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Le Volume Courbe - Interview

  by John Clarkson

published: 27 / 8 / 2009

Le Volume Courbe - Interview


Le Volume Courbe is the project of Charlotte Marionneau, a French-born singer-song writer who is based in London. She talks to John Clarkson about working with Alan McGee and My Bloody Valentine's Kevin Shields and her band's recording career to date

Le Volume Courbe is the project of Charlotte Marionneau, a French-born singer-song writer and Film Studies graduate, who in 1995 moved permanently to London. Marionneau made her initial musical appearance in 1997, duetting with Simon Raymonde, the former Cocteau Twins bassist and owner of the Bella Union label, on ‘In My Place’, a single from his debut solo album, ‘Blame Someone Else’. Since she formed Le Volume Courbe later on that year, Marionneau’s output has been sporadic and confined to just two vinyl only singles, ‘Harmony’(Poptones, 2001) and ‘Freight Train’ (Trouble Records, 2007) , and an album, ‘I Killed My Best Friend’ (Honest Jon’s, 2005). Marionneau has described herself as a non-musician, and Le Volume Courbe’s slender back catalogue is abstract and challenging, but, packed with innovation and always melodic, also absorbing and rewarding. ‘Harmony’, which was picked up by ex-Creation Records boss Alan McGee for his then new label Poptones, pulls off the twin trick of being both childish and spooky at the same time. A jumble of sound, it merges Marionneau’s innocent, but plaintive and worn vocals and cascading acoustic guitar with crackles of popping feedback and a tinkling percussive backbeat before collapsing in a sudden distortion of noise. An indication perhaps of how highly the alternative rock community regard her, even if the openly unsure Marionneau doesn’t always see so herself, ‘Harmony’ included contributions from Mazzy Star’s Hope Sandoval on glockenspiel and My Bloody Valentine's Colm O'Ciosoig on drums. When ‘I Killed My Best Friend’ arrived four years later, it was packed with similar guest appearances including Marionneau’s mentor, My Bloody Valentine front man Kevin Shields on guitar ; Mazzy Star and Opal’s David Roback also on guitar and Primal Scream’s Martin Duffy on piano. With several of its thirteen tracks lasting barely a minute and only ‘Harmony’ extending beyond the three minute mark, ‘I Killed My Best Friend’ is equally lo-fi and otherworldly. Its highlights include the starkly black-humoured and acoustic title track in which Marionneau imagines murdering both her best friend and mother for being too pushy with her and trying to hide the bodies ; voice-distorted lullaby, ‘Papillon de Nuit’, the only number to date she has sung in her native French, and the echoing ‘The Mind is a Horse’ in which she simulates a panic attack. The most recent single, ‘Freight Train’, has an earthy and wheezing vintage blues sound. Le Volume Courbe was for many years a bedroom project with Marionneau its only permanent member. Since 2007 it has been a live concern. The same year also saw the induction into its line-up of its second regular member, violinist Melanie Draisey, who has also worked with the Clientele, the Television Personalities and Primal Scream. In 2008 Le Volume Courbe played several European festival dates and a support slot on My Bloody Valentine’s UK reformation tour. It will be playing the Pennyblackmusic Bands Night at the Brixton Windmill in London on November 14th. Charlotte Marionneau spoke to us about her project and began by talking about the string of coincidences and accidental meetings that lead to its formation and it getting its first record deal with Poptomes. PB: You came over to live in London by yourself in 1995. How did you go from that to forming Le Volume Courbe and working with people like Simon Raymonde, Kevin Shields and Alan McGee? CM: In 1996 I decided to bring French bands over and organise little tours for them. I knew people in France and I wanted to bring them over to Britain, so I just did that from my bedroom. I brought this band called Autour de Lucie over here which was quite big in France and through the head of their record company in France I met Keith Cullen, who was running the label, Setanta, at that time. I met Keith with the French guy who was putting out the Autour de Lucie record in a bar and I told him that I would love to work for a record label. Keith said, “What are you doing at the moment?” and I said, “Well, I am just organising tours for these French bands for free” and I must have sounded really passionate because he then said, “Come in on Monday”, which was just a few days after that. I ended up working there for about seven months. I told Keith that I was making music. He really wanted to help me and thought that I should really concentrate on that. He introduced me to Simon Raymonde from the Cocteau Twins. He was looking for a singer to do a duet on his first solo album and so I met Simon and I recorded a song with him. It became a single and we shot a video for it. By this stage Keith had also introduced me to Kevin. That was twelve years ago and we have stayed friends ever since. Naturally we ended up making music together. Kevin was the first person who said to me, “Why don’t you make record?” For years I had made music, but never with the intention of making a record. PB: Was it just a private thing until then? CM: I never thought that I could do it professionally. I had never thought about it. I had just until then made music for