In Bed With Guillaume Marietta
The ex-Feeling of Love member is back with "La Passagère," a magnetic and lush second album.
Photo by Søren Drastrup
This article originally appeared on Noisey France.
"Great pains, small gains for those who ask the world to solve them; it cannot solve itself." This rust-proof assertion by Herman Melville has never been more relevant today, when legions of lost souls desperately try to decipher episodes of the third season of Twin Peaks, looking for a solution to a problem that isn't supposed to be solved.
The third season of Twin Peaks was, as one might expect, one of the first subjects covered by Guillaume Marietta the moment we started our interview. As both of us had grown up in Eastern France, in the rural land that runs from the Vosges mountain range to the Moselle river, along the German border—a thick and suffocating country where even the trees seem to search, in vain, for an explanation or clarification—the series by David Lynch and Mark Frost has always particularly resonated with us. In our eyes, those who tried to explain everything and unveil every corner became a shared annoyance.
Guillaume Marietta risks having to deal with such pains on his second album, La Passagère (The Passenger), which came out on August 28 on Born Bad. Say goodbye to the four-track production, hazy compositions, and comfortable lo-fi tics of the excellent Basement Dreams Are The Bedroom Cream: Produced in Los Angeles by Chris Cohen and sung entirely in French, La Passagère is, from the very first listen, a necessary departure from the trajectory of Marietta's former projects, Feeling of Love and AH Kraken. And many people are looking for an explanation why, at any all costs.
Nevertheless, there's nothing to say or to understand about this record, which is a flamboyant tour de force loaded with powerful bursts: "La Carte" ("The Map"), "L'Électricité" ("Electricity"), and the sublime "L'Insecte Dans Ma Bouche" ("The Insect in My Mouth"), a lush and magnetic jungle of innumerable ramifications in the same genre as Berlin (yes, the album by Lou Reed, specifically), with wide open windows, bathed in sunshine, alternating between lashes with a whip and caresses with elegant abandon. The album is available below in its entirety—and in it, you'll find the only explanations you needed from it in the first place. And if that's really not enough, we addressed some clarifying details in the interview that follows. But remember that all of this is, totally, absolutely, and rigorously an accessory.
Noisey: Like your previous album, La Passagère started with demos you recorded in your room on a four-track tape recorder. But the end result is totally different.
Guillaume Marietta: It was the sole, unique thing that I was sure about with this new album: I didn't want the demos to be used as they were, which was the case on Basement Dreams Are The Bedroom Cream. I wanted a real production, to work with someone who had the material and the know-how, who would allow me to go a bit further—but I didn't know who. And then Halo Maud made me discover Chris Cohen while we were on tour. It made me completely crazy. While reading the liner notes for his two records, I saw that he recorded and mixed everything himself. Some time after that, I learned that he also produced Front Row Seat To Earth, the last Weyes Blood record. Then I told myself that I'd found my guy: He worked alone, like me; he's a multi-instrumentalist, his grasp of sound was really great, he does it all at his house… It seemed to me exactly what I was looking for. I wrote to him last summer and he replied to me really quickly to say that he was interested. We set a date, I sent him the demos over time, and at the beginning of January I went to LA.
Once you were there, how did it go?
For ten days, from January 2 to 12, we met up each morning in his studio, which is situated in a garage. It was tiny. I asked myself how he was able to record in a space that small with mediocre acoustics. He doesn't have anything exceptional in terms of gear, but he has a real ear, a true savoir-faire, and above all a patience, humility, and dedication that makes all the difference. He produces little. He likes it, but it takes him an enormous amount of time. It's not an activity he's looking to develop, and he doesn't chase after projects.
You've said that you had an image in mind for this record, like a Bob Dylan album that sounds like The Idiot by Iggy Pop.
Yes, but that wasn't a goal to meet—more of a lead that I used as a point of departure. That mixture of really hot folk guitar, dark synthesizer layers that are more 80s—that's maybe what best defines what I'm doing, or more or less what I'm trying to do.
On La Passagère, the result is very particular, in any case. I know that Berlin by Lou Reed was one of the records that influenced you, and this album actually made me think of Berlin a bit: It's exotic, lush. Moreover, there's a very narrative aspect—on a textual level but also musically—on certain tracks like "La Carte," "L'Insecte Dans Ma Bouche," or "La Passagère."
It's a thing that I didn't really reflect on, but I noticed it too. It's visibly becoming part of the process in my approach to composing; my brain functions like that, or, at the very least, that's how it started to function from that moment on. That was already the case on the end of Feeling Of Love with the longer songs, in several sections…
You played some of those at one of your last concerts at the Café de la Danse. I have an incredible memory of that show—the tracks in question were really excellent.
