Last winter, two groups met each other for the first time in the French mountain village of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon, at the behest of their Moon Glyph label boss Steve Rosborough. As part of an intriguing musical experiment, psych-folk Københavners Halasan Bazar and French cinematic popsters Tara King th. were to be holed up together in the village’s ’70s-styled disco for six days, in order to produce a full collaborative album.
That album, 8, ended up being one of our favourites of 2015, its beguiling Lee ‘n’ Nancy chemistry so fully-formed that it was hard to believe it was created by virtual strangers. Luckily, photographer and film-maker Sébastien Tixier was on hand to document the whole affair as proof, and we’re extremely proud to present the UK première of the resulting documentary below.
What with the whole experiment being something of a musical blind date, we thought we’d do our best Cilla Black impression and find out what the happy couple (well, sextet) thought of the whole experience, and whether they’ll be seeing each other again in future…
What impressions did you have each other before you met?
Fredrick Rollum Eckoff (Halasan Bazar): ‘Cos we share a label I´ve been a fan of Tara King th. for a while, ever since they opened the Moon Glyph comp Opal a couple of years ago. I think I imagined them as guys with great nerdy organ chops, a lot of great melodies, fantastic players, and that they´d have some sort of mystery to them, a kind of grace, probably from Bea with her angel voice. But this is just all based on their music, their public persona. I could only guess who they really were.
Arnaud Boyer (Tara King th.): First impression: Let’s try. We’ll see. 🙂
Béatrice Morel-Journel (Tara King th.): We had received from Moon Glyph some tapes he had released earlier, and one of them was Halasan’s How To Be Ever Happy. I rapidly became a fan of this LP, particularly the song ‘Go Out In Joy’.
What was your main hope for the experiment? And what was your biggest fear?
Beatrice: It was very exciting to have no idea of how we were going to proceed, what was going to be born of this meeting. And I was very keen on trying to do some old style duets.
Fred: It was to explore another side of our music that we didn´t really have access to, as we´ve been doing psych pop for a couple of records, with a lot of acoustic guitars and male harmonies. It´d kinda be like if Gene Clark met Françoise Hardy with Jack Nitzsche as a producer.
What was your initial reaction when you first saw each other?
Béatrice: Something like, “Here we go, there are the guys we’re gonna share a record with! What am I gonna tell them? I should have taken Danish in 6th grade!”
Fred: Beatrice and Josselin from TK met us at the train station by Lyon. I think the reaction was one of quiet expectation, but nervousness over what we were about to embark on. We´d already established some sort of dynamic through email & demo exchanges, but meeting in real life is very different altogether.
What did you first talk about?
Fred: First about the car´s headlight that was out, and that had to be fixed, and then a half awkward and nervous chat about music in the car. Everyone was very quiet. We were all very anxious and nervous to get started. It’s such a huge job making an album, and we all knew this was a heavy time squeeze. I mean, we only had 6 days, and we´d never ever met before, so no one had any idea what was gonna happen next.
Where do your musical reference points match the most? And where do they most differ?
Arnaud: I think we share the same general idea of psych and vintage tones and vibes. Maybe we differ on the folk part. Halasan is more folk and we are more pop but we learn from each other’s approach.
Fred: We´re pretty similar minded about music, but more knowing and in control of different aspects of music we like, overlapping all over the place – a lot of old film music, weird folk stuff, ’50s AM pop, a whole lot of Serge, and with everything else old and more obvious stuff like Broadcast, Love, Stereolab, Gene Clark, Lee & Nancy, etc., in the background. Stuff that most folk reference to us on this record that wasn’t really something that we listen to now, but maybe 5-10 years ago, kinda our musical upbringing that we share.
What were the best and worst things about recording in La Gargouille disco in Auvergne? What was the village like in general?
Béatrice: It was important for this project to be in a quite isolated place, where none of us were living. Emilie Gast, owner of La Gargouille, was also very important in the human part of this story, she’s very welcoming and warm-hearted. She was the only one to have a more distant eye on what was happening, she was very supportive and she was almost explaining to us what was happening!
And it is simply great to spend time in this place, I mean La Gargouille as well as these old mountains we love. I think Fred, Craig and Christian have been quickly charmed by this place.
Fred: Complete isolation and all the facilities to allow us to concentrate. The village was real dead, ‘cos its a summer holiday kinda place, and the locals are few and far between. Almost no people around, a disco ball, an espresso machine, some mountains, beer tap… We´d usually drink coffee until 16.00 and then switch to beers, so the sessions would be divided between sober and super-concentrated “morning” sessions flowing into more and more rowdy jamming and overdubbing and drinking and eating all in a big mash, but still 100% focused on the record at almost all times. Tapes were basically rolling all the time. Oh yeah, and a smoke machine and trippy lights which made for good film footage.
However I remember it as being incredibly cold in there; being a skinny fellow I had to wear all the clothes I’d brought along all the time. I think the cold was the only problem about that place.
Were there any awkward moments?
Arnaud: No, I don’t think so.
Fred: Maybe just the first day. It was very surreal to suddenly stand there with these Frenchmen and just roll up our sleeves and hope for the best. That was a crazy feeling. Quiet, nervous expectation can get pretty awkward. But generally we gelled pretty fast.
There’s some funny shots of you shopping, but who did the cooking?
Fred: Our host Emily Gast did a lot of cooking while we recorded, she was great, but I think everyone took turns in whipping food out, doing dishes. Maybe I was the worst at it ‘cos I was always up there concentrated on the recording, but everyone was great, it flowed incredibly smoothly. The rhythm sections were real big eaters, so we´d have big feasts late at night in the club, it was wonderful. Great memories.
