The Dream Universe: Rockfort Interviews Rêve
, July 5th, 2013 07:03
In our latest French music column, David McKenna meets Julie Fossaert, the mind behind the insular dreamscapes of Rêve, to discuss communication through music and working with Grumbling Fur's Daniel O'Sullivan
Julie Fossaert used play bass in a math-rock band, Radiateur. "We were signed in Mexico." How did that come about? "Via MySpace – the golden age!"
I came across her music via Tumblr, though, so this kind of serendipity is still possible - there's just more music than ever to plough through before a connection is made. But here I was struck instantly, as there was something about the diffuse emotions it stirred simultaneously: clouds of calm, ripples of unease (oxymoronic language, describing music as something yet also its opposite is journalistic cliché of course. But what if any worthwhile music, or art for that matter, is, by its nature, oxymoronic?)
So I suggested an interview. Fossaert was coming over anyway, from Lille, for a night at Café Oto. There's a connection: Daniel O'Sullivan who, as half of Grumbling Fur, is playing with genuine wildcard, minimalist composer and cuddly toy enthusiast Charlemagne Palestine, mixed and mastered her debut EP as Rêve. She also knows support act Thomas Bonvalet, aka L'Ocelle Mare (whom I've interviewed in a previous edition of this column, and who puts in an absolutely riveting, intensely physical performance) from many years back, having helped to organise underground gigs in a living room in Dunkirk with members of another Dunkirk-to-Lille export, Cercueil. When I spoke to Nico Devos from Cercueil a number of years ago, he recalled having 70 to 80 people in the house for the gigs they put on, with groups like The Robocop Kraus, The Oxes, Bonvalet's former group Cheval de Frise and Guapo - the latter, in fact, featuring Daniel O'Sullivan.
"That house was from 1999 to 2004," she recalls. "I've lived in Lille for 15 years but in the beginning I was always going backwards and forwards between the two."
I arranged to meet Fossaert in the café of the Arcola theatre, just along from Oto, because the previous week it had been pretty calm. Not so this time, and Julie speaks softly - in that sense she resembles her music quite closely, I realise - so I just pray my recorder is picking her up over the hubbub.
Radiateur was her first band. It went swimmingly in Mexico but, she explains, "as for Europe, we were a bit lazy so nothing really came of it. That was ten years ago, and I had already started doing things by myself but I mostly didn't let anyone hear it. Sometimes that became material for the bands I was playing in. But Damien [Breut] from my label Pilotti records, who has been following me for 10 to 15 years, was always supportive, and he had already put out one of my tracks on a compilation in France that was well-received. But I wasn't really ready to go it alone."
And then there was Peru Peru, which was a poppier thing?
Julie Fossaert: Yes, it was Amélie from Superstar Disco Club and me, we were both writing songs separately in our rooms, and we wanted to play them together. We gave ourselves total freedom, there was no particular guiding principle, then other people joined us. I really came from the noise, math-rock, psych scene, it was a good learning experience to do something in a more pop format, even if it was still pretty free. I'm talking about it in the past tense but it's ongoing, we've recorded a new album. Even though we'll probably tour less now.
With those two groups, did it correspond to what you really felt you wanted to be doing?
JF: Not really. But I love them, I love the people, it's been a great experience, I wouldn't take it back at all. I mean, in the band we never jammed, everyone brought a finished piece and then we would re-arrange it together, but anyone was free to bring what they liked.
So with Rêve, did you set out with the specific intention of it being a solo project?
JF: Last year, I had three weeks where I really isolated myself at home, I just started by hitting the REC button. Afterwards, Daniel added some sounds. I was happy to work by myself at home but then hand it over to him to just do what he wanted with it, to see what he would make of it. I didn't really want to direct him in any way. I knew it would fit with my sound-world.
So what came back wasn't a surprise as such?
JF: No, he got everything right. On the tracks he sent back he'd hardly changed anything, just enough for me to go 'Yes that's it! Exactly!' I mean, I don't really know anything about mixing, I gave him the instruments, all the tracks, very dry, as they were recorded, so he added some effects, he sculpted it, and added a few sounds.
Had you maintained contact with Daniel all this time?
JF: With Daniel, we haven't stayed in touch the whole time, but the music he makes with others - and he's someone who likes to work a lot with other people - generally spoke to me. But I didn't dare play him my own music. But we went out in London one night and he was very encouraging, just before the summer when I started recording, but at that point I hadn't yet asked him to work on anything with me.
The name Rêve [dream] is almost too perfect...
JF: I've never had a night without dreams, I dream a lot! And when I was a child I very often had nightmares. And it's this thing between the two… it's a word that I just kept coming back to, when I opened a book. Maybe it's a bit hokey, but it's a word that kept coming back. In fact I was joking about it with... I don't know if you know the band Reveille [which means awakening or alarm clock]...? What's more, we're going to be playing together.
On the EP, you cover a song by Asako Fujimoto ['Black Crow'] who sometimes goes by the name Cosmic Berry – and you have song on the EP called 'Cosmic Belly'...
JF: Yes, there's a link, it's in homage to one of my best friends. She lives in Paris, we don't see each other all the time, but this EP is really memories linked to moments that we've spent together. Maybe she'll be embarrassed to know that! I played bass on the European tour of her group Windy Hill Mill in 2011.
You're the second musician I've spoken to for this column who is also a therapist [the other was Emmanuelle Parrenin]. With her it was really linked to music, is it the same for you?
JF: Well, I have instruments in my cupboard and we play with the children. But there must be a link for me as I've always done both.
Is it just with children?
JF: Adults too. But I work quite a lot with autistic children, it's magical, music's a medium for communicating.
You can bypass language difficulties...
JF: And it allows a language to emerge too.
Your own use of language, it's repeated phrases, like with Colleen.
JF: For me it's really concrete images, like photos of a precise moment, of emotions from a particular moment.
How do you think people access something that's so personal to you?
JF: Well, in concert I see that people allow themselves to be carried away with it. I had a review that talked about 'hermetic' lyrics...
And the EP is called Ventre-Univers [Stomach-Universe] - that really gives that idea too.
JF: It's that I was alone in my house as if it were a stomach. There are a lot of plants around my house. The hops had climbed and climbed and were hanging over the entrance to my house like a cave made of greenery. So it was this idea of being closed in on oneself but at the same time an openness to the sky in some way...
On more than one occasion there are sounds which are either recordings of wind or which recall the wind.
JF: I didn't plan anything like that, but I think it's linked to the fact that there was a lot of joy and peace involved in the project but it was also slightly disquieting to be alone for that time, hidden like that.
I think you can feel all of that, the mix of calm and agitation. How does it work live?
JF: I needed to do a first concert just by myself with a guitar, because it's an instrument that's always been with me in my room since I was a teenager but I'd never played it in front of an audience. And now, there's no laptop, I wouldn't be able to use it really, and I've had to re-arrange the songs because when I made the EP I wasn't thinking about playing live at all. There are some where it's just guitar and others where there are two synths and a bass, and I use a loop pedal.
It's not very long, the EP, as the basis for a live set.
JF: I've got more songs!
So did making the EP release something in terms of your writing and performance?
JF: Yes. And even if it's a solo project and I'm alone on stage I always have the feeling that there are people around me, my friends, Asako, my friend Frédérique [Luczkow] from The Hanged Man & The Moon who sang on the EP, the photographer Chloé, Damien from the label. They are people who also carry the project. I'm never really by myself.