the fun of it with friends and really enjoyed doing so. PB: How did you go from that to releasing the ‘Harmony’ single and ending up on the Poptones label? CM: After I did the thing with Simon and Kevin suggested that I should make a record, I thought about it for a long time. I just carried on making music in the mean time and had a few songs, three at the most, which I would play to friends. Bobby Gillespie from Primal Scream and his girlfriend of the time, Emily, were amongst them. Then I met Alan McGee at a party and he said, “Bobby and his girlfriend told me about your music. You should come to my office and play it to me.” I was so nervous I didn’t go, and Kevin said to me, “Don’t worry about it! Why don’t you go just to ask for advice?” So I think I left it for a month and then I thought, “Okay, I should go”. I only had three songs and I played two songs to Alan and the first one was ‘Harmony’, which was a demo at the time and he asked me to play it again. I played it twice and he said, “Do you want to do an album? Do you want £10,000?” I was really shocked. In my head I was thinking I don’t have a whole album. Alan is a really impulsive person. That’s the great thing about him and he suggested doing ‘Harmony’ as a single first of all. It was just a demo and I was thinking, “I could redo this or that.” Then Alan texted me and said, “I want you to put it out like this. I don’t want you to redo it.” Then I made him wait again because I wasn’t sure about the quality of the song and so I waited two months and then one day I thought, “Oh ---- it! Let’s put it out.” Now I am happy it came out the way it did (Laughs). PB: You said at the time that ‘I Killed My Best Friend’ came out that you don’t see yourself as a proper musician or singer, but as someone with ideas. Do you still see yourself as that? CM: I do. It is because I don’t really play an instrument. I used to play guitar, but I haven’t played it for a while. The way I see musicians – and I am sure that not everybody is like that – is as people who play music every day and I am not like that. PB: You also said at that time that not being experienced gives you a greater musical freedom. What do you mean by that? CM: What I meant by that is that if you play an instrument really well, then it is easier for you to copy people. I can only play the few chords that I can play, It is a handicap, but as I also realised afterwards it is a benefit because what I did was more me and more personal because I don’t have the musical ability to copy other people. You definitely get more freedom that way. It turned out to be a good thing for this record, but at the same time I wish that I could be a better musician and play the guitar well. I just like singing. That is what I like to do, so I have never really pushed things with the guitar and learnt to play it properly. PB: Most of your songs are really short. Of your recording output to date, I think only ‘Harmony’ extends beyond three minutes and several others are little more than a minute. Why do you think that is? Do you just have a low boredom threshold? CM: It is not something that I really plan. I just think though why repeat something? If it is good and it is just one minute, why repeat it? I don’t see the point of it. When I start a song, I don’t think, “Let’s make it one minute or three minutes”, but at the same time I have never tried to expand a song just for the sake of it. PB: The majority of Le Volume Courbe’s lyrics are in English. Why do you tend to sing in English rather than in French? CM: I started dreaming in English a month or two after I arrived in Britain. It is strange because the more you learn of a language the more you lose of your own. I don’t really speak French here at all. It has been a natural process really. PB: Le Volume Courbe was for many years a bedroom project. ‘I Killed My Best Friend’ was recorded largely in your own home and other people’s houses. Why did you do it at home rather than in the studio? CM: I don’t like the atmosphere in studios .I don’t like the pressure of having to record vocals or whatever instruments you’ve got in a certain amount of time. There is the extra pressure as well because it is expensive and I have never done a good vocal in a studio. I always record at home and then I take it to a studio to mix it. PB: On the subject of mixes when you were doing the mix of ‘Harmony’ you apparently didn’t think about a particular band, but instead about the films of people like Orson Welles, Roman Polanski and Jean Cocteau to do it. Could you say more about that? CM: When I was studying film, I studied ‘Citizen Kane’ and we had an essay which was ‘Should editing be seen?’ I thought that I was a really interesting question and so when I mixed ‘Harmony’ I thought about that and the fact that editing can actually add to the narration of the film. I wanted this song to be mixed in quite an intense way and the xylophone on it to be really loud. In movies editing is what can really tell the story. It can change the narration of the film and then I thought, “Why not do it in music as well?” I am sure that it has been thought of in songs before, but it really worked for that song because as it goes along it gets louder and it really adds to the intensity of it. I have never done it afterwards like that or thought about doing it again in the mixing process like that. PB: It took after ‘Harmony’ another four years for ‘I Killed My Best Friend’ to come out. Why did it take so long? CM: When Alan McGee offered me the deal to do the album, I freaked out. I didn’t feel ready. I felt scared. Mainly I felt scared. Even though I was collaborating with other people, I felt I was on my own with it. Alan wanted me to put the album out quite quickly after ‘Harmony’ and that just didn’t happen. Then Alan ran into some sort of problem with the label and he had to drop thirty eight bands out of forty on his roster. He wanted to sell my contract to this other company called Telstar, but then when he went to the office-I think that this is was what happened anyway-he realised that I had never actually signed a contract with him. He couldn’t, therefore, sell it to someone else. Kevin saw him one night after that and Alan said, “Tell Charlotte that she can keep the money.” I was really happy about this. Alan really helped me. I bought all my equipment with the advance I got from this record, but I never delivered the record and so I am grateful to this day that he did that. I thanked him on the credits of the record, because I bought all my equipment with that. PB: Eventually you realised the record on Honest Jon’s. You only, however, began playing regularly in 2007. The first occasion was at a Nico tribute night for the Sonic Cathedral label, wasn’t it? CM: I didn’t want to play live. When I met Alan, I in fact told him that and he said that he didn’t have a problem with that because he thought that it would add to the intimacy of the music. I was nervous about playing live, but in 2007 Nat Cramp, who runs Sonic Cathedral, e-mailed me and told me that he was doing a Nico tribute night and wanted Le Volume Courbe to play. I love Nico and I thought about it and decided that I wanted to do it, but, as each of my songs was a collaboration with a different person, I didn’t know how and who with. I spoke to a musician friend, Chris, about it and he said, “Let’s do it!” I said to Nat, “Is it okay if I just do two songs? One song or two songs maximum” and he said, “Sure.” I asked a couple of other friends to do it as well and that was really our first gig and I thought, “Oh, it’s not really so bad. Maybe I could do more.” Then I got an e-mail from someone in Glasgow a few weeks after that asking if I could come to Glasgow and support Yann Tiersen, who did the ‘Amelie’ soundtrack. It was an amazing opportunity and so I thought, “We did two songs. Maybe we could learn another three more.” I still didn’t want to do a lot of songs, and so I called the promoter and said, “Is it okay if I come for five songs which will probably be about ten minutes?” and the promoter said, “Okay”, and so that is what we did. We went to Glasgow and did this ten minute gig. There were eight hundred people there which I was completely shocked about that. From then on I added one song each time. For ages it was about fifteen minutes and then it became twenty. I needed to get used to it. We now do about twenty five minutes, half an hour sets. PB: With the live band you’ve now got a violin player, Melanie Draisey.‘I Killed My Best Friend’ didn’t feature a violin. Has that radically changed the structure of a lot of your songs? CM: Mel plays beautifully. It didn’t change the structure radically and in some cases it has added something. At the beginning I was nervous about it and scared about having my songs changed. I didn’t want them to be different from the record, but now I am quite open to this because I think it can be a good thing to make them different live PB: Who is in your current live band and in the group at the moment? CM: At the moment Mel is still in the band and Theo Hall, Terry Hall’s son, plays guitar. My friend Wildcat has been playing drums with us since last year, and I have just met a German girl called Anne, who plays the harp. I have never played with her, but I have invited her to come and play the next shows with us. I really don’t know how it is going to sound, but it is exciting to experiment. PB: You did the ‘Freight Train’ single in 2007 and you’re now working on a second album. What direction do you see it taking? Do you see it as being similar to ‘I Killed My Best Friend’ or different? CM: I think that it is going to be different. There will be more strings. My music reflects the way I work. It is always a reflection of the people that I meet. I met Mel two years ago and so I am doing stuff with more strings now. If I had met someone who played a melodica or whatever (Laughs), it would be a reflection of that. There is going to be more strings and it is going to be more together and less fragile. We are going to probably release an EP first. We’re talking about releasing maybe a 10” on Honest Jon’s which will include the two songs I have just mixed. I love Honest Jon’s as a label. It was the perfect label for me to release the first album on. I would like to carry on working with them because they just let artists do what they want to do and that is so rare in itself. That is really all I can ask for my music. PB : Thank you. Le Volume Corube will be playing the Pennyblackmusic Bands Night at the London Brixton Windmill on the 14th November.

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Le Volume Courbe - Interview

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Theodaurus Rex EP (2012)
Short, but sweet vinyl only latest EP from Le Volume Courbe, the project of French-born, but London-based singer-songwriter Charlotte Marionneau
I Killed My Best Friend (2005)
Harmony (2001)

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