La belle musique de Nouvelle Vague

IN FRENCH, ‘nouvelle vague’ refers to daring, iconoclastic, films made in the 1950s and 1960s by Jean-Luc Godard and François Truffaut. In English, ‘new wave’ was music by bands like Blondie and Joy Division.

Translate the term into Portuguese and it becomes ‘bossa nova’ the laid back Brazilian jazz associated with João Gilberto and Antonio Carlos Jobim. One term, so many different meanings. Yet one man has managed to unite all these ‘waves’ into one group - Nouvelle Vague.

Since they released their eponymous debut album in 2004, France’s Nouvelle Vague has enjoyed public and critical acclaim for their idiosyncratic approach of covering (mostly ) British and American punk and new wave songs in French, Brazilian, and Jamaican styles.

The group is the brainchild of French composer, producer, and musician Marc Collin. I interviewed Marc ahead of one of the band’s previous visits to Galway and he explained the idea behind Nouvelle Vague.

“I wanted to prove that even if many of the post-punk bands knew only two chords, they had still written beautiful songs,” he told me. “If you consider them classic songs, then as classics they can be re-interpreted in many ways.”

The combination of aggressive post-punk with languid bossa nova works beautifully and Marc feels the two genres have more in common than meets the eye.

“Bossa Nova is so different from post-punk it allows you to re-arrange the original song in a very new way,” he says. “Yet both share the same kind of melancholy. Jamaican music is not as different as bossa nova but The Clash and Killing Joke listened to reggae so there is a connection there.”

When composing and arranging the songs for the band, Marc will derive inspiration from an image or scene, rather than a melody. For Nouvelle Vague’s cover of ‘Fade To Grey’ from their 2006 album Bande à Part (named after a Godard film ), he imagined a blind girl singing in the corridors of the Parisian metro, “alone with her accordion, ignored by everyone” - a very cinematic image.

“It’s a strange way to record a song,” Marc admits, “but sometimes I need a visual aspect, a mise en scène, to play the song because I am such a fan of new wave cinema and Jean Luc Godard.

“The image is a starting point from which to create or inspire a song. For ‘Heart Of Glass’ I thought of a Jamaican guy in Kingston, sitting on his own, playing the guitar, and singing the song. I liked the idea and I needed to get the musicians who would be able to perform the song in that way.”

Nouvelle Vague only use female vocalists which brings an undeniable Gallic sexiness and sensuality to the music - something many would feel is typically French. Does Marc feel there is something in French culture and the French psyche more open towards sex and sensuality then we are in Northern Europe?

“A lot of people tell me Nouvelle Vague could only be French as we are the only ones that can do this kind of interpretation,” he says. “Maybe we have this culture of lyrics and words and singers have been asked to sing softly and subtly so people can hear the words. That conditions the way the song is sung. It’s like an actress singing. She won’t shout out in a loud voice, she will sing quietly and act out the song. I think this is where the sensuality comes from.”

Nouvelle Vague play support to Chic at this ‘Galway Arts Festival and Róisín Dubh presents...’ show at Big Top, Fisheries Field, Thursday July 19 at 7.30pm. For tickets see www.galwayartsfestival.com

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