It’s pretty clear from listening to her debut album, Fading Lines, that Dutch singer/songwriter Annelotte De Graaf, aka Amber Arcades, has some cool inspirations (Stereolab, Suicide, circa now garage pop, ’60s yé-yé). But it took a trip cross the Atlantic to the Big Apple to find the right place and people to get her ideas recorded.
So here she was, a legal aide at Dutch Immigration back home, playing immigrant in Brooklyn. We asked her about her time in New York and more. Check it out, below her brand new, vertigo-daring video for the album’s title track. Fading Lines arrives June 3 on Heavenly Recordings.
You’ve said you had a long standing desire to record in New York City; when people not from NYC say “New York,” they kind of mean Manhattan, and specific neighborhoods therein. Is it right to assume that when you had dreams of recording in “New York” you were maybe thinking of somewhere in the Lower East Side, those visions of dirty old New York, or something like that—not in Greenpoint, Brooklyn?
Ha ha! Well I’d been to New York a couple of times before when I was studying in Philadelphia in 2010. I’d walked around Manhattan and also the Brooklyn areas, and I actually preferred the Brooklyn areas! Manhattan is pretty cool to walk around for a couple of days but I just feel like such a tourist there. Somehow it feels like the neighborhoods a bit less central are a bit more real. And I like doing boring normal everyday “real” things in strange or new cities, like going food shopping, doing my laundry, etc. Great food shopping in Greenpoint!
Yeah, I love Greenpoint! It’s the best place for record stores in the whole city. While recording, did you get to walk around that part of town and spend some time in it? What else did you do in town, when you were not recording?
I was in town for the whole month of May basically. The first week we did some pre-production and rehearsal, the second and third week we were recording in the studio and the last week we mixed the record. I had quite some free time, especially in the first and last week. I walked around a lot, through the whole Greenpoint area, also in Manhattan a bit. The water side in Greenpoint is the best, especially at sundown. Also McCarren park is great for hanging out and watching people. I read a lot, I visited the Botanical Gardens, I met up with some friends of friends, ate a lot of Mexican food and went to some gigs. It was excellent.
Did any of the gigs you saw, or at least some New York food or beer, inspire the making of the album?
Yeah, I saw a couple of great shows! I don’t think any specific gig or food or beer inspired the making of the album though. But the overall feeling I got being there definitely did. Being in New York just feels like being in a movie, cause all we see on Dutch TV are American movies. And in movies, everything is possible. Being in New York also kind of feels like that. It had the feeling that everything I had been working on for the last years magically came together in that month. That definitely inspired me, also in finishing up some of the lyrics.
You came in contact with Ben Greenberg through Discogs, right? Are you a big record collector?
I’m not at all, actually! I like not having a lot of stuff. I live in temporary housing projects all the time, so that means I can be evicted at any moment basically and have to move house a lot. It’s easier if you don’t have too much material stuff weighing you down. I am a geek though who likes makings lists of records, who produced them, who mixed them, which label put them out, etc.
How did you like the band that producer Ben Greenberg (Destruction Unit, The Men) assembled for you? How did you get the band together for the recording sessions?
Well, Shane (Butler, guitar) and Keven (Lareau, bass) I assembled myself. I knew them already ’cause they’d played a couple of shows in the Netherlands. I supported them on one of those shows, and we hung out and drank cocktails after the gig. We kept in touch, and when I had decided to work with Ben in New York I approached them to join me in the studio. Jackson (Pollis, drums) I didn’t know beforehand, but he’s a good friend of Ben, and Ben thought he would be a really good match musically. So not everyone knew each other before going into the studio, and I was kinda nervous about that. But everyone got along so well! I’m still very honored that these amazing people contributed to my album.
How long were you able to practice with the band and work out the arrangements and all that before you got to recording the songs?
I was in town for a week before we started recording. In that week I met up with Shane and Ben I think about three or four times to work on some arrangements and structures. We had one rehearsal with the whole band the day before we went into the studio! And then we were in the studio recording for about eight days in total.
The slide guitar on “Apophenia” is beautiful. Did you play that?
No, the amazing Meg Duffy did, by way of a happy coincidence. On the first studio day Shane wasn’t there ’cause he had to finish the mastering of the new Quilt record. We’d just finished recording the basis of “Apophenia” that day and wanted to try out some stuff for the slide part. And then Meg, who is a friend of Keven, randomly dropped by the studio in the evening to hang out for a bit. Since Shane wasn’t there we got Meg a guitar and sat her down, she played like three lines and nailed each one of them. What a lady.
