By Dan Leach
By Dan Leach
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“I was just filled with doom. I was absolutely terrified and I couldn’t believe I was going to release this thing. I was just like: “This is shit. I can’t believe this is going out into the public domain.””
This is how Chloé Raunet, a.k.a. C.A.R., describes her feelings when she listened back to her album My Friend. “Now I’ve actually come back round and I do really like the album and I’m proud of it.”
She should be. Released last autumn on Paris label Kill the DJ, it is a heady conspiracy of nu wave and electronica. From the delicious flute intro of La petite fille du 3eme to the future classic Ten Steps Up, teasing melodies dripping with hope find themselves in flux with a deeper darker sadness. For electronic music don Andrew Weatherall it was “one of the best releases of 2014” and Franz Ferdinand’s Alex Kapranos, described it as "lovely melancholia”.
At times it beautifully recalls a 1960s psychedelia - not fanciful, but mysterious - which, like all good music, seems to occupy the fringe of conscious understanding. Her first solo project since the break-up of previous band Battant in tragic circumstances, it reveals an artistic confidence - a sense of arrival.
Chloé’s recollection demonstrates the difficult, sometimes contrary, act of creation. A swimming mass of thoughts and ideas coalesce and find a voice in that one moment that may never be recaptured.
Rufus Wainright saw his album Poses as “kind of a miracle”, encapsulating a feeling he said he will never be able to repeat. Damon Albarn once said: “Every album is something like a snapshot. It only shows one moment in time. It shows what we feel and think right at that point in time, nothing more and nothing less.”
Given its temporal nature, it is not surprising that an artist might feel completely different about a creation a few months later.
Further conflict is found in the artist’s need to share themselves with the world versus the terror of exposing this intimate side. You are opening up yourself to judgement, not just from the faceless masses, but from your friends, your family, the newsagent, your local pub. Compared to the single or E.P., an album is a much longer period over which to prove yourself, with more opportunities to fail.
So why do it? Why is the album important?
Because while individual tracks make up the substance, an album provides the context in which to understand them. The importance of narrative is precisely why top DJs get paid so much - at a club they are essentially doing the same thing - they give meaning to the music through what they play before and after. In this way, the futures of the DJ and the album might be more intertwined than is commonly recognised.
Following the recent release of C.A.R.'s standout single, Glock’d, we ask how does inspiration become recorded music? What is it like to perform live? And how does an artist view promotion and the media?
Illustrated by moving images and samples from My Friend we immerse you in the world of Chloé Raunet and the making of the album.
Inspiration does not seem an appropriate word for My Friend. Its creation was a visceral reaction to the tragic death of Chloé’s former band mate Joel Dever aged 25. More than a best friend (in a tribute she called him “the core of her existence”), his passing just before the release of Battant’s second album meant the end of the band and began what she calls “this really crazy dark period”.
“We had all of these tour dates booked and I decided to tour the album even though Joel had died. I think it gave me something concrete to focus on.
"So we got session musicians and went out on the road, and it was a horrible experience, just horrible. I was with these three boys and a tour manager - so four guys I didn’t know - travelling around France…Joel was like my best best pal. He was like a soulmate, somebody I shared everything with.
"So at the same time I'm dealing with this massive chunk of my heart ripped out, with these blokes I don't know and don't have much in common with and then there's all the crap which comes from being on the road, plus getting on stage and performing this body of work we had written together...it really was horrendous.”
Writing My Friend was a type of therapy for Chloé. It was as if she had to write music to massage her soul, to make some sort of sense of the event, to restack the disturbed neurons. She talks of it almost in physical terms.
“I had all of this emotional shit that I had to get out and that’s how C.A.R. started - it was just me. When you talk about things being a cathartic experience, it really was - I had this thing I had to get out.”
Despite the circumstances, My Friend is not a depressing piece of music. If anything the overall tone is upbeat. But there is no denying the underlying current of unease which perhaps heightens both polar emotional opposites - there is darkness but there is hope.
“I haven’t thought about there being a narrative to it or anything but actually I think it tells the story of getting through something in your life, dealing with something and hopefully in a way that’s non-specific enough that people can relate, that you can kind of take stuff from it. In a way it’s a blessing to have something like that.”
Her writing with Battant also tended towards the darker edge of the palette (the C.A.R. press release interestingly calls it ‘washed out sarcasm’) and Chloé believes that’s a reflection of her personality.
