Behind The Curtain: An Interview With Team Ghost
, February 19th, 2013 03:25
Wyndham Wallace joins M83 co-founder Nicolas Fromageau and members of his new band, Team Ghost, in their Paris studio to discuss their debut album Rituals
There are more than a few contemporary guitar bands who've stumbled upon the secret of Sonic Youth's and My Bloody Valentine's triumphant mess and teamed it with the more accessible sounds of commercial indie rock. So what makes Team Ghost's forthcoming debut album, Rituals, so thrilling? It's not just that Nicolas Fromageau was one of the two co-founders of M83, half of the duo behind their first two, arguably finest albums, M83 and Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts. It's not only because his band's forthcoming single, 'Curtains', is a widescreen epic condensed into a total of 158 seconds, full of a youthful, righteous malice. And it's not simply that their recent single 'Dead Film Star', has one of the most startling videos you'll see. (I've heard a tale of someone literally dropping a mug of tea on their keyboard at its climax. Don't skip forward: it's all about the dénouement.)
It's instead because, while his former colleague Antony Gonzales has headed musically for the bright neon lights of 1980s Los Angeles, Fromageau has – figuratively speaking – spent the intervening years getting his hands dirty in late 1970s Greenwich Village. What makes Team Ghost's debut so gripping is that it retains the desire to scratch scars in the heavens just as M83, at their best, continue to do, but it marries this to a darker, grittier intent, one in which the roar of the rocket's engines taking them there is a vital part.
Ladies and gentlemen, we are quoting in space…
Is this your project, Nicolas, or a band?
Nicolas Fromageau: For the first two EPs, I wrote the whole stuff, and Christophe helped me adding guitar parts or synth parts. That was more my songs. But for the new album everybody worked on it, so I guess it's a band now. Because I'm the oldest one, perhaps I'm… not a leader, but sometimes… Well, I don't know how to say that in English….
NF: No, not at all! Just the contrary. I really wanted to be a band member.
Why did you leave M83?
NF: Because I was a drug addict! [laughs mischievously] No, it was an old story. We were like old friends, old lovers, and I guess we didn't want to work together again. There were a few things that were a bit complicated between us. Not really arguments, but I guess he wanted to be on his own.
Do you ever feel sad about that?
NF: Well, it was not easy, because when I stopped it I had to find a job, and I don't have a diploma, so I mostly found some shitty jobs while he was touring the US.
What were you doing?
NF: (Shrugs) Working in a supermarket, shit like that…
Are you still friends with Antony?
NF: Yeah, of course. He's one of the most incredible musicians I ever met, and I really mean it. I saw him live a few weeks ago and I loved it. I like the last album. Maybe not the whole thing. Sometimes it sounds a bit like Sting. But it's OK! I like Sting!
So you took a little time after M83 before you formed Team Ghost…
NF: Yeah. I wanted to find the right people, which is not very easy, and I wanted my music to sound more myself. If I had done a record just after Dead Cities…, it would have sounded like electronica. I wanted to form a real rock band, and sometimes it takes a lot of time.
So do you see a strong connection between your past and present music?
NF: Well, I have the same influences, but I guess it's a bit darker. Even when I played with Antony I was a huge fan of The early Cure, Joy Division, and stuff that he didn't listen to at all. So maybe this influence became bigger when I got alone…
So M83 is like the ex-girlfriend you remember, but isn't that important?
NF: No, not that important, no. It's an ex-girlfriend, so I still think about her sometimes. And then I masturbate! [laughs]
Benoit de Villeneuve (guitars, vocals, synths, producer): I remember I talked to Nicolas at the beginning of the album. I was like, 'Tell me we are not making a happy album. We have to make a dark one'. And it was something important. Maybe it's because on the other side M83 is taking some light?
I've noticed the dark lyrics for 'Somebody's Watching': "Somebody's watching / It turns me on / Let's keep on fucking baby / Until it comes…"
Christophe Guérin (guitars, vocals, synths): He's [points to Nicolas] the pervert.
What's the song's inspiration?
NF: I don't know. Actually it's maybe a fantasy I have?
Does your mother know?!
NF: She will, I guess.
Did you record the whole album here?
BdV: No, just the vocals, the synthesisers, the textures and stuff like that. And then we came to Vega Studio to record live drums, bass guitars, listening to the music we did here. In three days we did all the songs, and we were like, 'Wow! It's great.' Because we were really well prepared. So it was nice, but we had three days more, so we do some rehearsal and adding stuff, and played ping pong. A lot.
NF: Actually, when our manager arrived it was maybe the fourth day, and we were playing ping pong and making barbecue, and he was like, 'That's my money. What are you doing?!' 'OK, we did everything. Now it's holidays!'
You play with a lot of vocal effects: some are very raw and some feel very treated.
