Singer Gabriela Giacoman takes time out to give us the latest from the world of French Boutik
SBD: It's been nine months now since the Front Pop album launch at The 100 Club. How has the reaction been to the album?
Gabriela: It’s been incredibly nice. Not only did we sell out all the first pressing, but had great feedback from fans and very enthusiastic reviews, even for the first time in the French press. That sounds strange to say, but things are very closed here and usually there is no point contacting anyone if you do not have a friend or family connection or a fancy label. We’re really pleased: we worked so hard coming up with the compositions and arrangements.
We were proud of our of ‘no filler’-type songs on the EPs before, and didn’t want to break that with a long player. I was singing everything on my bicycle to work and back to make sure the final melody was just right, and sure everyone else was doing similar things on their end for the months leading up to it. We’ve had far more reviews than for the previous records, and seriously not one negative thing cited (so far!).
SBD: The fastest selling CopaseDisques album is a nice achievement. Tell us about the plans for a repress
Gabriela: Yes !! :-) It’s a small label, but they only work with quality groups so that is really nice to hear. We were really so nervous that we would not be able to sell them for the simple fact that an LP is much larger than an EP and as we play abroad quite a bit and have no van space - and weight considerations are very important. But in fact people bought them more, both directly from us and via the label site. I think all the nice reviews helped as must be new people listening to us as well.
Since it sold so quickly and we’d like more people to hear the record on vinyl we decided to do a repress, one slightly different than the first run. It’s red, to match the cover, but without the pull-out poster that was in the original pressing. They have just arrived here too in time for our next UK shows!
SBD: The promo videos to accompany some of the Front Pop songs looked like a lot of fun to do. What can you tell us about making them? Will there be more?
Gabriela: They are mostly from our friend Fred Eagle who had done such a great job on ‘Mieux comme ça’ and others filmed most of them -- at the house (‘Je regarde les Tigres’ - where else can we paste fish all over the wall and chase cats around? - and for our nasty family dinner in “Costume Italien” to go along with the murder theme song. There’s no way we could get away with pushing someone off a metro platform!), at the studio a bit for ‘Les Tigres’, our friend’s bar (for my disaster internet dates on ‘Sur mon écran’ - that one still makes me laugh), and our friend Martin’s shop for the break-in ‘Le Casse’ (which is actually based on a real story of a failed factory break-in). We went all around town to costume shops and now have a nice collection of cat masks and fake beards!
The two more normal ones are ‘Impitoyable’, which I put together from photos Derek D’Souza took at the 100 Club show, they were something like 500 fantastic shots and thought a pity to waste them, especially as putting them to that song seemed to work quite well. The song is also a bit theoretical so an easy one to imagine a silly video for, and one of our favorites on the record, so I was pleased that worked out.
And then our first big production one, for the Françoise Hardy cover ‘Je ne suis là pour personne’. There is a quite famous sailing navigator here in France named Loïck Peyron with whom Fred works and who really likes our music, so Fred asked if he would be interested in being in a video and to our very pleasant surprise he agreed. Fred went down to Loïck’s house in Brittany for a couple of days, directed it, and had some help from real sailing video experts who put it together. Unfortunately Loïck’s very nice Vespa would not start, so no riding around but he looks great and the coast is so beautiful there.
We had already done two really nice clips for the crowdfunding single videos ‘Le Mac’ and ‘Hitch a Ride’, from Florence of the group Sugar & Tiger. She even had her boyfriend and bandmate who is a French punk star, Didier from The Wampas, eating popcorn at the end of ‘Hitch a Ride’, which was a very cool surprise for us.
So that just leaves ‘La chemise déchirée’, ‘l’Expert’, and ‘The Rent’. The first is one of my personal favorites on the record and would love to do it but it’s quite serious about the HR manager from Air France getting his shirt ripped off by workers so hard to figure out what to do, apparently airport security is too tight to try to sneak something in there. Plus Fred is now back in California and Florence has moved to the south of France! Maybe we will figure something else out with photos for those as have a bunch of other nice concert series.
SBD: You seemed to have really made a connection with UK audiences in particular. Any idea why? There can't be many Brits that follow French-singing bands the way they do French Boutik!
Gabriela: Honestly I can’t say for sure but I would guess that the biggest reason is that we’re obviously a mod band and the UK is not only the birthplace of the scene but it still has the biggest in the world. So there are a lot more compatible bands to play with over your way and nights going on, and people seem to “get” the music as something clearly mod-oriented but different than to what they may have heard before. Even journalists that aren’t mods at all will know The Jam and other groups we listen to a lot, that is not the case in France and some other places where we are like outer space aliens and people are confused.
