La Féline: Cat People
The eponymous debut EP from La Féline is the most entrancingly low-key surprise of this end-of-year, both earthy and ethereal and, at its best, a bit like a dream meeting between Ennio Morricone and John Carpenter. Singer Agnès Gayraud gives Rockfort a charming insight into the band and their inspirations.
Rockfort: Can you tell us a bit about the group?
A: We’re three people. A dark-haired girl, Agnès. who sings and plays guitar, gently leading the band, a grey-haired boy, Xavier, who plays keyboards, and a brown- haired boy, Stéphane, playing drums. We all live in Paris. We’re all looking for something – without knowing exactly what. We only agree on the fact we’re looking for it.
Rockfort: How did the group form?
A: I met Xavier a long time ago – but we didn’t play together until recently – and we met Stéphane only two years ago. I had songs and a project. I played with other people, until I found them, my ideal felines. Beyond time and place details, we met through music and feel happy together with it and outside it as well. We played a lot of concerts in Paris, started to play in other French places, and dreamed of performing abroad. We’ve been recently invited to play in Japan!
Rockfort: Did you discuss how you wanted to sound, or is La Féline just down to the combination of musicians involved?
A: We did indeed discuss it a lot, and some of our songs were there before we met, but the more we played together the more our sound becomes ours, a real combination, stronger than the way we would have sounded separately. We’re a trio, folk or electric guitar, old keyboards, drums and harmonies: songs are moulded from these first ingredients, and they draw their essence from these limitations. In a way they are boundaries, but there’s a lot to explore inside them. It’s a playing field. Maybe one day we’ll dig a tunnel and get out of it. I like for example the way PJ Harvey exchanged her guitar for a piano in her beautiful last solo album ‘White Chalk’.
Rockfort: Where and how do you record?
A: At home, like most people do now. We recently decided to record live, so we paid for two days in a Parisian studio. Hopefully soon we’ll have the opportunity to stay longer in a real studio, to sleep in it, and record at night in a perfect mood, far from life’s confines…
Rockfort: La Féline are ‘cinematic’ – discuss!
A: La Féline’s name is taken from a Jacques Tourneur horror movie (La Féline, 1942) with the French actress Simone Simon performing as the mysterious Irena Dubrovna who transforms herself into a feline, killing men at night. It’s a very a sober and elegant monochrome movie, with sharp contrasts and very troubling effects. In a way, it contributed to defining the first aesthetic line of the project, even if it transformed progressively. Our ‘cinematic’ dimension is also obvious in a song like ‘John McCabe’ (from Robert Atlman’s movie), but actually we don’t pretend to illustrate movies, we’re mainly inspired by them: from Mankiewics stories to John Carpenter’s B-movies, from westerns to French Nouvelle Vague, they are stores of unforgettable characters, situations, atmospheres. It’s nourishment. We recently wrote a song called ‘La Nuit du Rat’, which melts the influence of Charles Laughton’s ‘Night of the Hunter’ into remembrances of German romantic poetry.
Cinema provides us with visions, strange dreams that plain reality denies. You make songs to share those visions, creating new ones and cultivating the strange world against the plain one – that’s almost a political project! I’m – barely – joking. In France we had a wave of singers quite specialised in singing about the ‘quotidien’: it’s a big and beautiful tradition here. But we prefer to talk about things and beings that are bigger, stranger than life and of the melancholy to be gleaned from them. Moreover, life is bigger than life: We’re the new ‘réalistes’.
Rockfort: You’ve emerged with a standard EP and one of dance-y remixes, ‘Cent mètres de haut’ – is it important to you for there to be more than one facet of the band?
A: First of all, we listen to different things: we love Neil Young’s folk songs as much as ‘Berlinette’ by Ellen Allien, some old songs by Michel Polnareff or Yves Simon, as much as Kate Bush or Fever Ray’s vocal freedom. The remix EP was at the same time a way to honour others tastes we had and a way to try new things. But it is not an absolute rupture. In fact the evolution from the EP’s dreamy electro-folk songs to the cold-electro remixes carry almost the same intention: there’s a kind of melancholy and desire to give flesh to it that the listener can find both in the ‘La Féline’ EP and in ‘Cent mètres de haut’. But maybe that’s supposing an ideal listener as we could imagine him, the one who’ll understand our music enough to feel this continuity under the differences… Ok, people can listen to what they want and pick off their favourite mp3 from the whole: but let’s be honest, when you make music, you just want people to love it all! So yes, it’s important to us for there to be more than one facet of the band because different facets indicate a complexity that we cherish, and at the same time, this complexity doesn’t mean the facets are unsympathetic.
Rockfort: What can we expect from your debut album, which is out next year?
A: We’re recording these days… four tracks. You can expect something honest and strong, enigmatic and invigorating. Actually this is our expectations of it! It’s like when you’re expecting a baby, you don’t know exactly what it will be like, but you really believe in it!
Rockfort: When was the last time you really freaked out?
A: The last time I freaked out was when I heard about the French governement initiative of a pseudo-debate on what they call “l’identité nationale”…
Rockfort: If Féline was a city, which one would it be and why?
A: We could be a French city in ‘province’ (Ed: anywhere that isn’t Paris!) because we live quietly and passionately at the same time, with aspirations to grow up and to reach a point we haven’t reached yet. I come from the south-west of France, and that’s the feeling when you are born there that you want to make things, to touch people. You know the place to be is not exactly the place you’re in. You look forward, you dream of the ‘capital. Remember, we all live in Paris. But, in a way, especially on an economic level, we’re a kind of outsiders. Making music, making no money from it, having fun like kids, believing against all evidence in a future acclaim: that’s really provincial isn’t it?
Rockfort: What are your favourite felines?
A: Big ones: panthers, leopards… or half-human ones, of course. The exception is Bitume, who is only a little pussy, but it is Stéphane’s pet, so she seems like a supercat to us. But dogs are good too, however. Especially labradors.
Interview by David McKenna