Les Marquises: Sea Hear

Rockfort talks to Lyon-based songwriter and producer Jean-Sébastien Nouveau about his new project under the guise of Les Marquises, which also features Jonathan Grandcollot (Pan Pan Pan, Robe Et Manteau) on drums and a singer from Austin, Texas, Jordan Geiger (Minus Story, Shearwater, Hospital Ships). The debut album, 'Lost Lost Lost', was influenced by both Jacques Brel and American 'outsider' artist Henry Darger.

Rockfort: What musical projects were you involved in prior to Les Marquises?
J-S: Before starting Les Marquises I played (and still play, as it happens!) in several different groups. I have a solo project by the name of Recorded Home which you could categorise as experimental folk and which is mostly about me making some roighly produced recordings at home that sound somwhat incomplete. I play in Immune, who are currently on an indefinite break, but with whom I will definitely record again one day. I would say the music we make is pretty melancholy and comtemplative, and we’ve released two records on small labels. Then there’s Colo Colo, a cool pop-rock-electro project with Martin (Duru), who also plays in Immune with me. We’ve been making music since we were 15 and we work very well together.
Rockfort: Are you primarily based in Lyon? What can you tell us about the scene there at the moment?

J-S: I’m from Dijon originally, which is further north. But I’ve been living in Lyon for quite a while now. I don’t really know much about the music scene in Lyon, to be honest, and I don’t go to music venues that much. I’m pretty disconnected from the music that’s going on in my town. I know that there are interesting things, and there’s one venue in particular which is pretty discerning in what it puts on. But I make music at home and rarely go to concerts, so I don’t really know much about what’s going on.
Rockfort: How did the Lyon-Austin connection come about?
J-S: For Les Marquises, I was looking for a singer because I didn’t really want to sing on the record and wanted to open it up to different protagonists. I loved the Minus Story album ‘No Rest for Ghosts’ and Jordan’s voice, so I got in touch with him to ask him to sing on my songs and he immediately accepted. We quickly agreed on the idea that we would make the album by sending each other files via the Internet.

Rockfort: Apart from Jordan’s vocals, how and where did you record the album? Were the other musicians all together at the same time?
J-S: It was all recorded in my apartment, apart from the drums which were recorded in Jonathan (Grandcollot)'s rehearsal space. But we didn’t play together. I recorded most of the tracks myself at home, then I would meet up with Jonathan and he’d record the drums, and then we’d build up the arrangements together, working on the structure of the songs. There were no fixed rules but that’s generally how it worked.
Rockfort: The group name aside, is Jacques Brel any kind of inspiration for the album? 
J-S: The song ‘Les Marquises’ by Jacques Brel had a big impact on me. Prior to that, I didn’t really know his music that well, I even found it rather unpleasant... I hated that emphatic singing style of his! But I discovered ‘Les Marquises’ and that was a way into Brel’s world for me. Now I understand it a lot more, and there are certain songs that I love. During the recording of ‘Lost Lost Lost’ I listened to ‘Les Marquises’ a lot, and his description of the islands in the song were definitely a big inspiration. Both the music and the words have an aura that is very ambiguous, almost supernatural.
Rockfort: Why was Henry Darger so important to the album?
J-S: I discovered Henry Darger while I was working on demos for the album, and like the Jacques Brel song it had a big impact on me. Henry Darger created a highly ambiguous universe where opposites were constantly being made to co-exist. You can go from a painting where you see young girls living in Eden, and then in the next one you’ll see them having their throats slit. It’s this idea of a contained violence that can surface at any moment that I like a lot.

Rockfort: The sea is mentioned in the lyrics for ‘This Carnival of Lights’ but something about the overall sound of the album also recalls the sea. Obviously the name of contributes to that effect…
J-S: On ‘This Carnival of Lights’, I imagined a community of people living on an island isolated from everything, from any other civilisation. A community structured arpund very rigid rituals, and where the people are gripped by a fear that ‘outsiders’ could arrive from the sea to slaughter them. The theme of the sea doesn’t appear so clearly in the other songs, but I think it’s always there underneath the surface. And of course, the name of the group does tend to lead inevitably to the idea of being surrounded by water!
Rockfort: ‘Lost Lost Lost’ seems to have been conceived a kind of total project, it’s not just about the album. Can you describe what else you’re doing around the release?
J-S: I really wanted to create a world that went beyond the borders of the album. I wanted to prolong the adventure by inviting other people to use the music for their own ends, so I asked several video artists and film makers to make a video in two colours for each of the tracks, and also several musical artists and groups to remix our album. The DVD of videos will be for sale via our site, and the album of remixes will be available as a free download. Also, for Christmas, I’m preparing a serigraphed box-set containing the original album, the DVD, the remix album, and maybe a story inspired by the album.
Rockfort: Was Lost Recordings set up primarily to release this album? Can we expect any more from the label?
J-S: To begin with, Lost Recordings was set up to put out ‘Lost Lost Lost’. But I think it will be used to release other records: the next releases from Les Marquises, but also from Immune, Colo Colo, Recorded Home… after that it depends on whether any labels get in touch with more interesting propositions. But I like being independent, without constraints, and seeing everything through from a to z. In the future, if it works well, I’d like to put out albums by other groups, but I’m not quite there yet!
Rockfort: Which groups or musicians do you feel closest to in or outside France?
J-S: I’m a big fan of Robert Wyatt’s music. I like his craftsman’s approach to music, and also his ability to create his own unique world and evolve within it, unaffected by fashions and trends. He’s a kind of the anti-David Bowie in that respect. Other than that, I also like Hood a lot, particularly circa ‘Rustic Houses’. But generally, I don’t feel particularly close to other groups. It’s not because I like or admire them that I feel close to them, as if I belonged to a family. That said, I’ve spent a lot of time listening to the most recent Beach House album, and it’s really very beautiful.

Interview and translation by David McKenna