interview and photography by OLIVIER ZAHM
style by LAËTITIA GIMENEZ
french music, from ’60s pop to paris punk and new wave, was so sweet and sentimental that most of it never exported. marlon magnée and his multi-faceted band, la femme, bring back the fun and update the emotions.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Would you say that La Femme is more romantic than the American or English groups in your musical sphere? Is there a specifically French kind of romanticism?
MARLON MAGNÉE — Yes, there’s a great French romanticism. And our group, too, is very romantic, for sure.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Is love important for your music?
MARLON MAGNÉE — Love is very, very important. Three-quarters of our songs talk about love. Love is the greatest force in the universe, the most powerful. Love can transcend anything — so, too, can death, you might say.
OLIVIER ZAHM — It’s a driving force, a source of energy?
MARLON MAGNÉE — Yes, it’s even what gave us the energy to write and compose.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Do you draw on your own experiences?
MARLON MAGNÉE — Our own experiences, what’s happening in the world, what people are saying around us…It depends.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Your music is also about a love of theater, of staging.
MARLON MAGNÉE — That’s right. There’s a saying that amuses me: music is 90% image and 10% talent. But there it is: your image has to be taken care of. I remember that, as a child, I’d go to the punk and ska section at Virgin and look for the best covers, and I’d buy an album on the strength of the cover. When we started out, in 2010, we were just coming out of the 2000s, when it was all about “the rock group that plays on a roof in gray t-shirts and jeans.”
OLIVIER ZAHM — So, the look is important.
MARLON MAGNÉE — Yes, I love the idea of reasserting that. It’s all superficial, of course. The most important thing is the content, but having a sharp, stylish look is part of the package and allows us to show and exhibit the world of La Femme.
OLIVIER ZAHM — A very open, eclectic, and shifting universe it is, too.
MARLON MAGNÉE — That’s right. Shifting, but with a continuity.
OLIVIER ZAHM — And a sense of humor.
MARLON MAGNÉE — Yeah, we can’t help that. There are times when we want to be serious, but there’s always a moment when it takes over, and we just want to be super wacky.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Your new album was recorded before the crisis. Was that an optimistic time?
MARLON MAGNÉE — Yes. In fact, I was thinking about that in relation to a super optimistic piece called “Foreigner,” a pop piece that’s a bit 2Be3, but La Femme style, which we did partly for a laugh. We made a video, and, in the end, we thought it wasn’t too bad, but when I saw it again, I thought, “There’s no way you could make that today.” We’re on bâteaux-mouches [river cruisers], goofing around in Paris. It feels strange seeing these images again now because we’ve entered a new period.
OLIVIER ZAHM — How would you define this new period?
MARLON MAGNÉE — Well, it’s a bit grim because we’re entering into new things, but for many it’s also the chance for a fresh start and perhaps to change things, too — to slow down the rhythm a bit because it’s true that the world was moving too fast. Now, everyone is a bit slower, and maybe that’s a good thing.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Did you conceive the album in 2019?
MARLON MAGNÉE — Between 2017 and 2019, and we finished it in early 2020. In the end, it’s going to be released in early 2021. We’re working on the clips for that album and working on the fourth album at the same time.
OLIVIER ZAHM — La Femme is an open group.
MARLON MAGNÉE — Yes — flexible, let’s say. There’s the bassist, Sacha Got, and me. We created the group 10 years ago. We made a series of pieces, but we needed female voices, so we brought in our friends Pandora and Clémence Quélennec. Our basic idea was that La Femme was not someone in particular but a whole, a group, whose individual components you couldn’t really determine. There were lots of voices. Male voices and female voices.
OLIVIER ZAHM — For a group called La Femme, it’s a bit strange that there’s no frontwoman.
MARLON MAGNÉE — It’s true. There are several of them. All the girls who sing for us also make their own music. That creates a dynamic of female voices.
OLIVIER ZAHM — What do you look for in a woman’s voice?
MARLON MAGNÉE — We love the fragility of women’s voices — and their naturalness. When there are no effects, it’s really pure. Then we add reverb, a bit like the ’60s French pop sound, yéyé, which was often very simple voices. Women’s voices that are too professional, with timbres that are too formatted, aren’t right for us. Politically, it’s cool to say that anyone can sing. Even us, when we started out, we knew nothing about the professional circuit. I like the idea that everyone can come along, can just turn up and sing.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Yes, ’60s French pop seems to be a major influence.
MARLON MAGNÉE — Totally, but more the underground pop. For example, in the ’60s, there were some less well-known groups. Everyone talks about the Chaussettes Noires, the Chats Sauvages, but there were also the Vautours who were really good. It’s the same with yéyé singers. There’s Françoise Hardy, who is great, but there’s also Stella, who was great and not quite so well known. In the 1980s, you have Marie et les Garçons and Deux, who were cool. This was Cold Wave. That was a big influence on us. We drank like mad in high school. Anyway, we were incredibly influenced by French pop. That’s why it was important for us to write in French from the outset. Also, it was kind of cool to sing in French in those days because everyone was singing in English. Well, in 2010, there was Mustang who did things in French, but it was real niche stuff.
OLIVIER ZAHM — So, La Femme is a declaration of love for all women?
MARLON MAGNÉE — For all women, in their incredible diversity. Beyond that, I want to express a more universal and slightly New Age message: who’s to say that we’re not all reincarnations, and that, at some point in our past lives, we weren’t both men and women?
OLIVIER ZAHM — How do you see the image of woman evolving?
MARLON MAGNÉE — There’s still work to be done. There are still lots of things for feminism to fight for — not so much freedom as equality. I’m also thinking of certain traditionalist, religious countries where the oppression of women is simply an ongoing reality.
OLIVIER ZAHM — To conclude, are French groups maybe a bit too romantic? From Étienne Daho to Elli Medeiros
MARLON MAGNÉE — With them, it’s still okay. Today, though, I think it’s gotten a bit too naive, a bit too nice. Still, we can be proud of the French discography. There are some fabulous things, and there are lots of Americans who listen to French music. There’s a real audience.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Which French love song would you tell someone who isn’t French to listen to?
MARLON MAGNÉE — Elli et Jacno: “Je T’Aime Tant.” It’s a beautiful piece, very pure. Otherwise, Les Rita Mitsouko, of course!