Neutral Lies - electronic Hexagone beats
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Signed to the exquisite French synthpop label BOREDOMproduct is Neutral Lies, a synth based duo consisting of Jean François Dean and Nicolas Delbarre. Currently based in Lille, Northern France, the Franco British duo both played with different bands in the past two decades and already played together in the 90’s with a group called Process On. Calling them electropop would be too easy as the band nicely mixes minimal electronics, synth pop, EBM, New Wave and more. Out now their debut album "A deceptive calm" which you should have a listen to for sure. We talked with both members. (By Bernard Van Isacker)
SL: Hi guys, can you tell us first of all what the background is of each of you, whether it is music related or not and in what sense it has possibly influenced your music choice if it has of course.
JF: How could I summarise... After quite a nice childhood, spent between Lille and Corsica, I began to get bored with my “classic” studies and went to Belgium, first to St Luc Art school and then ERG Brussels for four years. That Belgian part of my life (and Risjel too ;) ) has been very important for its electronic hub, clubbing, and musical discovery. I learned to play the piano, when I was 6 , and played in different groups, ska, coldwave, electronic... Need to be said that I’ve known Nick since we were together in secondary school, and though I left Lille for more than five years, we’ve always been in touch, and shared different musical experiences, and some great fun too. But, the real interest starts from 2006 and the beginning of Neutral Lies .
N: From a purely personal point of view I could start by telling you I'm a sort of half bred mutant who was raised with one foot in England and the other one in France due to family background.Loads of people asked me if I felt more British or French but it's an impossible question to answer... Jeff and I met at school when we were 12 or something and we both had this fascination for electronic music of that time and for all the underground scene. So we started our first manoeuvres on Wednesday afternoons with one analog keyboard, an organ at Jeff's.His mum had to put up with all the noise we made but was kind enough to bring us a cup of tea or coffee. We had a go at cover versions but nothing really concrete saw the light of day.
In the late 80's I played with another friend in a group called A Place Apart... for the little story, our debut demo tapes was reviewed by Side Line and Sebastien Dolimont, I still have a copy of the fanzine, it was a black and white photocopied paper mag... What we did was not very professional, messy, embarrassing to listen to now but extremely funny and full of energy. In the 90's I played with a band called PROCESS ON,the music was harsh electronics borderline EBM. Then I had a couple of side projects in the techno scene and even worked with a major label but we quickly discovered the real side of money making labels. In the late 90's I had a solo project called Concept Of Xeno and I self released an album of, say, early 80's minimal electronics.So the fact of having lived through several decades and having made different types of electronic music definitely influenced our musical choice.
SL: You're hailing from the Northern part (Lille), wasn't that where Death Nature was from? I don't know any other Lille based electro bands though...
N: Honestly I remember hearing this name a long time ago, but I think this band was from Lens not Lille... and in soccer Lille Vs Lens is a terrible derby...No all I remember is a mate telling me that this band were kind of DM copycats doing covers and all. Lille's never really been the cradle of electronic music. Only very few electro bands here in the last 30 years. I have a great 7" single released in 1984 by a band called Alena but that's the only thing they did,I'm still in touch with one of the guys. No, in fact apart from our fellow music friends BUZZ,I can't think of any other bands. Oh yeah there's also Void Kampf and A Thousand Societies in the EBM genre.
SL: You see, there's still some life in Lille. It seems like it that BOREDOMproduct is hunting synthpop bands in all corners of the hexagon like our reviewer wrote in his review of your album. I guess BOREDOMproduct was a logical choice? Did you contact the label or did the label check you out?
