INTERVIEW – MARC COLLIN, NOUVELLE VAGUE – January 2017
By Shane Pinnegar
French duo Olivier Libaux and Marc Collin thought up a crazy idea in 2004 – the producers and musicians would make a cover version of Joy Division’s post-punk classic Love Will Tear Us Apart in a bossa nova (Portuguese for ‘new wave’). It worked so well that other new wave, punk and post-punk tunes followed, and their debut album was lounge classic, featuring covers of tracks from XTC, Public Image Limited, The Clash and, famously, The Dead Kennedy’s abrasive Too Drunk To Fuck.
Songs from the likes of The Buzzcocks, Billy Idol, The Cramps and Blondie followed on album #2: 2006’s Bande Á Part, while 2009’s 3 took the novel approach of inviting the original artists to collaborate on their versions of tracks from Depeche Mode, Echo & the Bunnymen and others. For the first time critics started to backlash at the band, unfairly feeling that the format was becoming repetitive, and some of the acts approached for the project were not willing to be involved.
Dented, but not out for the count, for 2010’s Couleurs sur Paris, the duo turned their sights on cult French acts such as Indochine, Elli et Jacno, La Mano Negro and Taxi Girl, singing mostly in French.
Nouvelle Vague then took a hiatus, Libaux and Collin working on other projects until 2016 saw the release of fifth album I Could Be Happy, a collection of six new covers (including the title track from Altered Images, The Ramones and The Cure) and – for the first time – four originals.
Nouvelle Vague wrap up their Australian tour in Perth this Sunday, 22 January, 2017, at The Rosemount Hotel.
We managed to snaffle a little of Marc Collin’s time on tour to talk Nouvelle Vague.
Revolutionary, maybe not – but it was a great idea, very post modern somehow to play with all this genres of music, ‘50s, Brazil, ‘80s, France, ‘60s etc, creating something new and personal [and] unexpected.
I Could Be Happy is your first album in seven years – why such a long break, and why was 2016 the right time to make a new album?
Because after Couleur sur Paris in 2010, I thought we have said everything with this project through our four albums and thousands of concerts around the world. I wanted to take a break to think of something new – but I have to admit that nothing has came up! And finally I’ve noticed that the project was still living [with] a lot of streams. There was an expectation so why not coming back with our sound ?
Very good so far. I don’t think that people are really [noticing] the difference between the covers and these songs, as most of our covers are not very famous anyway. And finally we can say that people likes our sound, our singers, our mood etc, after all. A lot of people even don’t know we are a cover band!
When you select the songs you want to cover, is there much trial and error in writing the new arrangements?
No, ‘cos most of the time we have an idea of how the arrangement should be like – a vision, a scenario. For example, for Heart Of Glass, I imagined a young Jamaican guy singing in the nature, near a farm, for [his] ex. After, it’s just a question of work to gather the instruments and cast to recreate this vision.
You’ve used a lot of different singers throughout your career as Nouvelle Vague – were you ever tempted to form a more traditional band structure with a permanent singer, or do you like the versatility of being able to use whoever you want for different songs?
The singers have always brought a lot of freshness to the project, new interpretations, new ideas, vocals, dances, etcetera, so it’s important to change from time to time, especially ‘cos almost all of them got their own project, and can’t do all the shows [we do]. Although Melanie Pain is with us since the first show in 2004, and she’s the main voice of Nouvelle Vague.
For your album 3 you invited members of the bands you were covering to work on your versions of their tracks – but not everyone approved… as a music fan and a musician, is it hard not to take that as a personal affront?
Not at all, ‘cos I can understand their point of view. Besides, it was so amazing to have people like Martin Gore, Terry Hall and Ian McCullough, that I can forgive the ones who has declined – too bad for them! I must add that almost all of the people we have asked have said, ‘yes.’
Well that’s not bad, but I think we are more than this! But yes, we are choosing songs that most of the people had never heard of, and for those who know the originals, we are bringing them into another dimension!
Some people enjoy the music as much for the irony of hearing aggressive new wave and punk tunes performed in such a cute way… What factors go into deciding which songs to re-arrange?
First, I’ll not say that we are doing all this covers in a cute way! If you listen to all the albums, I don’t think we can say that, and that’s why we are still there somehow. We are putting a lot of personal ideas behind these covers: some are very nostalgic, some are mysterious, crazy for example. We are trying to find great songs that are not covered that much – who has covered All Cats Are Grey [by The Cure], for example, or Athol Brose [by Cocteau Twins]?
When you first started you were reknowned more as producers than performers – was it a difficult transition to take your studio interpretations of these famous songs and make them work on stage with a live band?
Not really, as we knew we had [singer] Camille at this time, [who] was a great performer, and the first album was very simple – based on Olivier’s guitars. So we’ve started the live [versions] like that: one guitar, two singers, and I was playing a bit of keyboard. [Over the] years we’ve added a double bass, then a drum
There has been talk in various interviews of an anniversary album featuring some previous covers you did, re-recorded with street musicians from around the world. Is that still planned?
Not really, as it was impossible to have the master tracks [work], but we have another project for this anniversary – it’s to record a live set in Paris with a jazz band, brasses, etc, [and] releasing as a special edition in vinyl!
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