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Shylock interview with Frédéric L'Épée

Shylock formed in Nice, France. They rehearsed in a church in a very small village and soon they recorded their first LP. This was 1974. After the LP was out they were signed to a major label and another album followed. Shylock members were influenced by King Crimson and they released two really dark and atmospheric LP's.


Thank you very much for taking your time to talk about your music. You are founder of the bands Shylock, Philharmonie, Yang and Lobotonics. Let's start at the beginning. Where did you grow up and what inspired you to pick up and start learning guitar?

I grew up in Nice in the south of France; my father was an architect and a good violinist. Thus we were listening to classical music a lot at home. As a baby (already psychedelic I think!), the best way to stop me from crying was to put me in front of our record player and play records for hours.
Later I discovered the Beatles, the Kinks, and all those 60's English bands. My sister wanted to learn guitar at this time, bought one and gave up immediately, so a guitar was hanging on the wall and one day or another I would have to grab it and play. But in the meantime, I played (I mean toy playing way) with every piano, harp, flute, sounding object that was on my way.
The first time I took the guitar was to play a Beatles' song: "Michelle". And from this moment, I managed to learn chords from friends and found many songs from ear. My "homework" at this time was made of songs by Crosby, Stills Nash and Young, Cream, then Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Uriah Heep etc. But I was not playing exclusively guitar, as I also loved long lasting sounds instruments like flute, organ, saxophone and else.
Until the day I bought a totally black record in a shop, with "King Crimson – Earthbound" written on it; I bought it for the cover, all black, silver words, but when 21st Century Schizoid Man began, I was completely flabbergasted by the music! And then I heard the solo, I thought that it was distorted organ first (I used to play organ this way), and I realised that it was guitar. It was exactly the sound that I was looking for! So I began to practice seriously, I was 17.

What was the scene in Nice? Did you find there any influences?

The progressive scene in Nice and nearby was made of 3 or 4 bands, but without competition and/or mutual influence. Some of them became fellows like Carpe Diem. As Nice was and is more than ever a tourist town, most musicians were playing covers in clubs, and earned a living this way.

Were you in any bands before forming Shylock?

Between 14 and 16 I used to play on stage songs from well known bands like Deep Purple, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Crosby, Stills Nash & Young. At this time I sang, played organ and guitar.

You rehearsed in a little church in a mountain village, St Dalmas-le-Selvage. That was a bit odd for a "rock" band to be allowed to rehearse in the church, but it must sound great, cos of the atmosphere.

We did not at this time consider our band as a rock band. We thought rock music was primitive, and our interest was turned towards classic and contemporary classic music as well as avant-garde and progressive bands, which in our opinion were making the music of the future.
The deal with the priest was as follows: We used the church as a rehearsal place, and in exchange we played at the mass on Sundays. But the entire group was too loud for worshiping, and Didier, the keyboardist, was finally the only one to have to wake up on Sunday mornings.
The atmosphere of the church, and the entire place around (village, mountains) had a big influence on our work. We used to play in the church at night, I remember that the village's inhabitants believed that we were practicing black masses, and we liked it!

You recorded some material in church, but this was only taped on the cassette and the quality I guess isn't the best. Can you tell me about these pieces? Do you still have these tapes?

These tapes still exist and, as you assume, are of very poor quality. The songs on them are Le Premier, Le Deuxième, Le Troisième, all three sang, and from a very young band without enough experience and skill (we were 16, 17 and 18 at this time).

Then came another member in the band…

Not yet…

'Gialorgues' is the first album you officially released and now I want to stop and talk about this. What was the main concept behind it?

There never was concept of any kind behind our music; it is the reason why we gave numbers to our songs. Titles would have been too suggestive. However as I said above, we were deeply influenced by the mountains surrounding us. That is why we gave their name to the album: Gialorgues.

Where did you record it. I heard it was recorded in Lyon? Tell us what are some of the memories from recording and producing this LP?

The album was recorded in a studio near Nice which closed a few months after the recording. We had not yet a bass player, so I wrote and played bass lines. Memories of this time are confused, as it was our first recording experience, we were excited, very young and as we recorded the album very fast we didn't sleep much. The final mixing was not satisfying, so we went to a studio in Lyon were we made a second one…no more satisfying. Finally I remember me in a friend's music shop cutting tapes with a blade to assemble different mixing at different places in each song. These places are easily recognizable!

