Team Ghost on New Album Rituals, Louis C.K., and Why French Rock Never Took Off
This Franco quintet skillfully integrates noise rock with ambient music, house, and techno.
When M83 co-founder Nicolas Fromageau parted ways with Anthony Gonzalez in 2004, it was always something of a mystery to those of us in the States, but in meeting Nicolas, one wonders why this was the case at all. Nicolas seems like a guy you might meet at a barbecue or at a pub—which is, in fact, where I meet him, along with the rest of his Team Ghost bandmates. All five of them exude this modest, unassuming quality, but you get the feeling that the moment you are let into the group's circle, you will suffer various sorts of pranks and shit-talking. Above all, they seem to be having fun.
Formed in 2007, Team Ghost recently released their debut album, Rituals. On it, Team Ghost skillfully integrates noise rock with ambient music, house, and techno. There are faint traces of Nicolas' past work, but the band—which features Christophe Guerrin, Benoit de Villeneuve, Pierre Blanc, and Felix Delacroix—collaboratively offers input, rendering the album as multi-shaded as their personal tastes. Even so, it's an incredibly cohesive record. The synth arpeggiations of album opener “Away” melt into Sonic Youth-esque guitars, setting the tone for the album. Here, the group demonstrates its appreciation for noise. This aesthetic is turned on its head with the collage-like “Things Are Sometimes Tragic,” which mutates into a dance track in its second half, and “Zeit,” a song of cold and crystalline beauty. The rest of the album is just as intriguing.
When I met with Team Ghost, we talked about recording on tape, violent French imagery, how the band got into Louis C.K., and why France was never known for rock.
Noisey: Let's talk about the recording of Rituals. Was it done in a proper recording studio?
Nicolas: Benoit has his own studio at his flat, so we spent a lot of time on the electronic parts there, and then we went to a big studio in the South of France and recorded all together on tape in the same room.
Analog or digital?
Pierre: We recorded live on tape at a big mixing deck, and the synthesizers were analog, like the Roland Juno.
Was it hard to find reel-to-reel tape?
Nicolas: We chose the studio in South France near Avignon because it was very easy to record old school-style on tape. We really enjoyed it.
The Temazepam mixtape included Brian Eno, Clams Casino, and Sonic Youth, amongst others. Did Clams Casino's music influence the album at all?
Nicolas: In a way, yes. It sounds stupid, but music like Boards of Canada and hip hop—even though we don't make hip hop—was big for us, and so I really like it when people like Clams Casino can make weird hip hop and ambient music.
Pierre: Most of our influences are from the US or UK. We also love a lot of bands from Manchester like Happy Mondays, and all the Factory stuff. And we love all of the New York stuff like The Velvet Underground.
Nicolas: When I was a kid, my heroes were Sonic Youth. And when I was 14 or 15 years old, I started to like Krautrock bands—Tangerine Dream, Neu, and Can. We wanted to mix this kind of stuff with noisier stuff like Sonic Youth, Pavement, and maybe even Smashing Pumpkins. It's not very easy to do something very original, but we try to make the music that we would like to listen to.
Pierre: I'd also like to add that the German influence isn't limited to Krautrock. We are big fans of current electronic music, especially stuff on Kompakt, like Superpitcher, Michael Mayer, and the various ambient music.
So you looked to US rock bands in your teens. Why do you think France, with few exceptions, doesn't have a deep rock tradition?
Nicolas: In my opinion, we should go back to the late-50s or early-60s to understand that. Americans invented rock and roll, and the British and Germans made their own stuff, while the French just took the same songs and translated the lyrics. Even in the 60s, when psychedelic rock exploded, we never had that. It's a shame.
Pierre: We love French music, but it's not a big influence.
Nicolas: We had to wait until bands like Daft Punk invented something and became huge.
Well, there was that experimental French band Aleph, which released Love Memories/Injection, and they're sort of like a proto-Boards of Canada or Broadcast.
Nicolas: Really? Well, we'll have to check them out. Perhaps they're the missing link. [Laughs]
Definitely. Some of the album's song titles are quite evocative and occasionally violent.
Nicolas: That is because titles are very French. [Laughs]
Do you find that the band explores imaginative ideas and fantasies, or do lyrics come about through each band members' personal experiences?
Nicolas: I can only speak for myself, but lyrics are a pain in the ass. I don't really like to write them because I'm not a fucking writer. [Laughs] Most of the time, I find a word, then I construct a sentence in which I talk about something that isn't very clear. Weeks or months later you may finally understand your lyrics. So, it sort of works like that for me, but it's never a good experience.
The listener would never know it, though. On the other hand, the album seems to unfold quite organically even when there are pivots. “Things Are Sometimes Tragic,” for instance, is quite an abrupt stylistic shift—it sounds different than anything else on the record. Can you talk about the intent behind that track?
Pierre: This has a lot to do with our love of electronic music, from house to techno music. We can compose different types of music, so I think it was important for us to put that song on the record. It wasn't that we needed to find a house track. It was pretty evident that the material was good.
It definitely has a house or dance flavor, but it is also very collage-like.
Nicolas: The track was on my computer for years, but I never thought about doing something with it. When we started writing the album, though, someone told me we could do something good with it. And it worked. So, we don't really care if it's not in the same vein as the entire album. One song can be ambient, and another hard rock, but together they should tell a story. Not that this is a concept album. We just wanted people to listen to it in its entirety.
Which is as it should be. The track “Zeit” has this wintery folk-like vibe wrapped in ambient synths. It's another mood shift from the record's more rock-based music. What was the genesis of this track?
Nicolas: Zeit is the name of a weird Tangerine Dream album that I really love. On that album, the song “Zeit” is basically one track with a bunch of violins and strings on it. On our song “Zeit,” though, the main influence was Brian Eno and old ambient music. It's another oldie of mine, too—a pretty experimental one. Benoit said, “Okay, I have an idea for the vocals.” So, he mixed the song and that is how it came about.
“Blood” is another evocatively-titled track. The instrumentation mirrors that word with its abrasive drones that sound as if stringed instruments were run through a synthesizer. Was that the case?
Pierre: Aside from vibraphone, guitar, bass, and drums, the song is all synthesizers.
What's your strategy for live shows?
Nicolas: It's much more epic, rough and noisy on stage than on record. A bit more rock and roll, with the guitars out front. The songs are quite the same, but we try to play very loud like Sonic Youth and My Bloody Valentine and stuff like that.
Did you like the new My Bloody Valentine album?
Pierre: I haven't heard it.
Nicolas: I liked it but I think a few huge songs are missing—maybe one or two like “Only Shallow” or songs like that. In a way, My Bloody Valentine haven't changed much since 1985, and I guess that is why a few people were disappointed with m b v. But, it's still a great album.
You guys recently saw Louis C.K. on your first trip to New York City. How is it that the French are now into his stand-up comedy? Are you fans of his surreal cult movie Pootie Tang or some other obscure shit he did years back?
Pierre: Our drummer, Félix [Delacroix], is fond of New York things—comics, artists, and things like that. He said, “This guy Louis C.K. is so funny.” So, when his TV show came to France, he said, “It's huge, you have to see it!”
Benoit: Actually, American TV shows like Breaking Bad and Lost are huge in France, and it all just keeps getting bigger and bigger. But, Louis C.K. is kind of underground in France.
So Louis C.K. has an underground following in France. Interesting. Félix, how did you come across Louis C.K.?
Félix: In 2006, he went on Conan O'Brien's show, which was I think when he became really famous. That was when he talked about using cell phones on airplanes. So, I watched his first TV series, Lucky Louis, and then got into his stand-up comedy shows. It's all really funny.