But it’s not just that, because even when we play shows over there that have a more general audience that don’t care about any of that they like us too! I know it’s not just exoticism: as you say there are plenty of other French bands and it doesn’t seem to go over the same way. I guess maybe the English musical influences mixing with not just the language but also French music and culture make it just enough similar to not be too much of a shock, but different enough to be a nice change. I think we would have to ask someone English to explain it really!
SBD: You came to the UK in May for shows, how did they go? Does everyone know the words now, and try and sing along?
Gabriela: They were all fantastic, which is not always the case, usually there is one clear highlight and the others OK, but this time we loved all three nights. The first was in Cambridge for the Alley Club with the Galileo 7 and King Mojo who were quite different to us and both really good so that was fun. And we even got to see a bit of Cambridge the next morning before heading off this time. After that was Albert’s new club in Brixton The Hand in Hand with friends Dr Bird, we love their music and they are good company and Albert’s crowd always so nice, and got to play with Dr Bird the next night again at the Pelton Arms in Greenwich.
And at least a few people travelled to all 3 nights ! And yes, some of the audience were singing along :-) We always put the lyrics on YouTube and they are in the album sleeve too; we figured even non-French speakers would be interested. It is a real pleasure to see that from onstage.
SBD: You helped picked the line-up for the London show on July 14. What can you tell us about who you're playing with, and why anyone should care.
Gabriela: Yes, we can’t wait! From the UK are our friends The Sha La La’s, we have played with them quite a few times over the past few years, and even sat in with them for a few songs in March. Excellent upbeat soul, with a very charismatic singer and original songs. And also Proper, who we have not seen yet and are dying to, the singer Ivano was over in Paris a couple of times so we met and talked about his new band, and got to hear a demo which was great and have heard only good things about their live set. They have a record out now too which we are waiting to receive, hopefully will have at the show.
And also another group from our way, a female duo called The Buns, we had not played with them here but had a look and listen and seems very cool, and their first show in London so I think it will be a great night!
SBD: After this trio of UK gigs what's next for French Boutik?
Gabriela: We get to take a summer break and actual non-band vacation time in August, and then September right back onto shows, at least two in Paris the first couple of weeks in September. The Sha La La’s are coming here to play finally! We don’t know which club yet but will definitely be a fantastic show in Paris 2nd September, lots of UK friends already booking, almost certainly with our friend Popincourt too. And the weekend after our friend Francis from Paris surf group The Wave Chargers is putting on a festival of local bands which should be very fun.
And then...that’s it for now! We are waiting for dates confirmed for autumn in Spain and Russia (we were meant to return to Moscow in late July but can’t now make it), and Brazil and possibly more of South & Central America looking likely for 2018. And of course we’re always thrilled to be back in the UK, so anyone who wants us please get in touch! :-)
French Boutik play The Water Rats in London on July 14, The Ruby Lounge Manchester July 15, and The Wightman Theatre Shrewsbury July 16. Front Pop can be ordered here
Parisian modernist new wavers FRENCH BOUTIK release their debut album, 'Front Pop', on Friday the 21st [on vinyl via CopaseDisques and CD via Detour Records]. Here singer Gabriela talks about the band and album.
- How did you get together?
It’s all about soul nights really. Our guitarist Serge met our drummer Zelda when he was DJing. He had been composing music for the first time in a while and she was interested in writing lyrics. They liked the resulting demo ['Kinky Allumette', released on the Ici Paris EP] and decided to form a band, recruiting original bassist Elian and singer Flora. The latter left due to musical differences after a few shows so Serge asked me to give singing a shot, and a couple years later Jean-Marc, who had been a fan of the group and taken beautiful photos at our Paris shows, joined on bass. As our original organist Iky has left we are constantly recruiting guests for that - mostly Olivier Popincourt, who played on the album, but also Emer O’Hanlon from Trambeat and Susanne Shields who is a jazz artist here in Paris.
- You have many influences going on, from the mid 60s to the mid 90s. Given the divergent sounds, how easy was it to shape the French Boutik sound in your early years?
