Friday, January 23, 2009

Interview: The French Semester

Next Wednesday night, jangly indie rock charmers The French Semester are having a CD release party for their new album Good Friends Only I Could See with Tigers Can Bite You, Divisadero, and Moving Picture Show at The Silver Lake Lounge. So, 1) go and 2) read this IM interview we did with them earlier this week.

frenchsemester (6:32:14 PM): Hi, Joe. This is Riaz, Gil and Bryan. We're ready whenever you are sir.....
RFSL (6:33:09 PM): Hey, guys.
frenchsemester (6:33:19 PM): Good, evening man.
RFSL (6:33:28 PM): How you doing today?
frenchsemester (6:33:46 PM): Quite good. What a day right?
RFSL (6:34:06 PM): Yeah, what a week. A new president today, then two new episodes of Lost tomorrow.
RFSL (6:34:12 PM): (I'm only half-kidding.)
frenchsemester (6:34:30 PM): Ha! You’re not the first to say that...
RFSL (6:34:34 PM): (Okay. 1/4th.)
frenchsemester (6:34:45 PM): Fair enough.
RFSL (6:35:07 PM): So, you guys have an album release event on the 28th at The Silver Lake Lounge.
frenchsemester (6:35:42 PM): Yeah, were super psyched. Psyched is not hyperbolic enough. Youve seen the bill. How can we not be hyperbolic?
RFSL (6:35:55 PM): Yeah, I was going to say. Great line-up.
RFSL (6:36:17 PM): That's one of those get-there-early-and-stay-til-the-end nights.
frenchsemester (6:36:43 PM): Thanks, man. We've had past good times with all of them so we expect more of the same. A lot of people are coming....
RFSL (6:36:59 PM): Excellent.
RFSL (6:37:22 PM): How long were you guys working on this album? How did it come together?
RFSL (6:37:29 PM): There are some songs from the EP on it too, right?
frenchsemester (6:40:04 PM): Well, those two songs were recorded in the summer and did make it onto that Tour EP we did for August. The rest were done in about a month this past fall. We have a backlog that reaches back about six months. We basically do as much as possible live, and then touch up details and such. Our newest member Charles (drums) has added a new dimension so it made the arranging smoother and more nuanced.
RFSL (6:40:58 PM): That's great. I'm a fan of the EP tracks and the new ones, too.
RFSL (6:41:05 PM): Where did you record?
frenchsemester (6:43:35 PM): We switched to a new method of self-recording and engineering. Whereas last time we used Earthling in San Diego, this time it was all self-produced until the mastering stage. At that point we followed our friends Divisadero (following many great bands from K and Sub Pop) to Golden Mastering in Ventura. He has a sort of purist mastering approach that suits our old timey interests.
RFSL (6:45:42 PM): Nice. What would you say is new about the new material? What's different from your last release from your standpoint?
frenchsemester (6:51:05 PM): Hmmm. Thematically, the first album has a lot of tunes written in the third and second person, for instance. Political, worldly themes were on display in our own scratch-pop way. On THIS one there are more songs in the first person. So more introspection, self reflection, blah blah blah. I feel like we needed that too, having gone through a lot as an incipient band. Sonically, this album is maybe more uniformly lo-fi. We employed a lot more reverb to disguise what are otherwise punchy lyrics. And I think the rhythm section is pretty enviable.
RFSL (6:51:52 PM): I've had bands say before "It's the same, but better." Which is a perfectly valid answer, but I think yours is better.
frenchsemester (6:52:01 PM): oh man thanks!
RFSL (6:53:23 PM): What are songs like Fourteen and The East Man about? Because I can catch snippets of lyrics like "your grandmother made love during The Great War" but haven't put it all together.
RFSL (6:54:27 PM): "before The Great War and after it was won"
RFSL (6:54:40 PM): Correction.
frenchsemester (6:57:32 PM): Explaining is always tough, it escapes me. But let me try. The East Man popped out after I watched a film about a family of 12 people. The father had this philosophy of repopulating the world single handedly. Me, I study nationalism (dont ask). So I was thinking of love, romance, sex as a tool of nation building, and demographic warfare. So, "your grandmother made love, in the Great War and after it was won"........"after it was won" because why stop?
frenchsemester (6:58:12 PM): Fourteen is like other songs on the album about falling behind when you have many things you want to do, accomplish. For whatever reasons idealistic or self interested.
RFSL (6:59:10 PM): I've neglected to ask how you all met. How did you meet and start the band?
frenchsemester (7:06:47 PM): We're getting better and better and answering this one. Me (Riaz) and Bryan met in kindergarten. Literally, the playground, the sand, toy cars, etc. . . . We've been pals ever since. We also shared an interest to see the world. Not just "the world" but worlds. We both split off around college times, went out to places like Mexico, Bolivia, France, England, North Africa, etc. As tourists yeah, but we have family in many of these places. Gil we met through our former drummer and immediately clicked with. He's Vietnamese-American. Heres the thing: being from other parts, going to other parts, is key to our songs and sound because while some roots indie bands want to sound like those old bands, we want to sound like kids back in the day first hearing those bands in faraway places never intended by the players. India, Mexico, Vietnam, and so forth. Then maybe trying to emulate them in their english-as-a-second language ways.
frenchsemester (7:07:46 PM): Also, Charles, our drummer, came from another local band. We needed help on a few shows and he stepped in and we all got married.
frenchsemester (7:08:01 PM): He's raised our level.
RFSL (7:08:34 PM): That's a great story.
RFSL (7:08:36 PM): What band was Charles in before?
frenchsemester (7:09:23 PM): He was in Mospeada and in Black Kites previously. Both great bands.
RFSL (7:09:32 PM): Ah, cool.
RFSL (7:09:51 PM): So, you guys were on Is Good Radio last week. How did that go?
frenchsemester (7:14:05 PM): Yeah, it was great. Hershfield is a keystone. He's moved over to a new studio and is building a new LA centric music/fan site. People should check it out. We see you guys as both serving an important role around here where people are pretty isolated otherwise. We're glad to take part.
RFSL (7:14:47 PM): (I think he lives a block away from me...)
frenchsemester (7:14:59 PM): That explains it. Its in the water.
RFSL (7:15:28 PM): So, two more questions for you guys... And thanks again for all this time.
frenchsemester (7:15:41 PM): No prob, thank you, shoot
RFSL (7:15:47 PM): I like your video for Arrowheadings. Any more coming?
frenchsemester (7:18:30 PM): Thanks. There we stuck to our ethos of simplicity, staying honest, and a little daydreaming. The colors, like in our other things, are important. Next one is in the works and will likely be similarly lo-fi but dreamy. Arent dreams always pretty lo-fi anyway? Anyway. . .it's coming....

RFSL (7:18:56 PM): For which song? Or are you still deciding?
frenchsemester (7:23:17 PM): Likely Backwards Rolling or We'll March Again. We're discussing the different ideas now but its coming soon. We'll probably do a few so requests could be entertained. Requests deserve to be entertained too...
RFSL (7:23:39 PM): Cool. Last question for you: What are you guys listening to right now?
frenchsemester (7:25:20 PM): Love that one. Gil: The Zombies, Bryan: The Jesus and Mary Chain, Riaz: Wilco/Billy Bragg Mermaid Avenue. We didnt plan that but these are all part of our canon.
RFSL (7:25:52 PM): Excellent. That's all I've got for you guys. Thanks so much for your time and see you at the album release show next week.
frenchsemester (7:26:38 PM): Thanks man. Let’s do this in person. We might have cardboard emoticons. Peaceout.

- Ivy Letters Upsetting the Norm MP3


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