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Etron fou leloublan interview

June 6, 2014

Etron fou leloublan interview

Etron Fou as it was called at the beginning (later added
Leloublan) started out as a trio consisting of Chris Chanet on saxophone,
Ferdinand Richard on bass guitar and Guigou Chenevier on drums. You formed in
early 1973. Where did you meet and whose idea was it to start the band?

Guigou Chenevier: In fact, a first line up of Etron Fou
started to play in 1971 with Claude Achard (keyboard) and me (drums). We
started to play as a duo. Claude proposed me the name “Etron Fou”.
Then Chris joined us on alto sax…then, some months later, Alain Courbis
(bass) joined the band too. We rehearsed a couple of months, the 4 of us, then
for some reasons that I forgetn now (!), we stopped playing. Chris (who knew
Ferdinand Richard) asked him if he wants to continue the band with us two…it
was then that Etron Fou really started…
Chris Chanet: In 1970, I lived in the city of Grenoble where
I was a stage actor, stage manager, and self-taught saxophonist practising
improvised music. I joined a free-jazz band, 
“Libre-cours”, whose double bassist was Ferdinand Richard.
Then, to my great regret, the band separated.
At this time, Guigou Chenevier came to knock on my door,
suggesting I join his organ-drums duet. This was the first version of
“Etron Fou” (in English : Crazy Turd), with Claude Achard on
keyboards. Some gigs in Grenoble, some tries with a bass player (Alain
Courbis), then Claude stopped playing music to dedicate himself to teaching.
Guigou and I were playing in a duet, “Grâce Molle”, during one year,
then I asked Ferdinand to join us with his double bass, but he’d prefer the
electric bass.
After some gigs in alternative places from Grenoble, he was
the one to add “Leloublan” in the name of the trio, “Etron Fou
Leloublan”  was born at the end of
1972!

Ferdinand Richard: No. EFL started before I came in. The bass player left for
some other continent. Chris came to me to replace him for a serie of summer
concerts. After a try with him and Guigou, I told them I would do the summer
concerts serie, but stop after this. Finally I played 13 years with the group!
What kind of musical involvement were you part of before
forming Etron Fou?
Guigou Chenevier: I was playing alone. More or less it was
my only experience! Don’t forget that I was very young at the time (16 years
old!). But, BECAUSE I was playing drums alone, I already started to play in a
non conventional way…much more melodic…building strange paterns etc…

Ferdinand Richard: I was the bass player and singer for a rock group playing
covers (Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, Steppenwolf, Cream, etc…) and also playing with
one of the very first improvising groups in Grenoble, where I was also a (bad)
student.
Influences?
Guigou Chenevier: When I started to play with Claude in 71′,
my main influences were quite “straight”. I loved for example Michael
Schrieve (Santana), Jimi Hendrix (of course), The Doors, The Beatles etc…But
when I started to play with Claude (I was still a pupil at the college!) there
was a lot of amazing concerts in Grenoble (where I was living)…and I had the
incredible chance to see most of the best groups of this period live (Can,
Gong, Komintern, Soft Machine, Amon Düül II, King Crimson etc…). I discovered
a realy new musical world!!!
But also, of course, Claude and Chris (who were older than
me at least 5 or 6 years)…introduced me to many musicians that I didn’t know
at all at the time. For instance Art Ensemble of Chicago, Sun Ra, Captain
Beefheart etc…
Chris Chanet: My influences at the time were “The
living théâtre”, which I saw on the campus of Grenoble in 1969, and the
concerts I attended: “Art ensemble of Chicago”, “Sun Ra”,
“Soft Machine”, “Gong”… 
When we opened for Magma, we did not know Christian Vander
and had to stand out, he didn’t want an opening band because they were usually
rock ‘n roll bands.

