Thursday, October 24, 2019

A Ripple Conversation with Nico and Tibal of the New Project, Sapiens

When I was a kid, growing up in a house with Cat Stevens, Neil Diamond, and Simon and Garfunkel, the first time I ever heard Kiss's "Detroit Rock City," it was a moment of musical epiphany. It was just so vicious, aggressive and mean. It changed the way I listened to music. I've had a few minor epiphany's since then, when you come across a band that just brings something new and revolutionary to your ears.

What have been your musical epiphany moments?

Nico : Oh I had a few ! The first names that come to my mind are “Led Zeppelin IV”, “Master of Reality”, “Nevermind” and “The Black Album”. But I can mention dozens more! One day just for fun, I even made the list of my 100 favorite albums. I'll publish it maybe someday if it interests people!
Tibal : Mine were actually quite different from Nico's. I believe the first one was Simon & Garfunkel's “Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme”, then Clapton's MTV Unplugged, then Ben Harper's “The Will To Live”, and Metallica's “S&M”. And the second wave included Sick of it All's “Yours Truly”, Incubus' “Morning View”, & John Butler Trio's “Sunrise Over Sea”. These are the Albums that shaped the way I play music today.

Talk to us about the song-writing process for you. What comes first, the idea? A riff? The lyrics? How does it all fall into place?

Nico : For Sapiens, the principle was basically to leave a total freedom to the singers, so I absolutely did not intervene on the lyrics and just a little on the song melodies. My role was to write music that matches their musical landscape while taking them out of their comfort zone. I have listened to these singers for so long that I knew deep inside where I could bring them. The question was: Can I do it? I bought a new acoustic guitar and I totally fell in love with it and I started to put together ideas of songs that I had in my drawers for years and that I hadn’t had the opportunity to use with LDDSM. One idea leading to another, I started to have some pretty cool songs. The Sapiens project came like this. I thought "if only this song could be sung by Julien of “Mars Red Sky”, or C├ędric of “Hangman's Chair” etc, it would be awesome!". So I contacted them one by one and they said yes. When I started to have some material I called my friend Tibal to help me finalize the writing and we started doing demos. The composition phase only lasted 4 months. Our guitar playing are very complementary and Tibal is an excellent arranger.
Tibal : As Nico said, I'm more of an arranger, though one of the songs on the album was actually written by me. Most of the time, I need a working idea to begin with. Nico having plenty of those, and me, rather few, I'd say it was a match made in heaven.

Who has influenced you the most?

Nico : For this project in particular, I will say that my 2 acoustic albums of reference were the “Unplugged” of Alice in Chains and “Skin and bones” of the Foo Fighters. I love 90's rock and  Grunge. And in parallel to that, I constantly have the shadow of Jimmy Page hovering over me and inspiring me. His approach to the acoustic guitar with its different tunings and its sonorities both harmonious and full of surprises has always fascinated me.
Tibal : Skin and Bones, for sure, and, for me, there's a lot of Butler and Harper, when it comes to the open-tuningy slidy dobroey stuff. I was an acoustic guitar player to begin with, electric guitar came later on, but when I chose so. I didn't start the guitar hoping to shred on an electric, my first love was a steel string acoutsic. And the instrument itself is its own inspiration.

Where do you look for continuing inspiration? New ideas, new motivation?

Nico: In fact I don’t ask mysel that question  too much. Or rather, I stopped asking.  I realized over the years that inspiration cannot be controlled. It is here, or it is not. It's in you. Either you are in a creative phase and then, everything comes on its own without any effort, or you are not and you can spend hours on your guitar, nothing good will come out. As I told you, this new acoustic guitar was a real love at first sight for me and the songs were written on their own. The slightest chord sounded exactly as it did in my dreams and I could string together the compositions each other very easily. In the end, we left very few ideas behind with Tibal, and we tried to keep the best of them. The inspiration is hidden in your being and at specific moments it wants to go out. It can come from anything, a sound, an image, an encounter, a joy, a pain, it's magic!

We're all a product of our environment. Tell us about the band's hometown and how that reflects in the music?

Nico : Well we come from Strasbourg in the North East of France. It's a very beautiful city. I wasn’t born there, but I really feel perfectly adopted and integrated here. I will say that what pleases me in this city, is this form of elegance married to a very strong personality. This is what we also tried to do with this album, to record extremely worked and harmonious songs but also with a great singularity.
Tibal : And Strasbourg has the advantage of being less than an hour's drive away from what I call “the greens”. Forests, mountains, lakes, nature. It's good to be able to escape the business of the city and rest in a more quiet environment. I tend to associate music with colours most of the time, and the feeling of certain material (stone, wood, fabric...). In that aspect being somewhere between the harshness of concrete and the cool woodland breeze was quite helpful.

Where'd the band name come from?

Nico : Well first as I always say, Sapiens is not strictly speaking a group. It's a concept. I proposed this name to the project for its universal and egalitarian aspect. I didn’t want so-and-so or so to be more prominent than any other. I wanted every musician and singer to be at the same level, because one without the other, the project couldn’t have existed. So what unites us all without exception? We are all Homo Sapiens. And this word has the advantage of being pronounced in the same way in all languages.