JF/N: Well in fact, a friend of ours, Der Gregolini, who runs the radio programme Sampler et Sans Reproches and also plays with Void Kampf pointed us in the direction of BOREDOMproduct. When he heard our demo, he gave us four names:Sigsaly in the US, BOREDOMproduct in France, one German label, one Swedish label. We sent an email to BOREDOMproduct and got a reply an hour later saying "a collaboration sounds like a real possibility but we'd like to hear the whole demo and you have to know we'd like to improve your materials and give them a more professional sound". We had a long chat with Member U-0176 of BOREDOMproduct on the phone and we decided to start working on one track to see if we'd like the flavour of what BOREDOMproduct would slightly revamp.
So a logical choice, I don't know, cos we would never have imagined signing with a French label (cos we didn’t even know there was one in France) until we spoke to BOREDOMproduct, it was the choice of the heart, we felt at once that BOREDOMproduct was run by keen and professional people who really get involved and we had good vibes. As we are very sensitive people, we're often guided by our feelings.
SL: Your material sometimes a bit hesitatant, don't get me wrong, the songs are great, but I do think that you sometimes hold back? As if you guys did not really let the devil out yet...?
JF: I guess you are talking about the first part of the album ? I think that the minimal tracks might be “fragile” cos they convey more emotions, I wouldn’t say hesitant, we just wanted to keep their identity as much as possible.
N: You mean we sort of contain ? Yeah maybe. Anyway it's interesting to get this sort of constructive feedback as opposed to mere criticisms just for the sake of doing new bands down. You might be right, or maybe it's because some of our tracks are more intimate and minimal and obviously don't convey the same feelings as our tougher tunes. I see what you mean and maybe we'll wait a bit before unleashing the beast... It wouldn't be funny if we showed everything after just one album, maybe we have to do that progressively. So expect to see more in the near future.
SL: Any reason why "Le Fou D'Echec" was sung in French?
N: no particular reason, it's a track that was written in French a long time ago and exploited here cos it fitted the music, and we really wanted to have at least one track in French, just to remind people that even if I'm tied to my British roots, I also speak French and that it's another side of our identity.
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SL: The harder side of the band is explored in for instance "Slough Of Despond". But what is Neutral Lies the most, the softer side or the harder side? Where do you guys feel most at ease?
N: I don't think we can actually say that we feel more at ease in either side. We were willing to offer an album with sharp variations of style, we quite fancied the idea of having several electronic styles in the same record, a bit of minimal electronics twinned with synth pop, an ounce of New Wave, a slice of EBM and a touch of Trancy techno. We didn't want 11 tracks that sounded alike. Now I personally reckon that I'm slightly more on the harder side, but a soft side at times can't do any harm.
There is no rule for composing...
SL: Stephane, our reviewer described you guys as a band bringing electronics with attitude! I guess that this needs some explanations because I'm pretty sure you find yourself back in this description!
JF/N: It's a terrific description indeed and we're glad your reviewer thought so as it's very important to have some sort of attitude otherwise you're just bland. It's always nice to get such comments as we've been working hard to obtain something polished with an identity of our own. Now everything's relative, when someone finds us genuinely interesting, another might find us useless, so no worries we know who we are and the compliment of your reviewer won't turn us into a pair of big headed bastards. We do music with passion and we've tried to express it as much as we could.
SL: We were especially intrigued by the quality of this release because of being a debut. What quality filter did you go for to maintain this high level for your debut?
JF: Once again, I think that the only filter we used was to blend both our inspiration and ways of composing, the best way we could.
N: This is also the result of a narrow partnership with BOREDOMproduct as they really endeavour to transform a good demo into a finished product. Member U-0176 did a great job on the mixing and mastering side. We and they didn't want to release something that sounded just all right, even people who heard the tracks when the album came out and don't know anything about electronic music told us it sounded very polished and professional. So even if we don't make a living out of music and do everything in our own time, we want to avoid the amateurish sound we used to have when we were younger.
SL: Were all the songs written/recorded at the same time? Because it feels as if the second part of the album is more mature? Or are we wrong thinking that?
