In the digital age, with almost everything available at the push of a button or through a screen, it is interesting to see how culture and personal tastes develop. When it comes to music, we have access to almost everything ever recorded and currently being released all over the world.
Over the course of the pandemic I stumbled upon and fell in love with the Parisian band L’Impératrice. Combining disco, funk and French pop in a modern synthesizer fashion, their sound offers a lot —— even with a language barrier in place, their music is hard to not enjoy.
Having released their sophomore album Tako Tsubo earlier this year, I had the opportunity to chat with Flore Benguigui and Charles de Boisseguin over Zoom amidst the end of their 2021 tour.
Brian: Well first of all thank you for doing this.
Flore: Oh, pleasure!
B: Anyway, my name is Brian. Fun fact, I’ve actually been learning French so that I can understand the lyrics better.
F: Oh really, how is it? How’s it going?
B: I’ve been on that Duolingo grind. So yeah, rate my French. Je m’appelle Brian. Et toi?
F: Oh that’s very good!
B: I’ve listened to your whole discography and it’s refreshing to hear the French wave and what’s going on over there. Growing up in the 2000s, what I would hear in music was often somewhat electronic, autotuned and full of synths. People like Kanye West, MGMT and Daft Punk were really on the come up and it seems a sort of musical evolution has been going on ever since. I’m curious about your take of Parisian music in terms of this.
F: I don’t know if we’re an evolution of this. I would say what makes our songs maybe a bit peculiar is that we find that we are a band and that’s not usual these days, especially in France but also in the rest of the world. I feel bands are not much of a thing anymore. Hopefully we’ll come back, it’s just another way of making music. It’s really different in the studio versus live because we’re also a live band. Performing live is a very big part of music.
Charles: In our instance we were in a system with the members. We gather our influences together and it makes this, you know, just making your song sound good. That’s the secret.
B: What role do you see yourselves playing in terms of music, especially within the streaming world?
F: Well, the streaming is in a way very frustrating for most of the artists because of the money thing, but at the same time, it’s such a blessing because thanks to streaming we can reach fans everywhere in the world. We are a French band and I sing in French so we never thought in the past that we could, you know, do a tour abroad because it doesn’t make sense as a French band. Also there are no French bands who have international listeners, so we feel very lucky about this and it’s really thanks to streaming. It’s so easy nowadays to discover foreign artists thanks to that.
C: Nothing to add, except that streaming can be sometimes really frustrating because of the way people are listening only to hear songs you know, and not to the album. And when you record an album, you do it to make people listen to it fully, you know, because we are kind of telling a story and sometimes it just allows people to pick some songs and ignore the main discography. But yeah, it’s just a new way so whatever.
B: Oh, without a doubt. I’m personally guilty of that where I’ll listen to a track or two off of a vinyl or an album until I eventually really love the songs and I’ll check out the full album.
You put the whole album on streaming and it’s so easy just to pick one song and put it in the playlist and you just never know what the album is about.Flore, L’Imperatrice
B: What would you say is the message behind your last album Tako Tsubo?
F: We wanted to focus on the rupture inside music and inside people and in the world, also the fact that you can embrace the fact of being on the edge of society and not being like everybody else. That was the first idea and that’s why we made all these songs — you never know where it’s going and the lyrics also express this. This rupture is within people too and also between oneself and the society. So Tako Tsubo is a more poetic way to express it.
B: What was the biggest learning point and how would you say you’ve grown since your previous album Matahari?
C: I think we just decided to assume our influences, you know, since Matahari was sort of a songwriter album with the chorus and the verses, etc. I don’t know, the mood is really different.
F: Ableton Live album.
C: Yeah, first, it was a live album that we recorded all together in the studio, then, for Tako Tsubo, we decided to produce it in a modern way, just to spend hours on each song and each sound to make it perfect, etc. About the influences, I think we decided to assume them because of the way we’ve been touring abroad, the way we discovered our new audience in the US, in Mexico and everywhere. We just think differently with this, it’s just a different way to anticipate and to compose music. And we decided to add some more true influences, like hip-hop, jazz, soul, funk, disco and really mix it together.
