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20.07.2022 Paris #music

Film Noir

Trembling

“It’s those moments of trembling, when months of your life are condensed in a single instant, and the heart palpitates”. 

You probably know this French duo: the muse, singer and songwriter, Joséphine de la Baume, and her brother, the musical genius, Alexandre de la Baume. She sings and writes melancholic lyrics, he sublimates them and accompanies her musically. In short, it’s the perfect siblings’ match. Part of the new wave of French musicians, who redefined the French pop scene in the early 2010s, they made a lot of noise on the international scene with their first project, an indie rock band Singtank (at the time, Josephine was married to the British-American songwriter and producer Mark Ronson). After a creative break (passionate about cinema, the two also work in the seventh art, Alexandre composes for the soundtracks and Joséphine acts…), they now embark on a new adventure, Film Noir, even more rock, raw and dramatic, and sign their first album “Palpitant” (french word to describe the trembling, beating of the heart). From the live sound to the glamorous punk rhythms (the album was recorded “the old fashioned way” in direct takes, in twelve days), to the nods to the cinema noir, their music tells extreme and almost true stories, between life and death, when the heart palpitates… We met the duo at the Hôtel Grand Amour, where they talked to us about this new project on the eve of their live performance at the Silencio des Prés.  

You are siblings, is it hard to create music with the closest ones? And when did you decide to compose together?

Alexandre: Actually, it came about very naturally. We are trained to handle conflict situations, we have a whole life behind us (smiles).

 

Joséphine: We know each other so well that we feel where each other wants to go. At the beginning, we composed at home for fun, and little by little we had the feeling that it was becoming more serious. We made people listen to our music, we started talking about our project, and one thing led to another, we worked with Nellee Hooper, who had produced Massive Attack, Björk, No Doubt, U2 and then we signed with Warner, and composed two albums.

Your new project is called Film Noir. Why? 

Alexandre: In fact, at the end of the tour for the second Singtank album, we took a break. I started doing a lot of film music, and Josephine was quite busy with her acting work. But at one point, she came back to me with some beautiful, personal lyrics, which inspired more live music that I wanted to perform on stage, with a real rock band.  

 

Joséphine: Yes, with a lot of live performances! And I wanted us to write the melodies together. 

 

Alexandre: Even though the lyrics are very personal, there are always cinematographic and scripted elements. It’s as if Josephine was writing the script of her life, sublimating situations, putting them on the big screen. With something quite dark and quite visceral, often everything is black.

Do you think one has to be sad to write songs? 

Josephine: I think you have to go through something anyway. I don’t know if it’s necessarily sadness, it can be rage, but, personally, I can write better when it’s not going well. 

Alexandre: There is something about the urgency of an emotion that you need to translate into music. It can become a very strong creative engine. 

Joséphine: Writing, in those moments, is like a necessity, a survival.

Are all the stories on this album true? 

Josephine: More or less, each story is based on something I’ve experienced in real life. It can be either about a facet of myself, or about one of the characters in my life. All of the songs are like a short story or a little screenplay. When I write the lyrics, often I have images from movies I’ve loved, or from documentaries. It starts from me, but then it switches to something else. This album is full of short stories about characters in a crisis situation, and it explores either the heroic gesture, how they deal with the situation, or, on the contrary, their completely failed attempt of this gesture, in a cinematographic, mythological way. And in each of the stories, it’s a matter of life and death.

 

Tell us about your first album! And why did you call it “Palpitant”?

Alexandre: Well, the album is called “Palpitant”, and the first song is called “Pen Palpitant”. However, I wouldn’t say that it’s the “main one”, because there isn’t a song that we put forward more than another one. It’s really a series of stories that complement each other, and they are quite different. The word “palpitant” or “trembling” in English, seemed right to describe these extreme crisis situations, in which everything goes out of control. These life experiences where our heart trembles and we find ourselves facing our own contradictions, difficulties, when you have to find your true self or give up, succumb in a way. It is these moments of palpitations, these condensed moments of life, when sometimes months of experience come together in a single instant, and the heart palpitates.

In which way this new project is different from your first band Singtank?

Alexandre: At Singtank there was a different dynamic, it was more like a pop playground, we were having fun. 

 

Joséphine: Singtank was more studio-based, we did the album first and then the live show. Today, with Film Noir, the idea of a group is more important. Even if it is mostly Alexandre and me, some songs are written by the whole band, it is a real collaboration with other musicians. Moreover, the impulse is different, it comes from a more aggressive, more cathartic vein. And we are finally writing in French.

How did you find your fellow band members? 

Alexandre: When we started the project together, we felt the need to develop it as a group. And we started playing together with these three musicians – Martin Rocchia, Victor Le Dauphin andGuillaume Rottier, we had an immediate click, a friendship both personal and musical, and also an obvious understanding of what the songs were about. Although the lyrics are Josephine’s personal stories, all the members of the group can relate to them. It’s very important to play them live on stage. We wanted to avoid at all costs an approach when musicians say: “I play my part, I go home, and that’s it”. All of us wanted to feel what we were playing. We became very close, everyone understands what we’re talking about, and I hope that it is felt as well on the record as live on stage. 

Why did you decide to record it in direct takes?

