Paris Surf Minstrels La Femme Talk Censored Cover Art and American Adventures

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Contrary to what you might quite reasonably expect, Parisian post-surf-rock outfit La Femme is, well, not very feminine at all. Besides a variable cast of sultry chanteuses, the group comprises three to four vaguely shadowy young Frenchmen who, to hear them tell it, spend most of their time in a Paris basement, surfacing only to play concerts and take the occasional babysitting gig. True to form, their debut EP, the controversially packaged Le Podium #1-La Femme, is what the endless summer would sound like if the surfers were forced to spend it underground, tinkering with whatever was the apex of electronic music technology at the time.

In preparation for the EP's release, La Femme decided to get out of Dodge and see what adventures awaited them stateside. After leaving behind a singer and a drummer and playing a handful of shows in Los Angeles, they've wound up in San Francisco, where they'll be showcasing their multi-keyboard glam assault this evening at Living Arts Fund and again on Sunday at the Knockout. We caught up with them yesterday post-rehearsal and learned from a non-femme Femme named Marlon about their American dreams. (Interview conducted in French; italicized words should be imagined spoken in sublimely accented English.)

Where are you now?
We're at the hotel. We're rehearsing with our new American singer, who we just met. We have several singers -- one is still in France; Pandora, a French singer who sang with us for our L.A. shows but whose visa has expired; then we met Megan, who's going to sing for our San Francisco dates. So we're at her hotel. We're staying with some friends of Kateri, our manager.

You've already done some shows in the U.S., yes?
We've done eight shows total. Four in Los Angeles last week, then in Oceanside, Costa Mesa, and then at the Showdown in San Francisco. It's going great so far; the only difficulty we've encountered has been this issue of singers. Also public transportation, actually, since we can't seem to take the train going the right way. In Los Angeles we were trying to go to Oceanside and we went in the complete opposite direction, so we ended up in Ventura. It was the last train and we had nowhere to go, but Pandora knew some surfer from way back, so he put us up.

Is this your collective first time in the states?
It's our first big trip, yeah. We left because there was nothing tying us down in France at the moment, so we packed up and went off in search of adventure. We're planning to stay for three months, in California until the end of December, then go to New York to do a tour there, then go back to France in February. We'll probably stay there for a week and then come back, because we want to do South by Southwest and Coachella. Then we'll go home at the end of the spring.

How's San Francisco treating you so far?
It's been nothing but joy. We're far from our worries in Paris, the weather is nice, we're meeting people, and we're doing nothing but playing music every day. This summer in Biarritz we met some surfers who live in Oceanside, which is how we got the idea to come here. We didn't know many people, but we sent out tons of emails to people in every city we planned to visit, and we found people like Kateri who knew their way around, found us gigs and places to stay, and so on.

That's pretty awesome.
Yeah, especially because our plan had been to just show up and go to each venue ourselves, to figure it out from there--we really didn't know what to expect. Our goal was just to play as many concerts in the states as possible.

Do you find that, as they say, San Francisco is the most European city in America?
Well, we haven't seen that many... well, yes, New York and San Francisco, there are similarities... but yeah, San Francisco, I guess so, in the sense that it's a little nastier in the streets -- in L.A. everything is clean, the sidewalks are neat, everything is cool, whereas in San Francisco there are bums on the street and it's a bit more destroy, you know? But also just being able to walk, having a downtown, is much more like Europe. Unlike Los Angeles, where everything is big and everyone's in cars and to go buy bread you have to drive. Well, also there's no bread. And we can't drive, so we prefer to walk or take the bus, but that's much easier in San Francisco.

What's your life as a group like in Paris?
We started the group about a year ago, before which we were in school. We decided to do the band thing full-time; Sam has a huge basement at his place where we can practice, so we play there and take the metro when we play our shows and do odd jobs here and there -- we pass out flyers for concerts, or wait tables or babysit -- but for the most part we just stay in the basement and play music. For the last two months before we came to the states we started to do pretty well in France, which was cool, and that was kind of the idea behind coming here: when we go back to France, just having played around the U.S. will be an advantage. In France for someone to like a band, they have to be told by ten or fifteen people that they're good, whereas in the states if you have a project that's solid people will just get into it.

So what can we expect from your shows this weekend?
Well, it'll be completely new, since it'll be Megan singing, and we're also going to have more of our lyrics in English.

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What are your inspirations?
We listen to a lot of surf music from the '60s, and also all the French -waves: minimal-wave, synth-wave, with some disco rhythms. We also listen to a lot of old jazz from the 20s and 40s, so sometimes there's some swing or ragtime in our music.

And your extra-musical inspirations?
Well, on one side there's the positive -- the sea, the sun, everything cool -- and then on the other side there's the winter, the metro, the cold and dark and bizarre stuff. There's the fun stuff that makes you want to dance, and then also the vicious circle. We also film a lot of stuff and project our footage at our shows.

So what's the deal with the cover of your album?
Well, you know the Courbet painting, L'origine du monde? We did a photograph that was meant to be a nod to that, to have an image representing the elemental imagery of the woman, something crude and natural and wild. Hang on, I'm gonna pass the phone to Sam. He wants to explain it.
 
Sam: Right, so the fact that we reproduced it photographically is based on the painting, which was this shocking work of art when it first came out. So there's that provocative side. We're looking for a reaction.

Marlon: It's a neutral but savage representation of the woman.

Was it you who censored it, or someone else?
No, it was iTunes. The label, Third Side Records, told us they weren't too cool with it, but we managed to have the original image on the sleeve for the vinyl, but for the internet iTunes told us we had to find something else. We tried tons of new things; finally we settled on this and took the photo the way it was but Photoshopped out the sex organs so it looks like a Barbie doll, and that's how it ended up.

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