Interview with 1984

Interview with 1984

by Jen Dan Jun 3, 2014

Frontman Etienne of the French rock band enlightens and delights regarding the act's British sound, English lyrics, feverishly catchy album, and worldwide touring.

Salut Etienne! It’s a big thrill for me to interview you because I think your latest album, Influenza, is fantastically catchy and feverishly energetic. Where are you and Thomas and Kevin now and how are you all doing?

Thanks a lot for your kind words and your interest in our music! We're very happy you like it! Catchy and feverish, these are the two adjectives we had in mind by making this album!  At the moment, we're back home, in Strasbourg (East of France), after a long tour period in 2013. Enjoying time with friends and composing for our next EP...

Influenza, which was released last February on Deaf Rock Records, was produced by Steven Ansell and Laura-Mary of Blood Red Shoes, one of my most fave recent rock bands. What is your connection to Steven and Laura-Mary? How did they influence the sound of Influenza?

We've known Laura-Mary and Steven for a long time now, since 2008.  We had signed at that time on a small label in London for an EP, the boss of this label owned a club in Austria. He always played songs after the live performances, and played especially one of our songs that he really liked.  Once Blood Red Shoes played that venue and stayed for the DJ set. They loved the track too and asked our man: "What is that?" And the day after we had a message in our mailbox "Come on tour with us next month in the UK, we like your stuff". Magic!

We met one month later, became friends, and toured again and again the whole of Europe together.  We always kept in contact, and when we were composing our second album, it was natural for us to make them listen to our stuff, to get their advice, their opinion. After three songs were sent, we met at the Dour Festival in Belgium and Steven told me: "OK, let's do the album together, we wanna produce it!"  It was so exciting to work with this goal to record with them in their hometown, with their experience.

I would say we had the fever, but not the catchy side. Steven and Laura-Mary brought it to us. We had almost all the structures of the songs, their mood, but Steven and Laura gave us the colour: the perfect guitar sounds, the texture of the voice, the feeling of the whole recording. Their work was amazing.

You’re based in Strasbourg, France, but recorded Influenza at Steven and Laura-Mary’s hometown of Brighton. What are your thoughts about recording and living for a while in Brighton?

That was really refreshing to be totally in another place to record the album. That enables us to be more focused on our work, with no distractions but eating and sleeping. We wanted the album to sound rough, true and feverish, that's why making it in Brighton with Laura and Steven was the perfect plan!  We loved the way we recorded every track, spending hours finding the right sound, the purest sound. Starting at noon, finishing at 3 am ... Nights bring other moods than days.

I thought this album was your debut, but it’s not! In 2009 you dropped Open Jail and also the EP Territory. Open Jail has a much rawer, looser, post-punk sound, which you’ve streamlined, yet kicked up a notch for Influenza. How did this change, or refining, of your sound come about?

You're totally right in your analysis.  First we evolved, time passed, life happened and we changed with it. Our tastes and inspirations moved. We wanted more powerful, tighter melodies; something feverish as I said before, therefore we needed the songs to be very catchy and deeper than on Open Jail where the ideas were good, but too messy, muddled sometimes, without any clear idea about the general mood of the record.

Open Jail was quite fresh and naive whereas Influenza is more solid and simpler at the same time. We were aware during this recent recording about the importance of finding the right melody and going deeper and deeper into it until we get the right riff. For every musician, every artist, it's about expressing the most simple idea with the right instruments, with the right tension, the right rhythm, and without being too simplistic.  And Steven and Laura Mary's help was decisive in this orientation.

Etienne, on Influenza your vocals are more sweeping, emotive, and engaging than on your debut album. Your intonation also sounds more British than French. What made you change your vocal delivery? Does singing in English come naturally to you?

Yeah, on the first record the voice was following the instruments, it was a bit dominated by them. On Influenza, it's the contrary, we wanted the voice to lead the album, to guide the listeners through the story we were telling. It's the most important, the sincerity and the power of the voice.  I guess I was more confident in it, so I tried more different things, going from low to high notes with pleasure.

We spent so much time on the vocals' recording to find the right intention.  Also, being in England was the perfect way to improve my accent and to erase a little bit those special French intonations!  Singing in English comes naturally, in fact. English is the rock music language, and as soon as we play a new riff, English words come to my mouth.

The song structures and rhythms of the instruments on Influenza are also more complex and sing-along in nature, than on Open Jail. What was it like creating the songs for Influenza versus Open Jail? Who contributed vocals to the chanting song choruses?

For this second album, we had time to compose and work on every little detail of the structure, that's why the songs seem more solid, complete. Yet, for us, they are easier to understand and to sing than on the first album. It's always the same dilemma: creating something new, clever, complex, but staying simple. A good song is a song you can play with just an acoustic guitar and your voice.

I speak for Thomas and Kevin, they couldn't be there for this interview: we composed together all the songs. It was hard because everyone has to be satisfied, so you have always to push the song further to get the right result. But at the end, we were all proud of our work.  I usually come with a simple riff and some lyrics, I play it in front of Thomas and Kevin, and then they say: "OK, it's interesting, BUT ..." This is the start of a new song.  Now I try to come to rehearsals with nothing, and the result sounds promising.  I made all the vocals and the choruses on the album, but we invented each part together, and improvised a lot of things in the studio too, with Laura and Steven.

Again, you’ve raised the bar with the sometimes intricate lyrics on Influenza. Who is the songwriter of the band or do you all share in the song-writing? How easy, or difficult, is it to write your lyrics in English?