“I’m quite cynical the way I see things in a humorously dark way. [C.A.R. stands for 'choosing acronyms randomly'] If you listen to my lyrics in Battant they’re really dark and twisted - I’ve always talked about things like rape and imagined all sorts of crazy scenes and murder.
“I can only write from personal experience and I think C.A.R. continues to evolve in that way - it is me on my own and all I really know how to do is express me.”
If personal experience is an artist’s source material, how does that affect friends, family, relationships? Do romantic partners worry that she will write a song about them or worse, about a previous love-interest?
“I’m quite aware of that and I think that’s why a lot of what I write is quite cryptic and I try not to draw out something really specific, and if I do I will shroud it in metaphor. I’ll do everything I can to disguise it just because I wouldn’t want to hurt somebody.”
“God yeah - my mum reads into my lyrics all the time. But no matter what I say, she thinks all my songs are about her. I’ve now given up [trying to persuade her] all I can say is they’re not.”
She recently found herself explaining to her dad that the line “Dad you’re such a big mistake” in her track Glock’d was not about him - such are the pitfalls of songwriting and taking on different personas. The lyricist walks a line between speaking powerful truths and alienating those closest to them.
My Friend took one year to make - 12 months to turn the neural connections firing in Chloé Raunet’s brain into the collection of sounds which stimulate the chemicals in our own brains.
Bands traditionally would re-record their demo in the studio, but because it is electronically based, Chloé was able to create most of the music at home. Since the early days of Battant she has gradually turned herself into a multi-instrumentalist, as well as a singer and lyricist.
“I’ve got a bass guitar, a piano, and I do a lot of the instrumentation recording there and then, as I’m making the music. So I’ll be recording at the same time as I’m writing. The demo becomes your final track and it’s all one mesh of a process.
“Occasionally there’ll be guitar lines which would be better played by someone who actually knows how to play! So at that point I’ll go to one of my friends and be like “Oh would you mind re-doing this line for me?”
And does pressure from the label to get things finished ever interfere with the writing process?
“If anything I put pressure on them! “I’ve got this, I’ve got that, what are we gonna do?” It’s like I’m constantly on their case!”
Making music on your own can be quite insulating, so feedback from music friends and advisers, such as executive producer Ivan Smagghe, is very important. Are they honest?
“I hope they’re really honest.”
So they don’t mind telling you your song is terrible?
“Totally, and I might have a little huff and then I’ll leave it and then three weeks later I’ll come back to it and be like - yeah they were right.
“Or you’ll write something at first and it’ll be shit. But I think there’s always something, you know, there’s no wasted work. So 90% might be shit, chances are 10% you can use and turn into something else. So there’s a constant regeneration, reworking and for me that’s part of the process.”
For My Friend she also sought the input of an arranger, Rupert Cross, “an incredibly talented pitch-perfect musician”. The process began with her sending over tracks with information about what each is about.
Rupert says: “Either she would say: “I’m having a particular problem with this”, maybe structurally, or it needed some sort of counterpoint or she'll say: “I think it needs something else - have some fun with it.”
“It might be as simple as me saying: “All I would recommend here is making this section twice as long”. In another instance it might be writing something that runs throughout the whole piece which adds a new colour and a new direction.”
With his classical background did Rupert find it easy to switch on to that kind of music? Or do the same principles of making music apply across the genres?
“With Chloé she was very artistically confident and it was quite a unique and individual thing that it was very much responding to what she was saying and what she was doing, as opposed to listening to various styles and sounds trying to find something suitable.”
With the arrangements finished, live drums for tracks Sophomore and Angelina were recorded at the Redbull studios in Paris, where they also re-recorded the vocals.
The album was mostly mixed in Paris by engineer Fred Deces with certain tracks, such as HIJK, being mixed by Julien Briffaz of band Bot’Ox. This is when the fine-tuning takes place, the studied application of EQs and compressors takes an experienced ear. Instruments can mask each other and work at this stage can make the difference between a track sounding dull and hollow or full and clear.
“Ideally you’d want them all mixed by the same person but it didn’t work out like that”, says Chloé. “I think that’s a whole other process that is so important. I rely on a lot of people. It’s not just me. It’s me on my own that gets to do the interviews and have my mug on everything, but there’s a lot of people behind it. Ivan Smagghe executive producer and A&R role guiding me and giving me advice on tracks, Rupert the arranger, the professional musicians and then of course Thor Kolbrunarson, who I play live with!”
