Interview with Nouvelle Vague
French duo Nouvelle Vague have built up a reputation over the past five years as supreme masters of re-invention. Their unique take on mostly obscure gems from the punk and new wave eras of the late 1970s/early 1980s haven't just raised one or two eyebrows, but in some cases actually attained mass recognition from the original artists themselves.
Now, with a third album in the shops this week ('NV3'), the duo are set for one of their busiest years to date, embarking on a tour later this week that will see them perform in nearly twenty countries over the next four months at an almost relentless rate.
Contact caught up with one half of the duo, Olivier Libaux, on the day of the album's official UK release (Monday 29th June), and found him in very high spirits, if still a little overwhelmed by the impact Nouvelle Vague have made since their first self-titled record hit the shops in 2004.
How does it feel to be sat here talking about a third Nouvelle Vague album? Did you expect the project to become as successful as it has done?
No not at all! We're very appreciative that people care enough to buy our records and come to the shows. I think it's quite flattering that we get requests now to cover certain artists and songs on future records.
What can you tell me about 'NV3'?
Well, we've approached the songs on here in a completely different dimension to the way we worked with those on 'Nouvelle Vague' and 'Bande A Part'. For a start, we've decided not to focus as much on the lounge aspects that were prominent on the first two albums, while we've also managed to involve several of the original artists in collaborating on this record, people like Martin Gore from Depeche Mode contributing vocals to 'Master And Servant', and Terry Hall duetting on 'Our Lips Are Sealed'. It was a great pleasure to be able to get them on board, and even more so that they were complimentary about what we've done with their original compositions.
Have you had any negative feedback from the original artists, either in terms of how you've changed their songs or refusing to collaborate?
No. Everyone we've spoken to has been positive about what we've done with their songs. That's why we get artists asking us if they can collaborate. There have been instances where we've asked artists to work with us and they can't make it because of recording or touring commitments, but that has to be expected in this business I guess. The only difficult case I've had was with Richard Butler from the Psychedelic Furs manager, who didn't want him to be involved for some reason, but aside from that we've been inundated with requests and messages of goodwill.
Several collaborations - most notably the one with Chris Bailey of Aussie punk legends The Saints - didn't make it onto 'NV3'. Will these be released in the foreseeable future?
Yes they will, either as bonus tracks on later editions of the record or free downloads via our website or iTunes. It's always been our intention to release everything we've recorded, but we just felt that any more than the thirteen tracks already selected for 'NV3' would have been too long for this album, so decided not to stretch the record out any further.
You've also been responsible for discovering a host of other vocalists over the course of your three albums, most notably Melanie Pain and Nadeah Miranda. How did these associations develop?
Melanie (Pain) was one of the first singers me and Marc (Collin - the other, production-orientated half of Nouvelle Vague) worked together with. We were just completely taken aback by her vocal abilities. I think she has one of the most unique and refreshing voices I've heard in the "pop" genre for many a year. Nadeah (Miranda) first came to our attention via her previous band, The LoveGods. We just felt her presence and energy would add a whole new lease of life to what we were doing, and the three songs she sings on 'NV3' really do sound like her own pieces of work rather than Talking Heads, The Police or Magazine. The other people we've worked with I guess all came about via the large network that me and Marc both operate in. Marc is a producer when he's not working as Nouvelle Vague so he gets involved with a whole range of different artists, where as I'm more of a songwriter and performer who has also wrote and played for many (mainly France-based) artists over the years, so I guess we've built up some good contacts over the years.
Your live shows have received many plaudits from critics all over Europe. How do you manage to pull the whole thing together?
Basically, we tend to tour as a four-piece. Me and Marc, and then Melanie and Nadeah as the two singers. I think they compliment each other well as their styles are so contrasting. Live, I consider Nouvelle Vague to be more energetic, dance-orientated even, whereas on record we do tend to prefer a more laidback feel. Occasionally we may be joined by some of the other girls depending on their other commitments, and we're hoping some of the special guests from 'NV3' will be able to join us on some of the dates too.
So would you say that kind of makes Melanie and Nadeah permanent members of Nouvelle Vague?
Not really, no. Definitely not in fact. There are no permanent members as such. From the outset, Camille played our earliest live shows with us and people asked the same question back then, but since she became a highly reputable solo artist in her own right she hasn't been as involved with Nouvelle Vague, which is understandable, and I can honestly see the same thing happening with Melanie and Nadeah in the future, so I think it benefits all parties that no one is specifically tied to this project. Nadeah is bringing out an album in September for example.
The songs you choose to cover in a lot of cases are fairly obscure - the likes of 'O Pamela' by The Wake and 'I Melt With You' by Modern English for example. What made you decide to record these songs rather than more instantly recognisable ones by artists from the same era?
Its funny you say that because to me, they are instantly recognisable songs! I mean, we could have picked more famous songs like 'Love Will Tear Us Apart', but the likes of Tuxedomoon have always been personal favourites of ours and the song we cover by them ('In A Manner Of Speaking') is a focal point of our live set and has been pretty much from the outset. Saying that, the number of people not aware of Magazine for example astounds me. To me, they are my favourite band of all time and possibly the most influential, non-commercial UK band of that whole post-punk era.
Agreed. When you examine the individual members of Magazine - Howard Devoto, Barry Adamson and John McGeoch in particular - and what they achieved and how many artists they've inspired since, it's astonishing really just how big an impact their band had.
Exactly. You can't believe how made up I was when Barry Adamson agreed to work with us on our interpretation of 'Parade' for 'NV3'!
And John McGeoch's work with Siouxsie And The Banshees later became the blueprint for many a guitarist even at this present moment in time.
You're right. 'JuJu' is one of the most amazing albums of all time, by far my favourite Banshees record, and much of that is because of McGeoch's guitar work.
So, are there any plans for album number four, particularly in terms of songs you may wish to cover in the future?
No, nothing as of yet. We haven't even decided whether there will be another Nouvelle Vague record. All our energies at present are concentrated on playing this one live, and then we'll see what happens after that.
'NV3' is out now on Peacefrog Records.