Saturday, 4 February 2012

Frànçois and the Atlas Mountains

Frànçois and the Atlas Mountains recently became Domino's first Gallic signings, and it's a pairing that seems to be long overdue - the band's indie-afro-funk-pop charms sit perfectly amidst the likes of Robert Wyatt, Animal Collective and The Magnetic Fields on Domino's inimitable roster.

Since moving to Bristol (with just a trumpet and a desire to play music),
Frànçois Marry has effortlessly endeared himself, and his music, to the thinking-person's indie underground. A stint in Camera Obscura and a record released on Fence ought to be enough to convince you of that, regardless of the contract the band have just signed, and the hugely successful tour they've just completed.

I spoke to Frànçois on the final night of this tour, and in-between the background noise and signal problems, we had the following conversation...

                                     Frànçois (left) and the Atlas Mountains. Photograph by Lola Prestowski

Who are the Atlas Mountains?
At the moment, it's an English drummer called Rob Hunter - I met him in Bristol - there's a Scottish keyboard player and singer - I met him in Fife, when I was touring - and there's two other French guys, called Amaury Ranger - he plays bass and saxophone - and there's another guy called Pierre. I met him in Bordeaux. I am Fránçois, and I am French, and I live in the UK. I have lived in Bristol for six years. We're touring the UK at the moment. It's the first tour we've done with the record out.

How has the tour been? It's probably the first time most of the audience have seen you.

It's been really good. It's good timing because there's been a lot of radio play for the songs. It's been quite busy every night. We've played in Glasgow, London, Bristol, Brighton, Liverpool, Manchester... It's been busy everywhere and we're playing the new songs, to get ourselves excited.

Are you playing any of your old songs?

No. Maybe just a couple. We played 'Royan' (from 2009), and one of the songs that was on Fence Records.

Do you think you would have still signed to Domino if you lived in France?
I live in France at the moment, but I would never have signed to Domino if I had never been to Bristol. My album came to them by way of Fence Records, and I met the people from Fence Records when I was living in Bristol.

You lived in Glasgow too, didn't you?
Yes, for six years.

Woah, really?
No, sorry! Six months. Months.

You like a lot of the music from around here, don't you?
Yeah, there are a lot of bands I really love from Glasgow, like The Pastels and International Airport. I really like anything that Geographic put out. I really like Camera Obscura. I played with them for a while. I really like Bill Wells. There's lots of stuff. The people there are quite relaxed, but at the same time it's modern music. They really keep up to date with modern music and modern sound in Glasgow,but it's a city that manages to be quite laid-back and down to earth about it.

As a French guy who loves Glasgow music and lived in Bristol, where does the African sound in your music come from?
There are a lot of African music festivals in France, and when you go to the library in France there's a lot about African culture, about African life, about African music. There's a lot of connection between Africa and France because of the colonial past. And obviously, musically, it's one of the most interesting musics because it's so strong rhythmically. It doesn't seem elaborate when you hear it from the outside, it can sound like dance music or like pop music, but actually there's lots of subtleties in the playing. And the way it sounds magical, when it's done with very simple instruments. It can sound very transcendental, very spiritual.

Am I right that you recorded the new record in a church? Why did you do that?
It wasn't really part of the process really, it's actually a community centre. Like a town hall type of thing. It was just one space that was available in Saintes, where we're from. It's been declared by the city as a sort of residency space for musicians. It was the most simple, and most available place to work in.

Tell me about what you were listening to when you were making the album. I've read that you were listening to Soundway stuff, which I can hear in it, but also Aphex Twin?
Well, I'm not really attached to any genre of music, but I really like when you can feel the artist behind the music has been trying to explore a new territory, sonically. Via sound. It doesn't matter if it's Aphex Twin, or if it's Pictish Trail doing folk music. I like when you feel that the musician behind it is looking for something other-worldly.

You've been getting a lot of good press, and loads of radio play since the record came out. Is it hard work now, or just more fun?

It's not more fun, actually. It's just the same amount of fun. It feels like it's changing, and it's always a good sign when things aren't staying the same. I'm the type of person who gets bored really quickly, and I'm really pleased that we have more excitement and more people coming to see us. If we didn't, it would feel exactly the same as it did five years ago. It is fun because it's changing, but it's also a lot of work. There's more things to organise and more people involved... Just different I guess.

What are your plans for 2012?
It's going to be a big year, we're mostly touring. We're doing a German tour in February, then we're touring France in March, and there's a big London show - in Cargo - scheduled for April as well. Then the summer festivals, and all that kind of thing. But I really want to carry on finding new songs, or new ways to play the songs we have. Trying different musical ideas inside the band, but also maybe trying to collaborate with some people on side-projects. Can you hear me?

I'm in a cafe and I can't get out, because my phone is plugged in the wall. Can you hear me?

That's better.
Ok. Everything is going so well that I'm just happy to go along with it!

Did you ever skateboard?
Yeah! From the ages of eleven to about seventeen I pretty much spent most of my time outside skateboarding. It was a big part of my teenage years.

That was a good time for skateboard videos.
Yeah, yeah! There was the Plan B video, Questionable, and the 101 videos... Mark Gonzales and Ed Templeton too, I really loved those guys. And I really loved Slap magazine. There was always a bit of painting, a bit of illustration and things about music in it. I was very much influenced by the more gentle side of skateboarding. I wasn't much of a Thrasher fan. More of a Slap fan.

Cool. Do you get much of a chance to go record shopping when you're on tour?
We don't have much time. I spend a lot of my time downloading stuff from Analog Africa, of Awesome Tapes From Africa. But in terms of records, recently I've bought Ducktails, the album of the guy from Real Estate.

Matthew Mondanile.
Yeah, Matthew from Real Estate.It's really nice. And also a Robert Wyatt compilation...

You're on Domino! You should get your Robert Wyatt stuff for free.
Haha! Well, we can't get everything for free. And it's quite good to support people. We've been quite liking the new R&B sound, stuff like The Weeknd, and Drake. Hmmm... I'm sitting next to my friend and I don't think he really likes that stuff.

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