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Escape Velocity

Mishaps & Molten Rock: French Rockets Interviewed
AP Childs , December 8th, 2009 09:44

AP Childs talks to the Australian rockers about the stigma of psychedelia, the influence of William Burroughs, and lighting a fire under Matt Bellamy's arse...

There is a tale of a little old fella who lived on cliff in an old life-guards cottage, somewhere along the Norfolk coast. The old guy, a retired merchant seaman who loved a new project, liked his sound big. He loved the bass too and on occasion would still get down on it. He had bass resonators built into his floor and walls. He would invite friends round to party and that old cottage would shake so much it seemed like some evenings the whole cliff was gonna come down taking everything with it. One quiet afternoon the old man returned home from a trip to the supermarket to find his home and cliff hanging over toward the sea. The emergency services would not allow him to go in and gather his precious personals. All they could do was stand and watch while the bricks turned to rubble and the rubble tumbled into the big grey north-sea. The insurance claim to this day still rages on as the official line seems to be Coastal Erosion, or attrition. But there is an argument in coastal morphodynamics that human interference is quite often a cause!

French Rockets have a sound as big as the lump of rock they find themselves stationed on – Australia. A space behemoth shooting up from a Kraftwerk textbook that has been ripped to shreds by the Jesus and Mary Chain. Add a light show that beams up a visual cocktail of Pink Floyd and Spiritualized and you are half way there. From Perth, the band is currently launching 1x1, a masterwork of 90 minute sets which has been many years in the making. Their story is a modern tale of Pshycedelia. The Quietus managed to break through world time-zones and talk to Rockets main man Carl Properjohn.

Have the Rockets had a good week?

Carl Properjohn: We have. We're busy sorting out the logistics of our impending 12" split vinyl release 1x1. The plan as it currently stands is to get an initial run of 300 pressings and sell it via the Heartless Robot Records online store as well as local stores. The notion of focussing on global distribution is something we will be considering when the second pressing is required. We are testing the waters initially. Because of the nature of the release, which includes a DVD of film clips and assorted extras, we want to gauge how it will be received.

You're firmly of the belief then that you don't need a deal, only a distributor?

CP: We're in a position where we're firmly in belief that anything could happen. Deal wise, it's a case of crossing that bridge when we arrive at it.

So what's the Perth scene like - as you're way out west are you different to the rest of Oz or is the scene pretty much the same?

CP: The Perth music scene is a very healthy one. The overall quality of music coming out of Perth is comparatively very high and what's refreshing is that it is diverse. But yeah, each Oz city has its own vibe going. There are innumerable factors that influence these 'vibes'.

Are you out on your own trailblazing a new psychedelic scene?

CP: The term 'psychedelic' is a term that haunts us to a degree. We don’t necessarily like to suggest that our music is psychedelic per se, it’s a term used rather loosely these days we have noticed, but in saying that it refers something that is 'reality altering' or a experience akin to that then that I suppose is up our alley. We aim to provide the soundtrack to reality escapism if that makes sense.

This is not an insult I hope...but when I read your press pack, and saw the light show pix etc, Pink Floyd circa late 60's came to mind. I mean I'm talking of your accompanying light show only, I'm not saying you sound like them. Do you draw on any of the old brigade at all?

CP: No it’s not an insult at all. We accept that the term psychedelia will be associated with our music and live shows and we just have to deal with it. It’s a case of the term gets used sometimes in the loosest possible scenario where some don't seem to understand the idea of what it means or where the term came from. The Floyd circa UFO era stuff was a significant catalyst when the initial idea of French Rockets began. The idea of fusing loud semi-improvised surreal music with equally experimental and confronting visual effects has always been important to us.

The footage looks pretty cool. If I was a younger man I'd consider toking on a fat one and getting into the zone. Are the shows happenings?

CP: Ha ha, well without trying to sound too puritanical the ultimate thing for us would be that you won’t necessarily need to smoke that spliff beforehand...hopefully our gig will be enough to totally overload your senses and perhaps fry a few synapses on the way. But of course a cold lager or three, or whatever tickles your fancy, before seeing us would certainly assist. Are they happenings? We've only had one opportunity to perform a show that we felt truly reflected the Modus Operandi of the band and that was being given a 90 minute set.

90 minute set! That's for the hardcore fans, no?

CP: Well it was a graveyard set from 12:30 am till 2am and most punters were suitably socially lubricated to varying degrees. And we tried a different visual approach using purely video projections and real-time camera VJ was, according to reports, 'entrancing'. I can’t remember that show at all!

I bloody love 'Words Are Breaking Up', and 'Dream Test' (both from the 555 record). The former more electro (Kraftwerk meets Mary Chain) and the latter just took me to the zone - without spliff! Any comments?