Then there’s the story of how we wrote “Turning Light.” I kept waking up super early every morning ’cause of my jet lag, and one morning I decided to go to the studio early. When I got there Keven was also there already. He was jamming on this krauty bass line which happened to fit perfectly over a melody I’d had in my head for a couple of weeks, but which I hadn’t had time to finish into a proper idea for a song before flying to NYC. We decided to give it a go and finished the song together in an hour. Then Ben came in and recorded it in another hour. Jackson came in and added some lush synth parts, and that was it! Loved how everything just magically came together that way.
So you had Jackson Pollis of Real Estate on drums. I feel some of that guitar tone and dreamy rhythm of Real Estate in Fading Lines. Were you a Real Estate fan before working with Pollis?
Yeah for sure! Love their tunes. I was really honored that Jackson agreed to play the drums on my record! The first day in the studio I was totally star struck too. Ha ha. I just tried to play it cool and not talk too much ’cause all that would’ve come out would’ve been, “I loooove your baaaannd!” But I soon found out that he was actually a really chill dude, and we had a lot of fun hanging out in the studio.
There are some electronic sounding drums on the record too, and you mentioned you’d been listening to Suicide and Stereolab while recording. Is it important to you to have a more kind of analog sound, or was that more Ben’s influence?
I think it was something we were both really looking to put into the record. We discussed how it should have kind of a broken radio vibe over all the songs, but in a subtle way. In essence the songs I write are pop songs, and I was looking for ways to make them sound less poppy, add some interesting layers to them. Getting this analog sound was one of those ways.
I sense that maybe Greenberg—after having worked with comparatively louder, faster bands—was probably relieved and kind of energized to work on your album?
I figured it would be best to let him answer this question himself. So I just texted him the question, and this is what he said:
“I was absolutely energized to work on your record! I loved the demos you sent, and the whole experience was really a blast.”
From my side, I loved working with Ben too. I chose to work with him because I figured he would have a very unique and different view on my songs, since he’s used to working with much louder bands. It turned out to be exactly what I’d hoped. He got me to try a lot of new ideas that I wouldn’t have thought of myself, really got me experimenting.
So your job back home is a legal aide on a UN war crimes tribunal. Can you tell us more about that; and working with Syrian refugees? What other work do you do in Utrecht?
I work at IND, the Dutch immigration service. The first months I only worked with Syrians, but now I work with all nationalities, especially a lot of Eritrean people the last weeks. My job is to decide on applications for family reunification. I try to act as much as possible as a human being on my job and not a decision-making robot. Of course there are laws, policies and procedures you have to abide by, but it’s important to me to always keep the human aspect in mind too. Sometimes that makes the job harder.
We hear about the refugees coming into Europe, if mostly about what’s happening in Germany. Can you tell us anything that you think is specific to that situation in Holland; and how you think your country is handling the situation?
I have a lot of opinions about how the Dutch government (and Europe as a whole) is handling the influx of refugees, but unfortunately, being a government worker, I can’t really elaborate on those opinions. The only general thing I can say is that I’m often surprised, in both good ways and bad ways, by some people’s lack of empathy and other people’s courage and willingness to help. It’s strange times.
What kind of scene do you have in Utrecht these days?
Hmm, I always try to talk my way out of this question or change the subject ’cause I don’t want to sound too negative. And truth is there are some cool things happening here. There’s Le Guess Who? festival every year which is the best. There’re also some cool bands based here like I Am Oak. That being said, there’s not a lot happening here. It’s mostly a student town, it’s pretty small. There’re like three nice venues where some cool bands will come and play occasionally. It’s good for living though, and it’s a bit cheaper than Amsterdam.
What were your feelings once you were done with the album, as far as having to go back home? Were you ready to leave America?
Ah, I wanted to stay in New York longer! The only thing I missed from back home was my local supermarket. Ha ha. I’m very obsessed with this one supermarket. But for the rest, I wish I could’ve stayed longer. It’s too expensive though, I don’t understand how anyone is able to live there for a longer period of time, especially musician types! I’d love to go to NYC again for a couple of months though to work on a new record.
What does the title Fading Lines refer to?
I wrote most of the songs in the months after my grandfather passed away. The way he handled his approaching end, with acceptance and peace, got me thinking a lot about the passing of time, how you remember a life once it’s lived, how we find ways to accept life with all the boring, exiting, sad and magical moments, and how I often feel like all these moments start to tangle and all passed years blend together into a fuzzy cloud. So the title kind of loosely refers to those thoughts and feelings—ur linear perception of time which sometimes doesn’t seem to match up with how we experience it, and also the fading of lines between separate moments and memories.
What are your musical plans for the rest of the year?
We’re gonna do some festivals in the UK this summer, and then I think we’re working on getting a European club tour together in autumn. I would love to go to the U.S. for a tour too, unfortunately it’s quite hard to arrange for a non-U.S. band. Visas are a pain in the ass. As soon as the opportunity arises I will jump on it, though!