Thursday, 21 December 2017
Interview with Aquaserge
(This feature first appeared in issue #65 of Shindig! magazine. For the full unpublished Q&A click over the jump at the bottom of the post.)
The French experimentalists' latest LP is a dazzling journey into uncharted musical zones. Duncan Fletcher straps in for the ride.
“Begin afresh, afresh, afresh” The final line in Philip Larkin's poem The Trees may not have been Aquaserge's mantra while making new LP Laisse ça être, but its theme of Springtime optimism is apt. The band (their name a pun on à quoi sers-je?, meaning "what am I useful for?") formed in 2005 in Toulouse as a collaborative project that has since involved over 60 musicians. They make music that like the buds in Larkin's poem is in a constant state of renewal. Though now distilled to a core of five key musicians featuring auxiliary members of Stereolab, Melody's Echo Chamber, Tame Impala and Mother's Acid Temple, the open door policy is still in place. “Aquaserge's studio process is like a Cassavetes movie: some characters are energetic, others anxious, playful, or obstinate. Each of us, in turn, can be brilliant, pathetic or dramatic... In Aquaserge there are the main characters but also the secondary characters: the visitors, the friends which are important too. When you spend ten days together in a studio, you start to become crazy, like living in a submarine. Visitors are our breath of fresh air and often we invite them to play with us; this is why there are so many people in the credits” says bassist Audrey Ginestet.
While there may be traceable influences on the record – Sun Ra, Fela Kuti, prog, free-jazz, Third Stream music and the work of fellow countrymen Serge Gainsbourg, Jean-Claude Vannier and Air, their music refuses to be easily pigeonholed. For Aquaserge, music making is more about friendship than adhering to the rules of any stylistic genre. That said, for this album they were intent on making a record that paid special attention to rhythm. Keyboardist Julien Gasc explains - “In 'Les Yeux Fermés' we talk about a dance that doesn't exist. The narrator says that ghosts are entering him at night, teaching him the moves for this new dance.The album is full of dance genres from Africa, South America, Europe.”
Their experimental approach also extends to their lyric writing. As Julien says of the methodology used on one of the album's standout tracks 'Tintin On Est Bien Mon Loulou' - “It's just automatic writing... more of a Dada text, it says everything and nothing. The writing of the texts is our favourite game to play. In this case, the rule was that each line must start with a syllable that sounds like the last syllable of the previous line.”
What really impresses about Laisse ça être is its sense of fun. Play the album to any of your friends and at some point their eyes will widen at its brazen charm. A charm due in no small part to Toulouse's independent mindset. “There are a lot of musicians in Toulouse... if they move to other places they always come back” says guitarist Benjamin Glibert. “They are also losers in a way, (toulouse, to lose), but there is a strong friendship between them. This is what we are, defeated, independent, idealists and solid. We do the music we want even if nobody cares and we keep doing it.”
Laisse ça être is out now on Crammed Discs.
(Click over the jump for the full Q&A.)
Fantastic arrangements on the LP, do any band members have formal musical training?
Audrey Ginestet (bass, vox) - Yes, the majority of the band has formal musical training, almost everybody started to learn an instrument as a child except myself, I'm self-taught.
Tell us a little about where the album was recorded?
Audrey - It was recorded at Condorcet studio in Toulouse. We rented the live room only and set up all of our recording equipment and instruments inside. Recording this way, with the engineer and musicians in the same room (which always makes us think of the Beach Boys song 'Cabin Essence') gives us the freedom we need to make the music we want: we look for the sound we want, we're not pressed for time, we don't make any difference between engineering and playing and, indeed, most of us play many instruments and also engineer.
How long did it take you to make the album? Were the tracks written before going into the studio or did you improvise them in the studio?
Audrey - We recorded during three 10-day sessions. The main direction for this album was to start a song all together from scratch. We went into the studio with nothing more than some fragments of melodies, even, in one instance, with a tune whistled into a phone…All in all, around 85% of this album was generated during the sessions.