Yeah, we were really pleased. It's too bad we didn't keep going and record those tracks. But okay, that's how it is.
There are two things on this record that are inevitably going to make everyone raise an eyebrow: The production and the singing in French.
In terms of the production, I knew that by working with Chris Cohen I was going towards something different—something more precise and less lo-fi. I also learned to sort through my compositions, to make the songs breathe—if there was no need for a guitar on track, I wasn't going to use one—it's one of the advantages when you record solo. For the French, it had just clicked. I wrote one song in French, and then a second, a third, and in the end the whole album was in French. I just followed a line, a logic. I had two songs that dated back to the sessions from the previous album and that I tried to incorporate into this one, but it didn't work. More because of the general ambience than the language, actually.
For you, is this record the culmination of a thing or the beginning of something new?
I'd say it's something new, in the sense that I never have a plan in advance. I'm not in a quest for something precise. My only desire is to reach a form of fluidity in my work, to find my own musical language. So that one day someone can listen to it and say, "ah, this is a Guillaume Marietta album," and not "This is a garage-folk-psychedelic-whatever record." When you listen to Bob Dylan or Lou Reed or Neil Young, you listen to "a Bob Dylan record," "a Lou Reed record," or a "Neil Young record"—not a "folk album" or a "rock album." That's what I aspire to.
That's already the case, somewhat—that this new album is a fortiori that sets you apart from the rest.
Yeah, after the other side of the coin, which is that this risk won't be very commercially viable. [Laughs]
Not necessarily. On the contrary, it might be more intriguing to people.
We'll see. For the moment, we've talked a lot about sound. Nobody talks to me anymore about the lyrics and the singing in French. While weirdly enough, I thought that would be the first subject people brought up.
We'll talk about it, don't worry [Laughs]. "La Grande Ville Malade" ("The Sick Big City"), for example. It's one of the ones that spoke to me. One almost has the impression that the lyrics were improvised.
No, but that's not far off. It's the first song that I wrote in French. It rarely happens like this, but here, the lyrics came before the music. And it was much longer in the beginning. [The piece] wasn't meant to be song lyrics in the first place—just a text that I wrote one night, like that, in a very spontaneous fashion. I write a lot, all the time, but then, I don't know, there was a valve that opened and [the words] came out nonstop.
Is there a theme that particularly inspires you?
I recently discovered a concept, the one about "mental disturbance," and I think that's what [I've had in mind when] I write, from the beginning with AH Kraken, Feeling of Love, or Marietta. I discovered this term in Buddhist texts and it spoke to me. The aspect through which our mind functions and deludes itself, projects truths where there are none, and provokes feelings like anger, jealousy, frustration, and attachment—everything we get tangled up in, really. We're totally disconnected from the spiritual. But I have the impression that we come back bit by bit, over several years. People seek to re-establish a certain form of magic. Earlier, before the interview, we talked about the new season of Twin Peaks and people who look to explain everything, decode everything, at any cost—it's exactly that. It's pointless. It's necessary to accept that we're not going to understand certain things, and to not aim to assign words to everything. For me, Twin Peaks or any of David Lynch's films in general, it's the realm of feeling—it's going to affect you beyond your flesh, in your spirit. It's not a puzzle you have to solve. And it's not a story of emotions, either. Emotions are misleading when you create. Sadness, joy—these are things that make you chase false leads.
One of the particularities of this record is that, for the first time, you're letting go of certain things: Production, and the album sleeve too, which is a photo by Søren Drastrup and not something you made yourself. And I think that's a sign of greater confidence in yourself.
I had already done it with Feeling of Love, but not in the same manner. And I hadn't been completely satisfied at the time. It's different today. I think I [have a better idea] of what I want. I don't have a plan. But I'm more and more confident in what I do. And I also have more confidence in myself and the people I work with.
La Passagère was released on August 28 on Born Bad.
Follow Marietta on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
Upcoming tour dates:
September 15 - Bruxelles @ L'Atelier 210
September 21 - Londres @ Birthdays
October 5 - Paris @ Petit Bain (Release Party)
October 7 - Toulon @ Midi Toulon Festival
October 14 - Metz @ Les Trinitaires
October 25 - Nantes @ Festival Soy
November 4 - Quessoy @ Festival Les Sons d'Automne
December 15 - Fontenay-sous-Bois @ Festival Les Aventuriers
Lelo Jimmy Batista is the editor of Noisey France.
William Lacalmontie take photographs for Noisey and elsewhere.