In Conversation: Film Noir
When you’re a true romantic, you’re bound to see everything through a rose-tinted poetic lens. For Joséphine de La Baume, the cultural force who leads Parisian garage punk group Film Noir with her brother, Alexandre de la Baume, this means “always have something to be heartbroken or write about.”
Against gritty, deep cuts and brooding lyrics, there’s a welcomed warmth in the tracks from Joséphine’s romantic outlook. The band’s upcoming EP, ‘Tendrement,’ is set to be released on June 26th and is a follow up to last year’s debut, ‘Vertiges (Men of Glory).’ No longer angry and heartbroken after a public divorce, ‘Tendrement,’ is a more reflective and sensitive collection of songs, filled with cinematic and theatrical elements against pulsating basslines and raw vocals, and, sometimes, “filthy” lyrics.
With some songs in French and others in English, the EP is a vulnerable collection of letters, each song addressed to a different person, much like a diary, the narrative unfolding one track at a time.
Clash caught up with Joséphine and Alexandre to discuss their upcoming EP, cinematic influences, and the power of live performance.
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So you have a new EP coming out, ‘Tendrement,’ which is very exciting. How would you compare it to ‘Vertiges (Men of Glory)?’
Joséphine: The second EP is almost like a sequel to the first one. There's the first impulse of the first EP that was a very raw sentiment of heartbreak, which comes with all the sadness and all the anger and all the stages that come after a really big heartbreak. And I would say that in the second EP, there are some old songs that are from this time that is mixed with some new ones.
So there's an element of a sequel, but also maybe more tenderness in the second one, which is why the title of the EP is ‘Tendrement,’ like the end of the letter. I think after some time, you have more perspective and you can do things with a bit more tenderness and less rage.
But also, in the second EP, it's not just about that. It also implies everything. A lot of other stories that have taken place since the event that created the first EP. It's the journey after that, in the distance.
Alexandre: Sometimes, when you're feeling raw, you have some sort of extra sensitivity that gives you a different outlook on the world. Songs like 'Los Angeles Whirl' are really all about the way you see things from a different perspective, but sometimes it creates a sort of interesting poetic distance with things. You start noticing stuff that you had never noticed in your normal, everyday life.
Joséphine: If you were in your normal self.
‘Tendrement,’ sounds quite cinematic and your band’s name is Film Noir, is it safe to say that film inspires your music?
Joséphine: I think there was an idea that often when we write songs, we have quite cinematic visuals in our head, and we kind of reference a lot of films and stuff like that.
So that made sense and there is a cinematic aspect to the band. But it's not really in relation to that actual era of cinema. I think it's just more the idea that there's a cinematic aspect to the song and maybe there's a heaviness to the whole scheme.
On the topic of cinema, the EP’s opener ‘Hustling His Way’ sounds like a film narrative. Was that the intention?
Alexandre: We very often open our concerts with that track and it felt like a good opening for the record. Joséphine: It's a song about someone I know. The whole theme of the song [is about] men trying to forget about [their] true love. In order to do that, he goes and goes from bed to bed and woman to woman. They fall at his feet and he covers them with sexual attention. The second verse in French is quite filthy, actually.
But the thing I had in mind when I wrote the song was [that] it was based on the men I knew. I actually thought of [the film] Midnight Cowboy and sort of that gigolo going around. I just have this vision of this man, this cowboy, in New York, going from one woman to the other. So it's my own experience mixed with maybe some visuals and different films that I've liked.
Alexandre: There's definitely that cinematic element, it's a character song, essentially. [It] would be a short film about this character…so you’re right about that.
‘Hustling His Way’ is in English and so are a few songs, but others are in French. Why did you decide to do both rather than sticking to just one language?
Joséphine: I really liked the idea of writing in French. If I could write everything in French I would. I think it's just because sometimes, some of the songs are addressed to people — that are written about or addressed to people — that speak English. They come in English, almost like letters to someone. Sometimes we've tried to translate them, to try and turn them into French. When it works we have and sometimes it just wasn't working so we left them in English.
Alexandre: Musically [French and English are] two very different languages and sometimes one fits really better than the other. It's a bit almost like choosing between an acoustic and electric guitar.
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So cinematic references aside, were there any records or artists that inspired the EP?
Joséphine: We listened to Sonic Youth quite a bit, right?
Alexandre: Yeah, Sonic Youth, but also that German punk band.
Joséphine: Oh, German band, yeah. There's a girl band—
Joséphine: There's this one song that I really like called 'Kaltes Klares Wasser.' Sometimes we listen to a song just because we're like, 'Oh, this drumbeat is good in there. Maybe there's an interesting way of playing [it].' We listened to that song, I remember, as inspiration, but otherwise, nothing really specific, I would say.
Alexandre: We listen to a lot of different kinds of music. It just comes pretty naturally. We're not very aware of the influences.
Joséphine: There's not that much influence on this, specifically. I would say at the moment, the whole band, we've listened a lot to Big Thief, which we all really like, but it hasn't influenced our record in any way. We just like that band.
Obviously, you’re siblings and have worked together when you formed the band Singtank a few years back before starting Film Noir. How do you go about working together and creating a record with the rest of the band?
Alexandre: Basically, Joséphine writes the lyrics.
Joséphine: Almost like a diary.
Alexandre: Then she reads them to me or sends them to me and we start discussing, musically, what sort of musical atmosphere we're thinking. I try different stuff and then, generally, it feels pretty natural. Like, we both know when we nailed the right music for the lyrics and we map out the songs together. Then we start playing them with the rest of the band.
Joséphine: We write the melody together, and then the rest of the band would add stuff.