It was a really natural process. In the very beginning there was an obvious Kinks and Britpop thing going on, but with the move to singing in French, the native language for most of us, the songs became much more original and interesting. We do listen to lots of French music (Burgalat, Dutronc, Hardy, Salvador etc) but the base of the music is probably much more heavily influenced by English speaking bands (XTC, Costello, Everlys, Bacharach, Who, Undertones, Blur, Prisoners, lots of powerpop, soul and jazz too) . So when the band switched languages it really helped to get us out of copycat mode and thinking of songs as our own thing.
The lyrics are very important to us, and we cannot decide on a final melody or even the arrangement until we have those, and actually all four of us now write lyrics, so we end up mixing things up a lot more to create a final song that is much richer and purposeful to try to get the point across. It makes a huge difference even if most of our fans don’t actually understand the lyrics, and I think this has ended up spreading to the English language songs too.
- Where and when was the album recorded? You were against the idea of doing an album at first…
Apart from the two crowdfunding singles - 'Hitch a Ride' and 'Le Mac' - which were recorded in Paris and then mixed elsewhere, the album was recorded in April of this year at Yeah!Yeah!Yeah! Studios Hamburg with Dennis Rux. Rocket Studios in Croydon did a really cool mix for 'Hitch a Ride' which is also on the album. We were really happy with both the music and the experience of recording the last two EPs in Hamburg with Dennis, so when we decided to try for an album we wanted to go back there. It’s quite intense as you sleep in the studio and it’s a bit out of the centre, so you really do not much else but recording, and we love working with Dennis and he knows what works well with us now. Plus we like his combination of authentic sounds (he has a great collection of older instruments and equipment) without being stuck in retro-ness, just whatever works best for the song. Yes, we really didn’t want to do an album for a long time. We are all working and as we go absolutely crazy over each individual song it takes us a long time to work out the final arrangement. We have a horror of recording any throwaway tracks and did not want the quality to go down as the quantity went up. And also there was the practical problem getting time off and paying for it! But people kept asking about an album so we finally thought that if they were so enthusiastic and were willing to sponsor it why not give it a shot. With the sample two songs, the crowdfunding went really well so we had no choice but to work really hard. We’re really pleased with the result so glad we were pushed into it.
- The album is real tour de force, combining all the best of various mod sounds from beat and jazz, to revival/new wave, to Britpop. It sounds effortless. Is it?
Thank you. Effortless is definitely not the right word though ! We almost lost our minds trying to come up with enough quality new songs (and totally rework a couple of other ones). We had about six months to get the nine new songs together before the recording and for us that is a lot. For each song not only is there a big effort for the right lyrics and key (the latter frequently changes from the original idea), but it takes us a lot of trying out and discarding various ideas for the final melody, harmonies, instrumentation, over a longer period of time. Each song usually requires at least a month of trial and error before we are ready to record and we do prefer a bit longer. Once we have the plan worked out, the more fun part is recording, even if it is hard work. We had only seven days for nine songs which is not much for us. That means keeping to a schedule.
It is so satisfying though hearing the songs in a nice studio (we don’t do demos really - so just have terrible phone rehearsal recordings to judge from before this) and Dennis always has great ideas to make them even better, so it was a huge pleasure despite the intensity.
- The band usually sing in French, but on 'Hitch A Ride' and 'The Rent' on the album this switches to English. Tell us about this.
We do try purposefully to include at least a bit of English in there: the good part of that is that as most of our fans are not French speaking it gives them a way to better connect to the music, and also just to change things up for fun. But we don’t want to follow the general trend in France of singing in English most of the time. It’s not our native language (apart from one of us), so it’s less personal for everyone, and also we are frequently singing about very specific topics which may be local vs general love themes. It would be bizarre to have a song about a French politician (Le Mac) or other local political and societal themes in English. For example La Chemise Déchirée is about the Air France layoffs scandal and l’Expert is talking about popular media pundits who pose as expert journalists. And as mentioned I think the lyrics and the fact that everyone contributes to them is really important for the richness of the songs, which even non-French speakers can pick up on. We would lose this if we only sang in English.
- London has lost a little of its magic in recent years: big housing costs, music venues closing. How has Paris fared in these changing times? Does it still inspire?
We actually have a song exactly about that, called 'Ici Paris'. Unfortunately it’s the same here, apart from that Paris started with less than London as far as live music, so there is hardly anywhere to play with a real drumkit now. All of our friends bands are just like us, always playing the same few places which are constantly in danger of shutting down because of neighbours or financial problems. And the bigger venues are very closed, with industry-only bands.
