Cover bands usually don’t get due credit. Blame it on the fact that a large number of them can’t tell the difference between mimicking music note-for-note and onstage theatrics cockthrust-for-cockthrust, and doing a proper respectful tribute. All of that changed in 2004 when producer-musicians Olivier Libaux and Marc Collin put out the first Nouvelle Vague album. The self-titled release caught the attention of the Internet as well as millions of punk and new wave enthusiasts who had been waiting for someone brave enough to rework the classics. Using the bossa nova jazz-style of the ‘60s to cover underground ‘70s and ‘80s anthems, Nouvelle Vague quickly became known as a quirky jazz-punk cover band, receiving festival invitations, rave reviews and notoriety from the je ne sais quoi of their revolving cast of all-female singers. A decade later, JUICE is sitting down with Olivier in the Hub of Le Méridien Gurgaon, India, discussing punk rock, the next album, working with beautiful women, and being French in the modern world…
How did you first encounter punk rock?
I was living in the countryside north of France. It was raining all the time and very depressing. For many people, France is fantastic, but France has its small towns that are not very fun. And this punk music which happened in England, in a way, saved my life. It was new music for us teenagers. We were exchanging tapes in the ‘80s. And it was the same with Marc. When we met, we were working on different projects and we discovered we liked the same bands.
Were you guys ever involved in punk bands before this?
No, because you can love punk music without being a punk. Being a punk is a full time job.
How do you pick which songs to cover?
It has to be a song that inspires us from a band we love. And it has to be a song that sounds good being sung by a girl and works in a different style. That’s the main three points, but mainly to be excited about the song. When I was a teenager, the song ‘Too Drunk To Fuck’ by The Dead Kennedys was released as a single on a very small English label called Cherry Red. And it was blacklisted everywhere, especially in America. I remember when I first heard this song… I played the single 45 times and said “What is this?!” It’s a very important song to me. I also think if The Dead Kennedys heard our version, what would they think? So we want to be as good as possible to please them. Or surprise them the way they surprised you when you were younger.
How would you describe your relationship with Marc at the moment?
(Laughs) It’s not easy to work with someone for many years especially if the project was never supposed to go on for so long in the first place. You have to make compromises for the relationship to stay. That’s why we do other things as well. When we met, we were doing other [music] projects and even now, we’re doing different things. It doesn’t mean you love each other less.
Several years ago, we interviewed one of your singers. Phoebe Killdeer said that if it weren’t for Nouvelle Vague, she’d be “singing and dancing for money on the streets…”
That’s very possible.
How do you choose your singers and how is Phoebe doing these days?
The great news is that Phoebe has released… sorry, when was this interview done?
So Phoebe was in the band the year before as the replacement for Cammy (Camille Dalmais), who was our first singer. I’m not sure if she would have sung on the streets, but she had just come from Australia and was living in France. She was young. So since then, she has released two solo albums. But nowadays there’s a song of hers that’s been rerelease by The Avener (‘Fade Out Lines’ – a rework of ‘The Fade Out Line’ by Phoebe Killdeer and The Short Straws) and it’s huge. So she won’t need to sing or dance on the streets for a while.
Does that happen to all the singers who work with Nouvelle Vague?
All the singers that we’ve worked with were not famous when they started. Speaking about how we choose our singers… The common thing they have is that they are not only singers; they are songwriters, dancers, artists. What we prefer is to discover a new singer, like Phoebe for example. Not a big name. You’ll see tonight, Liset and Zula onstage… and actually the start of our collaboration with the singers is always a meeting or through sending songs or CDs because we’re producers, or sometimes we would find someone at a concert. Liset was discovered by Marc, she was an opening act.
How many singers have been in Nouvelle Vague?
On the records, there are about 25 singers. Live singers, there has been quite a number… we’re an old band now (laughs).
What are you going to cover next?
The thing is, we have covered mainly punk and new wave bands, and we’ve done all their best songs. We’ve released, maybe, 75 covers. So I think if we keep doing that, the repetition would not do justice to honour the movement. That’s the reason why we haven’t release a new album in a while. When we do, it will be different from the previous albums.
Do you mean Nouvelle Vague is going to write original material for the next album?
In the beginning the concept was “Nouvelle Vague is new wave personified.” So Nouvelle Vague is covers, covers, covers… But now we’ve grown with this band. When we released the first album, I honestly expected to sell 400 copies, nothing more. The covers from this first album are still played at restaurants, radio, and taxies around the world. That was not supposed to happen. I’ve been talking a lot with Marc. We really want to do something superb. So, there will be original music.
Coming… not too late? (Laughs) But it must match with whatever we’ve done in the past.
Do you mean it has to be on par with the punk and new wave classics you covered? Seems stressful…
There is a way to turn around this difficulty. It could be something instrumental, it could be lyrical… all the songs from the punk and new wave era talk about very big subjects. So if you’re going to sing about the sun and flowers being nice today, well, that’s too specific. Also, Marc and I as composers and lyricists… on my side, I’m far better in writing in French.
So are the lyrics going to be in French?
You’ve collaborated with Le Méridien (as one of the artistes under the brand’s Le Méridien100 – a loose collective of a hundred artists ranging from master baristas, musicians, painters, interior designers, and more) by creating a unique 24-hour playlist for several Le Méridiens around the world. Tell us more about this hotel soundtrack.
It’s quite a wide proposition of songs. Of course, there are some Nouvelle Vague songs. There are a lot of songs from our singers like Phoebe and Mélanie because everyone is making solo albums. There are some side-projects material, some classics and some not very famous songs from the ‘60s. Also some artistes that influenced us and some soundtracks — we’ve curated about 600 songs for Le Méridien to create consistency with all their lobbies and lifts in the world. And we’ve been performing, doing a sort of tour of Le Méridiens around the world. Actually in KL, we were supposed to perform with Yuna, but she was in New York at the time.
Oh wow, that would’ve been something…
She’s very Nouvelle Vague.
So are we going to see a Le Méridien x Nouvelle Vague world album soon?
(Laughs) The thing about Le Méridien is that we don’t need them to step in as a producer. But they have been very supportive and given us the opportunity to go into a different country and collaborate with new artistes. We could record or keep their contacts for future collaborations.
How does Le Méridien remind you of France?
First of all, since I was a kid I’ve always heard about Le Méridien. It was the Le Méridien hotel in Paris, it was a big thing to stay there. So whenever I travel and see a Le Méridien, the Frenchman in me feels sort of proud. Now, the brand is as modern as ever. I guess it’s the little touches they do, like the éclairs or the coffee culture or getting Nouvelle Vague to score the album. Le Méridien is not forcing French culture down your throat. They don’t say “Bonjour!” or have a French flag. It’s more subtle.
What’s the first thing you do when you check-in a hotel?
I check the minibar to see if it’s full.
Aperitif culture (or as we like to call it, Happy Hour) is big in France and a daily ritual at the Le Méridien’s Hub (lounge-bar). If Nouvelle Vague were an aperitif, what would it be?
I’m afraid there are many answers. It could be a type of champagne, it could be a glass of white wine, it could be a Pastis which is a typical Southern French aperitif drank before playing pétanque. You know pétanque? It is a kind of game with metal balls…
That’s Greek to us.
Nouvelle Vague unlocked India on 11 March ‘15 at Le Méridien Gurgaon as part of the hotel brand’s new Destination Unlocked campaign.
Checkout the promo video below – when Nouvelle Vague came to unlock Kuala Lumpur with Le Méridien.