LOCAL Spotlight: French 75 (Dallas)
Just days away from the Dallas Observer’s Artopia show, we decided to reach out to one of the bands to see just what exactly we’re in for.
Two-piece, electro-pop duo French 75 has been making some waves in Dallas lately. The band has been working nonstop since its formation back in 2013. With the release of the bands first EP Echoes, along with two impressive music videos and a fully remixed version of Echoes, artists Jencey and Cole Keeton are showing that their creativity and love for the music has no bounds. With no signs of slowing down, this band is definitely one to watch.
Q. Let’s start with the name – why French 75?
A. Right after I finished Smile Smile I started recording with Salim Nourallah in his studio Pleasantry Lane. I was at a turning point with music and wasn’t sure what sound or path I wanted to pursue. During one studio session my friends brought over champagne and gin, which turned into a lesson on how to make a French 75. To me it signifies that independence of embarking on a new discovery of who I was as a musician, so that drink has a very personal connotation to me. Almost like the “Drink Me” tag from Alice in Wonderland. From a general sense of the word though, it’s a delicious drink which has been around since at least the 30’s and it named after the small but power French 75mm field gun. Who doesn’t love booze and guns?
Q. Your first EP “Echoes” was released last June – Can you describe the creative process behind it?
A. For the first time I was solely responsible for the music on the album so it was a very freeing yet terrifying experience for me. The way that I write songs isn’t always consistent but I can say that most of the songs on the album were written during my 45 minute drive to work every day. I would come up with a melody in my head and record it on my phone. I have about 100+ clips of different melodies that I picked through to work out the songs for our last EP. We set up a studio in our basement and recorded all the tracks ourselves from vocals to keys to drums. Emsy Robinson Jr. who plays in a million Dallas bands recorded Bass and Guitar on a couple of the songs and we gave him free reign to experiment with how it fit within the electronic landscape. Even though we recorded at home, we needed a professional to help shape the mixing and mastering of the songs for release. We hired Tom Polce, better know as the drummer for Letters to Cleo, who has worked with artists like Bob Dylan and T. Bone Burnett. http://www.tompolce.com/ He put the finishing touches on the songs and helped us created tracks for our live show.
Q. Was there one moment when there was a cohesive feeling of, “This is
the album. This is the project that we imagined and it’s now taking
A. In the beginning I thought this project was going to be just me creating and shaping the music. “Pay Attention” was the first song I worked on and I was actually really nervous about anyone hearing it during the creative process. Cole came down into the studio one night to listen and started tapping along with different rhythms. After that we started working on the song together and when we heard the finished version after it was mixed by Tom, I knew this was going to be a great album.
Q. What’s your favorite song from “Echoes” to perform live?
A. I love performing “Pay Attention” because we usually open with it. It’s so fun to start the show with a direct line for the audience to “Pay Attention…”. You’ll see them all start to look up from their phones and drinks and conversations and start listening to the music. It’s also really fun to not be tied to an instrument for this project so I can move around the stage! We have a fully customized lighting rig that was designed and programmed by Lee Duck (www.ducklights.com), so each song has a different sound and lightscape which makes it a truly memorable experience to see.
Q. If you had to compare French 75’s sound to another band, which band would it be?
A. I think a lot of people compare us to Phantogram or maybe Chvrches. When I write music I never reference other people’s sounds so I always look to the audience or music editors to find the comparisons since they are more well versed in so many acts.
Q. If “Echoes” were a movie, which movie would it be?
A. This is a great question! I think the album could be interpreted as The Zero Theorem, which is described as this: A computer hacker whose goal is to discover the reason for human existence continually finds his work interrupted thanks to the Management; namely, they send a teenager and lusty love interest to distract him. It wraps up the balance of technology, relationships, society, lust and religion perfectly.
Q. Fans may know you, Jencey, from your Smile Smile days. How does French 75’s style/delivery differ from your previous bands’?
A. I would say that French 75 is the most authentic version of me as a musician that you are going to receive. All our the songs are built on the main principle of singer-songwriter structure but modernized as we’ve brought them into the electronic soundscape. Smile Smile was my first band and those songs will always be a part of me but I’m really ready to break away and bring something new to the table. I’m hoping that anyone who was a Smile Smile fan or new to hearing French 75 likes the music for their own unique reasons.
Q. Is there a general sentiment behind “Echoes” – or is it more of a collection of emotions over a period of time?
A. “Echoes” is actually named after those little shadows in a sonogram that show possible masses in your body. I first heard that term right before I had surgery the year I was creating the album and it prompted me to start working on music again as a means of releasing my thoughts. The songs were written over a couple of months and I pulled from the things that were closest to me, being frustrated with the ideas of creation, love, happiness, awareness and the selfishness of our community in a society so obsessed with technology that they are neglecting the things that mean the most
Q. What feelings do you want your music to evoke in the listener?
A. I would love if the listener gets a sense of focus and self-awareness when they listen to the album. It’s meant to create thought about yourself or your relationships with the world in a hopeful way. Hopefully they will also just enjoy the songs!
Q. About a year ago, you released a video for “Pay Attention” and then just this past October, you released the video for “Get Out Tonight”. Can you explain the theme for the videos and which was your favorite to shoot?
