Updated: Feb 16, 2021
François Marry is a man with many talents. Over the course of his career, he has found a knack for constructing a breezy and introspective world through his music. With a hard-to-imitate aura that being a laidback French musician who sings about bank investors and immigration brings, François & The Atlas Mountains continue to refine the landscape of French alternative music with their latest releases.
The amount of journeys that François has been on shines through his music. The heavily used Afro-rhytms, the rumbling effects that mimic the busy streets of Brussels, the European capital he once lived in and the tranquil sounds that feels like a splash of water in a hot summer day all take their inspiration from the frontman's favorite cities. While the French influence is prominent in each album, they have their own defining sound which is conjured by a strong sense of observation and humor. The tone of their music shifts from reflecting on current events to existing as a reaction on its own.
Tourne Atour, their latest release, tells the story of a spaceman obsessively trying to find love and fame. He is completely in his own head, turning in loops trying to reach the unreachable all the while he sees that every single astronaut is trying to achieve the same thing. You're alone in your spaceship, your body is completely covered with a heavy astronaut suit and your days look all the same.. Doesn't that relate to how our days look like in a quite literal way? It is, according to François.
"The fantasy remains a distant galaxy. Love is a mental projection. Somehow, this vivid tune resonates with our recent lockdown lifestyle. On loop.”
Tourne Atour also explores the theme of a soul-sucking obsession that eats you alive. It's funny, bold and told in a very self-aware way. François distances himself with heartbreak and disappointment which seems to be a recurring theme in their upcoming album "Banane Bleue" which is produced by Jaakko Eino Kalevi, and mixed by Renaud Letang.
I called François on the very Thursday the Tourne Atour music video was released to talk about their wide-ranged music and discuss their upcoming album Banane Bleue which will be out on 26th of February.
Janset: Coucou is one of the singles of your upcoming album Banana Bleue. You mentioned in an early interview that you hate the word and find it very naive, especially coming from someone that you know a bit too well. I'd say that the way you clash uncomfortable situations with a breezy production is very unique to your music. How did you decide how Coucou should sound like?
François: Did you know that word and use it in your French conversations?
Janset: Yeah but I find it to be a bit childish, maybe it's just because it sounds a bit weird to my non-French ears.
François: Yeah exactly, very childish. It's fine to use it with someone you don't have strong relationships with but when it comes from someone you shared the depths of your heart with it's different. When you lose track of someone and they come back with a very lighthearted "Coucou" it creates a void. I wanted to find a way to step out of the breakup and write a more upbeat song at least in terms of style as a way to help me cope. Also the producer Jaakko Eino Kalevi didn't speak French and I didn't tell him what the song was about so he made the arrangements according to the vibe he was feeling so it ended up being a bright Californian song.
Janset: The music video is very sunny and brisk unlike the lyrics. It's almost as if you were abandoned on that very island, looking a bit hopeless. Contrasting to that imagery, the island that you're on looks like a dreamy place where you normally would be filled with joy. Is there a sense of escapism and irony in the music video?
François: It was more about trying to find an image of a shipwreck. It was a metaphor of the breakup and how you feel in a world in ruins. It's about trying to find your path and focus on flowers... -he laughs, and if you're familiar with the music video you will too.- The flower bit was a way to joke around the cheery feel of the song and create a situation in which I find new friends, basically that what happens in the video.
Janset: Based on Holly Gollightly, Tourne Atour and Coucou I get a sense that this album will be very upbeat and will encompass a poetic and romance driven narrative. Is that true? What can we expect from Banane Bleue?
François: You know how it is, you always choose the more upbeat songs to push forward as singles. There are a few songs on the album that are more atmospheric.
Janset: I also saw that you did the artwork for Banane Bleue's cover yourself, can you tell me how you did that? It looks very profound.
François: There was a friend who did some filming and recording for the album. When the recording was done we went to the rooftop and there was lots of unused antennas and electric cords. She was just taking random photos but one of them was mistakenly double exposed. So it was actually by an accident that I look very fantomatique. The antenna was also a good metaphor of being disconnected. Afterwards I showed the picture to a friend and he said that it was good but it was a bit sad and that I had to add some bananas to it and I put a few bananas here and there.
Janset: Wise advice, works for anything. So, the newly released video for Tourne Atour made me think of 2001:A Space Oddysey by Kubrick. You have a song called "Holly Gollightly" and I also remember reading in one of your interviews that the only bit of humanity that you found in New York City was in the Metropolitan Museum. I pieced all those together and got to the conclusion that visual work like art, cinema and photography influence your music greatly. Am I correct?
François: Yes, I guess. Overall, I'm just inspired by what I see and hear. Obviously art creates a lot of imagery and sensitivity that resonates with the spectator. I think it's a good way for people to connect especially in these times where we can't really hang out with people. Having visual references is a great way to connect with another soul. I'm not a huge cinephile but in terms of my references, I was influenced by Tarkovski rather than Kubrick, he had a strong effect on me.
I also think that Tourne Atour video is a good metaphor for trying to reach something which is out of reach: The stars, the heart of a solar system... There is also a play on words with literal stars and music stars. The video talks about the search of fame with a TV show reference where you perform your song and get the chance to become famous. I look through the telescope and see that there are many other stars who are on a similar quest. Everyone is kind of stuck in their own loop. It's also a metaphor for the current situation of the world.
Janset: The song is about obsession too, right?
François: Yes, totally. It's when you're stuck on someone and can't stop thinking about them which is very paralyzing.
