Trans Europe Express: The Journeys Of Frànçois & The Atlas Mountains

Trans Europe Express: The Journeys Of Frànçois & The Atlas Mountains

François Marry on his subtle, absorbing, and timely new album...

François Marry started running over a decade ago and he's never looked back.

Leaving his small-town home in the South West of France, he wound up in Bristol, before spending time in Glasgow after a stint in Camera Obscura's live line up.

More recently he's spent time in Berlin and Athens, two cities with similar appetites for left-field adventures, places that his project François and the Atlas Mountains have explored to their full potential.

In François' life there are always new spaces to map out, new experiences to uncover - but now the road could be at an end.

New album 'Banane Bleue' is out now, and its title refers to French geographer Roger Brunet's theory that industrial Europe could be segmented into one long coherent corridor.

Yet it comes as François Marry prepares to come full circle, finding a fresh base in France. With Brexit questioning cross-European communication and the concept of 'home' lingering in his mind, the songwriter opened up to Clash.

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The title feels very apposite right now.

I guess it’s just my lifestyle, the way I live, is connected to being European. I started music when I moved to Bristol in 2004, and some of the tracks on this album were written then. So the idea of being able to travel to a country to another has always been very much part of the way I live and create. This album started off in Berlin, then we did a bit just outside of Paris. Then we finished it in Athens, Greece. So by the time we finished the album I felt like I had created an axis through Europe, from Berlin to Athens via Paris.

I was trying to picture a way to talk about that, and then at the same time I was very aware that I wanted the album to be very simple and tasty and sweet. And so I thought of a fruit! It’s a fruity album, so it seemed like a funky title.

As a songwriter do you tend to gather lots of different ideas over time? Do you have multiple hard drives of these audio sketches?

No, it’s all in my head. Those are songs that have been with me for 14 years, some of them. Usually I keep them in my head or my fingers, when I play the guitar or piano, and it’s kind of like catching up with an old friend or an old memory.

Do they ideas evolve over time through that process of remembering and forgetting?

Totally. It’s for the best. When you haven’t seen anyone for a long time you only remember the best memories of them. Even if you lost someone through a break up. Or if someone passed away… the thing you keep from them is always the best memories. It’s the same with old material, I feel. And obviously there’s a lot of different voices. Jakko Eino Klavi produced the album and he made the songs shift a little… and for the best. He kept the best elements and then simplified everything, making it all more visible and clear.

Jaakko is such a creative guy, what does he bring?

I didn’t know him before I went to Berlin to try and record some songs with him. I think he became a friend. We’re in touch. We exchange a bit, but we met through the album. We got to know each other. It was all through Domino, really. I loved his music previously, so I knew that he was going to do a great job. - He did all the arrangements - all the drumming. I sang my songs to a click and then he shaped it all. He was the sculptor.

Is that a free-flowing process?

All the songs are in French and I didn’t even tell him what they were about. I played him my songs, and then he’s ask me to play it faster or slower. We just did it. We didn’t think very hard about it - it was just making music.

‘Holly Golightly’ is such a refreshing track, what spawned it?

It was back in 2005 when I met Tracyanne from Camera Obscura. I went to Glasgow, and she had a poster of Breakfast In Tiffany’s in her breakfast booth. The whole environment was new to me, and I didn’t know that movie but there was something about that photograph that was very striking. I borrowed the novella, and it came from there. Truman Capote’s writing. Reading the story of that friendship - in the novella there’s a fine line between the fascination and the friendship of the two characters. It was very inspiring, and that’s what I tried to convey through this song. Feeling fascinated by finding a new friend.

We’ve already visited Bristol, Berlin, and Glasgow in this conversation - how does travel inform your work?

Well, usually when I travel I just hang out. Meet up with people. There was a synergy between Berlin and Athens, in the sense that Berlin used to be very cheap to live in, and it attracted lots of artists who needed workspaces that were cheap. I guess it’s a bit of a stereotype - being a bohemian artist in European cities - but yes, I’m pleased that stereotype exists. I think it’s an inspiring lifestyle.

When I was younger I grew up in a small town in the South West of France and I couldn’t connect with anyone, but when I grew up all the artists I met matched the intensity of my own life and I knew that’s what I wanted. That’s the life I wanted to have. That was what was most important to me. To feel like there was this energy and inspiration in the people I met. In places like Berlin and Athens, there are spaces that exist where artists can live cheaply. It’s a really important aspect of life, in shaping the colour and elegance. 

I’m from a town in the Scottish Highlands, so there’s a hard-relate there.

Really? Growing up, every time I hard about a British town or city, I would imagine the musicians who were there. It would trigger this imagination process. I have this dream vision of the place. If you think of the early days of bands like Cocteau Twins, for example.

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The album opens with ‘Foreigner’ - you must have become used to being an outsider in these different countries.

The French word for ‘foreigner’ is the same as ‘outsider’ and it’s a reference to the Camus novel, I guess. It was more light-hearted, I guess - feeling like a passenger and being a bit of a tourist in your own life.

How do you get out of that? How do you find ‘home’?

Well, I just bought a home, so maybe that will help. I’ve never had a steady home before. I’ve found it in parts - like when I was living with Rozi Plain in Bristol. Then I moved to Brussels after that, and I had pockets of that feeling. I’m hoping I will build it a bit more in the South West of France. I bought a house near the ocean so maybe that will help.

Does that yearning for home appear in other forms throughout the album?

‘Lee-Ann & Lucie’ mentions the new home. ‘Leanne And Lucy’ is a couple of surfers who live together - they’re a couple. And it’s a vision of hope and home. There’s something really cool about them but also it’s the future of relationships. I guess they’re hoping to get a baby, they live together. There’s something really optimistic about it. Living by the ocean, and this population bringing together and younger generation of people who want to generate their own lifestyle.

You’ve made some short films, too.

Yes it’s three short abstract films, shot during the recording process. They’re very humble, there’s no big concept behind them. But it documents that wandering I was embarking on during the album. - It started off because I met Julia - she’s a film maker - in Berlin, and I had a connection with her. I felt like I had this connection, and just meeting her made me want to get her involved. I felt very touched by her sensitivity. I didn’t plan to do it - I met her, and I enjoyed having her around the recording process. I guess she inspired me too, as she was such a cool girl to hang out with.

Is making those relationships a key part of your journey?

It is. I remember watching Babe play at Homegame - the festival in Fife - I bumped into Gerard, and it was something as simple as catching his gaze, his eyes… and feeling that this person has something special about them that you want to meet and share. That’s how I felt when I bumped into him. He wanted to go to France at that time for personal reasons, and that was the beginning of our collaboration. We did a really wonderful album together and then he carried on his own ways, his own path. But there was a time when I felt really inspired by him and it felt like our life together was really precious. That’s the most important thing to do in life - connect with people. Just live that inspiration to its full potential.

Have you taken ‘Banane Bleu’ to its full potential?

I do. It was a surprise, as I didn’t know what to expect from Jaakko. He’s Scandinavian, he doesn’t say much! We didn’t discuss much but there was something about us being together that just made sense.

So, what’s next? Are you focussing on your next project?

I’m hoping to connect with my surroundings a bit more. There’s a crew of musicians down here, who work from a local studio. I’m hoping for a more local approach. Just before COVID I travelled to Morocco, and did some collaboration there. That was really exciting but it’s a distant, exotic project… it doesn’t seem very sensible to be doing that these days. On a spiritual level, it’s about looking for something local. I’ll try to focus on that.

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'Banane Bleue' is out now.

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