INTERVIEW WITH FRENCH PROGROCK BAND NEMO
(by Erik Neuteboom)
Early 2005 I interviewed Guillaume Fontaine (keyboards and vocals) and Jean Pierre Louveton (guitar, vocals and banjo) from the promising French progrock band Nemo. The band was on the brink of the release of their new album “Prelude A La Ruine” (again amazing artwork). In my opinion their sound is an innovative blend of rock, jazz and classic featuring splendid soli on keyboards and guitar, lots of great musical ideas and many strong breaks. Meanwhile the band has released a live CD entitle “Immersion Publique – Live” (recorded April 2005), this album delivers the band at their best and contains their best compositions. Nemo is a band to discover, I hope this interview will evoke your curiosity!
1) What is the story of NEMO, from the very first beginning until now?
Jean Pierre : Well, we started the band in 2000 with Pascal Bertrand (the drummer on the first album) and Guillaume Fontaine because we had the same favorite bands. It was the first time I was meeting musicians here who wanted to play prog rock. We just wanted to make music in the seventies way, like YES or LED ZEPPELIN. We worked on ideas of mine to begin, that became "Abysses" or "Au Dessus Des Pyramides". We stayed at trio until the arrival of Benoît Gaignon to the bass in February 2001. Then we wrote in one year the first album, released in July 2002. Just after the album release, Pascal decided to stop because of his huge sum of work beside the band, but in september Jean Baptiste Itier joined us, and he still is our drummer. We began to work on "Présages" very soon and one year later we could present this second album. I preserve you from every boring details !
2) What are the favorite bands and main influences from all members of the band?
JP : Like I said, YES or LED ZEPPELIN are bands we all love. But we all listen to different kinds of music. I do like some of the new Prog leaders, as THE FLOWER KINGS, TRANSATLANTIC, of course SPOCK'S BEARD, DREAM THEATER, PAIN OF SALVATION, PORCUPINE TREE and many more. I also listen to obscure bands as IZZ. But my first love was the eighties hard rock, with IRON MAIDEN or THIN LIZZY. I can listen to Jazz Rock or Pop rock bands as well...
Guillaume : My favorite Prog bands are the same as JP. And I'm a great fan of DEEP PURPLE and LED ZEPPELIN. The other band members don't really listen to progressive music, so they can bring different influences to Nemo too. Jean Baptiste listens to funky stuff, Benoît is a metal freak, so the band's music is a patchwork of all these styles. We don't refer to any band to compose.
3) I got the impression that most of the members of Nemo are classically trained or grew ?
up very early with music because of the high level of musicianship. What about this?
Guillaume : I study classical piano since the age of 7 (I'm 24), but I only started rock keyboards at the age of 19.
JP : I can't say the same ! I started guitar at 17, and now I'm 34. But I played in a lot of bands since 1987. Jean Baptiste is only 20, but he began drumming at 4 !! Benoît plays his bass since 7 or 8 years, and he learned by his own.
4) What equipment do you use (keyboards, guitars, drums)? How did you produce those marvellous orchestral sounds and spectacular synth solos. How do you get that varied guitar sound?
Guillaume : I have two keybords : one Yamaha EX5 and one Yamaha A5000 sampler driven with the Kurzweil SP76. I often use the built-in sounds, mixed with my own, and I use modulations a lot. The most important is the way you play, more than the sound itself.A rich harmony with some doubled notes can give an great orchestral sound with just a simple string sound. For the solos, I often use the built in sounds of Moog. For the "Sur la tombe du phénix" solo, I played on an old roland synth I was lended.
JP : I use an Ibanez JS and a hand-made guitar. They are plugged in a Digitech rp2000 witch is plug in a Marshall tsl 122. I can make all effect I need with that marvellous machine !
5) How did the press react on your first and second album?
JP : Well, it was a great surprise for us ! Before we made the first record, we knew nothing about specialized press in France. We just made "google search" and found some prog sites as Progressia.net, and we sent the album. Little by little, with the help of internet friends, we reach a lot of fanzine over the world, and until now every review was really positive !
Guillaume : we also had very good critics in national press as Rock hard and Hard Rock. Everyone liked our two albums. It's quite incredible when you know we are just a small band in the middle of france. It makes us stronger for the future !
