Chateau Marmont Build A Bridge From Paris To California

Don’t let the name deceive you: the band Chateau Marmont hails from Paris, though they’re no strangers to the iconic Hollywood hotel. You’ll still want to settle in for a while with the synth-pop outfit’s debut LP The Maze, which was released at home in May. Their born-in-the-70s sound ranges from cozy to sprawling and cinematic, and they’re not afraid of a good saxophone solo.

Next week, Chateau Marmont will release the Wind Blows EP, featuring remixes by noted producers Yuksek and Discodeine. I caught up with singer/keyboardist Guillaume de Maria in New York earlier this summer, where we talked about American dreams, sci-fi, and the band’s hardcore past.

How have things changed for you since the last time you came to the US two years ago?
Last time, we were in the middle of the recording the record, [halfway through] the album. When we came to New York, it was the end of a month’s tour in the US. At that time, we tried the songs that we were writing for the album onstage, to see what works and what doesn’t work. After that, we went back to France and finished the album. We got rid of some songs and we kept some others. So we finished the album last year, which we released in France in May. During that time, our original bass player left us; now we have an additional bass player for the stage, now we are three.
 
What was the recording process like, since it was so spread out?
It was very long, where we tried different ways to record. We tried different places, we tried different studios. Each time, it failed. The first time, we rented a house in Bretagne. We spent a week there, trying to compose, and it didn’t work. Afterward, we went back to our first studio in Paris and composed some songs, and after that we got rid of some of those songs, and one day, we found the key of what the album [should] be. After that, it was more simple, until last year, when we finished the album in our second studio.
 
Did you originally form in Paris?
Not really, we lived there for ten years but grew up in the south of France, in the mountains. The biggest city close to where we lived is Toulouse, maybe, or Bordeaux, south-west. We had bands before, then we moved to Paris and we formed Chateau Marmont. We’ve known each other for a long time.
 
What were some of the other bands like?
It was mostly hardcore bands. At the time we were listening to things like Converge or Neurosis, stuff like that. It was a long time ago, it was noisy and brutal music [compared to what we make now].
 
Congratulations on the new EP/album.
Thank you. We hope to release the album in the fall. We don’t know where, we have different leads, but we’re very excited. America, for us, is very important. More than the so-called market, but in terms of influences, we grew up with a lot of American music. It’s a real pleasure to play here in New York or California or the southern states. We always had these images of American music, where you drive–it’s a romantic voice.
 
That really comes across in your video for “Wind Blows.”
Yeah, it was shot in LA by a great guy. We’re really happy with it.
 
It’s interesting how you have a French name, but in America, it’s so evocative of LA and the hotel. Is the video a reference to how you’re associated with this glamorous Southern Californian lifestyle?
We always tried with that song to build a bridge between Paris and California, the fantasy, the vibe. Even if it sounds sunny or Californian, we always have this French type of singing, a sound that you recognize as a French song.
 
 
What makes it recognizably a French song?
We don’t really know, but when you listen to it, you recognize a kind of French touch in it. It’s the way we sing with the soft voice and the sound we use and the scenes. It’s difficult to say. We made this song to try to build a bridge, and yes, the name is a kind of fantasy of California. And the title, "Wind Blows," it’s like that.
 
Did you always have this very romantic vision of California?
Yes, we’re big fans of Californian music, the era at the end of the 70s and au début of the 80s. Big influences. When we go there, we have these images.
 

 
What are some specific artists from that time that influenced you?
We are big fans of Steely Dan. Bands like Toto, Fleetwood Mac, Michael McDonald. Beyond those big artists, there are some underground artists we like too. It’s great music.
 
Were you consciously thinking about America?
Not really, because in our music, there are a lot of influences that are very different. We live close to Germany and we have something special for 70s German music, krautrock. We have this French background, too, of movie composers. It’s a mix.
 
There’s also the decision a lot of French artists make to sing in English.
To sing in French is very difficult because it’s very difficult to write in French. And sometimes when you sing in French, you feel a little bit stupid because it’s your language and you don’t feel comfortable with it. It’s very difficult to make the words sound [good] with the music, it’s a rich language. And besides, we grew up with English and American music, so it’s in our ears and our hearts. Since it’s not our first language, it’s a kind of additional instrument in a way.
 
It’s interesting to see how different French artists address that. I recently read an article about Phoenix in a French magazine that described them as being rejected in France for betraying the language, but they’re also outsiders in English-speaking countries.
It’s changed in the last ten years. But Phoenix, now they’re very recognized in their own country. But you realize that for the [first] two or three albums, everyone hated them at the time.
 
Well, they weren’t quite as good then, either.
No, they weren’t so good on stage. But more than that, people thought, "They’re from a small, rich city, they’re rich wankers, everything’s easy for them." And now we’re really happy for them, they deserve all of this fame, because they’re really hard workers.
 
Do people care about class a lot in the French music scene?
No, but at the time with Phoenix, everyone focused on that. Now with Phoenix, with a lot of French magazines, when you have the kind of song like we have with "Wind Blows," you’re always compared to Phoenix. You’re always accused of reproducing Phoenix because you want to be big in the States, and it’s boring. At the time, ten years ago, there were a lot of bands compared to Gang Of Four, all the English bands–it was a natural thing. Today in France, if you have a kind of soft voice, you get compared to Phoenix. It’s very closed-minded about that in France.
 
Is that part of what drives you to find an audience outside of France, if you are seeking that wider audience?
Since the beginning, we always toured as much in Scandinavia as in France. It was difficult for us as well in France, people didn’t understand. At the beginning, we were compared to porno music composers. When we played a festival in Sweden, the response was really good. French audiences are really weird, there is a kind of frustration or bad spirit, you really build your personality on what you say and what you listen to. You have to take a position to be cool, it’s always easy for French people to spit on bands like us. But I’m a little bit tough, and it’s going well for us at the moment. People are more enthusiastic for us in other countries. In Paris, the audience is a little bit blasé.
 
Could you sum up what feeling you want people to get out of your record?
We always say that we create a vortex with hints of science fiction and erotism.
 
On the album, which song leans most toward science fiction and which is the most erotic?
The end of the album is more science fiction, we have an instrumental trilogy at the end. About erotism, we have this song with a French singer called Alka Balbir (“Affaire Classée”) and we have this instrumental song called "Tales Of The Creek."
 
You have more instrumentals on your album than I was expecting.
For us, we have more singing than in the past. In the past, it was more instrumental.
 
What led to that shift? 
Until to date, we always made EPs. It was a short format for songs and we were on an electronic label. On the full-length album for a major company–it’s not because of that, but we wanted on the full-length to explore more influences and make more pop-oriented songs with real singing and not just vocoder. Different kinds of songs, richer, like an album we’d want to listen to at home.
 
Photo by Katie Chow at Academy Record Annex in Williamsburg
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