F: And also, we made no compromises for this album, because it was our first album so we didn’t really know what to expect. And we were, of course, afraid of the first step. And for the second one, I mean, we always feel afraid, there’s all the pressure always on the second album, but we were feeling more comfortable within the band and with the people we work with, and so we didn’t want to make any compromises. We really did the songs the way we wanted to do them. Even sometimes, there’s a sudden change and some people would say, oh, you’re gonna lose your audience there. We were like, no no we want to do this, we will do this the way we want. So that’s the cool thing about this album, I think that shows that we have grown up a bit.
B: With Matahari, you released a French version and an English version. Then with this next one, you kind of just had a few English ones in there but the rest French. I’m curious if that’s part of really owning your image. This is us, you know, this is what you’re gonna have.
F: Yeah, because to be honest with you, the English version of Matahari was something that we’d been asked to do. It’s a label, and not the people that we work with in the US, and everybody was asking us for English versions. And we were not really keen about it but we thought we had no choice and that we wouldn’t be able to make it abroad if we only had French songs. And that’s also where we trusted ourselves more on the second album, because people still asked us to do English versions, we just said no. These songs exist in English, or in French, but not in both languages because otherwise you never know which one is the right version or which one you’re going to play live, which one would people prefer? And actually, when we did the American tour in 2019, we were asking people if they wanted to hear the English or the French version, and they would want us to do the French version.
B: I completely agree, that’s always my preference. I think it’s easier to convey the emotion and your voice is great, I think it sounds great in French.
B: So I was reading that you (Flore) were added in 2015, a couple years after the band had been established. How was the band dynamic upon adding you and how did things change. Was it like one of those Freddie Mercury moments where the band goes see Freddie Mercury at the pub one night and goes oh… I like you. You’re gonna come with us.
C: It happened exactly the same way. I went to see Flore singing and I was like, okay, she’s the new Freddie Mercury. I begged her to join the band and I had to pay her a lot. The meeting was really random. We were at the same gig together, but we didn’t know each other and she came to talk to me.
F: I was a big fan.
C: Yes, she has always been a groupie.
C: Yeah, and I don’t know, it was really spontaneous and I asked her to suggest some melodies on some songs we recorded already and it just happened. And then the dynamic has changed because we didn’t really know how to compose music with vocals back then. I don’t think we had a place for the vocals and we had to work on it. It’s changed completely. Yeah, so not the same.
B: A fair amount of your songs have lyrics that tend to be on the heartbreak side. How do you think the whole aspect of emotion delves into music?
F: Well not all the songs are about heartbreak. All the songs are about this rupture thing – a sudden change – but it’s due to an emotion and it can be a very positive emotion or can be a negative one. Most of the time it was a negative emotion that created Tako Tsubo but it can also be a positive one. So the idea in this album was not only to write about being heartbroken, although of course I did because I was facing a breakup at that time. In the end, the message is never too dark, it’s always we’ve got to lift up. The lyrics of this album are more personal, more down to earth, I wanted them to mean something and that people could be touched more.
B: I think that’s great. Being able to connect with another person in that, like, musical level, I think it’s a human experience type thing where we can all listen to something and feel something.
F: Yeah, I feel that songs are always more touching when you feel that the person singing has actually felt this.
B: So what’s next for the band?
C: The tour just ended because we had almost 30 gigs this summer. That was really great and now we are having a break to rehearse and to build a new show before touring the US, Mexico and Europe again next year.
F: Yeah, we are preparing new surprises and new stuff, so we’re not on holidays or anything like that.
B: Quarantine is over, well kinda. So last question. I always like to ask this last one because you always get a random or different response. But what is your message to the kids?
F: I would say to trust themselves and never trust somebody who’s pretending to know better than you.
C: Just be optimistic. It’s really important because they will be going through hard times.
F: There’s always a light at the end of the tunnel.
B: Yeah, I agree. Thank you guys for chatting. I’ll be following your journey and hope to see you on tour next year!
You can find L’Impératrice’s music on all streaming services. Listen to their latest album Tako Tsubo, out now!
Brian Mendez is .WAV’s Promotions Director. He wrote conducted the interview and wrote the article. Renee is one of .WAV’s General Managers. She created the graphic.