It's a collective process. During this process some ideas need to be scored (for the brass section for example). But for us there is no opposition between the score and the impro: impro can be scored and the score can become an impro. On certain days there were seven of us, jamming, then recording (the song “si loin si proche” for example). Aquaserge's studio process is like a Cassavetes movie: some characters are energetic, some others anxious, or playful, or obstinate. Each of us, in turn, can be brilliant, pathetic or dramatic. But in the end what it's all about is love, friendship, pleasure and discovery. In Aquaserge there are the main characters but there are the secondary characters: the visitors, the friends which are very important too. When you spend ten days all together in a studio, you start to become crazy. It's like living in a submarine. Visitors are our breath of fresh air and very often we invite them to play with us; this is why there are so many people in the credits...
You've described this LP as a journey into 'uncharted music'. What did you mean by that? Is it important for you to have an experimental edge?
Julien Gasc (keys, vox) - In "Les Yeux Fermés" we talk about a dance that doesn't exist. The narrator says that ghosts are entering him at night and are teaching him the moves for this new dance.The album is full of dance genres from Africa, South America, Europe.
It is important to experiment but the important thing is to do what we love, and to keep the freedom to produce records by ourselves. Friendship is more important for us than anything.
I'm really impressed by the lyrical and vocal techniques used on the album. Can you tell us how you wrote the lyrics to 'L’ire est au rendez-vous'?
Julien - We wrote a resistance message about what was going on in France after the attacks in Paris and Brussels, we're still in a state of emergency in this country. So we wrote a first draft with a message that we rewrote a second time in an impressionistic way. The lyrics are a secret code.
My French is not so good, could you tell me what the lyrics in 'Tintin On Est Bien mon Loulou' are about?
Julien - It's just automatic writing. It says a lot of things, it's more of a Dada text, it says everything and nothing. The writing of the texts is our favourite game to play, it's always a lot of fun. In this particular case, the rule was that each line must start with a syllable that sounds like the last syllable of the previous line.
The album manages to be great fun while also pushing boundaries and firmly refusing to be fixed to any genre. I'd be interested to know what music you enjoy listening to for pleasure?
Benjamin Glibert (guitar, vox) - The idea was to write & play some kind of dance music. Make up dances or real dance rhythm to suit our style.
We each have different way of listening to music. Some of us are inveterate diggers of pop bands and insatiable musicaholic. Some of us listen to all the music in the world except the music they write. Some of us don’t listen to music for pleasure.
What's the story behind the band's name? Have you known each other a long time?
Benjamin - We are old friends, we are family. But this family is not closed, there are always new members coming in, it’s open.
Aquaserge is a submarine piloted by Serge, it roams around this world in decomposition. It welcomes aboard the people who come across. This submarine is our recording studio, which protects us from the outside stream and allows us to surface where we want to meet people.
We are from a generation which has known nothing else but an endlessly dying civilisation, and we watch in amazement those guys clinging to their outdated power. There is no hope so we decided to build our machine, to just do it as there is nothing to wait for.
The name "Aquaserge" is also a pun: phonetically, it sounds like "à quoi sers-je ?", meaning "what am I useful for?"
What's the music scene like in Toulouse? How does living there affect the music you make?
Benjamin - Toulouse is a small city compared to Paris, but it’s also a regional capital, located in Occitanie. Occitanie has a long history of independence in respect of France's central power of France (different languages, different religions, cultural and economic autonomy). Toulouse is now the most remote medium-sized city in France (in relation to Paris) as there's no speed train to go there. And when you arrive in Toulouse, you can’t go further because you’re surrounded by mountains.
There are a lot of musicians in Toulouse, a great jazz scene, a lot of pop bands, and because of that geopolitical position they are a part of the flow and the fashion of Paris (France is a very centralized country). They keep their originality and if they move to other places they always come back. They are also losers, in a way (toulouse, to lose) but there is a strong friendship between them.
This is what we are, defeated, independent, idealists and solid. We do the music we want even if nobody cares and we keep doing it.