La Corda: "We're Not in a Hurry"
In an interview from Les Trans Musicales that featured in an edited-down version on this Resonance programme, Rockfort talks to Kate Fletcher, English singer with Rennes-based, post-rock-y minimalists La Corda.
Rockfort: So you're based in Rennes?
KF: Well I am and our drummer lives in Paris. I've lived here for about ten years now.
Rockfort: How did you end up here?
KF: I met a Frenchman, who is actually the other person in the band. I came over here when I was about 19, so I've been here for a while. I came straight to Rennes and I stayed here.
Rockfort: Where are you from in England?
KF: I'm from Essex...
Rockfort: I grew up in Stansted.
KF: Did you???
Rockfort: Yup, then Bishops Stortford, which is basically Essex.
KF: Yeah I know it. It's a good place to leave! (laughs)
Rockfort: So for you it was a case of falling in love and moving here.
KF: Yeah, basically the whole leaving school, falling in love with a Frenchman thing! (laughs)
Rockfort: The way everyone does! So the musical side wasn't there to begin with.
KF: Actually we came to Rennes because Stéphane is from Montpellier, in the south of France, and we came here because we had friends on the music scene and the town was a really nice place to come. We were just looking for somewhere in France where we knew a couple of people and there was stuff going on.
Rockfort: So you'd heard good things about the music scene in Rennes?
KF: I mean nowadays it has a massive reputation which I don't feel it really deserves, it still lives on an old reputation. I mean obviously there's the Trans Musicales festival and another great festival called Electronica which is amazing, and there's always a lot going on but I think that effervescence of the years everyone talks about in the 80s has kind of fizzled out.
Rockfort: Although I keep encountering interesting groups based here...
KF: Yeah, there is still something I suppose because it's a sort of mid-sized town, so it's big enough for a lot to be going on but small enough for people to create networks, and there's a spirit of 'do it yourself' as well. But I think it's quite political, really – there's been the same town council here since 1977, and it's a bit of a 'fallen asleep, elbow on the table' kind of thing. I think there could be a lot more happening if the money was spread more equally, I think that's what I'm trying to say! (laughs) There are a lot of things that could be supported at lower levels, and politically as well... there used to be loads of concerts in bars, but now with sound restrictions and sound pollution laws and all of that rubbish, it's policed basically.
Rockfort: So when you have all the bars putting on bands for Les Bars En Trans, that's the only time that happens?
KF: Yeah. I mean there are bars in Rennes where there are people who are really trying to start something but it can be a nightmare for them. I still think there's a lot going on here compared to other towns, though, and the conditions for playing in France are generally quite good compared to England (laughs).
Rockfort: We often have to explain to French bands that we don't get subsidies to be able to cater for bands in the same way.
KF: But it's not just subsidies, I think there is a real underground scene in France. When we started out we played a lot of places – we still do actually! - run by really small structures that do things really well. They're used to doing things on a shoestring, when they invite people they make you a really nice meal, you sleep at theirs, that kind of thing. I think there's a real culture of that in France. But obviously you have the subsidised venues, which is great.
"There are a lot of bands, really, that have a very independent spirit and they're there for the music, they really make a distinction between the industrial side of the music and the actual music. Which is a difficult thing to deal with."
KF: So when we came here, it wasn't for music. With the band we started learning our instruments four years ago. Patrice our drummer had wanted to play drums for a while, and he was playing drums in his kitchen on bowls and stuff like that, so I said to Stéphane “Come on, let's play.” He played a bit of guitar so they started playing together, then I joined them and it went from there basically. We played a lot at home and felt that there something happening that might be worth listening to, and we went from there. We waited quite a while before we showed anything to anybody because I think we were worried about doing something that sounded like something else. We really take our time on everything we do, whether it's gigs or recording – we're not in a hurry.
Rockfort: So you were really learning your instruments as the band came together?
KF: I'd done music school when I was younger and learned a bit of cello and things like that but I didn't want to play music in that sense in this band. So I play a harmonium and sing, and they're quite simple, spontaneous things really. I wanted to find that pleasure of creating music in a spontaneous way and not worry about whether it's false or really getting into the emotional side of it.
Rockfort: So are you saying you're not interested in the emotional side?
KF: Yes, but the emotion is through the vibration of the sounds you are making, not so much saying “this should be there” and organising everything. When we play it just really comes together – from the very beginning it has just sort of happened, then obviously when you get the basis for each song or each piece then we take it further and arrange things... but I think that's why it works, it's not a cerebral thing.
Rockfort: So the stripped-down nature of your sound is less a conscious aesthetic choice than just what happens when the three of you play together?
KF: Basically. Obviously we could have added machines and loads of stuff but I think we really liked the sounds we were making together, really simple sounds. We all felt that same thing at the same time and wanted to go towards that, to push it a bit further. But it's really linked to the fact that there were three of us and we had a guitar, a basic drum kit, a harmonium... and we play with lots of things that aren't actually instruments as well, like glasses.
