Thursday, February 01, 2007

Fairy-Tale Icons (and lovers of carbs)

We are sitting around the monumental grave of Baudelaire (Montparnasse cemetery), it is cold outside in Paris, France. We have coffee to keep Geraldine, Jac and myself warm. I am excited about seeing the catacombs with them later and ask if their are rooms to rent down there? They are called Mediavolo, and we are here to discuss their new album A Secret Sound. It is their 3rd effort. Their sound is quite momentous, it reminds me of something one would hear in a icy village way up high in the mountains with the Abominable Snowman just outside. They have been at times compared to The Sundays, The Cocteau Twins and Love Spirals Downwards (among others). The comparisons you hear are but tiny glimmers and last only seconds until you hear something indescribable. They are phenomenal- they can sound at any given time like many different bands without ever sounding 'like' them at all. Their present label is Kalinkaland Records which I believe in a year or two could become the 'old' 4ad. Time will tell.

MFM: So Geraldine, Jac, who wants to begin? What do you think of the comparisons people make about your music?
Jac: Comparing us to The Cocteau Twins or to Love Spirals Downwards is not misguiding, but it is not fully describing what we really are. Our influences are diverse and numerous, some even have nothing in common with each other. Our music is many faceted. However, we understand the fact that our record label, Kalinkaland, bases its communication on comparisons. It is a means to make us identifiable to the public, to position us in the musical landscape.

MFM: The song Humane & Live, what is it about?
: Two or three songs are connected to the same theme in the album. A Secret Sound is not a concept album, but Jac imagined this story he wanted some songs to talk about. Two scarecrows standing in a cornfield, one is male, the other female, they form a couple. These two non-living characters have a life of their own that humans around them do not notice. One night, the female scarecrow decides to live her dream to leave the field and wander around the world. The male scarecrow lets her go, but soon after her departure he realises he wants to be with her, and decides to go search for her. Humane & Live tells about what he thinks of the world of humans: what he observes, what puzzles him about our ways and most of all it tells about Man, speaking of himself as "Humane". While in most of his actions and behaviours he is far less than an animal. It is a glance towards "humanity" from a distance. You might guess what are the other songs related to this theme.

MFM: Your cover art (by French artist Obion) is wonderful, like a children's fairy tale. How did you two meet him?
: We met Obion at the very beginning of the band. He was part of a collective which published a fanzine called “Le Violon Dingue”. It was a collection of comic strips, created by the members of the collective. But the fanzine also contained a column dedicated to other types of artistic expression, such as art, literature and music. They asked us to be the subject of one of their releases. That’s how we met Obion’s scriptwriter, Kris. Very soon after the publication of their article, Kris invited us to a cartoonist’s exhibition taking place in our home town. That’s where he introduced us to Obion, who exposed his work there. Jac who is a huge comics’ fan, spotted him then. We directly thought about him when the making of our first release’s cover came into question.

MFM: Will the cover art be made available for purchase, in perhaps a limited edition?
Jac: We’ve actually never thought about such a possibility. But I’m sure it is an idea that would appeal to Obion. In fact, it all depends on him.

MFM: Geraldine, how do you go about writing Mediavolo's songs? Do they just show up?
: Writing songs for Mediavolo is a meticulous and difficult process. The writing of the lyrics comes at the very end. Jac writes all of the music, which means the lead melodies as well (although he sometimes happens to ask me to propose him something when he is not convinced by his own idea). He also has a very precise idea of the phonemes he wants to hear, and where; and most of the time, he has already decided what the subject of the song should be. I then find myself with a certain number of parameters that need to fit together. Writing the lyrics is like assembling the pieces of a puzzle. So, Mediavolo’s lyrics do not just show up, they are the result of hours of brainstorming. I’ve known days where I had to deal with the blank page syndrome, true mind torture. Traumatizing!

MFM: Are you expecting that this album will propel a song into commercial radio? I can see it (Misunderstanding).
Jac: When we listened to the full final version of the album with our close friends, we spotted the tracks which had a radio potential. Some songs like Misunderstanding indeed seem to have an immediate contact with the listener. Like for any other band, a song playing on commercial radio represents a bridge to the rest of the album.

MFM: What inspires you, music or otherwise?
Jac: Or course, the music of other musicians and their ideas inspire me. But inspiration often comes from many other little and simple things, moments in the day. Like the end of the afternoon, when the sky wraps everything in an orange light. Photographers call it the “magical moment".

MFM: Describe your homes to me? Do you two ever shop at the legendary French fleamarkets?
: I’m afraid I’m going to disappoint you, my interior is very sober. Not that I don’t develop a taste for decoration. I’ll actually have an opinion about people’s interiors if they ask me, but I discovered a few years back that I had no real attachment to “things”. In fact, I dedicate most of my time and energy to music and people. It is a choice that I’ve made.
Jac: I’m very fond of flea markets. That’s where I find most of the treasures of my LP collection.