The cover artwork was also done by you?

The cover art has been made by a friend of us at this time: Jean-Charles Cohen, who also made the art of Ile de Fièvre and all the Philharmonie albums.

How many copies were released?

Only 1000 copies have been released on our label Gialorgues Music. They were designed to be sold after shows and to serve as "super demo" to send to big labels.

Three pieces appear on this album and I would love if you could comment and tell us a bit more about the background of them. Your music was really dark in a way…

 A1         Le Quatrième

I composed the first notes of Le Quatrième at home on the Elka Rhapsody (which was mine actually), and I remember to have recorded it on a cassette tape that I've send to Didier as he was away for some kind of  language workshop, saying to him, on the tape: "Remember mountains, nature of Gialorgues !". As soon as he came back, we all three jumped up to St Dalmas and set to work on it.

A2          Le Sixième   

When we began to work on this song, we thought it would last at least 20 minutes. But after the central part, no way to go somewhere else than coming back to the main theme and finish the song. Music has taken charge of itself and we had to accept it. It was our first experience of that feeling.                   

B            Le Cinquième

We used to improvise a lot in the church, and many of our themes came from these improvisations.
The beginning of Le Cinquième is one of those. Looking back to this period of time, I realize that when we met, we were young adults (André was still a teenager) and only recently aware that life was not as easy and secure than we thought as children and how appearances can be deceptive. That is surely why one can notice this peculiar darkness in our music. In Le Cinquième, we seemed (unconsciously) to emphasize this feeling with rhythms that were not what they seemed and melodies not leading where they should.
The end of this song was composed on stage at the sound check just before our first concert!

Soon CBS came along. How did that happen?

When "Gialorgue" was released, we had to promote it. Christian Gouttenoire, a friend, decided to help us finding dates and occurrences of all kind. He became our manager. So he found radio and television shows where we could play and talk about our music. Once, we had a t.v. show on a local broadcast, Tele Monte-Carlo, where the director of CBS France was invited in the same time. Christian called out to him right on air about signing Shylock on CBS. The following week he had an appointment, the following month, we signed.

'Ile de fièvre' was your second album and by this time you were signed on CBS, but you had some problems with one of the members. What's the story behind this release and perhaps if you could tell us a bit more about the music on the album.

After many attempts to find a bass player, we had found Christian Villéna, an excellent musician, Chris Squire fan. He wrote quite easily bass lines on Ile de Fièvre and Laocksetal and we went on tour. After touring we had to record Ile de Fièvre demo. But Christian was a secret man and never spoke a lot about himself. One day, in the middle of a session, he told us he had to go and would not come back. We assumed that he had big problems with his family, but never knew what. Serge Summa, that André had met in Nice few days before, came to rescue us, and stayed until the end. Christian Villéna died on June 1996.

What can you tell me about touring? Where all and with who all did you tour and play gigs?

Touring was a great challenge to us as all of us were tough individuals. We often argued and squabbled over even the slightest thing (ego fights most of the time), but we had nevertheless a lot of fun. We toured mainly in France, with some concert in Belgium, Swiss and Italy and very rarely spare stages with other bands (some festivals maybe, I don't remember).
The thing interesting about touring is that it emphasized our personality's tendencies: Gaming and joking for André, absent mindedness for Didier and I, plus bad temper for me!

What happened after the second album with the band?

We stopped rehearsing in the church at St Dalmas. I don't remember exactly the reason why, but I suppose it was to rehearse more often and easily. But, as we rehearsed more, we spent more time in arguments. Actually, we were no more in the same compositional mood, each of us was pulling in a different direction and it was very difficult to agree on music. We were living different lives too, new friends, girlfriends, things were not the same. We nevertheless made a new demo for CBS, and as they asked for something more conventional, we tried to compose easier songs and to add a singer. But it was some kind of half-measured work and no one could get something out of it; neither CBS, nor Shylock.

Next you started a more improvisational project called 'Philharmonie'. Let's hear the story about it.