You have one chance, what movie are you going to write the soundtrack for?

Nico : I will say a film of the Coen brothers. I love the atmosphere of their films, between black humor and poetry. I think I'll enjoy doing it!
Tibal : I would go for a Christopher Nolan movie, but would be in way over my head. :-D

You now write for a music publication (The Ripple Effect?). You're going to write a 1,000 word essay on one song. Which would it be and why?

Nico : hum… I will say probably a Pink Floyd song. Maybe "Shine on you crazy diamond", for its incredible composition, the legendary sound of Gilmour (this entry bend is so sublime), the text and the story it tells, the character it refers to and his journey and also because I associate a lot of personal feelings towards people I have lost in the last few years and to whom I could have sung this song: "Remember when you were young, you shone like the sun etc ..."
Tibal : I think I would choose “Thistle and Weed” by Mumford and Sons. There's so much of a particular dark and angry atmosphere it that song, and the heaviest instrument playing would be, I don't know. A semi-acoustic barely distorted guitar ? I mean it's the archetype of what makes a song great. It can convey emotion outside of its own musical context. Quite like making people headbang with acoustic guitars. Which is what I believe we've done with Sapiens.

Come on, share with us a couple of your great, Spinal Tap, rock and roll moments?

Nico : On a project like this, it's hard to give you Rock n 'Roll anecdotes! But I will say that the whole process was Rock n 'Roll! Indeed, create 10 songs with 10 different singers and thirty additional musicians who have never seen each other and never played a single note all together, with sound recordings of dozens of recording studios from all over the country, all between the birth of my daughter, the work of my house, my job, my band LDDSM course, touring ... Yes it was sporty! very sporty! And for Tibal it wasn’t easy either! But I'll let him explain his situation better than me. But we do that for Rock n 'Roll don’t we?!
Tibal : Now there were some pretty cool moments, like, enlisting my 9 year old nephew to play snares and toms on one of the songs, or recording a dobro track in the church where I later got married. I mean, was it a logistical fuckin nightmare ? Hell yeah ! But who cares. We got to film LDDSM's drummer hitting a damn tambourine with his index finger. That alone was worth it.

Tell us about playing live and the live experience for you and for your fans?

Nico : unfortunately for this project, it will be impossible to tour. Indeed, I cannot afford to bring all 10 singers together from all over France, to make them sing only one song. And even if we study a formula where everyone could harmonies another, it would still take weeks of work to propose something really good. I don’t want to do a low-cost, half-improvised gig, it's not my way of working and seeing music. I have too much respect for people who come to see a concert and pay their ticket to offer them something not completely accomplished, especially after such a work in the studio. We will see perhaps to make some small showcase formula for 2 singers, something quite intimate, but nothing is planned yet. I dream to be able to play these pieces live, but this impossibility is also part of the charm of the project. It's a pleasure that can only be enjoyed on your turntable!
Tibal : Not to mention that there is one song that would actually require me to play 3 guitars at once, one of them changing tunings between verses and choruses. Hahaha.

What makes a great song?

Nico : I will say that the most important thing is the melody. Whether simple or complicated, mild or violent, it has to be good. And especially on a grid of atypical chords. I can’t stand to hear the same 4 chords all day anymore, everywhere, all the time. It's unbearable! Of the 12 original Beatles albums, dozens of n°1 charts, they only used these 4 chords once! So, it is possible to write great songs without these 4 chords! Dig your head!

Tibal : To me, it's more of a “can it hold itself with only one instrument” kind of thing. Every Sapiens song works perfectly well with just a guitar and a vocal line. The arrangements were not “needed”, they were just pure fun.

Tell us about the first song you ever wrote?

Nico: I think I remember it was a very bad Heavy Metal song that looked like nothing. The tones, the riffs, the tempos, nothing was coherent! A disaster! But you have to start with something, right?
Tibal : Mine was a weird folk acoustic open tuning intrumental song, very long, and not very good. But fun anyways, so...

What piece of your music are particularly proud of?

Nico : On the Sapiens album, I think the song I'm most proud of, is the one with Julien Pras from Mars Red Sky. It’s called “Surreal Estates”. Whenever I listen to it, I get chills and I think that this project was already worthwhile only for this song. I find it perfect and my son loves it too and that is priceless!
Tibal : Same here. Though I love what we've done with my song, Forest Pooky' « Cognitive Dissonnance », it i very special to me, that song I wrote like 12 years ago, and was never meant to be anything more than me noodling around on an acoustic guitar.

Who today, writes great songs? Who just kicks your ass? Why?

