"We've Been Doing This for 20 Years and We're Not Done Yet": Nlf3 Interview Pt 1


(Nlf3: L-R Nicolas, Mitch and Fabrice)
Rockfort presents the first of a two-part, career-spanning interview with brothers Nicolas and Fabrice Laureau who, as the core members of avant-rockers Prohibition and exploratory instrumental group Nlf3, have been making music together for the past 20 years, as well as running their own record label, Prohibited.
2010's 'Beautiful Is the Way to the World Beyond' album, as well as being one of Rockfort's favourites of the year, was also their most direct and accessible to date, drawing together their various musical passions, from Can and Fela Kuti to film soundtrack composers and Steve Reich. 
The pair were generous with oysters and white wine purchased on the Place des Lices in Rennes, and then with their time as they agreed to retrace the steps that have brought them this far and which will hopefully take them... beyond.
Part 2 will follow shortly.
Rockfort: Can you talk about the beginnings of your group, Prohibition?
Nicolas: We were in Paris, and it was really a group we started at school. But it already had a strong identity – we had no intention of going 'pro' or what have you but Fabrice and I were always playing music together...
Fabrice: We lived together, I was 18 years old at the time...
N: … and we were pretty free to do what we wanted because our parents lived elsewhere. So it started in 1989 but it really became something more tangible when we released our first album in 1992.
Rockfort: Did you put it out yourselves?
N: No, it was a small label called Distortion that released our first two albums but we quickly realised that it worked better when we took care of certain things ourselves so we created our own label in 1995.

Rockfort: So the label was initially set up purely to release your own music.
N: Yes but we started to find other groups around us we liked, who were a bit like us and who weren't getting much attention, so we said “Ok, let's release some 45s” and then gradually some albums as well, up until 2005 which was the moment when we decided to stop working with other artists and concentrate on our own music again – Nlf3 and Don Nino.
"The idea was to make repetitive music that was also improvised. A clash of those two approaches."
Rockfort: How did Prohibition become Nlf3?
N: I think with Prohibition we had been looking for something and we found it with the last album, '14 Ups and Downs'. That was in 1998 and we called time on the band in 1999.
F: So the band lasted ten years...
N: … and it was an incredibly intense experience. We were constantly either recording an album, releasing an album or playing gigs, there were no real breaks. Then in 1999 we got together and asked “What are we doing?” and we were all in agreement that we were finished with Prohibition without really discussing the possibility of starting a new project together.
F: There were no real problems, it's just that we'd gone as far as we could go. But six months later it was gnawing away at me and I felt the desire to make music again, so I said to Nico that I'd like to do something again but more free, based more on improvisation and without voices, without words.
Rockfort: What prompted that decision to not use vocals?
F: We wanted to be more abstract, and we wanted to work with images as well, put music to films.
N: I think also with the previous band we felt that there's a moment where your image, and what you supposedly represent, doesn't seem to belong to you any more. We wanted to avoid that too.
F: So Nlf3 really began as an opening up to a greater musical freedom, as us telling ourselves that we could push even further by bringing in aspects of everything we like. We were very spontaneous – the first album, released in 2000, was just jams we recorded.
N: It's a kind of catalogue of documents, of moments.
F: So we found this way of working, creating things live using these looping pedals that had just appeared on the market.
Rockfort: Now they're commonplace...!
N: (Laughs) The idea was to make repetitive music that was also improvised. A clash of those two approaches.
F: But after that it changed – now there's still a degree of improvisation in what we do but the basic songs are what they are.
N: It's in a poppier register now.
Rockfort: Definitely, and it seems to me the 'Echotropic EP' was a real turning point in that respect.
F: That's true, and it corresponds with a change of drummer. That changed our dynamic, it was like a rebirth.
N: And it's worth saying that there was this magical interlude which was the whole period during which we were working on the music for the '¡Que viva México!' cine-concert. We worked a lot on the writing, on the composition...
F: It contributed a lot to the subsequent albums, all that looking for the right sounds, at everyone's role, playing more melodies.
N: We got much closer to film music. I remember we listened to recordings of Nino Rota, we were discovering things, looking for strange sounds. And all that, including the tours around the world that accompanied it, taught us a lot and so in 2005 when we started working with a new drummer, Mitch, that was really gave us the idea of recording these compositions for an album.
Rockfort: Your sound around that time became more rich, more layered.
F: Well, we'd learned a lot and we wanted to enrich our sound – and also to remove some things as well. It's important to progress, having a riff doesn't mean you have a track. And when you talk about richness you're right, I like to fill the spectrum, with wide bass-y sounds all the way up to very high, trebly ones. I'm moved when I hear other groups achieve that...
N: A bit like an orchestra.
Rockfort: Or in visual terms, it's a question of creating perspective.
F: I agree, and that's been important in music for a long time, if you listen to The Beatles that approach is there.
Rockfort: So overall you've been doing this for 20 years. Do you feel you're at the height of your powers now?
N: (Laughs) I hope the peak is still a little way off. That's partly what the title of the album ('Beautiful Is the Way to the World') is saying.
F: We've been doing this for 20 years and we're not done yet.


Rockfort: I didn't want to suggest that it's all downhill from here! The question was more whether you feel able to translate your ideas more effectively than ever before?
N: I don't know, we're not always highly aware of what we're doing. Sometimes afterwards, we listen back to a record we've made, to certain sounds, and say “Hey that's not bad, how did we do that exactly?” We make our decisions on the hoof, very rapidly.
Rockfort: So you don't take a long time over mixing?
F: Pretty quickly, yes.
N: Well the most recent one was done quickly but the previous one ('Ride on a Brand New Time') was a long process. But 'Beautiful Is the Way to the World Beyond' is the first one ever where we took one track, finished it, then moved on to the next one and so on, and with the ninth track that was it, ready. That's the big difference between this and the previous album. Aesthetically, 'Ride on a Brand New Time' was like serving an apprenticeship so that we could get to what we wanted much more quickly on the new one.
F: For me, 'Beautiful Is the Way to the World Beyond' is more direct, more compact.
N: And I see it as the second album of a trilogy. I can already feel what the third one will be like.
Interview and translation by David McKenna