Alexandre: We start playing them all together and they get into shape, slowly. We have, basically, the backbone of the song. By playing them over and over again, finding stuff, we end up pretty naturally with [a song]. We're very lucky with that because we can understand each other very naturally. There's a common understanding of the general mood of the band. So in general, pretty fast after playing the songs over and over again, [we] find the right parts and the right way to play them.
Before recording them, we tend to play them live for a while because the fact of putting them out live, it gives you another outlook on the song. It's like the last varnish or something, you can find some great new ideas that will complete the song.
What was the recording process like then?
Alexandre: To record it properly was really short, but it's more of a very long process getting there [just] by playing the songs live, touring a lot. We played concerts for a year and a half before we started properly recording the songs.
Joséphine: We recorded some of it in L.A., on tapes...and that takes just like a few days because you do everything live. We did more stuff in Paris with some new stuff much later on after playing them for a while.
Alexandre: Basically, the recording itself took a few days. It was kind of there. The longer part was really writing and performing live. Some songs, we really felt like we had them.
You touched on recording in Los Angeles. Did Paris or Los Angeles influence the album at all? I know you have a song on the EP called ‘Los Angeles Whirl…’
Alexandre: I think so, yeah. Joséphine lives in London, between London and Paris, and the rest of the band lives in Paris. I think there's something about the young, the new French music scene, like garage and rock, and the general atmosphere of all these musicians we hang out with. There's a nice and inspiring new wave of rock musicians in France that is very inspiring and they were happy to be part of.
Joséphine: As far as L.A., I don't think it really influenced the record. The only reason why this song is called ['Los Angeles Whirl'] is because it's about a specific summer in L.A. I don't think, musically, it really affected us. I think we just happened to play shows in L.A. and then we recorded in the studio in L.A. So some of the experience was there, but I don't think, musically, really made a difference in that way. But we were lucky just because there are a lot of musicians in L.A.
Some of our friends have played on the record, you know... Because they were in L.A., there's a sort of collaboration that happened there. But I don't know if really, musically, we were influenced by what's going on there.
While we’re talking about influences...Joséphine, you’re known to be quite fashionable. Does fashion influence the music at all?
Joséphine: Because this record is very personal, I feel like it's very much an extension of all of us. And we're very involved in the music, all of us and in that project.
But I do feel like the stage is an opportunity to give an enhanced version of whatever it is that you're trying to portray in your record. So maybe, there's a bit more dramatization. There's a bit more drama in the performance. Even though I think I try and make it as honest as possible. It's quite a cathartic project. It's very sincere, whatever happens on stage. But I think in the clothes, the same thing. I can't imagine us wearing yellow, blue and baby pink for a project called Film Noir.
I think the clothes have to reflect the project to some extent, in that case. It is cinematic, so I like the idea that it's cinematic and it's somber. I think our clothes have to be somber...So I think the style has to support the project of course or at least enhance it.
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You’ve mentioned the EP being quite sincere. Are there any messages or themes that you want people to take away?
Alexandre: Film Noir has been a personal thing. It was really about being very sincere and genuine and direct. It's less about a message. It's portraying experiences that everyone goes through. It's just a way of really taking it out and having this community experience in, as Joséphine puts it, in a visceral and cathartic way.
What we're hoping is that when people hear the record, they feel like it's also talking about something they went through too and that it has this bit of a cathartic effect. We can sense it sometimes at concerts, like people have been sometimes telling us, and it's the biggest reward you could think of. That they had sort of expelled their inner demons, in a way, for the duration of the concert. In the best-case scenario, that's what we're hoping for.
That's sometimes the beautiful effect of music and live music in particular.
So on the subject of performing live, what can people expect from your live performances?
Alexandre: It's very sincere, energetic, cathartic.
Joséphine: There's a good build up. It becomes quite communal. It's very intimate at first and then it's almost like everybody's going through that similar experience together. Ultimately, that's what you want from a show. It doesn't have much [of a] boundary. Every show is very different.
Alexandre: What feels really great about the live shows is, that as you were saying, there are no boundaries. We really go in without knowing exactly how it's gonna [go.] We give it our all and it's a very thrilling experience.
You were touring for a bit and have done EPs. Now you have an album in the works, right?
Joséphine: We have a lot of songs already, and we've been working even from afar during this quarantine. We're quite close, actually, to having enough songs to record it. So quite soon, I think. At the end of the summer, if we're allowed, we're hoping to make a record. Alexandre: At first, when you start as a band, everyone's personality is starting to fit in more and more with the sound of the band. I think it's a more grown version of our sound and our songwriting.
It sounds like a lot of your recording process is done live. So for recording an album, are you sending each other snippets? Or how is that working during lockdown when Joséphine is in London and you’re in France?
Alexandre: It's quite frustrating because the basis of the band is really [about] being together and playing together. We've tried to make the best out of it. We're sending each other ideas.
Joséphine: Alexandre has been sending me music and I've been sending him lyrics. I think the next record will be about different things and the kind of different adventures that have happened. I think when you're a true romantic, sadly, you always have something to be heartbroken or write about. It's the luck of the dance. [It's an] emotional life, but it's lucky if you need content to write about. There's still a lot of stuff to write about.
But I think also, during this time [and] outside of the emotional ventures of life that have happened to all of us and we can write it about, this time is an extremely interesting time to write. It's a moment where we're all sitting with our thoughts. There's no distraction, and we don't have the time to be bored so much, and being bored is the most prolific time that you can use to write or do things.
So outside the [world], you can just write about what happened to you, and you can also dig a little deeper and [explore] more existential thoughts at the moment.
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Film Noir will release their new EP on June 26th.
Words: Caroline Edwards
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