NF: Yeah, it was important for me that Christoph and Benoit sing too. It's like Sonic Youth records: you have two songs sung by Thurston Moore, and then, when Lee Ranaldo comes and sings, it's like, 'Phoah!' I guess it's easier to listen to a record when it's not always the same vocals.
CG: The songs I sing are the ones with Vocoder. They don't like my voice!
NF: Christoph is like Justin Timberlake. Or Drake.
CG: I like Justin! He's my hero!
So Team Ghost are the band who unite Sonic Youth and Justin Timberlake?
CG: Maybe in one song!
What would be the five bands that have played the biggest role in the making of this record?
NF: For me it would be Sonic Youth, of course, because they're still my heroes, you know? I would say Joy Division, even if it's not easy to understand, but their music is still in me. Maybe some German bands like Tangerine Dream, for the ambient stuff? My Bloody Valentine. And I would say Motorhead, for the Jack Daniels!
CG: I'm not as big fan as Nicolas of Joy Division. I'm maybe quite modern in the things I like, like Sebastian Tellier, or maybe Elf…
CG: Sorry. My shitty English!
What about the early '90s shoegazing bands, like Ride and Slowdive?
NF: Slowdive is one of my favourite bands. I said My Bloody Valentine, but I guess I prefer Slowdive. The first album of Slowdive, I could listen to it all day long. Maybe that's my biggest influence, actually.
This isn't exactly the kind of music France is known for. Are you the only people making records like this, or is there a whole scene?
BdV: There's no scene. There's a lot of rock bands, but France is known for French Touch: synthesisers and electronic music.
NF: I guess the indie rock scene in France is not so big. There are a few bands I love, like Turzi, Yeti Lane…
BdV: … Zombie Zombie. But it's more electronic. It's less songs. We write songs.
Why do you think people don't take French rock music seriously outside of France?
CG: [Tentatively] Maybe because we don't make such good rock music?
NF: I guess the problem is since the beginning, when the French discovered Elvis Presley and Eddie Cochran, the English tried to do their own thing, the Germans too. But the French just copied the Americans, and they put even more stupid lyrics in French on these songs. So we always were a little bit late, you know? And we used to copy a lot.
BdV: Even today there are so many bands trying to do some Phoenix stuff.
Does it matter where a band comes from?
CG: Not for us, no. But for the other people, I think yes. As you said, we are French, and we are kind of – sorry for the word – retarded rock music. So it's quite difficult for us.
I wouldn't have guessed where you were from.
NF: Maybe the pervert stuff…?
True: that's very French.
Because obviously the English are not perverted at all…
NF: Not at all!
I want to talk about 'Curtains'. What made you so angry?
NF: Well, first I wanted to do a typical Joy Division song, actually, very hypnotic, then I thought, 'Fuck off, let's do some dissonance with guitars.' I wanted it to sound like Thurston jamming with Peter Hook. Then we added some electronic parts…
BdV: … and some very aggressive snares and percussion which is really like 'Bam! Bam!' And the guy who mixed it, he mixed it really upfront, and when we first heard the mix it's like, 'Yeah! Wow! It's too loud!'
NF: And there's a bit of Girls vs Boys too in this song. I wish I had his voice, but I need to smoke a few more years.
'Pleasure That Hurts' has a line, 'Before the dawn…' which sounds like the M83 album title, Before The Dawn Heals Us. Was that a deliberate reference?
NF: Christophe wrote it. And I was like, 'Come on! "Before the dawn", mate? OK, let's keep it! It's funny!'
CG: I don't think of Antony when I write lyrics, I swear! The lyrics are about addiction. This guy is really completely fucked with drugs.
Is this from personal experience…?
CG: No, but most of the time my lyrics are about it: addiction, human behaviour, with love, everything. I'm addicted to life.
NF: Can you erase that?!
CG: That's why they put vocoder on my vocal…
NF: He plays the bass better…
Are you excited about performing in England? Or are you scared of facing the English?
CG: We're French! We're not scared!
NF: I love you British guys. You're very funny, and a great audience, and you're drunk by seven, so when you open for a big band it's easier…
Do drugs play a big part in this band?
CG: No. The only drug is maybe marijuana. I don't smoke. The drummer and the bassist don't smoke too.
NF: I'm the junkie!
That's your second drug joke. Do I detect a guilty conscience?
NF: No, it's OK. I started smoking weed when I was maybe 14 years old. I feel more comfortable when I smoke weed for making music. I took a lot of other drugs, but I think marijuana is the only one that can be helpful for music. I can't understand how you can play music when you're on LSD. I'd break my guitar; maybe stay on one chord for two hours.
Is it important for the audience?
NF: Well, if I was in the audience, yeah. I would definitely smoke listening to this record, but I don't know. It's not very responsible to tell people, 'Come on, let's smoke.'
So you're the rock and roll band that goes from Motorhead to Justin Timberlake. "Party! But responsibly."