Janset: Banane Bleue was recorded in different parts of Europe: Paris, Berlin and Athens. Knowing that you've also lived in Brussels, Bordeaux and Bristol, it's quite evident that different sceneries and cultures feed you in many ways. Would you still be making the same kind of music if you stayed in France?
François: I chose those cities because I thought that each of them had different underground artistic communities where they don't necessarily rely so much on the industry. I didn't live in Berlin or Athens but I think those are the cities that I could have lived that share a similar underground culture too. Obviously if I stayed in my little city in France, Santes, I would have a very different life.
Janset: I'd say that you live a half-nomadic life, at least mentally. You're open to the idea of discovery and unknown territories. Do you think that being an artist plays a role in your curiosity and helps you to adjust so seamlessly to each culture?
François: Yes, I love that. I love going to places where I can just stroll around the city and reinvent myself. I've met a lot of people though my journey who have a similar life style which is very nomadic. I think it's a bit of an addiction to go to another country and try to live there on your own. Obviously, it's thrilling and tiring at the same time as you always try to find new areas of comfort to socialize. Learning the language is also very tricky. Though, it's very stimulating because you get the chance to think about what is really important for you. When you stay with the same people for a very long time you end up not challenging yourself. With that said, I'm trying to do the opposite of it now. I've bought a new house in the South of France by the ocean and I really want to try to have a more stable life.
Janset: Oh, was the music video for Coucou filmed there?
François: No! It was shot in Brittany which is farther up North.
François: Yeah en Bretagne, oui.
( A lot of appreciation towards Brittany was expressed during this part of our call, back to music.)
Janset: Looking back to your prior work, I'm realizing that Solide Mirage was very representative of your lifestyle. Living in a city as multi-cultural as Brussels probably made you more sensible to what's going around you. The political undertone, the heavy use of Afro-rhythms and the social conscience invoked in the album indicates that from lyrics to production, acknowledgement of different cultures stand out. Was it a conscious choice to make such a political album or did it come naturally ?
François: It was definitely a conscious choice. At the time I had a lot of media attention and I did lots of interviews on various platforms. I didn't want to use that space to talk about myself. I wanted my work to resonate with the current political situations. The last song on Solide Mirage was called Rentes Ecloses and it was an atmospheric song, about bank investors. I wanted to find a balance between poetry and some political context.
Brussels is in the heart of Europe and there are so many different identities: There is a strong Congolais community, obviously a big Flemish one. There are also a lot of people who come from different countries of Europe to work in the European Commission. The buildings are also very strange. It has a weird atmosphere. It's a bit like a catalogue in the sense that you have a lot of options in terms of meeting different people who don't think alike but they're all in the same book. It was like being in a drowsy state in the heart of the storm.
Janset: Do you think that being French influenced the critic tone of the album as they are highly reputed to be one of the most sensible countries when it comes to politics?
François: Yes maybe, there is a tradition of left-wing singers in France like Daniel Balavoine and Léo Ferré. I think maybe those artists were very into escapism back then. There is also a tendency within artists to take a social and political position which I think is great. When you love someone's music you follow them with a sense of trust.
Janset: So you're not the kind to separate the art from the artist?
François: Yes that's how I feel personally. I can't enjoy someone's work if I know they've done horrible things. Recently, I was very upset to hear about the incident with Ariel Pink and John Maus. Ariel Pink was especially very influential to me but I can't enjoy his music anymore. I think it's more important to live in a society that prioritizes humanity before someone's artistic point of view. Art soothes the mind but it doesn't save one's life. Politics is more important for me I'd say.
Janset: The other day as I was shuffling my songs I've came across Hey Moon by John Maus and I involuntarily skipped because I think you don't have it in your nature to continue supporting an artist who you know is dangerous for the society, at least if you have a moral compass I guess.
François: At least there are a lot of people who like Trump so they can go on and continue listening to their music.
Janset: Yeah at least they have decent music to listen to now.
What would you say the biggest difference is between the English and the French music scene? Do you like one of them best?
François: I think the biggest difference is the amount of subsidies there are in France to help out an artist which is great in terms of being able to live off your music but I think it limits art. You start producing with a sense of comfort and don't have the courage to reinvent yourself. While I was in the UK, I noticed that there is more room for an underground culture than in France. In France, it's basically illegal to organise a show without paying the artist.
Janset: Well that's amazing isn't it?
François: It is but at the same time you can't organize a show that is a bit more marginal. Whereas in UK, you can organize shows with a better liberty without being that well-paid. It sounds bad but it allows you to immerse in the underground culture. It's more cutting-edge and the media exposure in terms of music is better too. BBC 6 for example, play very interesting music that is actually exciting. In France people tend to copy each other all the time and try to reproduce the music of an artist that did well.
Janset: Eventhough the sound that you have is very subtle, there seems to be different experimentations with sound textures in each album. Do you ever put pressure on yourself to reinvent your music between albums ?
François: No I don't ever put pressure on myself. I'm genuinely really excited about new music. I listen to a lot of different genres. I like classical music, I listen to quite a bit of abstract ambient music. I like exploring new sound structures, frequencies and styles so the change in my music comes from curiosity and not pressure.
Keep an eye out for Banane Bleue that will be out on 26th of February. Until then, you can listen to Tourne Atour, Coucou and Holly Golightly on repeat to get yourself acquainted with the new era of François & The Atlas Mountains which will contain a lot of banana imagery.
Cover Art: Elisha Fitri