La Terre Tremble!!!: Quake, Rattle and Roll


A trio comprising Julien Chevalier, Benoît Lauby and Paul Loiseau, Rennes-dwelling La Terre Tremble!!! delivered the most focused take on their turbulent post-rock/math-rock/folk-rock sound to date on last autumn's 'Travail' album (on Nantes' Collectif Effervescence). At Les Transmusicales, Rockfort learned more.
Benoît: We’re from Clermont Ferrand and all already knew each other there, then we decided to come to Rennes, found a house together, and really started playing together, in our garage. Our first album, ‘Brouillon’, was entirely self-produced and a lot more experimental because we were really working on the sounds and learning to play together. After that we made another album called ‘Trompe L’Oeil’, which was recorded in Cherbourg, in Normandy, which took us in a more structured direction, a new phase that was closer to a song-based format but still with all our fairly eclectic baggage. From there, we really decided to stick to a format of two guitars, plus Paul then taking on the percussive side. So we stayed with this trio format, and the fact that Paul also took on the lead singing role brought us far more towards song structures. That’s what we’re trying to do, to bring together fairly disparate elements but establish some kind of coherent, song-like narrative.
Rockfort: What’s this ‘baggage’ you mentioned?
Julien: Well, we’ve know each other for a long time, we’ve learned quite a lot together, so there are a lot of things that feed into our music – pop, rock, more experimental music, more traditional, folky things and so on. We’ve fed off all these things, and they appear in our music, reworked and intermingled.
Paul: We’re trying to create links between many different things. I don’t know if it’s because we’re part of a generation that has become saturated with information, but there are certainly a lot of options that we’re aware of and we try to forge connections between these various elements.
Rockfort: So in moving towards song-based structures, have you been attempting more of a synthesis of these elements?
B: When we started out, we weren’t necessarily making music to be in a group or to be on stage, it was really just for ourselves. But as we played more gigs that changed the music, and we realised that we wanted something more percussive. Equally, we’re happy to play drones for 25 minutes, we like electricity as much as we like folky things, but playing on stage calls for a more compact format. From there, we really started writing from a rhythmical base. We simplified the drum kit, there are percussive elements, and then two guitars, so the challenge is how do we make more electronic sounds with them, because we electronic music too, how do we write pop songs that aren’t too predictable? We’re always looking to challenge things every time we play. We could move closer to our first musical loves, or the music of our parents, which could be Creedence or The Beatles, but equally we’ve gone through periods of liking really heavy things without percussion like Sun O))) or Boris, so we’re trying to find the links between them, but it has to be coherent. We do cherish mistakes though, errors are important to us, we’re not just trying to deconstruct things, we like, we’re really trying to create something, either by building on mistakes or on the basis of our own tastes, but it has to be viable on stage – which is to say something both energetic and fragile, that isn’t going to bore people.
Rockfort: Talking about song-structure, how do you feel about chanson?
B: Chanson, as it is defined, is very much about the words, and since we don’t sing in French… it didn’t really come up, we moved very quickly towards three-part vocal harmonies, and the roles in the band were gradually established. We have friends who produce chanson française, and there are things we like and that we have rediscovered, since it’s a field that, aside from the important figures like Brel and Brassens, that I don’t know that much, and there are some hidden pearls. But it’s not really our personal culture.
P: It’s our experience at least that the French language is pretty inflexible and very weighty in the context of a song – we struggled with it, anyway. English is a lot more natural for us.
Rockfort: It’s funny, it’s the second time in the same day that a French group has told me that using French is more difficult than singing in English….!
B: For a group that is fundamentally rock-based, French isn’t the most comfortable language to use. Perhaps it works better when a singer-songwriter starts off alone and then a group develops around that. For us, initially words weren’t even that important, we made instrumental music, and we don’t really have ‘things to say’ in that sense in our music, we really express ourselves through our instruments and in our relationship with those instruments.
Rockfort: Why did you choose to come to Rennes?
B: It wasn’t particularly premeditated, I knew the town and thought it was a cool place, and also we’re not real aficionados of the east and south of France… of course, we’re aware of the city’s mythology, of its rock-y vibe and its past. Of course when we got here, the glory days were a long way behind us and now we have the feeling that it’s on the up again, but it’s not just Rennes – there’s Clermont Ferrand which was voted the capital of French rock, Lyon, Marseille, but it’s true that Rennes has always had this mythology.
Rockfort: Since you’re from Clermont Ferrand, what did you think about the Le Monde newspaper giving the town that kind of status?
J: We left there five years ago and we go back very rarely so we’re not necessarily aware of everything that’s going on, but it seems that, as far as the facts go, it’s the place that has the most rock groups, or at least the largest number of rock groups trying to go from being amateurs to professionals.
P: It’s always important to be wary of any kind of media prescription like that... I don’t want to spit on Clermont, but there is a kind of music mafia there called the Co-operative de Mai, it’s easy for them to say that, but there are rock groups in every town in France, it doesn’t really mean anything. And if they’re talking about Clermont Ferrand, they’re not necessarily talking about the right people, there is a network that’s a lot more underground that you’ll never hear about.
B: There’s a whole lot of politics behind it, based on singling certain towns out over others, and the Co-operative de Mai is behind a lot of that, but we look at that with some detachment… when we go back we’re treated like deserters! (laughs)
J: Just kidding…! (laughs)
Interview and translation by David McKenna