Etienne Jaumet: Journey to the End of the Night


Etienne Jaumet is one half of the Krautrock-meets-John Carpenter duo Zombie Zombie together with Néman from Herman Düne, but his varied CV includes membership of two more song-orientated bands, The Married Monk and Flop, and collaborations with Daniel Johnston and Adam Green. Here, he talks to Rockfort about his plush, Carl Craig-assisted debut solo album 'Night Music' and French psychedelia.
Rockfort: What was the impetus behind ‘Night Music’?
EJ: I’m in Zombie Zombie with Néman, but he also plays with Herman Düne and they are always on tour so sometimes Néman doesn’t have time for Zombie Zombie. I had one month to myself last year so Gilbert (Cohen aka Gilb'r) from Versatile suggested that I make an album if I had time! I said ok. I started just playing, not really thinking about songs – just playing a chord on the keyboard and then letting my imagination go. It was all done very quickly as I composed while I was recording.
Rockfort: So improvisation was important?
EJ: Yes, everything was improvised actually!
Rockfort: Do you have a studio set-up in Paris?
EJ: I’ve got a rehearsal studio, a good mixer, a computer with a soundcard and that’s it. I record everything live and then afterwards I see if it’s good or not. I just use the computer as a recorder, I don’t know how to edit, I don’t use MIDI – everything is analogue. I have to compose directly, and I can’t compose before recording. I have to deal with what I hear, not what I expected to hear.
Rockfort: But you didn’t mix the album yourself…
EJ: That’s right. After I recorded it, I got Emmanuelle Parrenin (Ed: a cult French experimental folk artist), who plays harp and hurdy gurdy, to do some overdubs because there were some parts that were missing something. Then Gilbert listened to it and said “You know it’s weird, your sound reminds me of what happened in Detroit in the 80s, and I’m in contact with Carl Craig, maybe he’d be interested in doing something with it.” So we sent it to him and he said ok! He produced the album in a way because he made very good choices about the mix. He took out the tracks he didn’t like, and made the songs more effective because he chose the really good parts. He didn’t edit anything, just with the mix he chose the good sounds, the right feeling. I was very surprised at first when I listened to it, because it was not really what I expected. I had sent him a rough mix, but I don’t think he listened to that at all – he just listened to all the parts separately and after that chose the most interesting parts and mixed it. It was not exactly what I’d imagined, but it was better than I can do so I said ok.
Rockfort: So you weren’t involved in the process at all?
EJ: No, not at all, he did exactly what he wanted. But I think this is his way of working. He’s an old producer, he has his sound. There isn’t just one way to mix an album. The most important thing is that the result is good. Live, it’s a bit different of course because I play in my own way (laughs).
Rockfort: So do you improvise live as well?
EJ: Well, I play live with the same keyboard I record with, but I can’t play it exactly the same way. Sometimes people want a big fat kick for dancing so I have to respond to that, other times everyone’s lying down so I do something quieter, more spaced. So I prefer responding to the crowd, the stage, the lights and let the atmosphere guide me.
Rockfort: Did any particular artists influence ‘Night Music’?
EJ: I buy a lot of old records. It’s harder for me to buy new records because there are more and more bands reproducing what’s been done before. I’m not saying I’m making new music – I don’t really try to refer to my influences but because I use old instruments it reminds people of older records. I’m on Versatile, which has a lot of electronic music, so I listen to more dance music than before. I come from a rock background, and I was a saxophone player to begin with and studied to play jazz. This was when I started to collect analogue keyboards and to make electronic music, but I’m closer to the early gurus of electronic music like Silver Apples, Suicide, Kraftwerk, or in France the music I heard on TV by François de Roubaix.
Rockfort: Talking of old records, the first track on ‘Night Music’ is 20 minutes long…
EJ: When I started to record it, I was thinking about albums with one long song on one side and maybe four on the other side and I wanted to do the same thing. So I started to improvise knowing that the longest track you can have on one side of a vinyl album is 22 minutes. So I wanted to reproduce this feeling of one long song that’s like a journey, like travelling, and four songs that are easier to listen to – like Brian Eno did with Robert Fripp or, in France, Heldon.
Rockfort: You do remixes as well, we heard one recently of Steeple Remove.
EJ: Yes, Steeple Remove are in the same movement… there’s a kind of movement in France, I don’t know what to call it, it’s not really a ‘krautrock’ scene because that comes from Germany and there’s a tradition of psychedelic music in France – an old tradition because I think that roots are in Surrealism, André Breton… but in music a lot of things happened with people like Brigitte Fontaine and Areski, who are perhaps known in the UK, but there are thousands of other acts like Heldon, Catherine Ribeiro and Alpes, Lard Free, which is a very important group for me. They started in the 70s to do free music –
not really Krautrock because they were not technicians, they couldn’t play like Jaki Liebezeit from Can, they were just making music with what they had around them. They just wanted to have fun and let their imaginations go, and I think I’m coming more from that kind of music… French psychedelia.
Rockfort: Can you tell us about your activities soundtracking films with Zombie Zombie?

EJ: Yes we’ve done a live soundtrack of Battleship Potemkin. It’s interesting to juxtapose the images of Eisenstein from the last century with the ‘krautrock’, so to speak, of Zombie Zombie. There were lots of correspondances I didn’t expect – there are long scenes when there is almost unbearably mounting tension, plus machines making repetitive noises, so it goes very well with our music. It’s all new music, but I don’t think we’ll make a record from it as it goes very well with the images. But we’d like to do it in England!

Interview by Ludovic Merle