Music

Brooklyn’s Autre Ne Veut Is a Self-Described Electropop ‘Slut for Novelty’

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In the heavily wooded northwest corner of Manhattan sits the Cloisters, a museum devoted to the art of medieval Europe. It’s New York’s very own castle, filled with chapels, halls, and a decadent treasury room located downstairs. Among the riches of gold and silver, the treasury houses a nearly microscopic ornament with the inscription autre ne veut, French for “I want no other.” It’s a wee little jewel, easy to miss next to the lavish belts and crowns, but it’s the gem’s underdog appeal that seized Arthur Ashin when he visited the Cloisters over a decade ago, ultimately inspiring the name for his musical act.

“It was the smallest thing in the museum,” he says. He compares the ornament to the New York Mets. “If you’re a sports fan, I feel like there are two basic categories: People who like teams who win a lot and people who like teams that never win. I think there’s something in nature about rooting for the guys who have it harder.”

It’s a clear September afternoon with boats buzzing by on the nearby Hudson, and Ashin has just returned to the Cloisters for the first time since discovering his project’s namesake. He’s sporting a black leather baseball cap, the bill permanently flipped behind his head. It’s seldom removed, beyond a few swift repositions that briefly reveal his hairless scalp underneath. Spirited and eloquent, Ashin beams, curious and wading through the museum he originally visited in his early twenties. Back then, he was “burning the candle from both ends” through an excessive lifestyle (“capital-F fun,” he dubs it), and the self-described “museum nerd” sought refuge in places like the Cloisters.

Eleven years later, the 33-year-old finds contentment in his Bed-Stuy studio, where he pieced together his new album, the October 2–released Age of Transparency. The album varies between erratic electronica and tender vocal intimacy, aggressive synthesizers spliced together with Ashin’s raspy and soulful voice. His impassioned delivery recalls that of Van Morrison’s landmark album Astral Weeks — a record that Ashin listens to frequently — his emotive vocals suggestive of a sleek and sexual tension. Furthermore, an underlying mood of disruption riddles Age of Transparency; a moment of intensity can be immediately subdued to create a jarring atmosphere of crossfire communication.

Following Anxiety, his 2013 breakthrough, Age of Transparency is Ashin’s third effort under Autre Ne Veut and his second in a trilogy examining the difficulty in making personal connections in an epoch of digital codependency.

“I felt like approaching the societal causes of anxiety and exploring them from a different angle,” he explains. “You know how The Wire is structured, how they approached every season with a different set of characters? I think that’s really at the crux of the trilogy, the different kind of approaches to being a human being in a world of social media.”

While exploring and considering these themes, Ashin himself developed his own online obsession.

“I wasn’t addicted to Twitter before, but I’m addicted to it on multiple levels,” he admits. “I enjoy participating in Twitter; it’s something I actively like doing. But I also have to move where Twitter is located on my phone so that I don’t auto-open to it. I’m like, ‘Oh, I’ve got an email — I’m going to check Twitter first.’ It’s really fucking awkward and it feels dangerous on some bizarre level. And then there’s the even more insidious, sad side of it when I’m deep off-cycle and a week or two goes by where my Twitter isn’t active and no one is talking about me — I actually experience sadness.”

Age of Transparency’s premier single was the capricious “World War Pt. 2,” and following its release, Ashin posted the track’s stripped and bare prototype, offering insight into the recording process for this particular album. Working alongside producer Ron Entwistle and the Hazelrigg jazz trio, Ashin originally recorded Age of Transparency backed by loose jazz instrumentation — an experiment he’s wanted to undertake since childhood.

“I came to them with this project where I wanted to reconceive jazz from a more popular form and perspective,” he says. “Jazz, historically, was a very sexual music.”

Afterwards, Ashin manipulated the recordings in his home studio to produce his blend of jazz and electronic elements. Throughout Age of Transparency, sections of the jazz originals reappear — heard especially clearly during the graceful “Never Wanted” — and their subtle inclusion helps emphasize the theme of tainted transmissions.

‘I try to fuck up the jazz on top of the pop arrangements on top of the prankster character.’

As the afternoon at the Cloisters begins to fade, Ashin turns to his personal relationship to music as a listener. Unsurprisingly, there’s a lot floating around in his brain. He’ll go from mentioning early influences inherited from his grandparents — Ornette Coleman, Alice Coltrane, Pharoah Sanders — to praising the wheeze of contemporary rapper Young Thug.

“I’ve listened to a lot of music, and at some point you kind of hit this wall where you’re like, ‘Oh yeah, I could like this indie rock band that reminds me of another indie rock band that I used to like, or I can get into Young Thug and forget all about Lil Wayne.’ But for me, those evolutions are casual, temporal evolutions, and it’s exciting to try and break new fertile ground. It’s an attempt I’ll always try to make: I try to fuck up the jazz on top of the pop arrangements on top of the prankster character,” he says.

“It felt important to me to try and take this part of me as a listener and a human being and incorporate it into my musical practice. I’m definitely a little bit of a slut for novelty. By novelty I don’t mean groping for the next-big-thing kind of novelty, but I want to hear music and try and make music that nobody has ever made before or heard before.”

Autre Ne Veut plays the Bowery Ballroom on October 26. The show has sold out, but tickets are available on the secondary market.

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