I'm also the songwriter of the band.  It is sometimes difficult to write in a foreign language because you're not familiar with all the right expressions. Sometimes you tend to complicate a sentence that English people would express with more simple words. But I love writing in English, this language fits so well with the music we play. And it's an endless discovery. As the music, the lyrics have to be simple. With the time, I hope I'll succeed in writing simple and beautiful songs.

Going by the lyrics I can hear from your songs, your emotive focus is mainly one of discontent, but I’m not sure with what. Is it with people in general, “the system”, and/or the status quo? Why do you feel besieged? Just in case I’m interpreting your words incorrectly, what are the central themes of Influenza?

I think your word "besieged" is the right one to qualify our lyrics. It totally deals with that: being compressed in a frame that is always too small for you, for your goals and desires. It's the central theme, that's why the album is called Influenza: the flu, the fever appears when the body struggles against itself. You can apply that feeling at every level of your life: your social life and the relation you have with "the system" or a system in general, as your personal existence. Our songs can always be understood on these two aspects - the world in general and your intimate world.

Influenza is a fight, a will to explode against pressures from outside, but especially from inside. And the titles of almost all the songs illustrate this idea.

The video for your main single “Maze” is up at VEVO. How did you get your video on that powerhouse site?

Our label has an agreement with The Orchard, a very cool digital distributor, which puts every release on all the main audio and video platforms. That's why "Maze", and now "Fulmine", are on VEVO.

How was the “Fulmine” video shoot? What is the concept of the video?

We're very proud of it. It's a very stupid idea, and yet a very good one!  We were composing for our next EP in Brittany at our friends' house, and there was a trampoline in a garden. I started jumping, then we thought with Julien, our dear manager, that we could put the drumkit outside and Thomas would play a riff while I would jump. And Kevin would run everywhere, doing whatever he wants. And we did it, we shot the scene with a phone and put it on Facebook. We received so many good reactions that we decided to make a music video for “Fulmine” only with this idea!

We started the music video in London where we had a gig in October 2013, by jumping and playing in the middle of Camden bridge on Saturday afternoon, that was really funny. And then we came back to Brittany by boat and shot the rest of the video in this wonderful area.  Just this picture: a trampoline, a man jumping on it, a man playing drums and a man running everywhere.

Still at Facebook, your Influences under the Basic Info area, is pretty entertaining. I can understand the musical admiration for bands like Nirvana, Muse, and The Cure, but what do ‘hairdryers’ and ‘cats and sheeps’ have to do with it?

Oh, hairdryers are very important! Half of the album was composed under a hairdryer. I could spend my entire life enjoying the heat of this machine! And moreover, its monotonous sound plunges me in a bubble, cut of the world - which gives me a lot of ideas for the lyrics or the melodies.  If I had to recommend something to an artist who searches for inspiration, I would say: a hairdryer!  Cats and sheep are less important, it’s just for fun. But when you have a bad day, thinking of their faces is always heartwarming.

Who’s that on the Influenza album cover? Is it a friend of yours or of the photographer?

She's a model, but we never met her!  She's a friend of the photographer who proposed her for the cover. We had a precise idea of the face we wanted, and she totally fitted with it. She liked the project and she kindly did that for us! We're so grateful for the time she gave us.

You’ve played tons of gigs and festivals close to home and in more distant locations like Germany, the U.K., and even China (Not once, but twice!), from Beijing to Shanghai! How did end up on tour in China? What was the experience like?

Yes, we have a strong link with China now! Everything started in Strasbourg, France. At that time I gave German private lessons. The father of one of my "pupils" once told me he knew our band and he liked it. He had a son who lived in China and was fond of rock music. He made him discover 1984, and it was the beginning of a long friendship. I met him when he was back from China by the end of 2009. He told me he could build a tour for us in May 2010 and that's what he did! We worked hard to build this project and we succeeded in it!

That was so crazy to play 10 gigs from Beijing to Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Shanghai. We met so many people, another culture, we really were at the other side of the world. We lived hundred adventures there, travelled by plane, strange trains, boats, etc… Last year, with our friend who works now in the music/culture industry in China, we came back for a smaller tour with another band from our label, Colt Silvers. Huge promotion and a lot of people coming to see us.  In 2015, we'll play there again, for sure.

OK, you probably get asked this a lot, but since I don’t know for sure, I must ask you why you chose ‘1984’ as your band name. Is it a reference to the dystopian world of George Orwell’s book or was the year you were all born in? I have a feeling it may be both…

Both !  It's my birth year, but the name was chosen for the book.  We belong to this generation Orwell imagined. Even if we are not banned or lobotomized, we often experience the same feelings as the characters in the novel, of paralysis and impossibility of changing anything. For us, the book is not only a story of totalitarianism and freedom, it's a more intimate analysis about the constant torsion a man lives within himself and with the outside.

Etienne, you have a penchant for wearing t-shirts with sayings on them. What is your favorite t-shirt and saying? I saw the one you posted on Facebook where a Chinese fan gave you a t-shirt with the words “I Don’t Need Sex – The Government Fucks Me Every Day”. Hmmm, that seems to fit right in with the 1984 book and some of your lyrics…

Yes, I see you've made deep researches! I would say my favorite is the one that says: "I liked your first album better". Which is a sentence many bands were told, I believe.  In China, we met this guy who manufactured his own t-shirts with anti-government sayings. He went to our show in Xiamen and offered us a t-shirt for each of us. We liked them so much that we bought all the t-shirts he had brought with him.  These sayings, and above all, playing in China, all fitted so right with our name and some of our lyrics!

Lastly, can you please list your official site(s) where we can find out more about you and your music?

Yeah sure! Our official Facebook site: https://www.facebook.com/weare1984?fref=ts
Our official Bandcamp site: http://1984.bandcamp.com/album/influenza

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