Out of breath from their high-powered live performance at Dour, Morgane and Nicolas from French indie pop band Concrete Knives filled us in on what it’s like to be them: from the slightly dictatorial leadership style of history buff Nicolas, to being perpetually billed as the next up-and-comers in the French press, rave reviews, tour schedules and saucy album covers, and other such notches on the rock band bedpost. Their debut album ‘Be Your Own King’, which was released this February, came after they’d already been on the road for years.
Morgane, I see you just climbed up the dangerously high stage structure during the gig…
I’ve done it quite a few times. It’s fun. I saw some metal groups do it. Once I fell though. I just started climbing up and was singing with my eyes closed and then I fell. But I just kept singing.
I have the impression that your music works better live. Is it even possible to translate that energy into a recording?
Nicolas: It’s very hard to transfer the live energy because in a studio everything is very functional and very dark… Even if you record live sets, it’s not the same thing. We rented a house in Normandy where we tried to recreate the live situation as much as possible. We wanted to give the recording some life, especially for the voices. But yeah, you’re right. We were not really familiar with playing in a studio.
You toured a lot before your album came out…
Nicolas: Yes, the band has existed for six years now and we did nothing but tour and hardly ever recorded anything. We feel more at home on stage than in the studio.
Your first album was released in February. NME gave you a raving review and you’re playing at festivals like Dour. Living the dream?
Nicolas: I don’t know. We don’t see a good NME or Pitchfork review as something very symbolic. We pay as much attention to someone who posts something on Twitter. It’s not a good idea to give too much importance to these reviews, because it’s just part of a game that can change very quickly. In France they always say we’re a group that’s moving up and up, but we see it as something horizontal, as moving forward.
Do you google yourself? Read your reviews?
Nicolas: Of course. It can make you feel good and it can demoralise you at the same time. What’s more important for us is to share our music with people.
How do you get from a band that met at high-school and just plays for fun to where you are now?
Nicolas: It’s actually quite simple: it’s very easy to find gigs. For three years we organised everything ourselves and played in countless little cafés and bars in France. It was a good education, it taught us how to play together and allowed us to meet many people which in turn allowed us to build a helpful network. It wasn’t until 2010 in France that people started talking about us. We made it to the Trans Musicale, a festival in Rennes which had been around for 35 years and is one of the biggest events in France for discovering new artists. At that time we were really ready because we had practised so much the three years before that. And everything happened quite fast. We started playing abroad; in Switzerland, England, Canada. When we played in Montréal for an event organised by Inrockuptibles, a guy from Bella Union watched us play and offered us to take us on.
Your band name, Concrete Knives, has a bit of a metal or goth ring to it…
Nicolas: In high-school, before Morgane joined us, we played in hardcore and metal bands. It’s probably a throwback to that time. And it suits our quite frontal, massive live presence.
Who’s the half-naked guy on the album cover?
Morgane: It’s me before my sex change!
Nicolas: It’s just a friend of ours.
It’s not a very flattering photo..
Nicolas: We wanted something raw and just thought this photo was perfect. We hadn’t really told our friend about it. One day one of his colleagues said to him: ‘I think I just saw you over there in your underpants! Isn’t that you?‘ Across the street they were just putting up posters for a marketing campaign for our album. He was in shock but he wasn’t pissed off with us, he’s really cool.
One of your songs is called Bornholmer. Named for the street in Berlin?
Nicolas: Haha that’s funny. I’m actually really talking about that street. I’m very fascinated by German history and European history in general.
It was the first street to be breached during the fall of the Berlin wall…
Nicolas: Yes, exactly. With this song we’re addressing the whole euphoria around it but also the fact that behind the iron curtain there was the reality of daily life, which sometimes didn’t really get much attention.
That’s quite a serious subject, but your music sounds pretty happy actually, more like ‘we’re young, let’s party’. Was it your intention to make a happy record?
Morgane: It’s quite tricky. It’s a bit of a contradiction. Even if the music sounds happy we might be addressing a more serious subject and something deeper can hide beneath it.
Nicolas: And even when you experience bad things, you can address them with a positive attitude and deal with them full-frontal.
I would probably describe your music as indie pop. Do you agree or do you detest the label ‘pop’?
Morgane: That doesn’t bother us. People can say what they want. It’s very strange, actually, to put bands into categories. It’s just for marketing purposes.
Nicolas: It depends on who listens to the music. For one person it’s classic pop, for another indie pop, while our grandmas say it’s heavy metal.
Three things you miss about France when you’re on tour?
Morgane: The food!! That’s all actually. We love touring!
Three things you fight about in the band?
Nicolas: The computers, if we should use them on stage for some playback or not.
Morgane: The spots in the tour bus. And the smells!
Morgane: When it comes to the music we don’t really fight. Anyway, we have no choice, Nicolas is the boss! Either you shut up or you leave, haha.
Nicolas: Yeah, that’s my totalitarian side!
Nicolas: are you a dictator?
Morgane: No, just kidding, in the end someone has to make the decisions. And everyone’s free to leave whenever they want.concreteknives.com