Béatrice: I think you guys had an awful time about food, except for cheese… We really ate badly except when Emilie or one of us decided to cook a real meal. We had no time to think about it.
Were there any language difficulties with anyone?
Béatrice: You guys are already an international band, you always speak English. I have very few occasions to speak English, so for me it was pretty new to work in English … But anyway we spent more time playing than talking.
Fred: One thing that did surprise me was that these guys would just blabber along in French ALL THE TIME, discussing every little bittle detail forever while we just sat there staring blankly into space. Waiting for that took a lot of time. If we hadn’t got done in time I might blame that, hehe. But I´m also a very restless person in these situations, so I´d be telling everyone to hurry, being impatient and all that. The others were a bit more relaxed. But when the music gelled so much, I´d say we ended up communicating very well, and we really benefited from the two different angles at the songs all the time. There´s a distinct French way of thinking about music, and we came in with our own Nordic/English approach, and together that made another musical language altogether.
Béatrice: We are French, by definition, we love discussing stuff! 😉
The point where Seb is told to stop filming for dinner made me laugh. Did you get sick of being filmed at any point? Or did you forget it was happening?
Arnaud: No 🙂 Seb is really discreet. We just wanted him to have dinner with us.
Béatrice: At first I was really uncomfortable with this idea of being filmed working. This kind of work is a very private and intimate thing for me and I need to feel safe and confident. But Seb is a friend and as any good reporter, he knows how to be discreet. I like the fact that he kept this scene, it’s a wink, it reminds you there is another person present in this story that you can’t see….
Fred: I didn´t mind it at all, he was just a part of the gang doing his job while we were doing ours. But sometimes we´d hear stuff like “yessss, got it” from a corner and that´d be him having just filmed us doing something good and we had to try and remember what we did just now, heh. And he was great at being there at night and catching the whole picture of our stay, the social part and all that, and to do that he just had to live through that lens, even if it was at 2am and with a belly full of beers.
There are a few bits of music I don’t recognise from the album, how much didn’t get used in the end?
Arnaud: 4 songs I think are not on the record. Some will be released later this year. These songs are great but we thought that they did not fit with the final tracklisting of the LP.
Fred: Quite a lot was worked on and either scrapped during the mixing process or just deemed not fit for the album. Like the song ‘TK16 pt. 2’. There´s a million versions of that song, but only part 2 stayed for the album, which we wanted to keep very organic and jammy. The coolest version of that song is an instrumental, we´ve been doing it live a lot, and it´ll be released some time soon, but it just didn’t fit with the other song, even if it’s one of the best recordings. Also there are about 3 more songs that didn’t make the cut, either ‘cos we trailed off in the arranging or mixing part, or just didn’t fit to the album’s atmosphere.
What surprised you most about each other?
Arnaud: The different way of working on a song. Halasan are very methodic at the beginning of writing a song, they know where they go, we don’t. We assemble musical parts in an anarchic way and finally find the song and work on it, very precisely 🙂
Fred: Maybe the very down-to-earth and practical way of making music. And also their technical skills were super impressive. We only needed to sit down and play, everything else was just set up and ready, we just had to krank up the echo and let fly. And also these are very calm and friendly people, really open. And that fit well with the scruffy and manic circus that is Halasan Bazar.
Béatrice: Hehe, that’s funny how each of us think the other is more methodic. That’s a clue about what a mess creativity can be in one head and how hard it is to figure out how it works for the others. I think it takes time to find it out and that’s also an interesting part of our meeting, not only during this week, but also all along these nine months of exchanges about the mix … and after that during the tour.
How much did you panic about not being able to finish the recordings in time?
Fred: ALL THE TIME. The time pressure was insane.
Arnaud: Yeah, a bit. It was a big rush. We made songs after songs to make it fit in a week, without so much time to really think about it.
Did romance threaten to blossom at any point?
Fred: Nah, most of us are happily in relationships back home, and there were mostly dudes up there anyway. My girlfriend got a bit nervous of me being up there among these beautiful Frenchmen and not really calling home at any point, but that was just ‘cos I was so into this record I just didn’t think about anything else for a week.
Béatrice: Hehe, no, nothing like that happened, but it could have been great for the story of this record! It’s kind of a romance between the two bands now 🙂
Which track do you think came out best in the end?
Arnaud: ‘Rot Inside’. This one works perfectly. ‘Beneath the Golden Tree’ is a great duet too.
Fred: I’m very proud of ‘Rot Inside’, ‘Ventolin’ and ‘Cover’, and also ‘Below Your Deepest Expectations’ turned out very hefty, and it’s also a powerhouse live. But I´m very proud of it all, so it’s hard to pick.
Béatrice: That’s hard to say, it’s like the best of each band becoming even better because we worked on it together! I love all these songs but if I have to say, maybe ‘Ventolin’, ‘Rot Inside’, ‘Beneath the Golden Tree’ and ‘Try Their Best’, which is really great to play live.
Will you see them again? (On a stage in the UK perhaps?)
Béatrice: Sure! We have already met again for a tour in October and November, and it was great to play together, to spend time together and to see this friendship becoming more and more real! We plan to tour again and in the UK, it would be great!
Arnaud: Of course. We are good friends now. We’ll play together and are talking about the idea of making new songs.
Fred: We´re really keen on keeping it going. The two tours we´ve done have been real good, a fantastic time and some great, great parties. And the record really works live in an almost theatrical way, so it’s definitely something that should tour. But organising it is a drag. And trying to organise it in the UK is a double drag cos the money part doesn´t add up. But we´re keen. We love playing together! Also Arnaud will be involved in the production of upcoming recording sessions with Halasan and also our side-projects, so we have contact by mail every week now.
Interview by Kier Wiater Carnihan