By now you’ve probably read my entirely positive review of Noblesse Oblige’s amazing, new, genre-bending album Affair of the Heart. (If you haven’t read it, here it is: http://www.loveispop.com/reviews/review-noblesse-oblige-affair-of-the-heart/) I was so intrigued by the album that I was naturally curious about the duo who made it. Fortunately, I was lucky enough that Valerie Renay agreed to do an E-mail interview. And I must say I’m even more impressed with her after reading her responses to my questions. It’s my hope that you will find her fascinating and pick up Noblesse Oblige’s new album.
1- Your bio states that you’re French-Caribbean. Where were you born? Where did you grow up? What were you like as a kid — did you get interested in music at an early age?
My father is from Martinique a French Caribbean island, I spent some time there during my teenage years. My mother is from the north of France and that’s where I was born. As a child I moved around a lot and was exposed to lots of style of music. My dad is really into Jazz and Blues and I remember the whole family going to concerts together. My mother trained as a classical pianist, so we always had two pianos in the house, and she would take us to the opera and lots of classical concerts. Then my older brothers would play me their records too, Pink Floyd, Ennio Morricone, The Beatles. So from an early age I was exposed to lots of different style of music which I grew to love.
2- Your new album, Affair of the Heart, is slated to be released on May 27, 2013. Will this be a worldwide release or will it gradually be released in more and more countries as time goes on? Also, will it be released here in the States?
Yes that’s the date for worldwide release including US: CD’s and digital downloads.
3- How has your sound changed over the years, since you released Privilege Entails Responsibility in 2006?
For each album we try something different, a new approach. As people we also evolve.
The first album was raw, spontaneous, the production was rough and dirty, the expression of a young band. More intuitive than carefully planned. We have grown, developed and refined our skills as song writers. Our latest album is more polished, away from the confrontational lyrics, and electro punk sound of the early days we have produced a synth pop album to make people dance, dream and escape, but a trace of darkness is still present in all our albums.
4- Your third album, Malady, was inspired by the occult. What did you find most fascinating in your research for that? Have you ever dabbled in witchcraft or voodoo? (I’m curious because I was something of a solitary wiccan for some years when I was a teenager.)
I lived next door to a voodoo priestess in Martinique, an experience that taught me a lot, and will never forget. I can still smell the incense, hear the screams, strange incantations, and haunting chanting that would occur in the middle of the night.
5- In what country or countries have you been most successful thus far?
We’ve received a lot of love in London, Paris, Berlin, Moscow, Bucharest. Maybe Poland also.
6- I see you’ve played in Europe, Russia and South America. Have you done any shows in the United States yet? If not, do you have any plans to do so?
We have never played in US. We would love to come and tour the whole country. It’s every band’s dream to conquer the states and go on a road trip across this fascinating country. Unfortunately, the reality of it, is a very expensive affair.
7- When you’re on the road but you have a day off, what do you do to kill the time?
I love just walking around foreign cities, and find a good place to drink coffee and watch people. This is always inspiring new ideas for songs. I like observing different cultures, social behaviour, people’s faces, the way they talk and move.
8- How did the writing process for Affair of the Heart go? Do you and Sebastian both write the songs? Does one of you do the music while the other does lyrics or do you both do both? Does either of you ever write a song entirely alone?
For all albums the writing process is the same. We both write music and lyrics together. Of course the starting point of a song always comes from one of us and then the collaboration starts. We always start with music, it comes more easily to us, it’s always hard to write lyrics. We think more in musical terms, and are driven by melodies more than words. Occasionally one of us will come with almost a finished song, for instance on this album, Sebastian played me one night Chasing Shadows on the acoustic guitar, he had most of the lyrics, I just added a vocal harmony and a little hook on the guitar.
9- Who’s idea was it to cover The Eagles’ “Hotel California”? Did you start out doing the rather abstract version that made the album or did you do a more traditional version initially and then flesh it out into what we hear on the album?
Sebastian was asked by Edwin Brienen to write the soundtrack for a national broadcast radio play about Anton Lavey. One of the requests was a cover of Hotel California, as there is a rumour that the song was inspired by him. Anyway I absolutely hate the original, but somehow Sebastian managed to convince me to sing/talk on it and I totally fell in love with his new version so different from the original. It has become a hypnotising layered journey into darkness.
10- I understand the album was mixed by David Wrench and Harald Blüchel. Does this mean you produced it yourselves with David and Harald only coming into the studio to mix it after it was recorded?
That’s right. David and Harald only came in at a later stage, after we had done all the production ourselves. Their input and vision were still essential to help us shape the new sound of the album.
11- The press release mentions several influences, among them Depeche Mode and The Knife. But I hear a lot of trip hop sounds on the album, calling to mind Massive Attack, Tricky and even Portishead to some degree. Some of your songs also remind me of French artist Mylene Farmer. Are any of these influences as well?
Yes, of course! Sebastian and I are big fans of Massive Attack, Tricky and Portishead. We also both like early Mylene Farmer’s work.
12- Your press release mentions a few genres. What genre or genres would you personally classify your new album as?
I’d really prefer people to listen to the music….words can be so limiting. If I really had to, I’d say it’s perhaps 80’s inspired Dark Electro Pop.
13- You recorded Affair of the Heart at Chris Corner’s studio in Berlin, Corner being famous for his work as IAMX as well as Sneaker Pimps. Did he give you any input when you were making the album?
Chris Corner offered us to use his studio while he was away in the States. So we could live there and record there over a long period of time without being disturbed. We were in a beautiful environment, near a lake, surrounded by woods. There was also great equipment and a grand piano for inspiration.
14- Corner directed your video for “Runaway,” which I think came out fantastic. Was it a difficult video to make? How many days did it take? What’s Corner like as a director? Did he come up with the concept(s) of the video or did you and Sebastian already know what you wanted the video to be like?
The actual shoot lasted a bit more than 2 days, a day outside, a day inside roughly. But of course there was quite a bit of preparation to do before hand. Chris Corner had a very clear vision of what he wanted to achieve. He is very easy to work with. He came up with the concept, taking into account our personalities, the chemistry between me and Sebastian and of course the feeling of the song.
15- Do you still do acting and work as a theatre director in Berlin or have you stopped doing that so you can focus on music? Which satisfies your creative urges best, theatre or music?
I do acting/ performance/ directing work whenever I am invited to. This is mainly abroad. Last week end I was doing 2 shows in Copenhagen with British artist David Hoyle.