Record Makers 10th Anniversary Pt2: Turzi

In the second part of our feature celebrating ten years of the Parisian record label Record Makers, Rockfort talks to psychedelic explorer Romain Turzi. Pictures are from a solo show at the Pure Groove record shop.


Rockfort: How did you come to be signed to Record Makers?
RT: It was reciprocal, because they are friends of mine – I’m from Versailles and they’re also from Versailles. They’re older than me, so I knew them through the big brothers of my friends, we were at some parties together… so one day I went to Record Makers just to listen to the next Sebastien Tellier album, in private, they just asked some people they knew to come along and give their opinion, and I gave them a CD I’d made. I wasn’t really looking to sign with anyone, I was just making music for myself and supposing that one day I would make my own label to release my music and the music of my friends. But I had no plans to sign with a label… I worked for some labels like Tricatel, and later for Warners, so I knew how labels worked, it wasn’t my cup of tea in fact. I preferred being alone, doing my stuff and experimenting.
Rockfort: What were you doing at Tricatel?
RT: I was just doing work experience, some promotion and things like that, and I saw how it works. The label manager was doing work on his side and Bertrand Burgalat was playing music and imagining how the label would grow, conceptual things. That was interesting to do.
Rockfort: Growing up in Versailles then, how important were Record Makers and Air for you?
RT: Well I know something about Air, one of them was a maths teacher so one of my friends had him for mathematics! So I knew roughly where they lived and what they did, although they weren’t exactly my friends because they were older than me. But Phoenix, I did skateboarding with them when I was ten years old – we’re closer in terms of age, we had some extravagant parties when we were 14! I respect them a lot. But Air I never really met.
Rockfort: Where they, or the label, and inspiration to you though?
RT: To be totally honest, just knowing the fact that somebody came from Versailles and did this music… I was given ‘Moon Safari’ six months before it came out, on tape, and I came from 90s experimental and noisy music like My Bloody Valentine and Sonic Youth – that was the first shock, that was my thing – but when I listened to air I learned to listen to synthesisers and I really didn’t know anything about them. ‘Moon Safari’ made me buy my first synthesiser, the Korg – I still have it – and I just treated it as a big pedal. You have a lot of buttons, but I didn’t know how to play the keys, I didn’t give a fuck about people who could play the keys, I was just banging them, but I liked turning the buttons.  
Rockfort: Speaking of labels, you do actually have your own, Pan European Recordings. Where did that fit in?
RT: That’s right. I gave my demo to Sinclair (Godon; the Artistic Director) at Record Makers, who is the same age as me, and there was another guy, Arthur (Peschaud; Promotions), and they both listened to my demo when they were drunk in a car and said “This thing is good! We have to sign them”, so I signed to Record Makers because of them. Eventually Arthur joined us in the band because he plays bass and he has a big house which helped us rehearse and make our first mini-album, ‘Made Under Authority’. After the mini-success of Turzi – it was considered as being a new thing in France – our close friends also made music so we decided to make a label to sign them, because it was a nonsense to be the only group. It could have been cool to stay the only ones, obviously, but in fact there was a family growing, with Aqua Nebula Oscillator, One Switch to Collision and then Koudlam. Koudlam was something totally different but something we had in common was being alone against everybody, our own sounds and approaches, romanticism, I don’t know. In fact, when we discovered Koudlam it was the turning point of the label, when we decided to do it.
Rockfort: We spoke to Etienne Jaumet a little while back, who featured on the Pan European Recordings compilation…
RT: Yeah he was doing some acoustic stuff. We’ve known each other for a long time, we’re really close friends. We don’t share a studio, but his is just next to mine in Le Point Ephémère in Paris, so I see him every day, I listen to his work and give me opinion and he does the same for me. A year ago, we did a gig together only us, Romain Turzi versus Etienne Jaumet! We have something in common.
Rockfort: Well, with Turzi the krautrock influence is mentioned a lot but he was talking about a tradition of psychedelia in French rock…
RT: Yeah, there is one, and I don’t care now about krautrock, I’m bored of krautrock because everyone speaks to me about it. That was five years ago or maybe eight years ago that I discovered it, it was a big shock, I admit it, but now it’s time to do something else, to get over it. I’m not a tribute band, I have to do my own things – and this is the message of krautrock: forget everybody, forget what you know and start again on a new basis. There is a link, all my musical life people are going to tell me “you do krautrock”. I pee on krautrock now! (laughs) If you listen to Can around 77, 78, they weren’t doing krautrock at all, it was like zouk or reggae. They broke their boundaries. I listen to techno music, mantras, African music, musique concrète, and the music I make is a mix of this.
Rockfort: So you do you think the spirit of Pan European Recordings stems more from this French tradition?
RT: Yes, because in France there were bands like Catherine Ribeiro and Alpes, Catharsis, Heldon, even the soundtracks… there are things that people don’t really know about. Well, in France people don’t know it, outside France people are more open to it. So there was something, there was a generation at the beginning of the 70s that was breaking the boundaries, and that’s parallel to what they did in Germany. But what you did too in England…
Rockfort: Turzi began essentially as a solo project...
