words by joanie wolkoff
Unlike Frànçois and The Atlas Mountains’ prior undertakings (including three successive albums in half a decade), their shiny new LP, Solide Mirage, lances out with a bracing candor that reflects not only frontman François Marry’s evolution as a musician, but as a channeler of Europe’s inclement political climate. Of course, it also doesn’t hurt that these guys exude enough floppy-sweater French élan to dip a crunchy baguette in at breakfast time. Musical escapades in the Middle East where adoring young progressives cheered them on at shows recent as 2015? Check. Collaborations with style vanguard Hedi Slimane, whose name alone has caused fashionable knees to buckle throughout the high fashion circuit? Done. Also a good look: Canadian indie darling Owen Pallett (formerly known as Final Fantasy) left his maple-scented Canuck fingerprints all over string arrangements featured on the François and The Atlas Mountains’ latest offering.
Behold, an indie rock cum Afro beat group that effortlessly hobnobs its way from one achingly relevant cultural lilypad to the next, leaving in its wake the clickety clack echo of mellow high fives with infuriatingly cool figureheads worldwide. Annoyed yet? Throw in a recent music video appearance by Palestinian dancer Dabké dancer Mohamed Okal alongside Frànçois’ dashing mien for good measure, and man overboard. White flag. You’re toast. Bandcrush 101.
But at the crux of all this hype is the fact that Solide Mirage is an authentic knee jerk reaction to Frànçois Marry’s recent experiences as a transplant in Brussels during dizzying flux in Europe’s capital. Pardon his French, but lead track Grand Dérèglement holds the titular significance of “the great dysfunction.” And why shouldn’t it? While we thumb furiously away at our personal handheld devices to the ambient background rumblings of war, migrant crisis, ambivalence on the best of days and despair on the worst of them, no timelier designation could have found its way across the face of this guileless ten-song LP, which coils, growls and leaps like a robust junkyard dog hell bent on sinking its teeth into a little sense amidst the chaos.
Did you pay attention to The Oscars?
No, not at all.
Among the candidates for best actress was your countrywoman Isabelle Huppert, but American darling Emily Stone won. Did that stir anything in you?
Emily Stone’s quite exotic to a French person. She’s like a cartoon with her big eyes. But she looks like she’s going to cry every time she says something, so I’m not really in love with her. I do like Isabelle Huppert. Was it a good ceremony?
Shockingly, I wasn’t invited this year, so I watched it on television while feeding cheese to a cat.
Did the cat look like Emma Stone?
Come to think of it, yes.
I’ve heard a lot of the talk in the ceremony was quite political. What’s that like for an American journalist to see?
Do you wish you could vote [in the U.S.]?
I should probably just bite the bullet and get dual citizenship in order to vote. But I get these pangs of dread about a dystopian near-future where I’m forced to renounce my Canadian citizenship altogether, so I’m skittish about that stuff.
Stay Canadian, please.
Deal. Can you tell me about the cultural or aesthetic origins of Solide Mirage? Did the currents and energies of this new city you’re living in shape the album?
I did the previous albums in France’s countryside which was pastoral, friendly and immersive- a slower pace of work. Now I am in the strange capital of Europe, Brussels, which holds so many communities and identities. It’s an interesting time to be living in such a place, but quite confusing in terms of finding your bearings with all the trouble. I felt much safer living in Bristol in the UK, and then living in Bordeaux was idyllic. More recently, during the terrorist attacks in Brussels, where the decisions being made are so important, I’ve been trying understand the strength of my creative activities. Being here has forced us create in a straighter way; we didn’t try to go into any specific genres; we just kept [the album] simple and even kind of rushed in the studio.
Do you think the pacing of global transitions are forcing art to become more linear?
Well, a Solide Mirage is something that shifts position. In Brussels, you don’t really understand how people around you live because they have such a spectrum of lifestyles. Just when you think you know how things are about to be ahead you, you approach, and it all looks as abstract as it did from a distance.
America is very proud of what it refers to as it’s melting pot. Is Belgium more of a mosaic?
Maybe Belgium is a bag of chips. It’s definitely a weird chaotic dream; very friendly and welcoming. Like a soup, maybe. If you’ve been there, you’ll be familiar with the weird sense of getting lost all the time and not knowing exactly what to do, but it’s cool- it’s got nice little corners but nothing is exactly homogenous. You can walk everywhere and it’s very practical and cheap, which is why so many artists like me live here. I also chose it because people are curious and cultured there. They’re interested in weird, experimental art. You don’t have to be economically efficient and you can take your time because the rent’s not so high.
I wish we could say the same about New York…
I was very scared by New York when I went there. The Metropolitan Museum was the only bit of humanity I found. I felt like I was in the heart of the decisions but then when you’re there it’s like you’re in the heart of a tornado instead- so quiet and safe and civilized, nobody daring to do anything- quite scary. How do you deal with it?
I stick to the outer boroughs and try to live in more diverse communities. It also helps living near the ocean to keep sane. You can grab some Russian dollar pastries and snack on them while you walk along the beach while the senior citizens practice calisthenics on the sand.
I can imagine it’s an interesting time to be living in America. Last time I was there, I encountered a tall guy at a party where nobody wanted to talk to me, and he came up and asked me what sign I was. He explained that I was a Scorpio trying to reach out from under a rock for others.
Do you identify as a lonely person?
I find a safe-net by going towards others. I can remember being settled in my mom’s hometown as a teenager having lots of friends but always experiencing a part of myself that kept me feeling like I was walking next to them without crossing a line. Music is the best way to deal with loneliness. I spent a lot of time on my own gazing at the ceiling and playing guitar [at that time]. It’s a bit like the Prometheus myth- I’m always challenging myself and relearning things I’ve forgotten.
Can you imagine being endlessly connected to others like a big, happy dog in an eternal present?
I can’t, but my percussionist is totally like a dog, really lovely and amazing and sociable, but now that I know him I can read behind his laughter when he can’t handle loneliness, whereas I’m quite prolific when I’m lonely. That’s when I write the words for our songs, but we write the music as a band when we’re living the dog-sort-of-life. Or I build material in my little corner and bring that fruit or sparkle to the band so we can start something together. That’s how it’s worked on the last few albums.
For those who can only dream of spending a day in paris in the thick of a flourishing music career, can you give a description of how that looks?
It’s a bit magical and charming but people are also quite snobbish. What’s fun about staying in Paris is that people take the time to get lost and get immersed in music. People in the art world who come to our shows are craving a bit of the artistic dream, the bohemian life. It still feeds their reception of art and it’s quite glamorous, I find. I also must say that the Parisian girls look exceptional. They’re pretty and well dressed and elegant. It’s charming. I like the Canal Saint Martin. You can swim in it now! They did lots of tests on the water and it’s all good.
It tested negative for radiation and syphilis?
Well, I’m not sure what they tested for.
I hope it will stay like that.
Solide Mirage is out now, via Domino – buy it here
Frànçois will be playing a string of live dates across the UK at the end of March 2017:
Mon 27th March London, UK Moth Club
Tue Mar 28 Bristol, UK Thekla
Wed Mar 29 Manchester, UK Soup Kitchen
Thu Mar 30 Glasgow, UK Mono
Fri Mar 31 Norwich, UK Arts Centre