Interview: Frànçois and the Atlas Mountains

This article originally appeared in The Herald Newspaper (Scotland) on January 9 2012, under the heading CELEBRATING A NEW ENTENTE MUSICALE.

(Francois and the Atlas Mountains – Les Plus Beaux) 

French pop is not lacking in kaleidoscopic characters. There are techno-metal vanquishers Daft Punk, moustachioed MOR clubbers Justice and electro-rock hipsters Phoenix. There is Euro-synth eroticist Sebastien Tellier.

And there is Frànçois Marry.

A La Rochelle raised, UK based singer-songwriter, visual artist and DIY pin-up, Marry’s gossamer pop and tropical electro-folk has found him Scottish allies in The Pastels, The Fence Collective and Camera Obscura. He can also be located at the heart of Bristol’s underground music scene.

“I moved to Bristol when I was 20,” says Marry of his voyage to the UK in 2003. “I came to work as a French assistant, and I chose Bristol because I really loved the music. I had this image in my head of it being this kind of post-industrial place where people gathered, and there were lots of underground bands and stuff like that. And it was.”

Within weeks of moving to Bristol, Francois had made acquaintance with the transposable cast of post-rock embroiderers Movietone and alt-rock diviners Crescent, thanks to an advert he placed in a shop window which cited them as influences. “The next week I was going to Brighton to play trumpet with them,” he recalls. “It was like a dream come true”.

Movietone were signed to The Pastels’ Geographic label, and Stephen Pastel has long championed Marry’s tender pop exotica. His relationship with Scotland and Scottish music gradually became more intimate, too: Marry wrote a song called Byres Road, became a touring member of Camera Obscura, and in 2009 he issued a balmy long-player, Plaine Inondable, on King Creosote’s Fence Records.

He has since become a technicolour highlight at Fence live shindigs, from invoking crowd-surfing at Anstruther Town Hall to wooing the population of Eigg. He’s soon to star on a forthcoming release from Fence’s flagship vinyl-only Chart Ruse EP series. “Yeah, The Pastels and The Fence Collective have always been really supportive and really generous,” he says.

Before this, however, there is his new album, E Volo Love. It’s his first for indie empire Domino – notably home to The Pastels and King Creosote (along with acts like Anna Calvi and Arctic Monkeys). Frànçois is Domino’s first French signing, and E Volo Love is a suitably warm and celebratory fusion of indie-pop, afro-beat, lavish rock and gallic-folk. As regards the album’s variegated influences, Marry tips his hat to R&B, and African compilations like Ethiopiques and Mali 70.

“We listened to a lot of music to refresh our ears when we were recording the album,” he says. “We recorded it in a little chapel near our home town in France, it was on the heights of the city – really nice view from there, lots of air around – it was a really peaceful place, I loved it. We recorded a lot of the album in March, when the nice days started to come, so we had a lot of picnics and took lots of walks. We listened to lots of Prince and Kate Bush.”

The “we” to whom Marry refers are better known as The Atlas Mountains – a moveable musical feast of friends and artists that make up our protagonist’s backing band. The current line-up includes a Scot thanks to bygone Findo Gask nightingale (and Bill Wells collaborator) Gerard Black – he has recently relocated to Bordeaux – plus a truly jaw-dropping percussionist, Amaury Ranger, also of glitter-pop livewires Uncle Jellyfish.

Frànçois and the Atlas Moutains make for an arresting live experience: expect break-dancing, line-dancing, day-glo pop, walls of percussion.

What inspires them to create such a rock spectacle? “I actually think it’s because we drive so much to places, and then when we arrive to play a show we’ve spent like four or six hours getting there,” Marry suggests. “There’s a lot of frustration doing nothing, so it’s like an explosion of energy. When you’re touring around the only exciting moment is being on stage really, so you want to make the most of it.”

Marry’s myriad charms are best illustrated by the sublime urban lullaby of Night Lights (from 2008’s self-released Brother EP) and by stand-out tracks on E Volo Love like the twilit anthem of Muddy Heart (sung in English); and the gallic-house seduction of Piscine (sung in French).

While he doesn’t consciously elect to write a certain type of song in French or English, he does discern linguistic nuances in his dual-language material. “When I was in Bristol, it was my first experience of a big city, and so I kind of developed my English language more related to a vocabulary that has to do with cities – you know, nightlife, and things like that,” he offers. “While maybe my French language is a bit more appropriate for intricate relationships or landscapes.”

Frànçois’ French-language arias from E Volo Love have seen him embraced by TV and radio in his homeland. “We’ve been really busy in France this past year,” says Marry. “We released the album in France first, in October, and we had a lot of support from all the media.

“Because I didn’t really live in France for the past ten years I was kind of out of touch with the music industry in France, and I never thought that there would be room for us, so I was surprised to see how well the album was received,” he enthuses. He concludes with a phrase that is rooted in our local parlance. “I was really chuffed with that.”

E Volo Love is released on Domino on January 23. Frànçois and the Atlas Mountains play Oran Mor on January 22 as part of Celtic Connections.

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