Chasing everyone out except rich people and tourists and losing the heart of the town is happening at a slower pace here thanks to more legal protections, but it is definitely happening. It’s still a beautiful city but one that is leaking out its soul as the top richest concentrate even more wealth and power and all the nice places to themselves. And those people, even the ones who sincerely want to contribute to the city, aren’t invested enough locally to care about the neighborhoods and traditions. They want everything clean and don’t know enough about the history to appreciate the wonderful things that are still here. This does sadly appear to be a worldwide phenomenon though - London, Paris, New York, San Francisco - all losing their culture by pushing out the non-rich residents who created it. But of course, all of this while not very pleasant is definitely inspiring since we write a lot about politics and society. We’d prefer to have a bit less negative material though.
- Which of your contemporaries strikes a chord with you, that you think we should check out? Unfortunately our favourite group and good friends The Riots from Moscow seem to have disbanded, but despite the lack of clubs here there are lots of great new bands right now if people are interested in new Paris sounds: Popincourt (guest organist Olivier’s project that several of us guest with regularly), All If, The Wave Chargers, Les Kitschenettes, Jon & The Vons, Les Darlings, Os Noctambulos. Also a group that Serge played with years ago, Les Soucoupes Violentes, just reformed with a really great new album.
- Do you know much about the 100 Club?
Probably not as much as English people, but enough to be very excited to play there! Friends used to travel over for the soul nights, and there are so many legendary groups that played there it is a real honour for us. Probably the closest thing here with such a great longtime musical tradition, and that is still going, is the Olympia Theatre but that is much bigger and shows there much more expensive, so it is fantastic that a place which is that legendary, but has more underground sounds, is still going.
- Can you describe the vibe at your live shows? You've built a real following in the UK, so you must be doing something right.
The vibe is always great for us in the UK, we are so happy to be there that we always have a really fun time playing and checking out the other bands and meeting people and I think it shows and spreads to the audience, who may be expecting us to be much more standoffish. And of course now that we have a bit of a following we get to see friends each time.
One really nice thing for us there is that we are now pretty confident there as since our very first shows there we go down really well, even with people that are there to see other bands and have no idea who we are nor any interest in French music. I would guess that besides the fun vibe, a big plus is actually what is a minus for us at home and in the music industry in general, our originality. For better or for worse despite the obvious mod/60s influences we don’t really sound like anyone else, and while that puts off the industry types who have a problem figuring out how to talk about us with the right buzzwords it seems to be really appreciated by the audiences.
- What was the last album you bought?
Group Survey time! For me, I just ordered the new Fay Hallam album and haven’t gotten it yet so can’t say too much except I have heard it is very good and I am a big fan so looking forward to it. Serge just picked up 'Contrasts' by Toots Thielemans, it came out in 1966, a mix of modern jazz and west coast style, very rich harmonically with original orchestration and a light touch. He knew 'Bluesette' from the radio a bit but not the rest and is really pleased. Zelda didn’t buy her latest album but a gift from her brother: 'High' from an Australian group called Royal Headache, it’s garage punk with a soulful male lead vocal that she really loves.
- What plans do you have for after the album?
Hopefully lots of shows to support it! We don’t have a manager nor touring contacts so pretty much wait for invitations to play, we have some coming in from the UK as well as Spain and Italy so just waiting for those to work out. We even miraculously have a few French shows coming up after the Paris Mod Weekender, we’ll have a presentation of the record in Gilbert Joseph, a famous record shop here in Paris, and then our first time in the South in Nice in February.
Honestly we don’t anticipate another big recording for quite a while, it means another crowdfunding and all the time to compose and getting time off. We’d love to have horns and maybe some other guest musicians on the next one which means more time recording too. Luckily we love all the new songs so we won’t get bored of playing them anytime soon :-)
French Boutik play with Lack Of Afro at the 100 Club in London on Thursday November 3rd. Tickets
I knew a blog would arrive one day. It it par for the course really, being a writer on music and also promoting it in the live [and club/bar] arena.
I'll post here as [in]frequently as is necessary. Expect anything from a few cobbled together sentences on a news topic, to interviews, to band content, and more.
It's been a strange old week in Britainsville. A profound sense of loss, anger and confusion reigns almost everywhere. And in the midst of all that the one and only Scotty Moore passes on, at the ripe old age of 84. Imagine music without his forceful picking: just try. Hard, isn't it?
As ever, seek solace in the vibrations. "Music Saves", after all.
BY PHIL ISTINE
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