N: Sorry to disappoint you but you are wrong here, I guess it's not a question of maturity but more of emotions and what type of feelings we had when we wrote the tracks... A funny revelation, two of the tracks in the second part of the album (Rose in the coffin, Slough of despond) were originally composed and written back in 1994. Then obviously we made improvements,and they're nothing like 15 years ago. For the rest of the tracks they were all new materials written between 2006 and 2009.
JF: Some come from the 90’s as Nick said, the rest is more recent, but to me, the reason why the second part of the album seems more mature is because of its energy and of the powerful mix by Member U-0176 !
SL: I read that you don't really bother listening to other electropop bands, I guess that also the reason why your material is rather distinct to the overall 'common saussage' that electropop often tends to be.
N: Cracking ! I found your description of sausage meat amazingly funny, and glad we haven't been listed in this meat section butchering electronic music... In fact we do listen to electronic music but not necessarily recent bands, I mean we're not obsessed with what comes out, to compare with what we do. I am a very big vinyl collector myself and it's difficult to find the time to listen to all the stuff I have amassed over the years. And I'm also open to other musical styles that are sometimes miles away from the electronic scene.
JF: I think we’re both influenced by different groups, styles of music, from classics to pop, via techno and electronics, but making music has never been a way to get a sticker on your back. The first reason for making music is the feelings and not the style (even not the choice of a style).
SL: Vince Clarke swears to use only analogue, nutters according to you I heard?
JF: Respect for Mr Clarke ! The question of equipment is strictly personal, and not a reason to argue ! To me the real nutters who shouldn’t be given credit is those who build walls between musicians cause of their way to create.
N: I do respect Vince Clarke for his musical background and his talent as a technician and musician but as we explained before we're no scientists, and now musicians have access to technology that makes your life easier, why leave it out ? I've had the opportunity to meet and make friends with the blokes of Second Decay who are exclusively devoted to analogue equipment and just like Vince Clarke I guess they're true enthusiasts. Now what I really don't understand it's people who think you're not worth listening to because you're not 100% analogue and because you also use VSTs and Midi... I strongly believe the vintage gear can be complementary to new music software.
SL: Can you explain me a bit what the setup of your studio is? I know that gear is not the most important, but still, what tools do you use the most and please also explain why exactly.
JF: We could say “of our studios”... Though it has always changed along the years, I mean selling a synth to buy a sequencer, then seling both to buy a computer... etc.. Which means that I only have an old synth (not so old 1993, not analog) , others are actual virtual analog technology, or master Keyboard and Vst.... nothing that looks like a museum... Somehow, I’m looking for a fast way to compose and keep drafts, like on a notebook.
N: well if you saw them now you'd be a bit gutted cos you'd see a sign on the door saying "closed until further notice for refurbishment". In fact we're rearranging everything.I forgot to say that we both have our own den and space. Jeff's got his and I've got mine, but most of the time we rehearsed at my place. In fact I've just bought a new version of (can we use brand names here or just say « beep » ?) Cubase Studio 5 (whereas Jeff uses Ableton Live 8.0 for instance) and I intend to use it both for midi, for audio but also VSTs. I still use old machines (some analog keyboards like a Moog),some 80's synths like a Poly 800 and also 90’s expanders (Orbit).As explained before we enjoy coupling vintage equipment with more up to date stuff as possibilities are endless with VSTs and you can also find virtual synths you can't afford for real cos they cost a bloody arm and leg...
SL: What are your next plans?
N: We're currently working on the final edit of the video for our second single, and also working on live video with our long time partner Dave Hoser. We've also been doing a bit of promo approaching venues and clubs cos we're ready for gigging, our last set at ESN Festival in Belgium was a great experience and that really prompted us to go further into live acts. Then we need to get familiar with our new gear in the studio and the logical step will be to start writing tracks for a second album, we got a couple of lyrics and drafts ready to go. So we've got a lot on our plate, but that's what flicks our switch.
JF: Yeah we’re up for gigs, but we’re working on new tracks too.
SL: Keep up with the good work !
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