Interview | Travelling, dance moves and Liz Frazer at breakfast – FFS talks to Fránçois and The Atlas Mountains

This past year has been a great one for you – it’s pretty exciting to be the first French Domino signing! Are you happy with where the band is at the moment?

Very much indeed! We didn’t have any specific goals in terms of success. We tried to become full-time musicians and keep things exciting. We’ve succeeded I think. Looking back at it, when I was a kid, my dream life was to become an artist. I’ve spent a couple of years now in my dream adult life. I’m very lucky. I hope the dream will continue.

Fence Records played a vital role in the formation of the Atlas Mountains and put out your previous album, Plaine Inondable. Is the Fence DIY aesthetic something you’re drawn to?

Being DIY allows you to experiment a lot and try out new ways of creating without having to worry about what the people who have invested money and time on you expect. I met Fence at a time where I felt nobody believed in my art, when I was trying to be more bankable while still wanting to stay free, experiment and play weird shows. The way Fence organise their label and their festivals gives an impression of generosity and simplicity. I felt very encouraged by that. These days I’m even more lucky because we ‘upgraded’ to Domino, which is a super version of Fence. They give much support and confidence to their artists even when the music follows weird, uncommercial paths.

The use of many languages is a very distinctive feature of your music – the latest album is in French and English, the title is partly in Italian and an earlier song featured Spanish as well. What drives your decision to sing in particular languages?

I prefer suggesting a story instead of telling a precise narrative. I try to use key words or sentences which can be understood by both French and English. I grew up listening to music sung in English that I couldn’t always understand. I remember loving imagining stories from the title without getting any of the lyrics. I like it when bands leave things open, so that the listener can use their imagination and play a role in the creative journey. One of my main lyrical inspirations is Liz Frazer from the Cocteau Twins. I wonder how many languages she can speak. Does she really say “sugar hiccups on cereals” or did I make that up? It doesn’t matter – I want to keep this vision of Liz Frazer singing at breakfast time.

How do French audiences and UK audiences compare?

In the UK going out to gigs is not out of the ordinary – live music isn’t as common in France as it is in the UK. In France sometimes I feel people go to a show the same way they would go to an art gallery or to the cinema. They go there to be impressed. As a consequence you can have very attentive audiences and very good playing conditions in France. But the atmosphere is more fun in the UK.

Your music has been described as an ‘aural atlas’ – is sense of place something that plays on your mind a lot?

I like that description a lot. I experience my everyday life the same way a traveller would experience a landscape. One of the feelings I love most is to wake up not knowing where I am, hearing the sounds that come from behind the door, seeing the light that peaks through the windows. I love sleeping outdoors or on the beach or in a park and being part of a landscape in an unconscious way. Those moments feed my music.

Your most recent album showcases a more electronic sound than in its predecessor – was this a conscious decision from the outset?

My early Fránçois recordings used Casio keyboards loops and a mic-ed up typewriter. I was trying to be Aphex Twin with the only equipment I could get hold of in rural France! When I moved to Bristol I played a lot of acoustic house shows, so I invited friends who could play harp, clarinets and double bass. Then we started touring in bars, and the simplest, quickest, most effective set up to play on was drums, electric guitar and bass. Nowadays we play in nice venues where there’s great p.a. system with lots of good quality DI Boxes, where electronic beats can sound warm and powerful. I’ve developed my sound with my environment.

Who are your main influences for this latest record?

I gathered most of the ideas for E VOLO LOVE in two stages – One: Touring with Camera Obscura and playing very steady, catchy pop tunes every night, and two: Drawing the animation video for ‘Be Water’, locked up in a basement in Bristol during one month, listening to the local grime/ragga radio station, Passion Fm. So I’d say the idea of the album was to be more pop, in both an indie and a groovy sense.

Your shows are full of high-energy dance routines that really get the audience going. Do you think live music has a transformative power?

Live shows are very special moments. If I was a religious person I think I wouldn’t need to play music so much. But it’s one of the only opportunities for me to be amongst a crowd and be focused on a common dynamic. I’m keen to enhance that feeling with whatever dance moves it requires.

Which of your songs is your favourite and why?

On album, probably ‘Nights=Days’(from Plaine Inondable). It’s a vocal piece I wrote. It doesn’t have any words. I’ve very proud of the progression of the melodic line. I’m proud of ‘City Kiss’ too. It’s a very old song and I thought I’d never manage to get it to sound right. When we play live I have a lot of fun on ‘Piscine’, because we play it last, and we feel pretty lost in the music by that point.

What’re the band’s future plans?

Touring until December. Then no more shows for a while. Just so we can learn what it is like to live in one place for a few weeks in a row! I’m not sure how good I’ll be at keeping that plan, I’ve already contacted the French Institute in Dakar to organise an African tour…

words: Matilda Rossetti