Brothers in Arms: Nlf3 Interview Pt 2
In the second and concluding part of our interview, the Laureau brothers talk more about their label, the influence of World music and Steve Reich and being brothers in a band.
Rockfort: Are you still releasing other people on Prohibited Records?
Nicolas: In 2009, we released an album by a Belgian duo, brothers as well, called Patton. So if there are people we love and want to support, and who have no other outlet, we're ready to do something. But obviously given the state of the market at the moment, and the fact that we have to go out on the road, it's difficult to guarantee our support.
Rockfort: It's still an independent label that's managed to carve out a niche, and a strong identity, in France over a long period.
N: Yes, it's a precious thing. I find it difficult to look at it in a detached way but I believe we cleared some ground for others...
F: Or demonstrated a possible way of functioning.
N: There are no regrets for me, anyway. But a lot has changed since 1995 in terms of the way music is consumed, of what a group expects from a label, and it's true that in this context we're not that keen to take on young artists.
Rockfort: Because of their expectations?
N: Yeah a bit, bossing around a group of 20-year-olds is not really appealing. But who knows later on – the structure is still there, the networks are still active, so it's not as though we've decided to stop everything. It was just that for me, as the one more in charge of the label, I reached a point where I felt more like an artist. Dealing with that business side isn't always a lot of fun.
Rockfort: So, as a group, did you ever think “Why don't we let someone else handle this? Let's just be the artists.”
F: But you know, one of the reasons the label has survived is that we've never paid ourselves to do it. We paid ourselves as artists but other than that the label was always autonomous.
N: That's an economic consideration but if you look at why the label came about, it's because it was important to stake out that territory, to help push things forward, because there were very few artists who were making it alone. That didn't really happen, we were fairly unique in that respect. Now, that's a very common thing – Phoenix have their own record label...
Rockfort: Prohibited was a really an old-style indie label...
N: It's true, our models were Touch & Go, Dischord, really that idea of helping a scene that's around you, creating a community of sorts.
F: And we were able to build up strong networks in other countries too.
N: There's an example I can cite who were an influence on us and who we played with very early on and that's The Ex, with their label Ex Records.
"I think it's pretty understandable that a generation of musicians arrives at similar conclusions."
Rockfort: You've also built up friendships or relationships with the likes of Animal Collective and Battles. It also seems you've reached a similar point musically to groups like Animal Collective and Gang Gang Dance, there's a shared vision there.
F: I think it's a generational thing. We listened to the same records, and when we talk to someone like Ian Williams from Battles, who we've known since he was in Don Caballero, we realise we've followed the same kind of path. We've seen how our careers, how our tastes, have evolved in parallel.
N: And I think now we're in our late 30s, or early 40s (laughs), we have a more mature vision of music than when we were 20 years old and we're more able to acknowledge and integrate all kinds of influences. For example, we've always listened to a lot of World music but it's something much more present in our music now.
F: We did play a sitar in Prohibition! We did a split single with Cornershop...
N: I think it's pretty understandable that a generation of musicians arrives at similar conclusions, and certain ideas are distilled. For example, Steve Reich is someone who is very important for us and the repetitive elements come more from him than, say, Daft Punk, and I think that's a point in common with people like Battles.
Rockfort: Steve Reich is a figure whose influence has been on the rise again in recent years...
F: And Reich has always maintained that he was inspired by listening to Javanese gamelan and the balafon.
N: African music has always been important for us. In 1990 and '91 we travelled to Nigeria, a journey that had a real impact on us.
F: Those images have always stayed with us. And when you see an Indian pow-wow at the age of six in America, that sticks in the mind as well.
N: That's because we were living in Washington at that point (Ed: the Laureau's father was a diplomat who brought them to Nigeria, the USA, Germany and the Congo) and that was when Native Americans staged 'The Longest Walk' protest walk to the White House, which we were in the middle of. And all of that, the visit to Nigeria, playing in Mexico, all that has been resurfacing in us in recent years.
Rockfort: What relationship does a musician from Paris have with African music? How do you integrate it?
N: For me it's really about the vibrations.
F: There's a great balafon player who busks at the Nation Metro stop, the guy's amazing.
Rockfort: Ever thought of asking him to play with you?
F: The balafon is a funny instrument, it can't be tuned to anything else although you can tune other instruments to it. But I go to watch Fela Kuti's sons when when they play in Paris, Seun and Femi. Seun is better than Femi.
N: That's your opinion! But really, it's also a question of hearing lots of different kinds of music at home when we were growing up, there was just that adolescent period when we were more focused on skate rock, Minor Threat and Sonic Youth but those other things naturally come back.
F: The other aspect that's attractive is the ceremonial aspect of a lot of World music. You don't make music just for its own sake but because it's an accompaniment to a ceremony, a trance.
Rockfort: That links to the 'Wild Chants', as you call them, that you're increasingly using.
N: Yes, it's not totally new for us, they date back to '¡Que viva México!' which already had these kind of shamanic voices. It's even there on the first two albums but it's more developed now. It's not so much about imitation but about transporting the listener to a parallel world.
F: We like it and it means we don't have to take any drugs! (laughs)
Rockfort: Is performing the wordless singing a joyous experience for you?
N: Live it can be really enjoyable when it's really focused on the singing. But it's also the case that it's only three of us on stage and we've all got lots of things to juggle. We're busy up there! So with the voices there are times where it really takes off and others where it's quite faithful to the recordings.
Rockfort: Finally, working and playing with a member of family for all this time, how has it been?
N: Ah, it's not always easy!
Rockfort: I imagine it has its positive side, too...
N: One thing is certain, that the longevity we talked about is definitely related to the fact that we're brothers.
F: We can really shout at each other...
N: … there can be some very difficult moments in the group, like a bad gig, and we know very well that it's going to work out, the years have proved it. Even if there are cases where brothers separate - like in England for example (laughs)!
Interview and translation by David McKenna