Philharmonie was not an improvisational project, well, not more than Shylock. It was, like Shylock, collective composition, so we used to improvise to make ideas burst out, but unlike Shylock, because work has a defined direction: To experiment with guitar sonorities on resulting melodies (melodies actually heard but not played).
After Shylock I founded a family and for several years, eight actually, I stopped making concerts. But I was actively studying and practicing, entered the conservatory in harmony, counterpoint and composition classes, giving guitar lessons to earn a living and listening to a lot of music; experimental, classic, contemporary. Until the new project took shape in my mind: Making a band only with guitars, I had a peculiar sound in my head. I wrote a 5 guitars version of the Vivaldi's Concerto in F minor (Winter), gathered friends and students and began to rehearse. One of the five guitarists had to leave for a job, so we went on at four and started improvise and composed. Later, another one leaved the band.

You started to experiment a lot. What do you think did influence you the most in this period of your time?

I think that my main concern at this time was about Steve Reich's works and African music. I was completing my studies in composition and I was interested in minimalist composers in general, but particularly in the possibility to distribute musical parts between several instruments, making notes collide, generating new harmonics, new melodies, but which no one actually played, as it happens in many African traditional songs.
Several people compared Philharmonie to Robert Fripp's Guitar Craft, but we worked in a completely different way. The only common point is that the musician himself was meant to disappear behind music and guitars of course!

Another more recent project was born, called Yang. What would you say is the main difference between these two projects?

At the end of Philharmonie, the band had become more rock oriented. After some times of rest after an accident, and solo concerts, I decided to found a new band, actually a kind of "power trio" with Volodia Brice the last Philharmonie drummer, and Stéphane Bertrand, a bassist I've met at a common improvised performance. Very fast it appeared that things should start where Philharmonie had ended.
The big difference between Yang (now 4 musicians) and Philharmonie is that Yang was mainly based on my own compositions, at least in the beginning; the other musicians are now more and more involved in the composition process. The other difference is that Yang is a lot more involved in some kind of sophisticated, "King Crimson oriented" rock.

You have also a group called Lobotonics, which is a trio and has a lot of African influences in it...

Each time, in my musician's life, that I've tried to collaborate with a singer, things went wrong: the voice was not really what I wanted or the personality of the singer was not compatible, he or she wrote poor lyrics and so on… In Paris I met Peter, a photographer who used to sing for his own pleasure. I liked the voice, I liked the man, and I proposed him to make a band. Though he was not a very skilled singer, I really liked his voice and his words, so I managed to compose short and plain songs (maybe the kind of songs that CBS wanted Shylock to compose in the 70's), and Lobotonics was born. The style is "acoustic rock", which means percussions instead of drums, acoustic guitar instead of electric one (but sometimes electric), all things new to me. Lobotonics doesn't have peculiar African influences, but the percussionist, Moussa, is a griot in Burkina-Faso and can play any instrument. So he brings to Lobotonics his own cultural stamp. Furthermore, my own music is influenced by African music, but also East and Central Asian music; all this shows through in Lobotonics' work.

What are you currently up to?

I currently work with five ensembles. Yang, Lobotonics, Shylock, Talip Trio and E-Werk.
The Talip Trio is made of a Turkish female (wonderful!) voice, a Saz (Turkish lute) player who is my wife, and electric guitar. We work on a specific Turkish traditional repertoire that we "update".
First concert planned end November 2012 in Paris.
E-Werk is a German electric guitar quartet located in Berlin, in which I am involved, dedicated to contemporary classic music for e.guitar. First concerts planned end February in Berlin.

How about future plans?

Well, I don't really make plans. Preparing future concerts of Talip Trio, Lobotonics, Shylock, E-Werk, restarting rehearsals with Yang for our next album is enough I think. I perform a concert with guitarists Serge Pesce and Steve Waring in the South of France mid Feb. 2013. And yes! I intend to move to Berlin about summer 2013. I just have to figure out how to manage rehearsals in Nice and Paris from there!

Thanks a lot for taking your time. Would you like to share anything else? Perhaps a message to It's Psychedelic Baby readers?

Nowadays, music is going through the worst offense ever. Mass music industry production has overwhelmed market with incredibly poor acts, in which music is no more means of expression but means of profits. Some listeners reject that, and go on listening, supporting, talking about, reviewing musical acts involving inspiration, talent, work, discipline, energy.
And I thank and congratulate all of them for that.

Interview made by Klemen Breznikar/2012
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