Alexandre: We wanted to keep this raw side of a live performance, to show how we feel about this song at a given moment, an instant that will never be the same. We see the essential: the song is recorded live, and later we can add violins or saxophones on certain tracks. But the fact that the corpse of the song and its architecture are taken live allows us to capture the moment, this sincerity of the musical gesture. It can also exist in a studio recording, but it will not be the same, there will be no small imperfections of the direct experience. 

How do you know when it’s the right take?

Alexandre: We do several tries until we have the feeling that it’s the right one! At the same time, it sets a high standard, when there is less time for details. At the moment everyone is very concentrated, we know that we have to get the right take. You can’t just say to yourself: “Well, whatever, I’ll do it later”. It has to be good right away.

So, were any of the 12 songs on the album done right away? 

Alexandre: Yes, it’s called “Circus”, and it’s one of the most tricky to perform! 

 

Joséphine: It was right before the end of Covid, but still there were many restrictions. We went to London. We couldn’t go out because of the restrictions, and we spent a lot of time in the studio. Everyone was going a bit crazy, after spending so much time together! We were in the dark, we put the disco lights on, we drank a little bit… And then, it happened so fast, in two takes we had recorded the song!

 

Alexandre: Yes, right away! We told ourselves that we could not do better. Sometimes if you try and try again, you can never relive the energy of the first or the second take. As we were so happy about it, we thought: “This is it!”.

 

You are from Paris, but you recorded your first album in London. Why? 

Josephine: I live partly in London. Our producers Jamie Neville and Ben Romans-Hopcraft, who have worked with bands we like like Fat White Family or Insecure Men, also live there. We’ve known each other for a long time, and we started talking, and Ben was excited about the project and we wanted to work with him. So we recorded in Jamie’s studio (he’s our sound engineer on this project) in South London, below Brixton. We literally lived, slept and worked at his place. It was a creative confinement. It could have been a nightmare but it turned out to be pretty great.

When people talk about you, they often mention your language, Frenglish. Why did you decide to sing both in English and in French? For example, in “L’histoire d’un soir”… What is your relationship with both languages?

Joséphine: This album is written mainly in French. We try as much as possible to compose in French. But there are some melodies that go better with English lyrics. Sometimes, because the person I’m talking to or imagining speaks English. And sometimes it’s just impossible to translate. 

 

Alexandre: These are two languages that are musically different, they don’t sound the same at all. Sometimes it’s more of a musical choice. English is very percussive, very pop. And French is a bit more analytical, it’s a language that allows you to be more precise in the expression of feelings. It’s great to have this freedom! At the same time we wanted to record in French, because it remains our mother tongue… It’s a hard choice, like choosing between the electric guitar and the acoustic guitar.  

For you, what does it mean to be Parisian?

Alexandre: We grew up in Paris. For my part, I would say that it is not only about the positive sides, and you have to say that this city teaches you how to have certain standards. Paris has a colossal artistic and creative history. To be a Parisian is to be regularly in contact with incredible things, and that can be overwhelming. When you start out young, you are immediately forced to compare yourself to the greatest. Paris sets the bar high and gives you an ambition to excel in your field, to create great things, to do your best at all times. It’s a typical Parisian disease, an extreme critical spirit. 

 

Joséphine: And I like playing both sides of the fence (smiles). I feel like it makes me enjoy Paris even more, when I come back from London, because I know I can leave at any moment, as well. When I come back, I’m completely charmed, I see the whole romantic aspect of Paris. And, yes, I feel Parisian.

Why did you choose the Grand Amour Hotel for our shoot? And where would we see you most often in Paris ?

Joséphine : Since our studio is right next door, we are often on rue du Faubourg-Saint-Denis. Here or Chez Jeannette, for example. Also, it’s just a 10-minute walk away from the Gare du Nord, which is convenient when I come back from London. 

 

Alexandre: It’s true, we’re quite a lot in this neighborhood, in the 10th arrondissement, closer to Château d’Eau metro station.

Joséphine, you work a lot with fashion brands. We saw you in Cannes, where you were the DJ at a Miu Miu party. What do you think of the relationship between the world of music and fashion?

Joséphine : Now, I work less and less with brands, it remains very targeted. It’s important that fashion supports music financially. Being a musician is never easy, so fortunately this link exists, there are a lot of opportunities for product placement, campaigns or music syncros…

 

Alexandre: … and parties (laughs)! It is true that the fashion industry has a major role to play as a patron of music, which can be a life-saver. There are periods when things are going well, you have concerts, your songs play on the radio all the time. And there are some calmer periods, dedicated to creation and development of new songs – and it is precisely at this moment that the musicians need this support. Fashion is also a creative environment, so the relationship is different from the one you have with a bank. 

 

Joséphine: Many designers like Hedi Slimane or Alessandro Michele, who have a passion for music, have supported and promoted more emerging, confidential and niche artists. It’s a lovely collaboration. There were times when these two worlds were more divided, and now they work together a lot.

Where will we see you live?

Alexandre: After the lockdown, we wanted to release the album quite quickly, because we recorded it back in 2021. Having emerged from the limbo of the previous Covid period, we wanted it to finally come alive. And the tour will start a little later, in autumn or winter in France, England, Belgium, Germany. We will soon announce some dates, and we are already working on the second album! It’s a constant process, we never stop.

 

Film Noir will perform live in London on September 9, at the MOTH Club.

 

 

Interview: Lidia Ageeva

Photos: Jean Picon

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