Decisions at this stage can change the sound so Chloé made sure she was present to oversee the whole mixing process: “There were times it got to be a bit of a boys’ club and I had to really muscle in like “No listen to me!” Because I’m not a producer, I know what I want but I’m not familiar with all the gear or anything. So it can be hard to make your voice heard in that situation...but I did. I managed to get my way. And I’m better equipped for next time.”
She was also keen to ensure that her music was not sterilised: “It’s the mistakes, the imperfections - that’s what gives it character. I won’t correct my voice if I sing a bad note, I leave all of that in on purpose.”
Did she mark the end of the mixing with any kind of personal celebration?
“No. For me, especially with this album, I put a lot of pressure on myself, so once it was mixed I was like, “ok what’s next? Now I need to be getting the live up to scratch. I need to be getting gigs. I need to get an agent, need to make sure the album comes out”…There’s always something else that needs to be done to keep the momentum up.
"And I think if you’re not doing it yourself nowadays, no one’s gonna do it for you. So you have to be like “crrrr”. And that’s something else that probably winds people up about me - there’s always something more to do. If there’s nothing to do I’ll make something to do. My friends say I’m hyperactive in that sense.”
Chloé Raunet becomes a different person on stage.
“I know ‘everyday’ Chloé”, says executive producer Ivan Smagghe, “‘performer’ Chloé is almost someone alien to me. I suppose that's a compliment on her being on stage.”
She agrees: “I very much have a performing persona that’s not really the person I am day to day.”
It is an intense and extroverted version of herself, an ultra-ego if you like, which even carries over into her DJ gigs, when she has been known to climb on tables and swing off rafters.
How did the child who was “painfully shy” become this unconstrained performer who terrorises DJ booths and expounds the deepest recesses of her feelings to crowds?
Chloé credits school theatre productions for giving her some inner steel (though she still has nightmares about waiting in the wings). She says when everyone is relying on you, you have no choice but to go out there. And although her experience, aged 18, at the prestigious LAMDA acting school in London put her off the profession, she learnt skills that she could take into music.
“I think it’s given me a certain presence and an understanding of how to move about on stage, how to engage people in that sense which is definitely invaluable.
“Also I do a lot of imagining - I’ll be singing in the first person but not as myself, I’ll have personas, and I do that a lot, and that probably comes from the acting as well.”
Suddenly finding herself as front woman of Battant with precious little experience, the prospect of performing would leave her “terrified for days”. After only a couple of gigs they were on tour supporting the Brian Eno-approved electronic band Ladytron - riding such a steep learning curve it’s no wonder she would have a little bucket by the side of the stage to vomit in.
What would she worry about in particular? “Singing out of tune was a big one. Hearing your voice out of a monitor [speaker] sounds a lot different and is something you have to learn. Also I was a very shy insecure 22 - you worry about what you look like and trying to be cool.”
She feels the key to the success of any gig is the rapport with the audience: “There’s an energy that’s created”, she says, “it’s about a live experience. It’s about creating something that only exists there and then in that moment of time. It’s not necessarily something that you capture on your iPhone. That’s what you strive for. But it doesn’t happen all the time.”
She has no pre-conceived strategy to achieve this, fearing it would undermine the authenticity for which she strives. According to her, honesty is the only real path to those truly transcendental experiences.
“I want to be genuine. So if I’m not feeling chatty and I if I don’t have anything to say, I get a bit tongue-tied and I can get super, super-awkward. I don’t really chat much on stage. Sometimes it works sometimes it doesn’t, either you’re going to connect with someone or you’re not.
“But when I’m watching a gig the one thing that instantly makes me turn away is if I feel people are trying too hard or they’re not being genuine. Especially nowadays there’s something to be said for sincerity. You like it or you don’t, but at least I’m going to be honest with you - “This is how I feel today” - and from that I think you can have some really amazing real things happen. Or not!” she laughs.
A recent gig in a Roman wine cave near Geneva was just one example. “When we played it was totally packed and they were so attentive. Something happened, I felt really connected with everybody and the sound was really good and I know it’s a cliché but there were times you could hear a pin drop and it was like super, super cool.”
Such experiences, Chloé says, can leave you on a massive high but, like a drug, she will come crashing down, something that pre-gig nerves only exacerbate. She remembers the day after a live performance on Arte, the French-German cultural channel.
“You build yourself up and then I swear the adrenalin crash is worse than any comedown. Like borderline suicidal, wandering around like you have this energy void.”
