Le Belmont, May 10th, a nice breeze and the sun was out. That was when London, England band Breton members Roman Rappak, Dan McIlvenny, and Adam Ainger gave a special interview for Montreal Rampage. They were here launching their new album War Room Stories and making their third visit to our beautiful province so far. The indie pop electronic band will come back, for sure, after the warm welcome they received and the relentless applause prompting them to make a second appearance onstage!
Before the show, we took a few moments together to discuss, among other things, the Berlin experience and the recording of that opus in the Funkhaus, a Communist communication centre from the Soviet era. A recurrent idea is that violence and underlying pressure is as much present today as it was in the past, says Roman. They are also independent film-makers, so we could not go on without broaching the importance of the visual design of the cover and cutting-edge video, which usually comes with the stage performance.
Mylène Chvereul (MC): With Roman and Adam as initial founders, how did you eventually integrate the other three within the band?
Roman Rappak (RR): Every one has their role to play. Normally, the way that we realized we needed the other members was that we felt badly that something was missing from the band. Everybody brings his own kind of skill within the band and Ian is definitely quite organized!
MC: Were you friends before the band?
RR: We were never friends before, actually. I hated Adam at first (giggles). We met at an audition actually, Adam and I. So the first thing that we ever did together was playing music, then friendship came from playing music.
MC: After releasing this new album, do you think you may have captured what can perceived as your own sound?
Dan McIlvenny (DM): I think we got closer to what can be perceived as our own sound.
RR: The thing that I’ve always enjoyed about being in a band is that – the bands that are in a major, they have great publicity looks and sound, an album comes out and it’s fully formed – and I don’t think that’s ever a band I want to be in. I like the fact that our band has been in a process of discovery from the first, like, we still try to understand what music we make. As long as you can’t describe the style properly, then music has to speak for itself.
MC: Do you each have your own personal word to describe what you do ?
RR: I have my word, Adam has his. Dan, he whistles his into a bottle (giggles). I would describe it as — depending on how irritating I’m feeling — post-internet. We wouldn’t have existed before the internet and our band is all about sharing stuff online.
MC: You went to Berlin to record the opus and its title is reminiscent of WW2. As you mentioned in an interview, it’s a reference to the room where Churchill used to lead the country and yet being isolated from it, and Berlin is a place reminding us of the Soviet era. So it all takes us back to times when conflicts went all the rage in Europe. Do you feel there still a threatening feeling of latent violence in our time and place?
RR: Absolutely. In every aspect of life. When you try to make something or create an album, you’re fighting against ressources and time and money. And you finally get different definitions of your music and your album. I think, even to exist now, no to have day jobs and to be able to take three months off in your life and go around the world play music, is definitely not the same as in the seventies, when you made a record and made millions out of it and would never need to work again. Now, it’s a different struggle; it’s an honourable one, just like a sculptor or a photographer has. You have to be a devoted artist.
Even when you get to see amazing landscape and meet beautiful people, some bits are tough, like “are we going to write stuff?,” we’re away from family and pets. There has to be a struggle, otherwise, you turn out like the Arctic Monkeys or something.
MC: On your CD cover, there is this image of a Giant Blue Morpho type of butterfly, it’s a rare and protected specimen here, I don’t know if you’re much into biology but… (giggles)
RR: Amazing, what does it mean to you when you see that butterfly?
MC: Well, it reminds me of something fleeting and everchanging, something fragile too.
RR: That’s a beautiful analogy. Wish we had though of all that.
Adam Ainger (AA): We actually took it from a friend’s collections of artworks with different designs.
MC: Yes, I saw a hammer, a hatchet and a bulb among other things. Are they symbolical objects or…?
RR: Yes, they’re symbolic, and what excites me most about those objects is that they don’t have a specific interpretation. I don’t know about biology but each makes connections with the things that they know. A successful piece of art of a good photo isn’t something that has a definite meaning. It is so loaded that you can turn it different ways – whichever way you look at it. When I look at that butterfly, it strikes me as the cliched, basic, primary school art reference, which is regeneration and rebirth, and it’s also a light and elegant beautiful insect. But there are also connotations, like it’s dead you see. It’s been nailed to a plank and it’s been poured and drowned in liquid but then the liquid looks like nail varnish, so it’s fake. And then, when we talking about conflict, maybe that’s where the conflict lies, in one interpretation and then another, something beautiful and then something dead, something elegant and something violent, and I think that’s why our music has to be. We don’t want to record any more albums until we find that struggle.
MC: The visual element is always very striking in your shows too, like a distinctive kind of art. Are you considering further options to keep enhancing your music?
RR: Yes, we have soundtrack installations, photo exhibitions and about three months ago we played at the Melbourne Film Festival where we got a string quartet and the incredible cinema, and we soundtrack ten films live. That was at the experimental side of what we do.
MC: New live concerts?
RR: The North American Tour ends within a week in New York then we’ll be playing in summer festivals.
MC: Great, thanks to you again!
Band: Thank you !
More writing by Mylène Chevreul can be found at La Chouette Eclairee. Video link to interview to be added soon.