Interview – Olivier Libaux on his lounge pop band Nouvelle Vague
– by Shawn Conner
The high-concept brainchild of French guys/producers/musicians Marc Collin and Olivier Libaux, Nouvelle Vague started out doing bossa nova covers, with French chanteuses, of old new wave and punk songs. Since its self-titled 2004 debut the group/concept has evolved, for its third album Nouvelle Vague 3, into a band doing country and easy listening covers of old new wave and punk songs, now with an international (Russian, Brazilian, Australian, French on the new album) array of (mostly) female singers.
On the new album, listeners will find the Violent Femmes‘ “Blister in the Sun”, Soft Cell‘s “Say Hello Wave Goodbye” (covered not too long ago by David Gray), the GoGo’s “Our Lips Are Sealed” (a soft, supple duet with the tune’s original songwriter, Terry Hall), a first-day of spring version of “God Save the Queen”, and Depeche Mode‘s “Master and Servant”, among others. They’re all trÃ©s bon.
The Snipe reached guitarist/co-founder Libaux mid-tour, at a Salt Lake City hotel. We began by asking him the most important question: which singers are with the band on this tour?
Olivier Libaux: Helena [Noguerra], and Karina Zeviani, she’s Brazilian. We didn’t come with Melanie Pain – maybe you’re surprised not to see Melanie [Pain has recorded with the band since the beginning] – but Melanie is pregnant. Which is good news. Seven months and something, so she must stay at home.
Shawn Conner: So is one of you guys the father?
OL: No! It’s a good question. Actually, the father is in the band, but it’s not Marc, neither I! It’s someone who plays an instrument. Not Marc Collin, not Olivier Libaux.
SC: And the other singer, Helena? I don’t see her mentioned on the website.
OL: Helena is a friend of Marc and I. She’s a beautiful girl and she sings beautifully. In fact when we started Nouvelle Vague we were thinking about working with her but we discovered Melanie, and in the end we were working for years with Melanie. When she told us she couldn’t tour for awhile, it was time to call Helena.
SC: I notice on the new record, some singers sing one song while others might do two or three. Is that for practical reasons or because you think their voices suit the material?
OL: It’s the second reason. In the studio, when we work on a song we really search for the perfect voice for the song. The voice will bring the real thing to the song. It’s not really a matter of talent, it’s really a matter of, you know, sometimes we try a song with Melanie but it’s not working and then we try with Karina and it’s very good but not there, then we try Nadeah [Miranda; an Australian vocalist who sings Talking Heads‘ “Road to Nowhere”, Magazine‘s “Parade” and the Police‘s “So Lonely” on Nouvelle Vague 3], and that’s the good [take]. That explains why there are so many singers on the recordings.
SC: There’re 16 songs on the record. How many were originally considered?
OL: We have recorded maybe 25 songs for this album. We record things and then after that we make a selection to create a coherent album. On this album there are many songs that are left off that we might release one of these days. I don’t really know. We make a list basically, then we record, then we keep the best for the album.
SC: Do you have to get permission to do any of these songs?
OL: In fact when we started Nouvelle Vague, we were thinking if we are to ask to find who is the publisher, how to contact them, to contact the original artist, that could take ages, and we won’t achieve anything.
So we decided to record the things, to release them, and leave 100 per cent of the rights to the original artists and publishers. That means we don’t get any money for performance rights. And it happened to be a clever idea because in the end every publisher and original artist was happy with what was happening. And also, considering the French law, you are free to cover any song you like as long as you respect the original. From a French point of view, we were cool.
SC: So you’re almost at the end of the tour…
OL: No no no, after Vancouver we fly to San Francisco…
SC: Oh, yeah, I see that now…
OL: But I will stop the tour right after Seattle, because I need to return to France to work on my solo album.
SC: Oh, so you won’t be here in Vancouver.
OL: I won’t. I’m really sorry about that. But the show will be exactly the same.
SC: Who’s replacing you?
OL: From San Francisco to the end of the tour it’s a French guy. In Vancouver it’s a Vancouver guy. I don’t even know his name, I know he’s very good.
SC: Is there a concept behind your solo album?
OL: All my solo albums are concept. And, I don’t know if you know my previous album, in America, Canada, it’s not very well known. As I’m writing in French, it’s for the Belgian market, the French market, the French-speaking market in Canada.
I mix always theatre and songs, cinema and music. My next one will be performed onstage live as a play, and the concert at the same time. Onstage there is a band and also the actors. Everybody’s playing together, there’s dialogue, people sing songs.
But it’s all in French so I can’t perform abroad. And I’m sorry to stop the tour, but we’re touring all the time and two years I’ve been waiting to record, and to make any progress on my album, I must do it right now. Otherwise I won’t be able to achieve it.
SC: Did you collaborate with a playwright?
OL: No, I write everything. I’m very pretentious! The last time I read some article saying the songs are fantastique but the play’s not great. [laughs] So this time I’m working very hard on the play. And I’m trying to do my best with the songs too.
SC: Well, thanks Olivier. Usually I say I’ll see you in Vancouver, but in this case I won’t see you. But I’ll see the rest of the band.
OL: You won’t be disappointed. You’ll see the girls. They’re far more good-looking than I.
SC: I believe it, no offense. You guys seem to find the most beautiful international singers. It’s like a Bond film cast.
OL: [laughs] It’s very funny. These are girls I work with, I don’t see them you know as… but I hear it lots, so I realize apparently we are working with very good-looking singers.
You see, there is a meeting with a singer and then we start to work together, and also tour together, so we are not at all in that thing with seduction. We are really co-workers. But apparently our singers are really nice.
SC: Well it sounds like you and Marc are “really co-workers”, but that the musicians might not be signing off on that agreement.
OL: Actually, I won’t tell one more word about that. I don’t think Melanie would be happy with that!