This is one of the drawbacks of being a solo performer but she has since learnt how to deal with it. Unfortunately talking it through with friends isn’t really an option.
“Maybe I should but it’s really hard to explain to somebody. “I’m feeling really shit because I did this really cool thing last night! And I’m in a foreign city and I’m living the dream but I feel really crap!””
An artist works so hard to create, record and perform the music that they want to get it in front of people - at least make the audience make the choice. How is all this arranged and what is it like dealing with the press?
“I don’t mind it to be honest. I always find it interesting to see what other people make of what you do. I’ve got a certain perspective of things, then somebody will come and ask me a question and I’ll be like “Oh! you’ve seen it that way!” and it makes you look at your work in a different way.
“The only time it’s a bit of a drag is when you’re on the road and you’re really shattered and maybe you’d rather go back to the hotel and maybe you haven’t eaten but you have to go see someone straight from soundcheck and be all coherent and stuff. But even then I like it, it’s nice to meet people.”
She cannot resist reading her own press. “I do! Sometimes I wish I didn’t! Especially with the internet, people can be really...there’s an art to critique and if somebody doesn’t like something they can be really over the top just to make an entertaining read. It can be pretty nasty.”
Unusually, it was Chloé, rather than the label, who chose the company to promote My Friend in the UK. C.A.R. has a stronger following in France due to the success of her previous band Battant and because her label Kill The DJ is based in Paris and has a higher profile there.
She says: “They’ve always struggled with press in the UK. So with previous projects, with Battant, they’d selected people and it hadn’t really worked over here.”
“But I also think it’s a bit tricky because I’m a bit older and I’ve never been part of a particular scene.”
Having a clear brand is important, but when it comes to art this can be inherently cloudy. If the terms don’t exist to describe what an artist does then you have to invent new ones or take pieces from other more recognisable genres, but this can water-down or blur the message. As a result, magazines can be reluctant to approach and fans more difficult to attract because you are not part of a specific movement.
“I can’t actually describe the music I do and I think the less labels you have, the harder it is to define what you do...”
When language falters, visuals become even more important. Imagery is something that Chloé has given great consideration. The album cover of My Friend, created by graphic designer Jesse Holborn, depicts a woman smoking a cigarette and is designed to recall the moment when advertising guru Edward L. Bernays’ 'Torches of Freedom' 1929 publicity stunt encouraged a whole generation of women to smoke. It is a statement on women’s role in music and reflects C.A.R.’s studied cynicism.
While she may struggle with the English press, the fashion world has embraced her (“even though I wouldn’t say I’m fashionable or follow fashion”) performing frequently at events such as the Hyeres festival last year. Famous designer Jean-Charles de Castelbajac is an admirer and her tracks are often used for runway shows.
Marketing budgets can only stretch so far, so for the video for her latest EP Glock’d, being a fan of fairground rides, Chloé took C.A.R. backing musician Thor Kolbrunarson and a GoPro camera to Brighton to shoot the video on a rollercoaster.
“We spent a day in Brighton and rode the rollercoaster about six times and that shot was the final shot. We went round a few times first to get the angle right. We thought we had it and I decided that I didn’t like the way my hair was!”, laughs Chloé.
“So I fixed it and put some lipstick on and we did it one more time. That take turned out to be perfect to the last word. We didn’t time it or anything, we just did it by chance and the last word happened right as the ride stopped.”
To achieve that sunburnt dreamy tint on the video she refilmed it through her TV with plastic over the lens.
“At the end you can see the little red light from the camera reflecting in the TV screen! It was one of those serendipitous things that kind of worked without too much effort and it all kind of came together. Winged it totally.”
Does she ever worry about being famous?
“Worry about being famous?” she repeats. She’s surprised at the question.
“No” she laughs. I think the chances of me becoming famous are slim to non-existent.”
Does she ever consider it?
“I did...when I was younger, but now I don’t. I don’t want to become famous - it doesn’t seem like I’m doing anything that would make me either. But yeah when I was a kid or even with the first Battant things, we thought…”
“There’s a difference though between being famous and actually making a living and being successful and I think if I can be successful in music...
“Because it would be brilliant if I could solely rely on C.A.R. to make a living but I don’t think it works like that anymore, unless you’re like… I think it’s a lot easier for DJs to make a living now.”
The single Glock'd is out now.
Macho Zapp would like to thank:
Kill The DJ