Nico : To be totally honest, I will have a hard time giving you a band that slammed me as much as I was when I was a teenager, but some bands really disappoint me very rarely. On the international scene, I'm never disappointed with Maynard James Keanan's work. I am a big fan of his 3 projects: Tool obviously, A Perfect Circle and Puscifer. His way of placing his voice, his words, his intensions, his diction and of course the intellectual work that’s behind, my God, that pure art! Ditto for Mastodon who always manages to surprise me and give me a smile when I listen to them. Their approach to the guitar has revolutionized my playing. On the French side, I think my two favorite bands are Mars Red Sky and Hangman's Chair. Their albums have been on my turntable for years and don’t age. Moreover, they improve from year to year! I’m very proud to have these 2 guys on the album.
Tibal : I love Dave Grohl's songwriting, and Marcus Mumford's. They're a bit mainstreamy, maybe, but the truth is these are damn great songs. Julien Pras from Mars Red Sky too. Particularly his solo albums. His songs, whatever the project, all place the listener directly in his very odd and eerie universe within seconds. And that's the magic of it all.

Vinyl, CD, or digital? What's your format of choice?

Nico : I’m a big fan of vinyl ! I love the object, the process of cleaning and putting your disc on the turntable and of course the sound quality. I'm sorry, but if you have a good sound system, the analog sound is incomparable to digital sound, it's undeniable! However, I listen to a lot of streaming music. I have my Spotify subscription that I use every day. It allows me to discover many bands and to have my favorite albums wherever I go. I listen to music a lot in my car and it also allows me to introduce good bands to my 5 years old son. He is the first to ask me to put "Monkey Wrench" of Foo Fighters or "Thunderstruck" of AC / DC or even "Roots bloody roots" of Sepultura when we go on the road. I think it's great !

Tibal : Digital for the car, Vinyl for everything else. It can be argued that CD's have “more information on them” than vinyls, that loss-less digital format are the best because there is no loss, at the end of the day, when I sit down and listen, there is a physical element to listening to a record on vinyl, or on tape. The sound may not be “as good”, from an engineering standpoint, and sure, you might not even tell the difference if you're listening to music while doing something else, but if you force yourself to stop everything else, sit down and actually listen to music, vinyl is the most agreeable way to do it.

Whiskey or beer? And defend your choice

Nico : Without hesitation: beer. Firstly because I’m not really able to appreciate a good whiskey and especially that I can’t learn to do it now because my stomach doesn’t support it anymore. It's hard to get old man!
I am fond of good beers. I love craft beers. Wherever we play with LDDSM, we always try to taste a local beer and if possible from a micro brewery. And in Strasbourg, we are close to Belgium and Germany and there is also a lot of brewery here, so we have something to do!

Tibal : To me it's a bit like choosing between a Espresso and a Latte. Many people will proclaim that one is best, and the other is shit. I don't think choosing is the point sometimes you need the strong, coarse, and full aroma of an Espresso, sometimes you need to softly let yourself have a cup of a sweet caffeinated beverage. Wait what ? The question was about beer ? No, I think you read the question wrong. But then again, maybe that's because I barely drink any alcohol, so what do I know.

We, at the Ripple Effect, are constantly looking for new music. What's your home town, and when we get there, what's the best record store to lose ourselves in?

Nico : in Strasbourg, my 2 favourite record stores are « La case de l’oncle Tom » et « 33 and co ». 2 independent record stores in which you will find new or old vinyls at a good price, but not only! Also books, DVDs, gadgets etc ...
Tibal : You stole my answer, Nico. Not cool, dude, not cool.

What's next for the band?

Nico : First, officially release the album in physical and digital. The release date is scheduled for October 25th. Then do the PR as best as possible and try to place the disc in a maximum of stores because as I said, it will be almost impossible to tour with, unless a brave booking agency wanted to embark on the project and  find gigs (me, I won’t do it haha!). A video clip is also being shot for the title of Bukowski's singer Mat Dottel. We will also try to offer small videos of live session with the different singers when it is possible. Each singer will have several copies of the album in CD and vinyl with him, so you can get it at their merchandising stands during their concerts. And who knows, sometime, maybe a Sapiens II?

Tibal : Yeah, I believe we're rather committed to putting this album into as many ears as possible, cause we worked our ASSES off for this, and we're very proud of the result. And yeah, maybe a Sapiens II. Maybe it should be called Sapiens Sapiens. But that would complicate the name of the third album... I'm gonna shut up now. =D

Any final comments or thoughts you'd like to share with our readers, the waveriders?

Nico : Thank you for taking the time to read us. I hope you were inspired to listen to this unique album wich is here to prove that the French Rock scene has nothing to envy the rest of the world. It's the most personal musical project of my life and we put a lot of energy into it to achieve a result we’re very proud of. I sincerely hope that you will take the time to listen to it and that you will enjoy listening to it as much as we took to make it. Cheers!

Tibal : Guys, when you listen to this, wether it's on digital, vinyl, CD, morse code. Just stop anything else. Just sit down and listen. In fact, do this at least once a week. And not necessarily with Sapiens. Just take the time to really listen to what it is that you're listening to. Beyond anything else, you'll just spend a far better half hour / 45minutes than if you had not. I don't do this enough. Please don't be like me. :D

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