Paris Combo, swinging back in
New album, 5
The last Paris Combo album, Motifs, dates from 2004. A decade on, Combo is back in Paris and other French venues to tout their new opus, 5. The long pause clearly hasn’t diminished their love of singing and swinging. RFI Musique met up with Belle du Berry, lead singer of this slightly reshuffled but totally talented quintet.
RFI Musique: What have you been doing for the last ten years?
Belle du Berry: We wound up 2005 with a series of concerts at the New Morning with loads of guests and then we decided to press the pause button. We all focused on our individual activities, which is important for an artist because being in a group really absorbs you. Sometimes, it stops the kind of fluidity you need to get involved in other projects. So, we all needed to get some air. The group didn’t always represent individual aspirations. It’s complicated being in a group… it’s a kind of machine... it’s not like, for example, Arthur H, who puts a new team together for each album. There’s a point when you start to feel a bit like a prisoner. So you need to get a bit of fresh air and then, when you feel that you’re missing it, you really enjoy getting back together again.
One band member did definitively leave…
Yes, our double bass player (Mano) got way… That can happen after ten years. He’s now living his life as a Parisian musician, but we haven’t heard from him much.
And what did the others do during the break?
David composes music for documentaries, which is what he’s doing at the moment for the Australian director David Bradbury, who’s making a fictional documentary on the Vietnam War and the young Australians who fought in it. Potzi is playing in his gipsy swing circuit, and François accompanies a western swing group. He’s played with the Effeuilleuses and Juliette Dragon, doing burlesque striptease.
The group’s comeback was marked by a prestigious concert at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles in 2011.
We were rehearsing a new repertoire for the new album when they asked us to do it. We’d already played at the Hollywood Bowl once in 2005. Four songs had been arranged for a symphony orchestra and they requested another song, so we decided we needed to do some preparation. We were looking for a working residence, and the Fresnes Theatre in the Paris suburbs invited us. And then, from Fresnes, straight to Hollywood!
How does the American public see you?
They see a fanciful, fantastic image of France in us. They’re attracted to our strong swing influences and our taste for 1930s song and films. It’s our own particular brew of very old genres, updated for an American public. It’s an imaginary image of France and our culture. It’s spiced up with jazz and improvisation, so they see it as something original but at the same time very familiar.
It’s funny because in France, when we started out, people and journalists used to ask us why we’d gone back to this gipsy jazz, neo-Django style – that was before the trend for Sanseverino and Thomas Dutronc – but at the same time in the United States, our music seemed really self-evident and natural.
Since you started out in 1995, the music industry has changed a lot. What’s your view of how it’s developed?
The milieu has taken a dive. I lived through the end of the alternative movement as a “post-punk”. I arrived at the end of that trend, and today I feel like I’m experiencing the end of something else. We’re questioning the basic things that the whole music world revolved around: copyright, the notion of free music, the value of a work or an album, the time spent working on it, and the value of an artist. Increasingly, we’re in a society where you take it, throw it against the wall, and if it sticks, great, if it doesn’t then it doesn’t matter, you just throw it away… And it’s not such a big deal for me because I’ve been in the trade for twenty years and I’ve benefitted from a lot of things. But when I think of the young musicians… it’s more worrying for them. The big companies have thrown everyone out, or almost everyone, so now there are all these little companies trying to live from a few artists, but in fact the whole system is breaking down.
Paris Combo, 5 (Cristal Records / Sony) 2014
Performing live on 15 March in Nantes, 25 March in Lyon, 29 March in Paris at the Trianon and then on tour
Paris Combo's official website
Paris Combo on Facebook
Translation: A-M. Harper