Ferdinand Richard: Captain Beefheart, blues, repetitive music, MC5, etc…
Your first show was at the end of December 1973 when you
opened for Magma. Were you friends with Christian Vander and company or how did
you get booked?
Guigou Chenevier: No, not at all. We didn’t know him
personally at the time. Magma was already quite famous in France in 73′, and
Etron Fou was just beginning…but as I told you, there was a lot of good
concerts in Grenoble, and the organizer of these concerts (that we knew very
well) proposed us to open for Magma…

Ferdinand Richard: EFL was a quite cynical and satirical
underground group, and although we would appreciate the technical and esthetical musical approach of Magma, we found (and still find) the Magma contents, image, message, quite ridiculous…

What do you remember from early shows? What kind of material
did Etron Fou play before recording your first album titled
“Batelages”. Were any of this shows ever recorded and are you maybe planning
to release them someday?
Guigou Chenevier: I remember very well that when we opened
for Magma in December 73′ we were already playing “L’Amulette et le Petit
Rabbin” (as you know maybe the beginning of this long piece was very
satiric against Magma (that we founded much too serious, black and
pretentious).
I remember very well also that I already played my drum solo
“Sololo Brigida”…After the 1st set in the afternoon (we played 2
concerts) Giorgio Gomelsky (who was the manager of Magma) came to me and asked
me if I really seriously had the intention to play again my drum-solo in the
evening (meaning I guess: “Christian Vander is doing a very long and
impressive drum-solo… you will not be arrogant enough I hope, to play your
little stupid solo before ‘the master’???!!!” )…And my answer has been:
“YES OF COURSE, I’ll play it again!!!”
About possible unreleased recordings of the time…I don’t
know about any good live recordings, that could be released… Probably exists
some, somewhere…but I have no idea where !…

Ferdinand Richard: We started to compose the Batelages
material and this is what we played on stage since the early beginning.
Recording at this time was a rare and complex and expensive process.
Chris Chanet you’ve been also involved with film industry
and were already an actor by the time of formation of Etron Fou. What can you
tell us about your film carrier?
Chris Chanet: I was not in the film industry at that time
but in the invention of a new form of theater, Street theater; a free theater
for all, invented for the street / city and played in the street. I still
practise this form of theater with my company “Delices Dada”
(http://www.delices-dada.org/)

You’re still active in film. How about music? What are you
currently working on?
Chris Chanet: As for the music, I participated in the
recording of the first vinyl of “Urban sax”, some records from or
with Guigou Chenevier (“Arthur et les robots”, “Octavo”), a
big-band “le Grot’Orkestre”, and I remain specialized in improvised
music, but also electroacoustic music and composition for theater. I have a
band named “Le T. T. (Trio Triple)”.

Chris Chanet left the band so the band changed their name by
adding the word Leloublan. What happened?
Guigou Chenevier: Nothing special…just a normal
evolution…as you know “Etron Fou” means something like “Mad
Shit”, and the scatological connotation of the name started to become a
bit “heavy” to carry after a while…so Ferdinand had this idea to
add “Leloublan” (which means “the white wolf”…and there
is a french expression saying “known as the white wolf” meaning to be
very famous…So the idea was just a stupid “commercial campaign”…calling
ourselves “leloublan” would necessarily implie that we will become
famous!!! And as you know, this worked perfectly!!!

Ferdinand Richard: I was uncomfortable with the sole name Etron Fou (Mad Shit) and I proposed to add something like “Leloublan”,… In french you can say “connu comme le loup blanc” (known as the white wolf) which means it is very well known. Of course, this was a joke. This has nothing to do with Chris leaving the group. Chris wanted to change to something else. We did not have any argument.

Was there an original concept to the band from the very
beginning and if so did it change when Chris Chanet left?
Guigou Chenevier: I don’t think it had a specific concept…but
in the contrary a strong idea of the music we wanted to play: something quite energetic, a strong sense of humour, rhythmically construction quite
influenced by Captain Beefheart, Soft Machine and some others…Chris added to
that a theatrical dimension (as an actor). When he left the band, this
dimension changed a bit, but didn’t disappeared completely. For example on
“Les 3 Fou’s Perdégagnent” 
with Francis Grand (who replaced Chris) “Le Désastreux Voyage Du
Piteux Python” is a piece built with the same process than
“L’Amulette et le Petit Rabbin” (surrealistic collage of texts and
crazy stories…and musical parts)…

Ferdinand Richard: No, the original concept did not change
at all.
Let’s talk about process of making “Batelages”
album. What are some of the strongest memories from recording and producing it?
Guigou Chenevier: This album was recorded on a 4 track TEAC
recorder in Paris, by Thierry Magal (assisted by Fabien Ferreux). Thierry was a
very nice person and also a good musician himself. He was playing guitar,
keyboard and singing in the psychedelic French group “Crium
Delirium”. Unfortunately, Thierry died some years ago in India…

