It was all the way back in 2008 that Out first featured Heloise & the Savoir Faire as an artist to watch. Led by Heloise Williams—a front woman whose pipes command the stage as much as her eccentric theatrics—the Brooklyn-based band’s debut album, Trash, Rats, and Microphones, took hold of the international underground circuit and was praised by the likes of Vanity Fair, Marie Claire, BUST, Blender, and more. It was a welcome sound: spunky, punk-infused electro pop that paid more homage to disco vibes and retro hooks than to the industry’s modern dance & pop fare.
Now, Heloise is back, but this time, it’s just Ms. Williams in the spotlight. The March release of her much-anticipated sophomore effort, Diamond Dust, marks a shift in direction for the musician—all the grit and fun is still intact, of course, but much of the album bares an intimacy not seen on Microphones.
We chatted with Williams about what to expect with the new LP and what she has up her sleeve for her next slew of tour dates.
Out: First off, cannot wait for Diamond Dust’s March release. What sets it apart from Trash, Rats and Microphones?
Heloise Williams: Well, I mean, I think with the last record, I had a full band and I was kind of writing with a lot of people in mind, and this one is much more of me in a vacuum of feeling. I mean, that sounds really bad, but, you know, I wrote most of it in Vermont—actually, half of it in Vermont, half of it in New York—, and I just wanted to sort of, like, you know when you’re living in the city and it’s like, “Oh my God,” and there’s so many influences everywhere, and you’re sort of like, “Who am I? Who am I?” I wanted to just isolate myself and just say, “What do I really think about this? What do I really wanna sing about or talk about? Or what kind of music am I really into?” without being so heavily influenced by what’s just out literally on the street.
And no better place to do that than Vermont!
I know, there’s literally nothing going on and no people. No, that’s not true, I love the people; they’re really nice! I love Vermont. But it’s funny, you know, the whole writing process is sort of different because with the last record, I had written a lot of those records just for me and then I’d have the dancers, and then we’d sort of flesh it out with a full band. And then this record was all, like, me, and exploring mythology and getting rid of the Internet. It’s much more internalized. I thought this current record was going to be so much easier to accomplish and do because I was like, “It’s just me; I don’t have to organize a bunch of people.” And instead it took so much longer. But, I mean, the other record, I had written a lot of those songs a really long time ago, so we just went into the studio and did it in two weeks. But this one took, like, two years. I just thought it was going to be so much easier, but things change. Sometimes it’s good if you have a giant group. Like, you have more mass—you have more gravitational pull, or something.
You’re quoted saying it’s a sort of “heart-on-your-sleeve dance music” as opposed to your debut album. Could you expand upon that? What do you mean “heart-on-your-sleeve”?
I guess it’s a little less snarky. It’s a little more upfront, sincere, open-hearted, like, you know, emotional instead of being more guarded. I mean, there’s definitely some playfulness there, but I guess it’s just being a little less afraid of just being sincere. I find it’s hard to be sincere with dance music, or you sound like—you’re afraid of being cheesy or something, so this is just an attempt to be, like, more open and less afraid.
Yeah I was just gonna say, actually, do you think that sincerity is more difficult to come by in the genre of dance music? I find that a lot of it can be just more for fun. That “heart-on-your-sleeve” mentality—what do you think of tackling themes like that with dance music?
I mean, it’s so funny, I enjoy, like, snarky—I don’t know what you wanna call it—, fun, naughty, you know, because it is fun to just dance around.
Yeah, of course—we all enjoy it, trust me.
I literally just wrote a song recently called, “I Feel Disgusting,” which is super over-the-top, kind of poking fun at the pop genre because it’s so—sometimes it’s just so over-the-top, but it’s so fun. But I guess I wanted to try out this whole idea of just being more emotionally vulnerable, which for me, personally, was a personal challenge, you know what I mean? You’re really exposing a part of yourself, you know? There’s a couple of songs on this record—I know this is gonna sound like, whatever, make me sound like a jerk—, but there have been a couple of times where I almost cried while singing them. I’m just really feeling what I’m saying, which I think is definitely new for me, and it’s more a challenge for me to write songs like that, you know? So I’m just trying to challenge myself, I guess. The sillier ones are still super fun for sure, and I love them, I just was, you know, trying to exercise a different muscle and kind of grow as an artist. You wanna push yourself into some uncomfortable-ness a little bit just to see, I don’t know, if you’re any good at it.
READ THE REST OF THE INTERVIEW AND DOWNLOAD THE TRACK
And I’m sure that the fun ones are a blast to perform. I’ve heard that to really get a feel of who you are as an artist, we should see you live. Walk me through a show of yours; what kind of mentality do you have when performing live?
It’s so funny because I’ve had so many different skins—that sounds disgusting—, but, you know, at first it was me and two dancers and it was very, very campy. We couldn’t stop ourselves from changing costumes, like, I’d have three or four costumes per show, and I’d always layer up. I would wear an orange jumpsuit and then just several thing underneath it and just tear away, tear away, tear away, tear away. I would just make it so complicated for myself. And then we got a band, and I would always dress the band. They were guys, and then we, the frontline, were always girls, I guess, I don’t know, even though there were boys in it. And we were way more flamboyant than these guys who’d wear uniforms. And then we just kind of went, “Okay, let’s be a regular band,” you know? So the band wasn’t wearing matching outfits, they would just wear clothes and I would wear something insane, like, a giant sequined onesie and a disco ball broach with a huge red cape, so I was, like, the star.
And with this record it was weird because I was trying to, like, some of these songs are really, really electronic—like, they weren’t made by human beings, they were made with computer synthesizers. And trying to recreate it with humans wasn’t really working. So I decided that I was gonna make it a one-woman show. That’s where it’s currently at. And now I’m using projections, and we’re making it more, like, I’m actually in the process of designing some sets, and so it’s really more of a theater piece.
That sounds a lot of fun though!
I guess that’s both a problem—well, that’s not really a problem, I guess. But I like to change it up a lot. I can’t really stick to one thing. So it’s changed a lot. Yeah, now it’s more, like, this kind of—because the record is trying to stay on this kind of ancient, why human being tell these stories over and over again. Because if you look at different mythologies and you look at different religions, it’s all kind of the same. There’s all these archetypes that are really similar. I mean, I guess the past and the future are kind of, like, you know, they’re versions of one another. So I’m trying to make that the look of the set now. I mean, whatever, it’s still in the process, but currently I’m thinking big white pyramids with LEDs underneath it, and then we can project, like, things onto the pyramid panels. So it’s like a past-future.
I mean, if you’re tackling something as grandiose as the eons of time, I would hope your show is just as grandiose, so it sounds like you’re up to par with what we should expect.
I just need a million dollars! But we’ll see, I don’t know what the future holds.
And will you be going on tour for this album?
Yes, I am currently trying to book that out right now. I’m excited about it.
What do you have in the works for upcoming singles? Any videos?
I do. We shot a video for “Time Lords” out in El Mirage, it’s, like, a dry lake bed just north of Los Angeles. We did a day shoot out there, and it was a very dramatic—it was cool, because it’s like another world out there… And we shot it on a really nice camera, that’s the thing. My friend Georgia did the first one [“Vibez”] with his phone just for, you know, low-fi, and then this one, I think it gonna be a glossier look. It’s the highs and lows.