Interview: French For Cartridge
Published on October 24th, 2013 | Jonny Abrams
So utterly charmed were we by French For Cartridge’s “Piff Paff Pow” single that we decided to investigate parent album We Humans. We’re glad we did.
We Humans, their second LP, is replete with joyous experimental pop music – chamber-prog-pop, perhaps? – and it has quickly revealed itself to us to be one of this year’s very finest.
French For Cartridge like to perform at venues befitting of their lateral approach: they are currently in the midst of a tour of UK libraries (in solidarity with “Old Books”, their protest song about the closing of libraries), recently played at a children’s party on a farm and held their album launch at a church in Hackney, where they laid on a four-tiered funfair.
Furthermore, constituent married couple Catherine Kontz (from Luxembourg) and Henri Växby (from Finland) have impeccable taste; we talked about Deerhoof, Cornelius, Eels and dEUS amongst others, a range of influences that could only ever end up well.
Here’s what else we talked about…
How was the first library performance?
Catherine: It was great. We just performed in this little library in Oxford for library-goers, children and older people. This week we are in Portsmouth on Thursday as part of a book festival, and the London one is now next week as part of an arts exhibit opening thing.
The Brighton one we’ve just moved from the 31st to the November 8th because on the 31st there’s apparently a library strike! It’s nice they told us in advance (laughs). It was supposed to be a Halloween special thing at the University of Brighton.
We’re looking at dates for Cambridge and Croydon at the moment but we’re not sure yet when these will be.
Henri: Some libraries think it’s a great idea, other just don’t want any noise in their library!
We Humans sounds grander and more orchestrated than Liquorice. What would you say took you in that direction?
Henri: We both studied classical music, especially Catherine who’s still doing it now, so we thought it would be a shame not to use that somehow.
Catherine: We had the idea of using a bit of brass on the album, and as soon as you think of one song to add it to, you start thinking it would be nice to use it on some other songs as well.
Then we got a chance to record one track with this orchestra, so we wrote a new song and that became the opening song. It wasn’t planned like that but it somehow fitted.
When we recorded the album we didn’t know if it would fit in because it was quite different to everything else, but then because it’s so different it sets a mood which lets you listen to the rest of the songs with different ears than if you hadn’t heard it.
How did you come to work with S. Husky Höskulds, and what is he like to work with?
Catherine: He’s great.
Henri: One of our best friends was a sound engineer who used to do all our stuff in the past, but then he quit doing it as a career.
We always really liked working with him so we basically sat down with our favourite records, looked at who worked on them and made a wishlist of who we would want to work with. We found three guys and we just got in touch with them.
Catherine: Strangely they all wanted to work with us, but for various reasons we liked Husky the best. We really liked the fact that he can add another layer of creativity because we are doing everything else, writing everything and producing it ourselves.
We work with an engineer when we record but we have a say in everything, really, so it’s nice to collaborate on the mixing level to really get it a bit more creative, imagining what we can do with all these sounds.
Henri: He figured out that the crazier he makes it, the more we like it! I think he likes doing that so he saw it as an opportunity.
Catherine: He does a lot of treatment of the drums, clever engineering like that. He has a lot of creative ideas. We’ve worked with him a lot over the course of these two albums and we seem to get on well.
The next step would be to go and record with him because we’ve always recorded either here or in Finland, then he does stuff with that. It would be interesting to see what happens when he sets up the mics in the first place. If we can afford to go to LA then that would be great for the third album! (Laughs)
Some of the more unusual moments on the album – the mini wig-outs dotted across “Piff Paff Pow”, for example – are these present from the original writing stage, or do you write the song first and mess around with it afterwards?
Henri: I think it’s usually thought out at the writing stage, rather than change things for the sake of it. That song’s about cartoons so I wanted it cutting back and forth; it seemed to fit.
We tried to make it sound almost as if you’ve got three songs, all with different sounds, pooled together.
Catherine: We recorded just the drums, piano and guitar, and then Henri’s brother, who’s a professional bass player in Finland, played the bass on it afterwards.
That was great because he was able to separate these different bits, use double bass for some then use electric bass with big distortion for other bits. The bass sound is different for each of these parts, which made the changes clearer.
You mentioned how you’d like to approach your next album. Do you have material in mind for it yet?
Henri: We haven’t started writing but we’ve started talking about it.
Catherine: Yes, it’s just started, because we were still so much in the second album and the promotion of it, where you don’t really have the headspace to think about the next thing.
Henri: It would be nice to do an even more orchestral album, do a tour with a symphony orchestra, but still rock! I dunno. We’ve got some ideas though.
Catherine: We might go down the road of making it more symphonic, but in an experimental way. It’s not going to sound like a film soundtrack suddenly. (Laughs)
French For Cartridge, thank you.
We Humans is out now on Dinner With Daisy Records.
You can buy We Humans on iTunes and on Amazon.