Tuesday, July 22, 2008
When I first discovered the remarkable Gamine, a London duo made up of Claudia Barton and Ian Williams, I was immediately struck by how cinematic and totally unique their sound was. Looking over their influences I noticed they had as many film figures listed as they did musical ones and I felt an immediate kinship to them, so it is a great honor to have Claudia be Moon In The Gutter's first ever short interview subject.
I hope this serves to introduce some new people to the wonderful world of Gamine and I would like to ask everyone reading this to visit their official site and MySpace page for more information. They also have a LastFm station set up where you can listen to Sabotage, one of the most striking and ingenious albums of the decade.
Thanks so much to both Claudia and Ian for taking some time out of their busy schedules to do this for me and for putting up with my rather daft questions!
MOON IN THE GUTTER: Can you tell me a bit about your background? Where are you from originally and what sparked your passion for music and film?
CLAUDIA: Ian grew up on a farm, in the garden of England, perhaps it is still possible to hear those farmyard animals instilled in his melodies. I was brought up in a house void of music, so had to make up little songs of my own to fill the emptiness. Czech and French new wave helped my rehabilitation into society. With friends like Chytilová, Jean-Luc, Henri Michaux, Brel, Michel Legrand, and J.P. Donlevy I knew I would never be lonely again.
Then at seventeen I met Ian, who showed me that pop didn’t have to be a filthy word. My sphere of influences became quite wholesome. He says we have Catholic tastes. I see it as a cultural animism, finding soul in all, nearly all, mediums and genres.
MITG: How did Gamine initially come together?
CLAUDIA: Gamine always existed. Well it did long before I was even born. Ian is several decades older then me. It was just a twinkle in his eye until we met in a casino in St Petersburg where I was singing for vodkas. He was with Bill Pritchard, and they both realised that this concept they had been working on could be made flesh. So after some months straightening out my accent and teaching me how to dress and carry myself I became the avatar for Gamine.
MITG: I'm struck by how you have as many cinematic influences listed on your profile page as well as musical ones. Can you talk a little bit on how much the world of cinema means to Gamine and how it affects your sound?
CLAUDIA: The world of cinema is very important to Gamine - it is where we nick our best ideas. We have been so rapacious, a cinematic tension now comes naturally.
MITG: Can you describe your songwriter process? Is one of you more responsible for the lyrics and the other the music or is it more of an even split? Also do you create a song around a certain style or influence or do they just sort of fall into one?
CLAUDIA: Ian has written great volumes of musical ideas, scored neatly in pencil, it’s sweet really. So when the mood takes us he plays through them and when he plays one that I fall in love with, I use all my feminine wiles to get it off him so I can write some lyrics to it. You see, he is a terrible hoarder. He has promised to leave me the manuscripts in his will. So the inspiration for the songs is always in the music, Ian, in his wisdom, admits the musical credit is due to the universe, for mostly the tunes come like divine intervention. But to keep things simple we split the credits 50/50.
MITG: I'm very impressed by all of your influences as I see so many of my favorites there from film figures like Bardot to Delon to composers from Nicolai to Preisner. Also, it is fabulous to see Jimmy Webb and Richard Harris on there as I don't see those two giants mentioned enough. Admiring so many great musical outsiders, have you two encountered much resistance to your sound or has the opposite been true?
CLAUDIA: For years all we met was resistance. We had been working on this all encompassing epic pop album (never yet released) but nobody wanted to hear, surf pop, pop, disco, trance, dance, ballads, and a rock anthem with great lyrics on one album. I think they found it distasteful. So we just wrote Sabotage and released it expecting the usual barrage of rotten fruit and veg, but instead our audiences were reduced to tears. Grown men who hadn’t wept in years would come up after the shows choking and try to find the words to tell us they would like their copy of the album signed. It wasn’t at all what we expected. So our music is reactionary; aggression, or sorrow, so far. I’d like to have a go at fear, and maybe one day joy. The next album is designed to make people fall asleep.
MITG: Who are some modern artists you feel kinship to? Alison Goldfrapp is one of the only people I can think of who manages to sound so distinctive while embracing so many different styles. Whose around on the scene right now that you find yourself listening to?
CLAUDIA: Gamine is a bit of a loner. If I said we felt a kinship with some modern artists, doubtless they would deny any mutual feelings. However, Anthony and the Johnsons, The Czars, Dustin O’ Halloran, Ilya, Linda Perhacs, Marina Celeste, Mariza, Messer Chups, Richard Hawley, Ryuichi Sakamoto and Zerocrop are sort of around, at least they are still living and we have been listening to them recently. I am going to watch Dengue Fever this week but Ian says he would rather stay home and listen to Yol Aularong and Ros Sereysothea.
MITG: What has been the most exciting and/or strange moment in Gamine's career?
CLAUDIA: We played a contest for the saddest music in the world at the premier party for the film The Saddest Music in the World at the Cafe de Paris in London. It was packed, smoky and riotous. We refused to play until there was absolute silence, but once Ian struck the first chord of "Checkmate" a sweet sadness seized the room.
The Director, Guy Maddin, was to present the award to the winner at the end, and he stood on stage, quite bemused and said, “I think Gamine should have won this,” but the event had been rigged and he had to hand the award to some music industry product. Perfect!
MITG: Can you talk on some future plans in regards to a new album, touring etc?
CLAUDIA: Very soon our lullaby album will be complete. We will, of course, perform many shows when it is released, although we expect the concerts to be short, as, if the music has the desired effect, the audience should be asleep by the second or third song.
MITG: Is there any particular song that stands out to you as an ultimate introduction to Gamine for a newbie that you can think of?
CLAUDIA: There really is no defining song for Gamine. For people who think they might know us there is bound to be a nasty shock at some point. But ‘Love and Poverty’ might be a good representative from Sabotage. It is stark, dark, sad, and seraphic.
***Finally, just for fun I asked Claudia five general questions centered on some of their influences***
MITG: "Je t'aime... moi non plus"...Bardot or Birkin's version?
CLAUDIA: We don’t mind which lovely lady performs it.
MITG: Kieslowski's Three Colors Trilogy...Blue, White or Red?
CLAUDIA: Ian says White, I say Red.
MITG: Favorite Morricone Score?
CLAUDIA: This week it’s Queimada.
MITG: Delon or Belmondo?
CLAUDIA: What is day without night?
MITG: Tom Waits...Before Swordfish Trombones or after?
CLAUDIA: I never stop marvelling at the man!
Thanks again to both Claudia and Ian for taking the time to do this.