6) In my opinion your sound is a very innovative and alternating progressive blend of jazz, rock, classic and symphonic. I trace elements from BACH to CHICK COREA and from JOHN MCLAUGHLIN to JOE SATRIANI. Can you tell something about “the making of Présages” (structure of the compositions, dynamics, solos, interplay, musical ideas like marimba/electric guitar) and the difference with the debutalbum Les nouveau mondes? And will you give a further explanation from the story in the booklet (Le président de la Renopli)?
JP : It's a great compliment for us ! We really don't want to be a copy of any other band ! Like we said before, Nemo's music is the fruit of every influence of all members.
Guillaume : When we compose, we keep in mind to make the music move to something always different. If must serve our melodic ideas, but in constant evolution. That's what we did with "présages", and that's what makes the strenght of this album. The musical ideas we have come from our wish to always marry improbable sounds. We are open minded, and prog music is an open music, so we use it !
JP : I think "Présages" is the continuation of "Les Nouveaux Mondes". More mature in sound, playing, and anything you want, but we are still proud of this first record. We did "les nouveaux mondes", like "Présages", totally by ourselves. We knew nothing about what was going on about prog all around. All songs in the album are different, and we composed for example two long suites. But we like short songs as well.
The story on the booklet is about an improbable (!) future when every human being will be assisted by computers. The great generator controls our thoughts and everything else, until the day it doesn't work anymore. Then people have to relearn how to live. Renopli is :"République du nord-planisphère liberal", that you can translate by "Republic of liberal north", witch is our occidental way of controlling the world. We could speak a lot about it !
7) It seems that every French progrock fan grows up with the music (or musical heritage) from the legendary band Ange. How about this and Nemo? And what French bands did you like (I’m a fan of SHYLOCK, ANGE, SANDROSE and VERSAILLES)?
Guillaume : We are very often compared with Ange, and we are always surprised. I personnally didn't know their music before. If there are similitudes between ANGE and NEMO, it is not our fact, but maybe a sort of collective unconscious that makes the particularity of French Prog Rock ?!
JP (laughing) : The same for me : I never listened to ANGE before we created NEMO. Now that I've listen to several albums, I can say it clearly : Nemo does not sound like Ange in my ears ! but if you think it does there is no problem for us ! I think Ange is the only reference of French Prog Rock, because they are the band everybody knows about. They sold 2 millions albums and they are the ones that did it in France. And sorry, I don't know the bands you talk about. I personnally like ECLAT, TAAL, but I don't know many french bands...
8) Do you think you can reach a wider audience if you use the English language or is this no option?
Guillaume : Singing in French is something that we really want, because it is our natural language and we want to communicate with. I really think that this language can cross the French frontiers.
JP : I agree with Guillaume. Maybe we could reach a larger audience, but let's prove that we can be listened all over the world with french lyrics before... Some people really like French singing, not only in France. But maybe we will have to make english versions of our albums, if we sign with a label. the best thing would be to release two versions, but we can't for the moment.
9) What about the current progrock situation in France and how important is French progrock label Musea? Do you know or follow other progrock band in France, Europe or worldwide?
JP : Oh, it's a small society. But with the internet, prog lovers can now gather and speak of their passion. That music will never be popular again, I think, but there is a regain of interest until four or five years. A lot of bands emerge, but it is hard for them (and us) to sell their records. And Musea seems to be more involved in offshore bands (:D) than in French bands. I can understand : they can sell bands records and earn money without signing them. Maybe it is hard for them too. I don't know. We are in contact with several French bands (EX-VAGUS, SAENS, LAC PLACIDE...), and maybe we could organize something like concerts here in France. We also played in two important festivals and we met great bands like Anglagard or Cast.
10) What are the future plans from Nemo?
Guillaume : We have just finished to record our third album called "Prélude à la ruine" and we hope that this album will reach a wider audience, with all our news retailers in the whole world. We also hope to play in many festivals in Europe to present the new album on stage.
JP : Yes, and we would be honored to come in the Netherlands ! We hope that the new album
will find its audience, to let the people know that Nemo gives his best in every album. thank you for the interview !