Ferdinand Richard: I have little memory of this recording. It
was made to someone’s private flat, in Paris, not a studio, with a four-tracks
TEAC machine. It was very new for us, and rather impressive. During those
times, recording music was not as easy as it is today.
Where was it recorded?
Guigou Chenevier: It has been recorded in Paris, in a small
studio. I don’t even remember the name of it, but it was my first experience of
working in a studio and it was great!
How did you get a deal with Gratte-Ciel Records, founded by
Jean-Marc Bailleux. You were first to release an album there? Later Mahjun,
Clivage and a few others followed…
Guigou Chenevier: Very simply…at the time Jean Marc
Bailleux was also a journalist writing in Rock And Folk. He wrote some good
critics about Etron Fou and we met him at the precise period when he thought to
create his own label. So, we started to discuss about the idea to release our
album Batelages on Gratte-Ciel. But you have to remember that at the time the
business of records was much more easy than it is now…for example, I remember
that when we toured in France, it was very common for us to visit small regular
record shops in the city where we were playing at night and sell them some
copies of Batelages. This would be completely impossible nowadays (anyway there
is nearly no more little record shops!).

Ferdinand Richard: Jean Marc approached us with this very
new idea at that time of self-production label. Records production and
distribution at that time was totally under the control of big national
companies or international majors, which were totally dedicated to mainstream.
The music we (and other underground musicians) made was really looking too weird
for these companies. Jean Marc was a music journalist at that time, and
followed these new emerging and very different talents. He was the first to
think about new forms of productions. But I believe this is always the same
process when new art forms come in. They have to invent their own business
forms. It is a good sign.
The album is very free form like. A mixture of theater and
rock music. One of the best releases in RIO genre. Was there any concept to it
or how did song writing process looked like?
Guigou Chenevier: I already answered to this question, I
think…no real concept…but you are right…the theatrical aspect was
important…and we were trying to build each piece as a real
“story”, even if the stories were quite surrealistic and crazy…
Chris Chanet: This album is a good representation of what we
were playing in concert then, without being theater the visual aspect was
important. The writing of the music was collective, texts were either written
by Ferdinand (Histoire de Graine) or by Guigou and I, in the form of “exquisite
corpses” (L’amulette et le petit rabbin).

Ferdinand Richard: Almost none of EFL production was
improvised. We were a hard-working group, processing slowly written forms of
musics, and writing numerous lyrics, which would eventually not all deserve to
end as songs. Songs were written to be played on stage. The recording was more
to be seen as an additional experiment.  

What would you say inspired you for making
“Batelages”?
Guigou Chenevier: Etron Fou (more than ever in 1976) was
only a STAGE band…We started the group to PLAY LIVE, and during the 3 first
years of the group (1973-1976), we did a lot of concerts in France. In ’76, it
became important for us to do an album mostly to help the promotion of the
group. Etron Fou was certainly not at the time a ”conceptual band”…and our
idea going to the studio was more to play as good as possible the music we were
playing on stage than doing a concept album with a lot of sound treatments,
over-dubs (there is nearly NO over-dubs on ”Batelages” !!!). It was specially
true for me…I loved to play on an ”over energetic” level on stage…This
was my fun…We started to ”produce” more our albums later on, specially when
we started to work with Fred Frith, who had a big influence on us on the way how to be creative in a studio.

Ferdinand Richard: Nothing special. As I said, songs were
made to be played on stage, and almost all the album content had been toured
before being recorded.
The cover artwork is absolutely incredible too. Who made it
and what’s the story behind it?
Guigou Chenevier: Jeff Thiebault did it. Jeff was at the
time a painter and a good friend of Ferdinand (now Jeff is the artistic
director since more than 30 years of the famous french theater company
“Delices Dada” who is ONLY making theatre and working in the street,
out of real theatres!!!…and by the way, Chris Chanet is also part of
“Delices Dada” since he quitted Etron Fou!). So, we asked Jeff to do
the art design of the sleeve. Jeff had the idea to cover an old bicycle with
strips…then he asked to a friend of him who was photographer (Jean Pierre
Bos) to take a photo of it… and it was only by chance that the cat climb on
the stool of the bicycle when he took the picture!


Chris Chanet: The cover artwork was done by Jeff Thiébaut,
also known as A.Suivre, who is an actor and director of the company Delices
Dada, and with whom I still play nowadays. We used to live in a farm in the
countryside and this bike mummified like a Pharaoh, this white cat, this door
of a barn, this suspended time matched us completely. Then the photo was taken
and treated by J-P. Bos, who taught the photography to the students of the city
of Valence.

