, stuff like that. Sometimes, I just wrap people with tape,” she laughed. “Usually, I don’t plan anything, except maybe like two things. Like if I’m bringing tarps, I know I’m going to do something with it, but I have flashes before the show. For example, before the show, I like to look backstage and see if there are objects I can use. Sometimes it’s a really good idea, sometimes it’s a bad idea.”

fun with tarps


In the same vein, Deschênes is known for being highly engaging with physical movement as she sings, often presenting a flurry of intricate hand motions right in time with the beat. If it’s part of their mission to bring everyone closer, and perhaps hold their focus, it works exceptionally well. “Yeah, I think it’s exactly that,” she affirmed. “But I’m also trying to put some orders in my head, just to visualize the notes or the lyrics. It’s more to put some graphic design in my head, and then be able to communicate more to people, so they can hear it and visualize it. To help them see it. Sometimes I don’t realize I’m doing it so much,” she added, giggling a bit as she spoke. “When I’m doing it, I just want to put like every inch of intensity as I can into what I’m singing. And I don’t want to lose one ounce of a second, if that makes sense.”

Duchess Says


Given that their latest LP, 2016’s Sciences Nouvelles, was one of our favorite albums released that yearparticularly for its unconstrained, studio-borne pacing – we were curious about the process of adapting it for live performance. “[In the studio], we were not thinking so much about the live part, but more to experiment with different sounds,” she said. “Then, we were trying to redo the same songs live and we were like, ‘Oh, it doesn’t work. It’s not so interesting, or something.’ So we just changed it a little bit, or adapted it live. There are some other songs we cannot play live; it just doesn’t work. But for the next album, we’re trying, most of the time, to create the songs live, so that it’s easier to recreate in the studio. The crowd changes a lot of my vision,” she added. “It gives a big push.”

It’s a literal push as well, since Duchess Says often find themselves in front of revved up, mosh-ready audiences. “Yes…yes,” she laughed knowingly. “It was maybe like 4 or 5 years ago – I don’t know why exactly, but we had more of a heavy crowd. It was so heavy that I broke my wrist and had a concussion, and I had a lot of stuff like that, so I just decided, ‘Okay, now maybe I’m going to just stay on stage.’ Now, it depends. You can kind of see it before the show. If I look at the crowd and see drunk people crazy, then I know it’s something that could do harm or be violent. But also, sometimes I say like ‘Okay, stop, that’s too much.’ I just talk to people and I say what I think. If it’s too much, I’m just like, ‘Relax. Take a break.’”

Duchess Says


“We prefer to play in small venues, because there’s more energy. We would prefer to play two shows in a small venue versus one in a big venue. Because the atmosphere is a little less interesting [in large spaces]. Usually we do like 400 [-person capacity], something like that,” Annie-Claude explained. Considering their hometown popularity, we wondered how they felt about NYC crowds vs. Montreal ones. “I was really surprised; it’s good, it’s fun!” she said with satisfaction. “Because, at the beginning I was like ‘Ah, man. People don’t know us. It’s just that we’ve played so many times in Montreal that people know us, so it’s like a big party. Also, people know they can do whatever they want, so sometimes it gets really crazy. We didn’t go so many times in New York yet [sic], but it’s starting to feel like home when I’m going there, so I can’t wait to go back. I had a lot of fun. Also, Baby’s All Right is a super fun venue – really nice. I was feeling like we were playing at the right place for us, which is really nice. I was really thinking it was the right thing.”

Digging into the title of one of Sciences Nouvelles’ most memorable tracks, “Negative Thoughts,” we then discussed her own, and how they inspire the music. “Yes, I’ve got a lot of them,” she said lightheartedly. “But it’s not just like, ‘There’s no hope in life.’ It’s more like, trying to resolve stuff. It’s more like psychology. Like when some people that you love just died, or when people are unfaithful, or when people lie to you, or when your heart is broken. Or just the feeling of emptiness,” she said openly. “Sometimes, I feel I have too much empty space in myself, so I like to fill that. There are a lot of things. Anxiety, thinking too much of the future, not knowing where I’m going or what I’m going to do…I have a lot of questions in my mind.”

Annie-Claude Deschênes


With traceable influence from bands like Six Finger Satellite, Sonic Youth, Bad Brains, and Dead Kennedys, according to Annie-Claude, the full band is involved in the songwriting process – and they’ve gone all in for their forthcoming new record. “I quit my job to do this new album,” she said proudly. “I was a secretary for like 7 years, and I just quit my job. And everybody’s not working these days to be able to go into the studio. So we’re recording an EP right now. It’ll be maybe 2 songs in spring, and if we do an EP, maybe all of the EP in spring. Or 2 songs in spring, and maybe an album in autumn. That’s what we would like to do, and we’re working hard for it to work. It’s really like old new wave, or just punk…and it’s a bit psychedelic,” she said, amused herself by the breadth of their self-described moog rock. “It’s distress… like nervousness,” she said of the new music. “It’s more intense; uptempo stuff, and it feels like a freight train.”

With their unique history as part of The Church of Budgerigars, a highly-symbolic religion that is quietly observed around the world, we wanted to know how their affiliation shapes the work. Thankfully, Annie-Claude was more than happy to indulge a few questions. “Duchess Says is like the Duchess of the budgie,” she explained. “The Duchess is like a spiritual budgie. So we’re inspired by the aesthetic of it. And there are other people who are too. They’re creating art with this imagery, because there is not only the budgie, but all the icons around. So there are people from different spheres that are into it – in Europe, in Canada, in the States. Not everywhere, but when we’re travelling, we can see those members. It’s really abstract, and we don’t like to explain it too much. But it just lives by itself. There’s no leader.”

Duchess Says


“For me, it just inspires the lyrics,” she said, explaining how the presence of fellow observers is evident when they tour. “Sometimes they have tattoos of the church, or patches, or they’ll run up to me and talk, ask me questions,” she said. “People are coming to merch tables and just talking about it. I can see it, but I can’t really explain it better than that.” But according to Annie-Claude, it’s a genuinely welcoming group. “I’m not like deciding [who joins],” she noted with a laugh. The next thing she said not only illuminated their beliefs, but seemed to perfectly encapsulate their music and energy. “Everyone can be a part of it. If you understand it without explanation, you’re welcome to it. But don’t ask too much. Maybe you’re not going to have answers, but it’s more like a vibe.”


For news on their upcoming album and future U.S. tour dates, you can follow Duchess Says on Facebook, Instagram, and their website.


Article: Olivia Isenhart



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