CP: 555 is a strange beast in many ways. The album was recorded by Jamie and me during a period where we didn't have a drummer so were in hibernation in regards to gigs. So we focussed on our home studios, teaching ourselves how to use (and abuse) them. The songs virtually wrote themselves. 'Words Are Breaking Up' came about from the main drone sound which Jamie had created and I had created some cut up vocal samples. The rest of the songs elements seemed to just appear. 'Dream Test' is the 'quintessential' album closing epic. But it's interesting which tracks people seem to latch onto on the album. The tracks that Jamie and I thought that had more chance in regards to immediate accessibility etc didn't and the tracks we thought may be more difficult to digest were the ones people immediately identified with, which sums things up perfectly...we can never estimate what will happen.

Your sound for a three piece is magnificent. Obviously you use digital technology but I can't help but get an analogue feel from it.

CP: I think the notion of an analogue feel is probably due to the fact we don’t know how to use our studios correctly!

French Rockets - 'Radiance' live performance from French Rockets on Vimeo.

It's accidental space rock?

CP: The almost lo-fi sound is very much a snapshot of where we were at at the time with our knowledge of using DAWs, what plugins and softsynths we had accumulated at various stages of the album being composed. I wouldn't say accidental space rock...more accumulative hypnotic rock. Molten rock is a phrase I like.

Where is space in the musical consciousness?

CP: When getting down to the nuts and bolts end of describing the music from a pseudo philosophical angle, well, someone once famously said that music is the space between the notes and I generally subscribe to that idea. 'Less is more' is a major part of the FR mindset.

So many good, great and noisy three piece groups have come and gone. Who are FR's faves?

CP: Great rock 3 pieces? Hmmm...

The name French Rockets? Is it a nuclear thing?

CP: The name is a result of a Burroughs styled 'cut ups' exercise. It also conjures interesting imagery.

Are you fans of William Burroughs then?

CP: We've all read various works and would say we are fans but I would be inclined to say we are more interested in his persona and perspective than his literary works.

Drugs, death and misogyny all fit there then. Maybe you should issue tickets that explode for your shows?

CP: Exploding tickets sounds interesting, however in Perth it’s hard enough getting away with using smoke machines in some venues!

French Rockets seem to be doing ok though.

CP: True...there is really only one or two venues that give us grief about the hazers and that’s only because they can't be arsed getting the correct smoke detectors installed.

Had any mishaps?

CP: Yes we've experienced a few interesting mishaps...mainly to do with blowing entire fuse boards at venues, but as to whether it was our fault or not is another thing.

Sonic Youth; Jesus and Mary Chain; Spacemen 3; Spiritualized; Spektrum, do you think you can blow a hole in the stodge like these bands once did?

CP: We have the correct type of explosives to create large holes - it’s a case of finding the right place to plant it..and then finding the right place to put the detonator. Those bands you mentioned made their mark during a very different terms of where the music industry was..

Would you place a charge right up Muse's butt?

CP: Well, Muse are headlining the Big Day Out tour in Oz in 2010, and I know what hotel they'll be staying at!

It's all yours for the taking. Exploding tickets!

CP: A small charge under Matt Bellamy's piano stool could be good for a laugh.

Gong are coming/have been to London. Good to see that old aussie space stoner Daevid Allen s still alive and well

CP: I think Daevid Allen will always be alive and well. I saw Gong play at the Knitting Factory in New York in 2000 and he was on fire...not like Arthur Brown...but had a silver space suit on. Very stylish!

Do French Rockets have a fashion conscience?

CP: We wear all white onstage so as to appear as 'moving projector screens' that accentuate our lights and lasers, and throw punters visual perspectives out of kilter. Then we turn the strobes on an all hell breaks loose.

Hey, we haven't talked about the 1x1! Quickly tell me about its transition from an early track to the monster it is now. You're clearly very proud of it.

CP: 1x1 was the first song I wrote on my home studio. It existed before French Rockets did and was probably the main reason FR formed. When Roger joined the band in 2007 we revisited it again as a live proposition and because we had acquired samplers and loopers by then we could perform some very interesting versions of the song live - quite literally dubbing off our own live loops etc. So it had a rebirth of sorts and has become a 'crowd favourite'.

Well it all sounds like something we must experience. Any plans to get up to Europe?

CP: Europe is simply a must do for us at some point. Too many people we know have said that we should be in Europe now! But the logistics of it are frightening...and then there's the dollars.

You never did tell me about your fave 3 piece bands!

CP: I'm still trying to fathom that one...Roger our drummer would probably like me to mention Rush...

Oh yeah, Rush. Brilliant! 2112. I think Quietus daddio John Doran is big on them too.

CP: Excellent! A good way to finish an interview...images of Geddy Lee in my mind. Have a great weekend.

Copies of '555' can be purchased through the French Rockets MySpace page.