RT: Well, my name is Romain Turzi and the band has been led by me, so sometimes we appear as a band but I often appear alone with just synthesisers. When we play with the band, some people are afraid of the fact that there is guitar, you know… everybody is turning to electronic music now. So I have my own thing to say in terms of electronic music, and doing that allows me to play where other bands couldn’t. But if you listen to my albums you know that there are some full electronic tracks that I’ve made, so it’s not a new thing, but it’s kind of new that I appear on stage alone. But it’s still fun, and I’m still afraid to play…!
Rockfort: I’m sure you’ve been asked about the ‘A’ and ‘B’ album titles before, but was the idea to set yourself a ridiculous challenge…?
RT: No, no, no, not a challenge, I see what you mean. Albums today need concepts. If you don’t have something that links the tracks together, people are going to listen track by track and I really don’t want that, because I don’t listen to music myself on iPods or anything like that, I listen to LPs myself. So on the first album, a lot of songs were in A. And then speaking to the press, they said “Ah, you’re going to be doing...”, so I said it’s going to be a trilogy…
Rockfort: ABC’s a bit easier than the whole alphabet!
RT: …yeah, it’s going to be a trilogy because I have three albums to do for Record Makers. So naturally, when we came to record the second album, we knew it would be called ‘B’. So we entered a new studio, totally isolated in Corsica with our stuff, and then we decided, “This track is going to be called ‘Bombay” and so on… but in fact for ‘B’ the titles existed before the song itself, whereas for ‘A’ the songs existed before the names.
Rockfort: The titles were a good starting point, they gave you ideas…?
RT: Yes they were a good starting point, exactly.
Rockfort: So Bombay, Baltimore – I’m guessing these are places you’ve never been to.
RT: No, never! It’s all received ideas. Sometimes we’d look on Wikipedia to get the feeling. To write the lyrics to Baltimore, it was a cross between Wikipedia, The Black Dahlia…
Rockfort: Are you aware of the series The Wire (Ed: Sur Écoute in France)?
RT: No… I just didn’t want it to be Brooklyn or Berlin!
Rockfort: Bobby Gillespie and Brigitte Fontaine are both on the album…
RT: Yeah, Bobby with a ‘B’. They’re the old generation that I listened to a lot when I was young. Even if they’re two totally different personalities. I wouldn’t have done it with Damo Suzuki from Can, it would have been too obvious. Brigitte Fontaine, we were lucky enough to meet her… in fact, I wanted to do it with Areski, her husband, and he was alright with it. And he went home and listened to the record, and Brigitte said “Ah it’s good, I can do it if you want”. So Areski called me and said “What about Brigitte?” “Of course!” But I didn’t approach Areski to get Brigitte.
With Bobby, I wanted the sound to be like… I didn’t want it to be krautrock or whatever. I respect British rock, Brit-rock, especially Primal Scream, My Bloody Valentine, Moonshake and things like that.
Rockfort: Ah, I love Moonshake!
RT: I love Moonshake too (laughs). Hypnotone… everything on Creation, even the Boo Radleys, before ‘Wake Up Boo!’, maybe before the ‘Giant Steps’ album. But that was all shoegazing and I grew up with it, so even if we are French we can do that kind of music… I know the English fuck French people, we also fuck French people like Benjamin Biolay – what bullshit, that’s a bad image of France. I grew up with that music, so for me it’s natural. And when we made ‘Baltimore’ we decided to make that kind of music – Manchester-style grooving with a lot of guitars. The starting point was a song by The Jesus and Mary Chain, “I wanna die just like Jesus Christ”.
Rockfort: ‘Reverence’.
RT: Voilà. That’s the track, the ultimate track for me – drum machines and big guitars, great. When Record Makers heard the track, they said, “What about putting a singer on it? Which singer would you like?” I said “Why not try Bobby Gillespie?” He was in contact with Record Makers so they made it happen. So I gave him the track, I made a demo of my voice and I wrote down the lyrics, then I came to London because he was ok to do it. It was fun because I went to Primal Scream’s studio, we did it in one hour, Andrew Innes put on some guitar… I’m proud of it. And I’m thankful to England for accepting the fact that a French person openly tries to thank England for making that kind of music that touched me.
Rockfort: So it’s a homage.
RT: Yes, a direct homage, of course.
Rockfort: What about Brigitte Fontaine, did she come into the studio?
RT: Yes, it was the day of Barack Obama’s election so she was really happy.
Rockfort: That’s funny, Acid Washed told me they did a track on their album that day as well and it inspired them.
RT: Personally I wasn’t inspired as I don’t really care about politics, but she cares so we drank lots of champagne and then did two takes of the voice. Areski played percussion on the song too.
Rockfort: You brought in quite a few new instruments on this album like the cimbalom.
RT: Yes, it’s important not to be categorised as a guitar band or anything like that.
Rockfort: Is it the same for you with these instruments as the synthesiser?
RT: I like sounds I don’t know how to play the cimbalom but I know how to make it sound how I want. It’s the same with a guitar. If I’m searching for a sound, I detune the guitar, I put it through some pedals and I get the sound. I don’t need the technique, just the approach. To be honest, at the moment I’m wondering if I’m not a producer rather than a musician, because I don’t like playing with other musicians just for fun. I just like to think about the sound and how it can hurt you, how it can disturb you.
Rockfort: Is ‘C’ underway?
RT: I’m going to start in September. At the moment I’m working on a ‘Turzi Electronic Experience’ album, which won’t be called ‘C’, it’ll be something apart.
Rockfort: What about Pan European?
RT: Yeah, Koudlam are working at the moment, Aqua Nebula Oscillator are going to release their third LP, and Service of course, my friends, doing Sarkozy rock…
Rockfort: What’s Sarkozy rock?
RT: They’re people who all work in business, like in the City here, and at night instead of playing tennis or something like that, they make rock ‘n’ roll. They’re really cool, there’s something of Joy Division in there. Somewhere between Pavement, Joy Division and maybe something more aggressive.
Rockfort: Well, working in an office can be pretty depressing…

RT: Yeah, it’s an alternative to playing squash!

Interview by David McKenna