A. Cole has really been the shaping force behind all of the music videos. When we originally shot “Pay Attention” and “Blue Skies”, the idea was that all of our videos would connect and create a series. Pay Attention was the idea of a post-apocalyptic world where the cities had basically collapsed and anyone left remaining inside of them was dangerous. The character in the video has to travel to the city to gather food, goods, etc. but is living in the forest away from technology. The main idea behind Pay Attention is to get off of your phone computer etc and to look at the people around you. Can you hear my heart beat? is a direct reference for the need for human connection again. Get Out Tonight was a departure from the idea of a series since we were collaborating with Bryan Bayley of Treehouse Edit. Bryan has amazing post-production skills so we wanted to create a video which could showcase his ideas and talents. We shot on a blank canvas so to speak and worked with him to create a world which blended shapes and light.
Q. Dillon Bartel a/k/a Mouth Mold remixed “Echoes” – Which remix is your favorite? Did either of you have a creative hand in the remixing process?
A. We love the remix album so it’s hard to pick a favorite! I think “Blue Skies” is our favorite remix as it completely reverses the feeling of the verses and choruses and showcases what Mouth Mold is best at as a producer. We let Dillion have free reign on all of the remixes which was a fun surprise every time he would send the finished ones back to us. We actually didn’t make any changes at all to them.
Q. Going forward, what do you see being your biggest challenge on the road to success in the music industry?
A. I think the biggest challenge nowadays is finding your audience in a market that’s obsessed with only showcasing bands that have already “made it”. Also the market is just overwhelmed with talent as a result of technology making recording and self-releasing accessible to everyone. I would hope that we’ll be successful the same way any band is, building fan by fan with people who are either looking for the music or finding it on accident and embracing it as their own.
Q. On the heels of that last question, how do each of you define “success”?
A. Cole defines success as having the audience understand and embrace the music. It’s something that you can’t measure in album sales or ticket sales. Honestly I would define success as being happy with what I’m creating and having the ability to share it with an audience who also directly takes part in the creation. Every time we play a show we meet people who give us great feedback on the songs or their experiences with it. Hopefully that will bring bigger opportunities along the way.
Q. You recently shared the stage with Dale Earnhardt Jr Jr and the Blow. What was that like?
A. Well I would say those shows were polar opposites in the best way possible! The Dale show was a younger audience and a complete party, while The Blow has such a long-standing and established fan base they were there to see the unique experience of Khaela recreating the recording experience in front of them. I would say at both shows we met people who loved the music and the most interesting part to me is people always ask where we are from. I think that shows Dallas has a long way to go in supporting local music and discovering hidden gems in our own backyard. We are so thankful to Spune and Transmission who added us to those shows because they both really care about introducing new acts that they stand behind. If you go to any of their shows you are in for a great night even if you’ve never heard of any of the bands.
Q. Do either of you have any pre-show rituals?
A. Well I have this embarrassing tendency to sing the only pre-show warm up songs I know which are from my fourth grade choir summer camp days. They are called “Poor Donna Denwix” and “It’s Not That Nina’s Naughty”. So I really hope no one finds me singing those before our shows. Cole doesn’t drink before shows since he has so many moving pieces during the show and he tries to really calm down and focus. He has a 9 pad drum machine with a different setup for each one of our 11 songs.
Q. If you could have one artist cover one song on this album, who and what would it be and why? Alternatively, is there a specific artist or song that you’d like to cover?
A. Cole would be blown away if Bjork covered one of our songs because of her creativity as an artist. He believes what we’re doing is creating music as art and he’d be interested to see her interpretation. I would go the opposite way and want to hear someone with a deep voice sing our songs. My favorite male singer is Matt Berninger of The National who has an amazing baritone voice. I think out of any song it would be cool to hear his version of “Blue Skies”.
Q. What artist or band would be your absolute dream collaboration and why?
A. We would LOVE to work with another electronic band or producer. On the short list are Moby, Robert Del Naja of Massive Attack and anyone from the team that has produced Lana Del Rey.
Q. What is something most people/fans don’t know about you?
A. This is a hard one. Maybe one thing is that I’m a vegetarian and food/health is really important to me. I became a vegetarian about 11 years ago and since then I’ve been on a path to eat responsibly for our environment and support companies who are acting in the same way.
Q. Dallas’ music scene is diverse, to say the least. Is there one local artist or band that whose sound/genre is completely different than French 75’s, but that you’d like to work with? Why?
A. I’d love to collaborate with Doug Hale from Air Review because I respect him immensely as a songwriter. He has a way of creating such lush layers and interesting songs and the entire band owns harmonies.
Q. You two will be playing the Dallas Observer’s Artopia on January 17th at Centennial Hall at Fair Park with Ishi, George Quartz and DJ Sober. Are there any other tours/shows/videos in the works that you can tell us about?
A. We have an amazing show coming up in February as well which is a pre-party for Pin Show. It’s called Pin Show presents Scene: A Fashion Concert. I’m also very excited about writing the music for WILDE/EARNEST at Kitchen Dog Theater, which opens March 13.
Q. I always ask bands I interview if they can take a “band selfie” for us – so if you are willing, you can send that over as well (and feel free to be as creative as you’d like).
A. Ok, we’ll send it soon since I’m still in bed…..don’t want a #iwokeuplikethis