From their native Paris suburbs, to their lives in London, The Penelopes have turned their attention from remixing the likes of Lana Del Rey, Pet Shop Boys and Alt-J, to composing music for film, including Asia Argento and others.
With many new releases over the past month, it’s their single ‘Mulholland Drive’ that caught my attention. Beautiful vocals are laid underneath raspy tones to create a cinematic ambience. Shot in Los Angeles, it’s an explicit nod to director David Lynch and the Californian “Americana” aesthetic. Nocturnal and whimsical, the track became a taster for their EP, ‘Leave Them All Behind’, which was released earlier this month. A tone was set for the songs, which center around ideas of loneliness and isolation.
‘Mulholland Drive’, in particular, conjures the classically French tones of Ed Banger disciples Kavinsky or Justice. Tracks like ‘Time To Shine’ and ‘Roses’ have contrasting intergalatic and indie inspired nuances. The EP is a well formed, beautiful gem.
The Penelopes are Axel Basquiat and Vincent T. They are effortless. If they weren’t musicians, they would probably be sailors. Here’s what they have to say…
THE PENELOPES ARE A PARISIAN ART POP DUO; CAN YOU TELL US HOW THE BAND FORMED?
Vince and I grew up together in the same council estate in the North of Paris. When we were students, we decided to create the band. We always loved bands who have androgynous imagery, but I looked ridiculous with lipstick on. The name The Penelopes confuses everything. People still expect girls to come on stage and we like that.
HOW DO PARIS AND LONDON COMPARE IN TERMS OF CREATIVITY AND BEING A MUSICIAN?
Paris is way smaller than London and it’s also less cosmopolitan. So, there are definitely less opportunities to meet creative people. People often forget that Paris is very conservative and posh, so a lot less fun. In the electronic scene, it is very instrumental orientated, while in the UK you have more options. Paris has a small electro pop and indie pop scene.
SO IS THAT PART OF THE REASON YOU CHOSE LONDON AS A NEW HOME?
For many reasons actually, but yes especially the urbanism of this town. We love football too, and the first time we came to see a game they were playing The Cure ‘Close to Me’ at half time. We immediately said, “Ok, we need to live in this city”.
WHAT IS IT ABOUT CINEMATIC AESTHETICS THAT INSPIRES YOU TO WRITE MUSIC FOR FILMS?
Well, we pretty much landed randomly in music for films. We have been quite lucky because the first two movies we were involved in have been selected at Cannes Film Festival. One of the things we like when we work on a film is that it forces you to write from 10am in the morning. You have less narcissistic involvement. You don’t need to be in a romantic state of mind because you realise that you can actually write some great stuff that early. Plus, you don’t have to drink a load of coffee before being in the mood either. And actually, since we have more film projects, we write more and we keep more music for the band. For instance, ‘Tina’, which was initially written for Asia Argento’s latest feature, because a Penelopes song.
CAN YOU TELL US MORE ABOUT YOUR CONNECTION WITH ASIA ARGENTO?
She’s one of the earliest fans of the band. She once played our first EP, and we don’t even know how she got this recond. It was some very electronic, obscure stuff. We were experimenting with keyboard and drum machines. For us, it was unbelievable that she played out music as a DJ all over the world. She is a true music lover.
She has a lot of knowledge and is open minded. A few years after this, we got in touch again when she released her album ‘Total Entropy’, and when she was preparing her ‘Misunderstood’ feature. We loved the scenario, and she was looking for a band to appear in the movie. It was still a complete surprise when she asked us to appear in the movie and write a couple of songs! Knowing her track record, we were honoured. This was one of the movies to land in Cannes Film Festival and she’s now known as ‘my sister of mercy’.
WHAT’S THE STORY BEHIND YOUR SINGLE, MULHOLLAND DRIVE?
Last time, we were in Los Angeles, there was this cool French girl who drove us along Mulholland Drive at night. It was quite an intriguing drive, and we barely knew the girl at the time. We took a break at the end of the road to watch the city lights. I realised that we were so far from the shitty French suburb where we grew up; it was a proud moment, and quite melancholic.
When we came back to Europe, I had an idea for a song. The song is talking about a car crash. There is an accident where two people are dying on the road. Those people realise that nobody is going to stop and rescue them…
WHAT IS IT ABOUT LONELINESS AND ISOLATION THAT SETS THE TONE FOR YOUR MUSIC?
We like things to be ambivalent. I imagine our songs to be like a path through a tunnel, with a light at the end. Even if we are pessimistic when you consider the capacity of mankind to do bad things. To be completely honest, I don’t think our world will ever be equal. There will always be a minority of powerful people who will be able to ruin our beautiful efforts. That’s why our songs are ambivalent.
On one hand you can dance to our songs, which is a pure feeling. But on the other hand, the lyrics are quirky, and actually quite dark. Take ‘Sally in The Galaxy’. It sounds like a straight forward disco-pop song, when in fact we’re talking about a kid that is sent to space to leave an imminent disaster. We were always quite shy to talk about this deep pessimism, now I am quite direct. I don’t give a shit. Our songs are moody. There is less of a smoke screen now. I always thought like Leonard Cohen, “Things are gonna slide… Slide in all directions”. Now, I assume.
WHAT DIRECTION DID YOU WANT THE SOUND OF THE BAND TO TAKE?
We want to bring a modern twist in the production. We want to mix an electronic, groove feel with palm muted guitars, a crooners voice and melodramatic keyboards. [Laughs]. Without forgetting ad-lib and a proper FM fade out…
DO YOU FEEL THAT THE CLASSICAL BEAUTY OF FRANCE HAS A PLACE IN A GENERALLY URBAN LONDON?
We love London because urban can meet classical in some way. Meanwhile in Paris, people are separated by this carriageway ring road. Living in Paris is like living in a museum. We know that London is tough, and it’s not a paradise, but at least here, historically, they have tried to break frontiers. But again, we are not in an ideal teddy bear world in London.
WHAT DO YOU HOPE TO ACHIEVE AND MAKE THE AUDIENCE FEEL?
Hope, because life can be dark.
YOU COLLABORATED WITH DAN GRECH-MARGUERAT, CORRECT? WHAT’S THE STORY THERE AND ARE THERE PLANS FOR ANY OTHER COLLABORATIONS WITH PRODUCERS?
We were actually collaborating with Dan for our second album. We met through our first English manager when we arrived in the UK. It was so impressive to work with him because we never had a producer before coming to London. Dan had worked with the Scissor Sisters, amongst so many others. Before being in London, we were doing everything in our bedroom. Working in the UK was a dream for us, but we were quite intimidated to be honest. We learnt a lot, thanks to Dan, and we confess that we stole a lot of tips.
WHAT DOES A TYPICAL DAY LOOK LIKE IN LONDON FOR YOU?
Flat white. Recording for ourselves, soundtracks or remixes from 10 am. Admin and bullshit at lunch time. More music. Nap or reading scenarios around 5-6pm. A couple of drinks in Bethnal Green. More music, till late into the night…
I SUPPOSE THINKING ABOUT THE CONSERVATIVE NATURE OF PARIS, YOU WEREN’T SUPPORTED CREATIVELY GROWING UP?
No not really. We come from a very proletarian and modest background. I know that ‘proletarian’ is a pretty old school term, but it’s a fact. We learnt everything by ourselves. We have received no money, no particular artistic education from our parents. Our life was just boring, grey, and we had no hope. It’s pretty cliché again, but true. We had to escape from that shit.
SO WHAT IS THE VISION FOR THE PENELOPES THEN?
Make ART every day. We want a life of surprises. It’s a very simple concept.