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Escape Velocity

The Water's Lovely: Fránçois & The Atlas Mountains Interviewed
Stuart Huggett , February 14th, 2012 06:56

Fránçois & The Atlas Mountains released their first album for Domino, E Volo Love, last month in the UK. Stuart Huggett met up with the Anglo-French pop band to talk singing and swimming.

E Volo Love, Fránçois & The Atlas Mountains’ first album for Domino, is a lush, sun-baked expansion of the gentle Anglo-French pop Fránçois Marry has been crafting since 2003. In that year, Fránçois exchanged the south west of France for the south west of England, taking up employment in Bristol and swiftly introducing himself to the city’s post-rock scene.

Fránçois’ solo debut Les Anciennes Falaises was followed by The People to Forget, which introduced the flexible Atlas Mountains moniker and featured members of Movietone, Crescent (whom Fránçois had joined) and other Bristol notables. After a brace of EPs, split 7”s and tapes, a return to Fránçois’ native Saintes yielded mini-album Her River Raves Recollections (which included an early version of recent Domino single ‘Piscine’). A further move to Glasgow found Fránçois joining Camera Obscura and releasing The Atlas Mountains' third full length Plaine Inondable on Fence.

The day after E Volo Love’s release party at London’s Slaughtered Lamb, the band visited Brighton for the city’s fourth annual Vive La France! celebrations. This was the group’s third appearance at Vive La France!, Fránçois’ bilingual lyrics and the band’s mixed French/British line up exemplifying the spirit of the festival’s cross-Channel communications.

The band invited me to join them over dinner at a French restaurant near Brighton station, just ahead of their performance below the railway arches in the Green Door Store. The full Atlas Mountains group (Gerard Black, Rob Hunter, Pierre Loustaunau and Amaury Ranger) were present, as well as regular collaborator and Fence artist Rozi Plain and their tour manager Gavin. I spoke to Fránçois amidst the clattering of dishes of mussels and crêpes, pouring of wine and piped French music, while the band chattered away to one another, mimicked each others’ accents and occasionally joined in with the interview.

How was last night’s release party?

Fránçois Marry: I forgot it was a launch, because the album came out in October in France. But it was really nice, really packed. It was fun.

You’ve recorded for numerous small labels, but had anyone else been trying to sign you?

FM: No. When I was younger, when I put out my first CD-R and my first vinyl, I tried to push it a lot. I sent it to a lot of labels, but didn’t do it recently. A good label in France released the album that Fence released in the UK, a fine label called Talitres. It was good [signing to Domino], it came naturally.

Is this a settled Atlas Mountains line up?

FM: Yeah. It was just me and Amaury [from fellow Saintes group Uncle Jelly Fish] for a long time. Rozi was playing, but she was in the UK, so we got Pierre [of Bordeaux’s Petit Fantôme] from France to replace her. Then Gerard [from Glasgow’s Findo Gask] and Rob [Rozi Plain’s drummer] also joined the band. We played a lot in France and we had quite a few months of rehearsing, so we feel much more together, I think.

What's the chapel [Chapelle Chavagne, Saintes] where E Volo Love was recorded like? Is it still used as a chapel?

FM: It’s not. It’s used mainly as a rehearsal space.

Amaury Ranger: Bands rehearse when they want to go on stage, they can work with the lighting and the sound. It’s really tiny, but we organise gigs there.

FM: It can only fit 50 people in there. Sometimes we use it for bands we like when they’re on tour. It’s got the feel of a local community centre

AR: It’s more of a dance place, so you mainly have dance bands, hip hop bands. It’s a huge room with mirrors and you can record really good reverb.

The acoustics are very effective with the choir on the album. Who are they?

FM: They’re a group from the Basque country. We met them on the previous album. It’s five girls and when they’re singing they’re really amazing.

The electronica influences from your earliest recordings seem to be coming back on E Volo Love. Would you like to take the band further down that route?

FM: Yeah, when there are the right conditions. For example, when we did a tour in Colombia we couldn’t bring many instruments so the samplers were the most easy to carry. We played that way lots more before Rob joined as well, to try to compensate for the lack of natural drums. If people want us to play in clubs, we will transform the songs. It really depends, we quite like to adapt what we do to whatever’s being asked. When we’ve been asked for acoustic sessions we have to rearrange everything.

Some of your songs, like ‘Piscine’, have also appeared in different forms on different records.

FM: I feel like every recording we release is finished in its own way, but if you can capture an alternative about them then you can give the song another chance. The same way as when you meet someone again, you don’t expect them to be the same as when you first meet them. That song grew a lot because we started playing it live, and we started to extend it and extend it and extend it... It becomes like painting another portrait.

Domino released it with remixes too. Have you been approached to remix other bands?

FM: No, more to do covers. I’m more comfortable with covers because I don’t know much about electronic music production.

In your lyrics I feel a real sense of place, of the towns and geography of the south west of France, coming through. How conscious are you of that?

FM: It’s more random. There’s a song on the album which I wrote in Bristol, ‘City Kiss’, which is really old. I still do spend a lot of time out in the south west of France, and I have such a great time when spring or summer comes.

Themes of swimming appear again and again in your music. Are you one of those hardy, all year round, outdoor swimmers?

FM: Yeah. I’m reading a book at the moment, and I’m really pleased about it. It’s by a British writer, Roger Deakin, he was involved with Friends of the Earth, an activist. He wrote a book on outdoor swimming called Waterlog. I’m really excited by it, because it talks about everywhere I go, swimming and enjoying the cold water. We went swimming only yesterday, and I was hoping to swim today but I didn’t have time to.

Well we did have enormous hailstones at lunchtime, so it probably would have been really cold.

Rozi Plain: Really? Oh! That’d be weird. I feel like that’s something that doesn’t really happen anymore.

FM: Were you outside then?

No, I’d been out all morning, I’d just got in. We were walking home and I could see it coming. It looked like rain, we got indoors, and then all of a sudden, bang!

RP: Were they big ones?

FM: How big were they?

About a centimetre.

FM: Wow! I would have had to hide under the water. It’s a lovely thing though, when you go swimming. Maybe not hailstones, but when it’s raining. I feel like I’ve swum in Brighton every time I came here. Outdoor swimming is always the best. When I’m feeling low or a bit tired it’s one of the things that makes me feel good. It brings me much more energy. It’s like the songs, because I write songs about something that makes me feel good. It’s part of that.

E Volo Love is out now on Domino. Fránçois & The Atlas Mountains tour France and Germany during February and March, and return to the UK in April.