Julien Gasc: “I wanted a record like windows opening into different spaces”
It’s been almost a year since Julien Gasc released his second album Kiss Me You Fool! on Born Bad Records, recorded in summer 2015 on London’s Primrose Hill at the now closed RIP Studios – formerly Utopia Studios (where clients included the likes of Donovan and Stevie Wonder). The album is described by Gasc as a “spirit” album rather than a “soul” one, with this sense of spirit and community reflected in the plentiful personnel, which boasts names such as The Laetitia Sadier Trio, Cathy Lucas of Vanishing Twin and Syd Kemp (who also recorded the album). Gasc is familiar with exploring different genres and different moods, doing so beautifully and by the sounds of it effortlessly through Aquaserge, who have often been lazily described as a Tame Impala, Stereolab, and Melody’s Echo Chamber supergroup or “side project” (I’m looking at you NME), despite being a band in their own right with their own highly unique sound.
The singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist kindly spared us a minute between tours.
It must’ve been quite a busy year with Kiss Me You Fool! and the Aquaserge album Laisse Ca Être being released within half a year of each other?
Yeah, I’m touring almost every week. It’s like touring touring, recording, touring, recording, touring touring touring – and we’re doing this until June 2018! We’re going pretty much everywhere. I’ll be playing in Brazil with Aquaserge at a festival in Sao Paolo, then we’re flying to Holland, to Utrecht, and then we have a short break, [and] then we’re back on tour in December for a week. Istanbul, followed by a quick tour in Germany and in January, I’ll be playing with the Julien Gasc band in Lewes for the Lewes Psych Fest where Vanishing Twin will also be playing. We might tour in March in Asia, China and we’re touring now with the Gasc band until the 25 October – we’re going to France, Switzerland, Barcelona.
Bloody hell, sounds super busy.
Yeah, there’s no rest for the wicked! It’s pretty intense – it’s hard. When you have short breaks, you can’t really do anything, you spend most of your time resting. Then you’re getting ready to hit the road again.
It was kind of the same with your debut solo album because that came out around the same time as A l’amitié (Aquaserge). Is this reflective of how you write? Is there a cycle you go through, where you focus on writing, then recording, and onto performing – or does it all happen simultaneously?
No, it’s not a reflection. Maybe it was a bad decision! I asked the editors if it was okay to put everything out together and they said yes but it’s a mess for the promoters. It’s too much. Too much information. So for the future I think I may take it more easy, because it’s been four years and I feel like I’m burning out! I’m trying to take it easy. But when writing I like to keep it lively. To keep the mood, the moment, the humour or the sadness. Sometimes it’s just a testimony of my nervousness, or my rush or my cool. It can be anything. Kiss Me You Fool is a really moody album and it reflects the different neighbourhoods of London. [In] ‘L’Été Anglais’ (The English Summer), I’m referring to the neighbourhood in Willesden. During recording I was staying in Dalston, [and then] Camberwell, and I was trying to keep the mood and record something day by day.
I can only really go by the translation of song names and amount of people involved on the both Cerf, Biche et Faon and Kiss Me You Fool, but do you feel there was more of an open and more communal atmosphere in the latter?
Yeah, Cerf, Biche et Faon is more of a free-form album. Free in the sounds and the aesthetics. I played the drums in some songs, and I didn’t really care if it wasn’t perfect, but it had to be a good fit to support the song. Even though I don’t really know how to play drums, I would pretend I could with all my heart. I think it’s a soulful record, and Kiss Me You Fool is more of a spirit album – like a collection of stickers. When I entered the studio and Syd (Kemp) asked if I knew how I wanted to do the record, I told him that I wanted a record that’s like windows opening into different spaces, different genres and different moods, kind of like an old 60s record, like the Zombies.
How do you balance yourself and your creativity between the two different settings?
Sometimes it’s stressful keeping all the parts together. It can put you in a schizophrenic state. Sometimes I wouldn’t know whether a song would suit Aquaserge or myself. But now I’m trying to find my left and my right. I got started on my songs because I proposed ‘Nos Deux Corps Sont En Toi’…. and ‘La Cuarenta’ to Aquaserge. I had no melodies, just the chords. I played them to Julien Barbagallo and Benjamin Gilbert, and they both told me that I should do a solo record with my new material – so I started my solo career. I had this motivation to share my soul and my thoughts – I wanted to share the love songs [with] the ones that I love. With Kiss Me You Fool, it was more of a dark era. There were some troubles during the summer of 2015 when we were recording the album. And I really appreciate that during the record everyone was trying their best. It was a point of experimentation – some of it rocked and worked, but some of it didn’t. There were some tracks that didn’t work and they had to be redone. I really had to do it because some of it just wasn’t with the mood of the record.
