GaBLĂ©: "We're going to sing with a choir of old women"

Shortly before a gig in Camden, in the back of their old French police van (which smelled strongly of the cheese that they had brought for their UK label, LOaf), Rockfort spoke to Caen's GaBLé (Mathieu, Thomas and Gaëlle) a remarkable trio who, with their joyously sinister patchworks of folk, hip-hop and electronics, produced one of the highlights of the French year, 'I'm Ok'.

Rockfort: The group has played one gig in a prison, and (Ed: at the time of the interview) is about to play in another one in Caen. Why have you opted to do this, and what was the experience like? 

Thomas: We’ve already played in a prison in Rennes, in Brittany, and it was the people from the Transmusicales de Rennes festival who arranged that for us. It was very, very particular because there were only men there who were all very quiet, and all very built up with huge muscles and short hair and tracksuit trousers on, so they all looked the same. As the concert went on, you could feel very slight signs that showed that they were listening and maybe even appreciating the music, and though it was really, really weird I thought it was a great thing to do. And I’m looking forward to doing it again in Caen.
Rockfort: What kind of prison is it?
T: The speciality of Caen prison is sexual crimes.
Mathieu: Although I’m not sure it’s in the sexual crimes prison, I think it’ll be the short stay prison…
Rockfort: Have you changed your set at all, or the style of your performance, for this kind of show?
M: It’s important to respect people who are in jail…
T: But we did exactly the same as usual! I didn’t think we could do anything else.
M We’re still playing to humans, so it’s the same.
Rockfort: Any other unusual gigs?
M: We’re going to sing with a choir of old women, who are 87 years old.
Rockfort: Didn’t that happen as a joke? We heard Les Transmusicales asked you what you wanted to do at the festival this year, and you said as a joke that you’d like to play with a choir of old ladies. And they said yes!
M: I wanted to take time to decide what we should do and I was sure that if I wanted a choir of old women, they would say “No, it’s impossible.” But they said “Nice idea!” and I thought “Oh shit!” (laughs) but now I think it’s a good idea.
Rockfort: Where did you find the choir?
M: I mailed a lot of choirs and said “We are a punk band, and we want to play with you. Do you accept?” And a lot of them said “no”, but this one said “yes”.
Rockfort: So you tried to scare them! You thought that if they would say yes to a punk band then they were the right kind of choir?
M: Exactly right!
Rockfort: Thomas, with your accent, which is also noticeable on GaBLé’s songs like ‘Drunk Fox in London’ on the first album, very close to being totally English… but not quite…
T: My mother is English but my father is French, so my mother always speaks to me in English – she was speaking to me yesterday in English, and she was saying how nice it is to speak to me in English because she doesn’t have many opportunities to do so.
M: And my English accent is because of my English teacher…she was really wrong!
(Everybody laughs)
Gaëlle: It’s the same for me. Madame le Jolivet was not a good teacher. 
Rockfort: On record, you’re extremely concise – ‘I’m Ok’ is an EP essentially, but with 13 songs. Why are your songs so brief?
M: I think our ideas are really short, so our music is really short too. We want to go directly to what’s important, to what interests us. So it’s not necessary to have verse, chorus, verse, we try to get an idea across directly in a song, or two or three ideas in one song, and sometimes that only takes us a minute.
Rockfort: When you play live, do you stretch the songs out at all. There are almost some grooves on ‘I’m Ok’, do you extend those moments?
T: Not really, no. I think we still try to have them nicely short and intense – we don’t want to repeat ourselves too much.
M: And contrary to our first album (Ed: ‘7 Guitars with a Cloud of Milk’), ‘I’m Ok’ was recorded with real musicians, with a cello and a drummer who helped us for some shows, so that’s why it’s a bit different.
Rockfort: So are those musicians part of the writing process?
M: It’s like a meeting of ideas, and sometimes we need other musicians to help with the songs, and sometimes we use accidents… it’s really chaotic, like a mess all of the time. We record a lot of things and after we use those to create songs, but when we record we have no idea of what kind of song we want to make.
Rockfort: A tag like ‘DIY’ fits your music rather well, is it something you embrace?
T: I don’t think we’re particularly looking for that, but we do like to try different things, it excites us, so maybe it ends up sounding that way. I’m just talking for myself here, but I don’t want to work on a particular instrument for hours and be able to play it really well. I just want to hear something, be surprised by it, try it with other things… just be surprised often.
M: I decided to sing in English, for example, because I’m French, I decided to play guitar because I’m a drummer… we’ve got a house, and we always record in our house, so I think this is DIY.
T: It’s not so much a choice as just the way it is.
Rockfort: Are you impatient?
T: I am!
G: I’m not. 
T: Or maybe our ideas are not worth spending that much time on, perhaps nothing more would come of them if we gave them more time and more work. I think it’s just right the way it is.
Rockfort: Do you think some groups over-develop their ideas?
T: I listen to and like music where people repeat things. But I think our ideas, or my ideas, aren’t good enough to be repeated.
M: I like hip-hop, I like rock, lots of styles of music, but I have a real problem with groups that make a certain type of music because they feel that’s what they should be playing. They put up barriers… whereas I think if you have a gift for folk, you should try hip-hop. You should progress by trying things that you don’t know well.
Rockfort: It seems almost excessively humble to say your ideas aren’t worth taking further. Is it a lack of confidence…?
T: Yes absolutely! I have no confidence in myself! (laughs) Erm… I hope one day I’ll have an idea I want to stay with for the rest of my life, and repeat and repeat forever, I’d love to!
Interview by David McKenna and Ludovic Merle