Spirited Away

Holden's fourth album 'Fantomatisme', recorded in Chile, is another work of deceptive emotional and sonic complexity, and sees them continue their fruitful collaboration with producer AtomTM. Mocke, guitarist and songwriter (together with partner Armelle), talks to Rockfort about the group's "ghostly" sound.

Rockfort: Can you tell us about the title of the new album, ‘Fantomatisme’

Mocke: I think the proper translation in English for ‘fantomatisme’, which is a word that doesn’t exist in French either, would be ‘ghostly’. We’ve often be told that there was something hidden in our songs, in the lyrics as well as in the music. What you hear at first is not the whole of it, there’s a frame behind that carries the ensemble, different layers of transparency or opacity that sometimes need to be looked through.
Rockfort: Is ‘Fantomatisme’ your best album?
Mocke: That’s the kind of question we cannot and should not answer. We simply try to write songs, to go ahead, go further, but we are absolutely not in a position to judge objectively (if such a thing exists as far as music is concerned anyway) whether this album is better than the others. 'Fantomatisme’ is where our steps have taken us at this point of our lives, it’s a place we’ve been searching for, it could have been somewhere else and it doesn’t mean the places we’ve been before are less interesting or less achieved. The opinions and judgments about the quality of our songs are in the hands (or ears) of each listener. This is too subjective to be firmly and definitely expounded, let alone by us.
Rockfort: Where are you based at the moment? For some reason, I imagined you relaxing in hammocks somewhere in South America, but I believe you’re in Paris at the moment.
Mocke: Your imagination is misleading you … we do have a very strong attachment to Chile, we have found and lived lots of things there which have had an actual influence on what we are now, and it remains an important part of our life and work, but our life is clearly in France, in Paris.
Rockfort: Recording your album in Santiago, and the cover of ‘La Carta’ by Violeta Parra, cement what seems to be a love affair with Chile – is that the right way to describe it? Why the cover of that song?
Mocke: Simply because Violeta Parra is a great artist, unknown on this side of the Atlantic, and because her work is very interesting, far beyond the folklore that it might represent for us. This song also bears a political content and a commitment which are absent from ours usually, this is somewhere far from what we are used to expressing because it doesn’t look like us, but it made sense for us to take back these words, to wear another suit, maybe feel a little clumsy in it, but make it ours in a way…
Rockfort: The core of the group is you and Armelle. How do you two work with the other musicians? Is it hard combining a working and a personal relationship?
Mocke: Of course, we are the ones writing and composing the songs, so obviously Holden wouldn’t exist without us, but when we are on stage, or recording, the notion of core disappears completely, the work that’s been done primarily exists on its own and it becomes everyone’s material for the following phase. It is open, the songs are not settled once and for all, we are friends and we trust each other’s taste to make them grow, go somewhere else... As for combining a personal and a working relationship, it sounds perhaps a little obvious but of course it is a dimension that cannot be neglected. I guess what makes things more complex make them richer at the same time.
Rockfort: You’ve worked with producer AtomTM since the second album – can you describe your relationship with him, and how it has developed? It seems crucial to the sound of the records and your progress as a group.
Mocke: Of course it got much closer as years passed by. He’s like a good friend even though we almost only see him when it’s time for us to record a new album. As you put it, he’s been essential to our sound and working for a long period with such a subtle and clever artist is delightful… usually just a few words are enough to make him understand what we want from a song.
Rockfort: It sounds as though you start by writing songs, and then deconstruct them through the recording process. Is that right?
Mocke: Not really. That’s how we used to do it, in our first album period. Now we include the twists, the digressions in our composing process
Rockfort: With every album since ‘Pedrolira’, the sound has become more ambient, more spacious. Can you imagine leaving song structures behind completely?
Mocke: Not at all. It doesn’t make sense, the whole point is to deconstruct the structure or stack upon it those layers I was talking about just before, to stand back from the backbone of the song. Maybe to make it more ‘ghostly’. But this process becomes totally irrelevant if there’s no backbone to wrap around or to stand back from. I mean, even if it’s far behind, almost imperceptible, this structure is the core of the song. And we always have in mind that the naked song should work on its own as well.
Rockfort: A few years back, you sent out a message asking people to suggest songs you could cover – did you take up any of the suggestions?
Mocke: Actually no. but it was still a very fun experience to see what other people had to suggest for us.
Rockfort: What keeps you going?
Mocke: Writing, composing is an excellent way of facing the world – and also getting away from it. I don’t need any other purpose, any extra motivation other than the process by itself. Know what I mean ?
Rockfort: Where are your arms?
Mocke: Attached to my trunk for the moment. It might change if I find to way to deconstruct myself instead of deconstructing the songs.
Interview by David McKenna