Angèle David-Guillou – “Spending long evening drinking wine and listening to music is part of what friendship and life in general are about, for me”


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It seems you like African Music: I’ve discovered it late in my musical life, but I think that sometimes we ‘western’ get to it when we’re fed up with 4/4 rhythms and generally ‘squared’ structures. Is it the same for you or you had the opportunity to grow up with non-western music already when you were a girl?

I grew up with a great variety of music thanks to my father who has an incredible musical culture and a fantastically eclectic record collection. I grew up with African music, Middle Eastern music, rock, jazz, blues, baroque music, reggae; you name it. I remember being 10 and listening with my sister to some recordings of Inuit singing my father had just purchased. I never thought they were any barriers of genres, let alone countries in music; that still is the case. I wish I knew more about African music though as in all fairness my knowledge is relatively limited.

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I see also a lot of minimal music, such as Philip Glass, Gavin Bryars, John Adams… it’s funny because very recently Yan Jun, that sent me his photos, and who likes and does minimal music, said “Minimalism in art smells very bourgeois nowadays”. What do you think about it?

I think it’s rather that the word ‘minimalism’ is overused or wrongly used. I think repetitive music or structure music would be more appropriate, in the case of Glass certainly. I don’t think Bryars is a minimalist in the sense of the word originally coined by Michael Nyman when he was a music critique. To follow on from your first question, I’m not very good at putting music in boxes! I do like the repetitive music though and I enjoy listening to music that is interested in its own structure, whether it is just piano like Charlemagne Palestine, orchestral like Glass or electronic like Eno or David Behrman. There is something very appealing and appeasing to me in a music that repeats and evolves at the same time. I also love music that is not like repetitive at all; I’m a *huge* fan of the Everly Brothers typically!

You mention your father as the first and main influence in terms of music for you. Did anyone else add new tastes and genres to your musical listening spectrum? Brothers, older friends, fellow musicians or collaborators?

Of course. If you’re a musician or a fan of music in general, you do tend to meet a lot of women and men who are fans of music themselves, and this is how they broaden your musical horizons and you broaden theirs. It’s an exchange, not a teacher/student relation. Spending long evening drinking wine and listening to music is part of what friendship and life in general are about, for me. Perhaps you should ask me who has been influenced by my musical tastes!
I wouldn’t say my father is my main influence in terms of musical taste by the way. What he did was opening me and my sister to an amazing variety of genres of music. This means for instance that I know a lot about US 70s southern rock, but I wouldn’t count that as a major influence on my work! He’s a major influence on my openness to music, that’s for sure.

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I’ve seen Nico and Laurie Anderson records, and not many other women. But these two are very particular in terms of the vocal timbre, the voiceprint, both a bit ‘male’ oriented I may say. Is it just by chance? Or do you feel something in common in those singers that you like? On the other hand, I see the Marilyn Monroe and the Dead Can Dance CDs, where there’s Lisa Gerrard, a sort of virtuoso compared to the other two.

I love Nico, Laurie Anderson, Lisa Gerrard and Marilyn Monroe as artists. I wouldn’t think of any them as just singer. I think Marilyn Monroe is a fantastic interpreter and I love her songs. I don’t really buy music to listen to a singer though; it’s true of both male and female singers. I listen to artists. Stina Nordenstam was a big influence on my early recordings typically, but as a complete artist. I liked her far-out production ideas, her use of strings and woodwind, and her idiosyncratic guitar playing. Some voices touch me more than others, for sure, I love Leonard Cohen’s, Nena Venetsanou’s or Carlos Mena’s, but in the end I fall in love with what artists have to say and how they say it. As a singer, I’m looking for honesty, not technic or even a specific timbre.

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Ah! I see the Boris Vian record! I think I have exactly the same one, bought in a charity shop or similar in Paris many years ago (along with the Marilyn Monroe one!). And I just love it, and I loved the “Ecume des jours” novel. What’s your relationship with the French culture and music?

I’m glad you like Boris Vian’s music and books! He’s very dear to me – a major presence in French music and French literature. He’s “incontournable” if you’re interested in French culture. Only he can write songs which are so rich and complex musically and with lyrics which are both hilarious and extremely serious at the same time, when not totally pessimistic. Somehow he is very little known here in the UK, perhaps because his books and lyrics are often untranslatable. I’m a fan of French music from the first half of the 20th century. It was a very interesting time when, under the influence of American jazz in particular, music could be both intelligent and light. You have this in songs (Vian, Mireille, Trenet) and in classical compositions too (Satie, Fauré or Poulenc). There’s also a second wave of jazz-influenced French songs in the late 60s and early 70s, with amazing, and often experimental, songwriters like Brigitte Fontaine, Areski, Pierre Barouh or Chene Noir. There is a similar trend of music in Italy with people like Maria Monti I guess. I love all that.

Nice to hear that you know Maria Monti. We (as Sparkle in Grey) recently thought of her to sing on one of our tracks, as we have a common friend (Mario Biserni, the journalist chief editor of Sands-Zine, the webzine I’ve been working when I first interviewed you)!

What a coincidence! I didn’t realise she still sang. She’s great.

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What are the two pictures? The castle and the seagulls?

The pictures are two album covers, two records which I primarily bought because I thought the covers were beautiful. The one of the church is a recording of Brahms Sonata in f minor opus 5. The birds are traditional Latvian folk songs and dances. It is entitled “Svesa Zeme” (“In a Foreign Country”).

Yes, in a foreign country… a hot theme nowadays. Somehow, maybe because you sing and write to me in English, I tend to forget that you’re not British…

I’ve lived in the UK for almost 15 years; I also studied English literature and history at university, so I have a strong bond to the country where I live and to its culture, by choice and by permeation. I still feel very French when I’m in the UK though. Despite myself, French culture seems to be present in everything when you were born into it: in one’s interactions with others, one’s ability to argue about everything with anyone, one’s fixation about doing things the “proper” way! But I feel out of place when I’m in France; that’s the lot of many expatriates, I suppose. French people think I’m too cynical typically, which of course is a compliment to any British person! My feelings have been slightly tainted since the Brexit vote, but I still love the British’s enthusiasm and their ability not to take things too seriously, starting with themselves. I love their attitude to music too. They aren’t many snobs in music here. People are passionate about music and extremely committed to it, but they don’t act like superstars or intellectuals because they make music. There is far less sexism here too. There are many things I miss about France, but not that.

Angèle David-Guillou is a London-based French composer and singer. She played with Piano Magic for many years and she recently released records as Klima and now under her own name.

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