MFM: Who would you say are your favorite musicians?
: The very first singer who’s responsible for my interest in music is Aretha Franklin. My father was a huge black music fan, and he had several EP's from her. The power, sincerity, but also virtuosity of her singing is what was most striking to me. So, rock music was not part of my world at all, until some friends made me listen to U2. By then, I was a teen. Bono made me discover that imperfection actually sounded great. The cracks in a voice sometimes convey the importance of a message. Later, a musician I was collaborating with made me listen to Van Der Graaf Generator. Curiously, Peter Hammill’s voice introduced me to extravagance and theatricality, when someone like Freddy Mercury overran the radio waves at the time. Finally, I discovered other voices: Björk’s, Mike Patton’s; some in retrospect like Elizabeth Frasier’s; and I rediscovered some I had neglected, like that of Kate Bush.
Jac: My favourite musicians, in general, are either self-learnt, or people that handle every single aspect of the creating process (from composition to production); people like Brian Wilson, Prince, Mike Oldfield, Todd Rundgren, Frank Zappa, or Kate Bush.

MFM: When can we expect another album?
Jac: 2007 will be too soon. I already have several ideas of songs that I store on an old K7 recorder. Compiling enough material, choosing what’s worth keeping, recording it, having Gé work on it, wrapping it minutely enough to convince on a possible release. All of that takes a lot of time. 2008 seems more realistic.

MFM: Have you two traveled extensively? Where did you go and what sort of musical influences (if any) did you get?
Jac: I’m not a great traveller, though I’ve been to England, Germany, the Netherlands and the States. In fact, I feel the most wonderful trips I’ve made are the ones I’ve made in my head. Listening to music makes me travel - I imagine cities I’ve never been to, and never will.

MFM: Alright there is one certain song, and the first line is "I was born at the wrong time." Now in this song we are discussing, your voice (at times) very much resembles Elizabeth Frasier's. If I did not know better I might have thought so. Not only this but with the musical arrangement I thought I was listening to a 4ad song from the late 80's. How did you capture that? And Geraldine do your feelings reflect this piece?
: This is one song for which Jac had only but a very vague idea of the subject. He pretty much left it up to me. They are the darkest lyrics I ever wrote. To the question “do I feel I was born at the wrong time?” My answer is that I’d rather have known the world when there was still some freshness about it, when humanity still ignored a lot about itself, and so when there was yet much to be discovered. When some irrepressible hope was in the air. Some might reply that a lot is still ignored by Humanity, and that progress is still marching on. It is true, but the main aim of research today is to resolve the back effects of the deteriorations caused by Human activity. Our existence has reached a new stage: we are aware of it, and the general mood is down because we have a notion “happy go lucky” times are over. Man lives in fear of tomorrow, which is not the ideal set of circumstances to show him in a flattering light. I feel I’m seeing some of it today. I wish I weren’t here now. I don’t long to see anymore of it. Yet I don’t think it could have been otherwise. I think Humanity’s fate is inexorable. Any type of development of our kind would have met the same end. Yes, man has evolved through the ages. Yes, man is capable of “civilization”. Despite all that, Human nature is perpetual. It is the only thing which has remained unchanged. And the reason why there is no way out.

MFM: Were you always encouraged to listen to music. Did you study Music at school?
: My mother registered me to a harp class when I was 7. She asked me first if I wanted to, and my answer was yes right away. I guess I had the notion back then, there were not that many other musical options. We lived in such a small town, in the centre of Britanny. My parents never had to push me, I loved to play music. I think it would have been the same with any instrument. When we moved to Brest is the time when I started to listen to rock music, and when I joined my first band. I put the same effort into it. Time passes, bands change, but the passion is the same. Music at school? We do have music periods at school but nothing like what you have in the States. I was amazed at the material means you had when I did my senior year over at North Stafford High School (Virginia). The choir rooms, the auditoriums, and you get that musical period everyday. In France, we get our music course once a week. Real musical education takes place in National Musical Schools, and after school, which means between 5:30 and 8 pm. Or on Wednesday and Saturday afternoons.
Jac: I bathed into rock n' roll music during the whole of my childhood. My father and mother both had their own band in the 60’s; some Elvis Presley, Eddy Cochran, or Gene Vincent was always playing. So I started my musical culture early. At 5, I was able to name the biggest stars of rock n' roll and their biggest hits. My father’s guitar ceased to be a toy (one that you smash against walls) when I turned 11, when I figured it would be a means to play the melodies I had in my head. Later, I enrolled in a National Music School. I wanted to be able to write my music.

MFM: What is your favorite thing about France?
: We don’t live in Paris. It is an amazing city, but it’s very hard to live there: rents way beyond your pay, and such a palpable tension in the air. I enjoy going there on visits but just for a few days, discovering new places and going out. We live in Brest, a city situated at the most western tip of Britanny. I found out about what were my favourite things about France, when I spent a year over in the States: I missed French food, bread especially; and French cafés. There aren’t any places in the States where you can enjoy having a cup of coffee outside, at a terrace, except maybe a restaurant. But then they’ll make you feel miserable because a coffee is all you order, when a coffee is all you want! (Before the dawn of Starbucks)

Let us go to the flea markets and find a wonderful 18th century Pricket stick.