Rockfort: Drinking glasses?
KF: Yeah, which is a bit of a nightmare really because obviously they break really easily. The beginning and the end of our gig is two pieces played on glasses... I don't know if you've ever done it...
Rockfort: No, never.
KF: Have you ever seen it?
Rockfort: I think so...
KF: Basically the glass has to be quite fine, and it's really just the glass that vibrates and makes a very high-pitched sound that's really beautiful. What happened was that we were on tour and at the end of one night there was a bar full of glasses and we just played them, and we though “Ah, we could use that!” It's become...
Rockfort: A party piece?
KF: Yeah, a party piece! (laughs)
La Corda from fujitan on Vimeo.
Rockfort: Is La Corda anything like music that you like as a listener?
KF: I think even if you want to do something that's really personal, you can't get away from your influences. You're always going to do something that you've kind of heard before, it's how you distil that really. But I think it's really hard to define yourself by other bands, because the bands that I would probably talk about are the bands I wouldn't even dare compare myself with. What's funny is that people compare us a lot to Low, but we didn't know Low before... ! I can sort of understand it through the stripped-down side, slow-core kind of thing. Sometimes Portishead, but I wouldn't dare. I find it hard to compare but I think it would be more about the spirit of the music. Talking about Portishead for example, I really like their approach, they do things when they feel that it's time to do them, they're not in a hurry, they're willing to wait ten years to bring out the album when they want to do it, in the way that they want to do it, and they've done something that sounds just like them, I think that's kind of the top of the top, really, of the kind of thing we'd like to do. But there are a lot of bands, really, that have a very independent spirit and they're there for the music, they really make a distinction between the industrial side of the music and the actual music. Which is a difficult thing to deal with.
Rockfort: Do you try to keep discussion of references out of the music making as much as possible?
KF: Yeah sometimes you'll have a guitar riff and go “Oh, that makes me think of that” but if it's too obvious then we'll actually get rid of it or try to turn it into something else. Without it being a stupid objective of “we must only sound like ourselves” because that's impossible. At the end of our gig I do a little guitar solo that sounds like a piece by Erik Satie, there are little things like that.
Rockfort: You said you took you time over the live show, how long were you playing together for before you actually performed on stage?
KF: Two years... because basically the first year was learning our instruments and getting to a point where we could actually compose, basically, and the second year was getting rid of our instruments and finding the direction we wanted to go in. We could have probably played sooner but...
Rockfort: Are you glad you didn't?
KF: I still think we played too early!
Rockfort: Is it always going to be too early, though?
KF: I think there is something in that. Of course, the first time you play is always going to be... catastrophic. But it's a job like another, it's something you learn to do, and it's when you do it that you find out where you want to go, what you want to look like and that sort of thing.
Rockfort: You've got an album out, 'Progress No Progress'...
KF: Yes, it came out about a year ago, we signed to a very small label called T-Rec, it was done on a shoestring budget... but it was a way of taking some songs and composing them differently, arranging them differently – we've got a guy who comes from contemporary music playing saxophone on some arrangements. It's a completely different process. We're satisfied with the album but I think the second one will be very different, we'll make choices on the basis of how the first one went. We're going to choose the place very carefully, and there's a theatre that has a really lovely echo to it, a really nice natural sound, that we'd like to record in for our next album, do something really... brute. The first album recordings were really separated and I think, with hindsight, we can feel that. So we'd like something with a little more energy, a little more live performance in it. But we've got the songs, now we just need to decide how we're going to do them.
Rockfort: How French do you feel having been here a while?
KF: Oh, I think I'm pretty French! But in a very underground-y political French way.
Rockfort: We need a bit of that at the moment.
KF: Yeah, I could tell with the student demonstrations I was going “YEAH, COME ON ENGLAND, GET OUT THERE!” and everyone back home was like “What's the matter with her? It's wrong – you can't throw things and get out on the street!”
Rockfort: That attitude has been changing in some quarters.
KF: I was so pleased to see that, it really is needed. But I was going to say, the funny thing about living in a different country and it becoming part of you is that you're a real mixture of both, and you realise also that the two cultures don't transpose. And I feel really English for so many things, like mainstream culture. I think in England there's a real quality, that's linked to the BBC basically, to mainstream culture, TV and general creativity in big things. In France it's niche things, underground things – the mainstream is shit! In England, there is this basis. On the other hand, I think politically speaking, you know in France they'll always be up for demonstrations and that kind of thing, but I find there is a kind of rebellious spirit to English people that French people don't have.
Rockfort: Somewhat paradoxically... do you mean in the way protest is ritualised, a rite of passage?
KF: It's quite strange. It's almost like going out on a Friday night, it's something that everybody does, which is good obviously... but you really can't compare the two things. But it's nice living between two cultures, being able to pick and choose the stuff you like. But I don't feel like I'm either one or the other. But I like that, I like being a foreigner in both countries.
Interview by David McKenna