Mesparrow: Fly Girl
Performing with Frànçois and the Atlas Mountains in Brighton as part of the Vive La France festival on 26 January, the Tours-based artist talks about her experiences with the London-based Decorative Stamp collective, finding her own sound and learning not to talk about her musical 'univers'. The interview was carried out at the Francofolies de la Rochelle festival in summer 2011.
Rockfort: Did you start out playing in bands or have you always been a lone operator?
Marion: I played in groups a long time ago, when I was at secondary school I was in a number of groups that were a bit rocky and then I went to Les Beaux-Arts (School of Fine Arts) and did performances with a loop pedal and my voice, with video as well, and it was there that I started to do the first things by myself. I was recording things at home as well but I wasn't playing them live. After Les Beaux-Arts I left for London with the idea of working on my own music, and it was there that I started to perform my own songs live with the loop pedal, in small bars. I wasn't looking hard for concerts but often one concert led to another.
Rockfort: And that's where you met the Decorative Stamp collective?
Marion: Actually I was one of the co-founders. It started with me meeting James P Honey who was working on this indie hip-hop stuff with Jamesreindeer. They put together a kind of group for me called Stage Sages. We played a few concerts together but didn't rehearse much so it didn't really develop but we lived together with several friends and created this collective. It had a link with the anti-folk scene in London, people like Paul Hawkins, who I was friends with, David Cronenberg's Wife, I played with The Boycott Coca Cola Experience...
Rockfort: Were you already Mesparrow at that stage – had that concept taken shape?
Marion: Yes, but I had a simpler pedal so it was much more basic.
Rockfort: It's still quite minimal now so you've held on to that.
Marion: Yes, the difference now is that more of the vocal parts are pre-recorded so I have less to do live. Before it would take far too long to build up the tracks.
Rockfort: Some of your lyrics seem to be reflections on your time in London, like “singing on top of the Gherkin”. Were they written at the time or later, looking back.
Marion: That one was afterwards, I think, that was a mixture of memories, things I'd felt. It's partly linked to James P Honey, who writes some fairly sombre lyrics, and we talked a lot and developed a fairly consistent vision of all these parties, people taking drugs and living very fast. I was thinking also of hip-hop, with its rapid succession of images.
Rockfort: So hip-hop's a strong reference point.
Marion: Yes – it wasn't for me before but it became so when I met James P Honey. We wrote songs together that were very much inspired by hip-hop, using loops and so on.
Rockfort: After that experience did you come straight back to Tours?
Marion: Yes, I was struggling with money, it was getting difficult. In London I worked in the City University Club, a very classic, chic restaurant and I felt like I had to have two personalities, one for work and one for my life outside, so when I came back I found work in an art school for children. It was well paid so I decided to save money until I could get to a point where I could live just from making music.
Rockfort: And then you recorded a couple of tracks in France?
Marion: Yes – I'd recorded a few demos before but the artistic director of Universal came to see a concert and said “It's not exactly the kind of thing we're working on but I can give you a helping hand.” Thanks to that I was able to record a new two-track demo, and that opened a few doors for me, to festivals like Le Printemps de Bourges.
Rockfort: In London you were surrounded by musicians and people with similar interests – did you find that back in Tours?
Marion: Not in the beginning, but gradually I realised there were gigs being put on in people's flats, plenty of groups of different types like Pneu, Piano Chat, a similar energy to what I found in London, even if there were fewer links between art and music.
Rockfort: I gathered you are more interested in having your music produced in the UK than in France...
Marion: Well, I've had some experience of recording in France, I've seen how it's approached and there was something that bothered me – all the tracks had to be very 'clean', whereas that's not at all how my music is for live shows. I listen to a lot of rock so I struggle with something that's too polished. I found the arrangements were too careful and considered, there was always something that was 'supposed' to happen at certain points. I had more an image of being in the studio, trying different ideas out... it's true that time was tight but still my ideal is to work with a producer who's more exploratory.
Rockfort: Why not produce yourself?
Marion: Well I did that with the demos but it's true that I do need some outside assistance sometimes. I've been working with a local musician on some demos so hopefully we'll see what comes of that – at least it might provide a direction, whereas before when I turned up in the studio I didn't have an idea of what I wanted to so it was “Well, we'll do it the tried-and tested way.” It was partly my fault really but it's something you learn.
Rockfort: You took part in the workshops of Les Francofolies de La Rochelle that were set up to develop young groups and artists – what did you get from those?
Marion: It was very positive, I got singing lessons which I've continued, and on stage I was very shy so that helped me to open up a bit – I didn't really dare to move to much, I was worried it would be too aloof or something like that... so I was encouraged to free up my movements, they said “Don't worry, you're not an aloof person, it won't come across like that.”
Rockfort: What lessons do they give you apart from vocal lessons?
Marion: Well, there's 'stage craft', a psychological coach...
Rockfort: Like an athlete!
Marion: Yes – actually the sports training was the only thing missing! There was also training in how to respond to interviews...
Rockfort: You've learned quite well...
Marion: Well not for this but for the really serious ones. What to say and...
Rockfort: What not to say?
Marion: Yes, especially that! For example, there's a word they said that everyone says and that should be avoided at all costs, and that's 'mon univers' (literally 'my universe', to be taken as 'my musical world/universe') because it doesn't really mean very much.
Rockfort: We've got places like the BRIT School but this sort of thing is viewed with some suspicion in England, I think, we're more attached to a DIY ethos.
Marion: Yes, it's like for art, it's supposed to be spontaneous, come from inside you. But I think with this we're already bringing something to the table, they're just helping us to develop our ideas. It's not overly academic. But I think there is a difference between England and France in how education is approached generally – in France you're expected to have a grounding in everything, whereas in England if you're strong in one area you'll be guided down that route. And I think you find that in creative areas too – with English people I know it's very much do it yourself, people aren't afraid of just doing something they love whereas we don't dare so much in France, we worry too much about whether there's going to be an audience for what we're doing. That's something I definitely learned that from being in England, being surround by people who made music because they wanted to and not caring about the rest.
Interview by David McKenna