The October Q&A chats with Heather Latimer, who with her brother Nick comprises the San Francisco-based duo Eux Autres. Full of authenticity and energy and musical know-how, Eux Autres—pronounce it “ooz oh-tra,” with the “oo” as in “good,” if you would—to me is something of the quintessential 21st-century indie rock band: talented, musically astute, unsung, humble, hard-working. That they are also thoughtful and considerate folks is a bonus, and something you’re likely to pick up by reading Heather’s answers to our continually unanswerable monthly questions.
Eux Autres was featured in September for a wonderful Bruce Springsteen cover they did a couple of years ago, which continues to find fans online, but Heather and Nick’s ties with Fingertips go back to 2005, when they were featured for the charming dead-pan French-language garage rocker “Ecoutez Bien,” from the duo’s 2004 debut Hell Is Eux Autres. May as well note too that “Ecoutez Bien” furthermore ended up on the late great Fingertips compilation CD, Fingertips: Unwebbed, which was available for a limited time in 2007 as a gift for contributors.
The band’s latest album, Broken Bow, comes out next month. They’re offering a new free and legal download from that album, the song “Go Dancing,” over at Bandcamp.
Q: Let’s cut to the chase: how do you as a musician cope with the apparent fact that not everybody seems to want to pay for digital music? Do you think recorded music is destined to be free, as some of the pundits insist?
A: It’s very difficult. Right now, the music industry is in some sort of limbo. Because if recorded music is destined to be free, then eventually someone’s going to have to figure out how to subsidize its creation. Recording music is incredibly expensive, both in effort and actual money. There’s been some democratization of recording with more accessible home equipment, but most of the bands you care about aren’t making records for free in their basements. So when no one wants to pay for songs, it dramatically inhibits artists’ ability to continue making music. And even with the bigger bands—if no one’s buying, then the advances and recording budgets are obviously going to go away. Eventually, there’s got be some sort of major adjustment in the equation, one one side or the other.
Our band tries to cope with the current music economy by taking the long view, taking a deep breath and trying to focus on what we want to bring into the world—regardless of whether it’s valued in the monetary sense. We trust that it has a cultural value beyond what is reflected in our iTunes checks. And we spend a lot of time thinking about the whole package, not just the MP3 as heard in a vacuum. It pushes us to pay more attention to the cohesion of everything—the artwork, the themes—and to try to make beautiful and interesting actual physical objects. But then again, we’re sort of extreme. We think that making crest-shaped lapel pins is an awesome use of our merch budget.
Q: Related question: there’s a lot of talk these days that says that music in the near future will exist in the so-called “cloud”—that is, on large computer networks—and that music fans, even if paying, will not need to “own” the music they like any longer, since they will be able to simply listen to everything on demand when they want to. How do you feel about this lack of ownership? Do you see anything really good or really bad in the idea?
A: It’s an interesting idea. On one hand, it seems sort of like having a musical harem. You’re certain you’ll get laid one way or another—you don’t have to commit to or support anyone in particular, there’s always that pack waiting for you. I think it’s unfortunate, because historically listeners have gotten so much out of being committed to bands, following them through triumphs and missteps and weird phases, and deciding when to break up with them—really having to figure out if you can stomach Black Flag’s My War or if they’d just gone too far.
But then again, the cloud model also seems progressive, a kind of artistic socialism. Maybe tons of artists under the same umbrella or system can share the “wealth” and help each other stay afloat.
Q: How has your life as a musician been affected—or not—by the existence of music blogs?
A: I think our musical lives have been affected a lot by blogs. So many more people know about Eux Autres than would have in the analog model. And luckily, so far, the blogosphere has been very, very supportive. Since we’re not some juggernaut, no one has gone out of his or her way to take us down. It seems if people don’t like us, then they don’t write about us. Of course, there’s a downside of blogs. I miss just walking down to the record store in Omaha and grabbing a mysterious 7″ and having no preconceptions about what I was about to listen to. It was just the cryptic artwork and the music. And I was totally free to develop my own reaction in the privacy of my own home.
Q: What are your thoughts about the album as a musical entity— does it still strike you as a legitimate means of expression? If listeners are cherry-picking and shuffling rather than listening all the way through, how does that affect you as a musician?
A: I absolutely believe in the album. A good album is like a well thought-out meal. It has stages, and each stage deepens the experience, rather than just moving along the surface. That said, the album didn’t really exist before the late ’60s, and I don’t think it’s the only way to do it. There are a lot of bad albums in the pop world because people are building around one or two singles. I really wouldn’t mind if it went back to a singles-dominated game, and people only felt the need to make albums when they were really inspired to do so.
Q: What is your personal preferred way of listening to music at this point? Describe the circumstances (are you in an otherwise quiet room? in a car?), the technology (laptop? iPod?), how you choose what to listen to (random shuffle? full albums?), and anything else of relevance to your listening habits.
A:: It’s funny, I’ve gotten so much less flexible about listening to music. It’s really hard for me to do anything else if music I care about is playing. My friends get annoyed because I can’t even converse; I’ll be in a coffee shop and Elliott Smith’s “Speed Trials” comes on and I totally forget where I am. My ideal situation is a quiet room, for sure. And I still very much like to listen to albums. I like surrendering to the duration of it. I really try not to skip past songs—it seems like cheating.