A sweetly sinister river of lights and shadows, whispers and screams, the first album by Le Volume Courbe is the work of Charlotte Marionneau. Eclectic, experimental and strangely compelling, it’s been described as “impossible to describe”, which is a very good thing, unless you’re the guy writing this.
Inspired by the do-your-own-thing ethos of Nico, The Ramones and Yoko Ono, Charlotte muses, “I think it’s a punk record, in many ways. But not rock. I don’t feel like a proper musician, or a proper singer either. I guess I’m somebody that has ideas, puts things together. If you’re trying to do your own thing, without caring what’s going on around you, it can actually help if you sometimes don’t know exactly what you’re doing. Then it’s automatically original. I can’t copy anyone else, I don’t have the technical know-how, so it’s unique. Not being experienced gives you more freedom.” Once heard, Le Volume Courbe’s playful, powerful songs of innocence and intrigue are not easily forgotten.
Charlotte moved to London sixteen years ago, after growing up in a small town in Pays de la Loire. She had a brief spell in a band there, but found that in London, “music is just so much more a part of the culture, unselfconsciously. Here, music comes to you.” In ‘97, two years after she arrived, she recorded a duet with Simon Raymonde (a single, “In My Place” - a Robert Mitchum cover).
Le Volume Courbe - it means “the volume curve” - is the name of a sculpture by an old friend in France. “When I was a teenager, this painter inspired me to be creative. I’d loved this sculpture, and when I needed a band name it suddenly hit me. The beauty is, it can mean so many different things. I also dream of converting the waves of the curves on an electrocardiogram machine, from someone in a coma, into music - I’m still looking into the practicalities of that.”
Settling in England, Charlotte began composing and making tracks, receiving vital encouragement from musicians like Hope Sandoval, Kevin Shields, David Roback and Colm O’Ciosoig, all of whom contribute to the record. Most of it was recorded at home. “Kevin and Hope have been very important to this project. They were the first artists that I respected to say I should make it happen, and I trusted their opinion. These people gave me confidence.” A single - “Harmony” - with Alan McGee’s Poptones label ensued; giving Charlotte the opportunity to craft slowly but surely on her distinctive material, a breathless band apart.
Serge Gainsbourg was her mother’s favourite artist, so the first record Charlotte was given was his “Love On The Beat” (“full of orgasms - what was she thinking?”), before the more artful designs of David Bowie, The Velvet Underground and The Stooges captured her blossoming imagination. The first song she ever wrote has survived to become the title track on this first personal salvo.
“”I Killed My Best Friend” was actually an improvisation when I first sang it. I didn’t speak English well at the time; in fact I don’t remember writing it. But I do remember being annoyed at my mother and my best friend, and thinking: I must kill them, at least in my head, at least for a while! A lot of these songs were recorded at different times, in different states of mind, so the voices and atmospheres vary…”
Would you agree that it’s at times a scary record?
“No! That’s funny! I don’t find it scary at all. It may be nostalgic, but I want people to get the humour as well. It may be intense at times, but I hope the elements of dark comedy come across…”
After spells studying film and photography, Charlotte concedes suggestions of cinematic influences are inevitable. Though they may not be the obvious nouvelle vague ones you’d predict. “When mixing “Harmony”, I was thinking about the structure and editing of Citizen Kane. I’m a fan of Polanski (The Tenant, Repulsion), Cocteau (Orpheus), and the way Harmony Korine creates a mood.” Andy Warhol’s grainy footage of Edie Sedgwick and the Factory superstars also made an impression.
“Ain’t Got No…I Got Life” is a radical interpretation of the Nina Simone classic. “She’s one of my favourite women singers. I asked Martin Duffy to play the piano, and it was mindblowing, but then I realised she was one of the hardest people to cover, and perhaps this was a stupid idea! It took me two years to sing it - eventually I just thought, well, I just have to try to make it mine…”
You’re not a traditional chanteuse then?
“That’s not the way I see myself…”
”The Mind Is A Horse” - all heartbeat and crackle - “is about panic attacks. They’re quite surreal things to have. I took the title from an exhibition poster. If that track’s scary, then that’s the whole point…” “I Shall Skip Your Judgement” is a song about a friend which involves wordplay around Alexander “Skip” Spence; “Locarno” was recorded in the titular Swiss town.
The Le Volume Courbe album - hard to describe indeed - isn’t rock’n’roll, and isn’t world music. It’s out of this world music. It’s in your own world music, what-in-the-world music. It’s just a few seconds longer than Chris Marker’s seminal 1962 film La Jetee. It comes to you with the “I Killed My Best Friend” video - “the quickest, cheapest video ever made” - which with delicious, tongue-in-chic noir style involves a girl, a gun and a cigarette. And is Bonnie And Clyde meeting Pierrot Le Fou, only much shorter, and more mischievous.
Patti Smith recently handed Charlotte her socks, which is something that doesn’t happen every day. “I admire the likes of Patti, Nico, Yoko Ono for sticking to what they do, for their attitude as artists. I hope I’ll always be doing something creative, something aesthetic.”
Enchanting and elusive, this diary of dreams is one of the year’s most extraordinary debuts. Listen close.
"Le Volume Courbe" have inadvertently grabbed our full attention over the last week. Flying into our SubSonic section and now slap bang into a featured article with their new EP "THEODAURUX REX" released through Pickpocket Records November 7th, (that's today to you and me), by our books they can do no wrong.
Charlotte Marionneau heads up the band along with Melanie Draisey, Theodore Hall, Chris Macklin, Wildcat, Lascelle Gordon and Barney Slater. There is such a refined sound amongst this band, that, although there are a number of elements equalling members, the tracks come off as minimal. A unique quality, being able to refine vast constituents so precisely.
This EP is, if to be described in terms of an emotion, "Blissfully Happy". This could very well be the work of gentle plucks on the violin and swooping flurries on the Harp. It is almost the epitome of the classic "French" sound, just with a glint into the future. Another refreshing factor are the ever so slightly out of sync harmonies. This again reiterates the near heavenly, but grounding ambience. A harmonica quivers ever gently on the track "I Love The Living You" with an infiltrating breathy voice, backing each other up. There is no sense of urgency here, merely a woman reciting stories past. Another striking beauty is the accent. A lot of nationalities that sing in another language tend to hone in on dialect and slang. Charlotte on the other hand chooses her own manner. By no means is this inaudible. Quite the contrary in fact. This use of colloquialism hones the listener in deeper, luring them to the true meaning of the song, potentially, even behind the words...