For example, what happened with ‘La Cure’ was Cedric (Monzali) came through to the studio and I told him that he will be playing with a bassline and some chords and I want it to swing in his own personal style. The only thing I asked was for him to not repeat the same drum pattern twice so try to find new patterns and solutions and tricks. We recorded and he didn’t realise the tape was on! And I think we kept the first take. Then one day we may’ve done 60 takes of a song. And at one point Jonathan Kouby and Syd were looking at me like, “Is he going nuts?!”. I’m really stubborn, I’m a big animal. A stubborn tyrannical animal! It really just has to be a fit for a song. It’s like an outfit: it has to [work as] an accompaniment.
You’ve obviously worked with people like Forever Pavot, Chassol, and Laetitia Sadier of Monade and Stereolab – to name a few – but one of the more surprising collaborations I’ve come across is with Doug Hream Blunt.
Ah yeah, for Tricatel RSVP! I forgot about that record! It’s actually here with me. To be honest I don’t really remember it that well – it was a very busy time. But there’s a new Forever Pavot album, La Pantoufle, coming about on 10 November, and I also helped produce an album with LENPARROT. The album’s called And Then He.
Is this the first time you’ve produced?
No, I’ve been doing it for a while now, […] since the second Monade album, Montre Cosmic, [which I did] when I was around 25 at the recording studio of Stereolab and Monade, near Bourdeaux. They had this kind of garage boat, and Tim (Gane) converted it into a control room and a live room – it was huge. He’s a very nice guy!
When I was around 21, my girlfriend back then asked me to write love songs for her. I asked her to sing the songs for me, and we had a band called Momotte. I think some of our stuff may still be on Bandcamp. We then recorded the songs from 2003-2005, so it took us two years.
High school made me meet many musicians. I met Julien Barbagallo, and then we met the whole scene of Toulouse with Hyperclean, and met Audrey (Ginestet) and Benjamin in 2001 through the many bands of Toulouse. There was everything from post-rock to pop, experimental to jazz.
I didn’t realised you’d known each other for that long. Do you feel what you were playing changed or matured at the same time then?
Yeah, and it changed [us too]. Playing together opened us up to new dimensions. It was kind of a Bohemia. We all lived together in a barn in the east side of Toulouse and had a studio together for seven years.
Also I’ve gotta say the ‘Si loin, si proche’ video is really cool.
It was an idea of Benjamin[‘s]. He thought about the video with Amic (Bedel), and they really want to find new ways of presenting music. It’s the same concept as ‘TVCQJVD’ (from the Tout Arrive EP), but we got dressed up. It was a lot of fun as we spent a whole day in a castle near Toulouse. And it’s all just one take.
I also wanted to ask about ‘Nos Deux Corp Sont en Toi’ – when did you first encounter the Marguerite de Valois poem ? Was it through Alain Goraguer?
No, it was through the original poem! Marguerite was the queen of France and she was married to Henry IV. It was an arranged marriage and the poem was written by her to her lover. She was passionate about this guy, so she had a second life. It’s a very popular poem that many people know in France. I came across it in a book of songs and just felt like doing it. To me this poem is like a spell, or Voodoo – there is something more than human. Recording, I just really didn’t know what I was doing, I would just do it. I’d keep the recording going and […] randomly just keep doing parts.
It’s definitely one of my favourite things to listen to music and not exactly hear any clear influences. Sometimes I feel like I’m listening to Serge Gainsbourg, Lo Borges, and everything in between.
There is a saying which translates as: “Reasonable people will follow the modes”. But when you’re working in a unreasonable way I think you change your perceptions. I think I got completely unreasonable in this first record. And I think that’s what makes it sound alien. Some of the songs sound desperate, but there is some humour and jokes.
When we last spoke you told me you were doing some work involving Léo Ferré. What’s happening there?
We’re doing covers. An editor was talking with Léo’s family, and they asked them to find [an] artist to do covers to revive his catalogue. And he’d been writing from the 50s to the 80s – a bit like Gainsbourg. The editor was a fan of Aquaserge and Forever Pavot so he got in touch with us, and if everything goes well we’ll have a compilation on Universal Music out next spring.
And lastly what would you say are a some of the more memorable personal musical moments in your life? Whether it be a gig, album or song…
My first memories are through my dad’s records. He had some Blues compiliations, some Beatles, but Quadrophenia by The Who was also one that I thought rocked when I was younger – although I don’t think that’s a popular opinion! ZZ Top, I think, was my first gig, and in the 90s Nirvana, The Breeders, and Last Splash are the most memorable for me. Kim Deal changed my life.
Julien has also put together a playlist “Phileïn Sounds #2” for Pigalle Paris Radio