Ferdinand Richard: This was a joint operation between two
visual artists. The bicycle was made by Jeff Thiébaut, who lately created with
Chris Chanet a fantastic (and visionary) street performance art group (one of
the first in France). The picture was made by a friend, a professional
photographer, and the cat was there, by chance…
Were you as a band politically active?
Guigou Chenevier:  In
fact, I am much more politically active TODAY (!) than we where at the
time…still we lived in a community, that refused to be too much engaged into the ”music business”, and that was already something…Our idea, for a couple of
years (1975-1977) was to share our time between our musical activities and the
”normal life” of farmers in the country…The aim, was to be economically independent…We were quite utopists of course, but to tell you the truth,
these ideas were in the air, we were living only some years after ’68, and in a sense it was very common for young people at the time to act like that…Anyway,
it was a great time…and we were absolutely certain that ”the revolution” will come soon !!! A very optimistic and exciting period indeed ! Then, as you
know, everything exploded…and the utopia disappeared…to leave only the sad
reality of the brutal capitalism all over the world…I am still struggling
against it nowadays, on different levels, but on a more ”practical” way than
before…


Ferdinand Richard: I would not say that we were registered
in any political organisation. But at that time we had made the “drop
out”, as quite a few hippies style communities, and we were living in a
commune in a remote part of the central mountains of France. When we moved
there, I was the oldest person of the group and was not even 25! Guigou was
less than 20. We were kids. But they were several of these communities in the
area, and we would exchange goods, tools, political views, way of life, and
tryed to be as much disconnected as possible from the “system”. The
general political orientation of the group was anarchy…

Can you comment each song from the LP?
Guigou Chenevier: Whaooo, this is not an easy thing to do,
but I’ll try…
A1 L’amulette et le petit rabbin
Guigou Chenevier: As I told you above…we composed the
music of this piece starting from the text. Chris and I wrote this crazy text
with the famous process invented by the surrealists called in French ”cadavre
exquis”…what means : someone starts to write something and then hides it (he
only lets a few last words appearing at the end of its text that the next writer can see). Then the second person writes something and hides its part of
the text …etc etc…until the end of the text ! Of course, generally the
result of such text is quite crazy…what was the case for ”L’Amulette et le
Petit Rabbin”. Then, we composed the music, inspired by this crazy story…I
must add to that, that the beginning of the piece is (as I said above) a parody
of Magma…and to finish on the subject, I should also say that during at least
2 or 3 years, we ALWAYS began our concerts with ”L’Amulette et le petit
rabbin”. What contributed for sure to a certain ”success” of Etron Fou,
specially when we were playing in festivals…this piece was so different by
its humoristic, musical and theatrical aspects than the other groups were
playing around 1974-1976 (mostly inspired by groups like Genesis, Pink Floyd or
Magma…) that we were generally a kind of ”attraction” in the festivals !
  
A2 Sololo Brigida
Guigou Chenevier: Sololo Brigida is the first drum-solo I
ever played !!! But in fact, I composed it already as a real ”song”…my idea
was not at all to do a ”virtuoso” performance like most of the drum-solo are
(specially in jazz). It was quite not common to do such solo in the early seventies…specially
with the theatrical aspect of it (I was playing with an helmet, and my drum-set
was painted in green with the Boticelli ”Venus de Millau” on my bass drum
skin + an umbrella over my drum-set…) these visual and theatrical elements
were at least also important than the music itself ! But in fact ”Sololo
Brigida” is mostly important for me because the idea that I will develop later
on (specially with ”Les Batteries” with Charles Hayward and Rick Brown) that
drums can be a real melodic instrument was already there.
A3 Yvett’Blouse
Guigou Chenevier: This piece was mostly a joke…or ”how to
do the shortest piece possible” !
B1 Madame Richard Larika
Guigou Chenevier:
This is  quite  radically a different piece than ”L’Amulette et le petit rabbin”…first of all, it’s an instrumental. Here, no joke, no text…and a quite
complex rhythmical structure drums and bass…the other side of Etron Fou…(who
were not ONLY clowns!!!)
  
B2 Histoire de graine
Guigou Chenevier: Here is a text written by Ferdinand…it
is also a story, but less surrealistic than ”L’Amulette” for example…the
structure of his text is more classical, and also more ”literary”…Ferdinand would be certainly a better person than me to speak about it…

Ferdinand Richard: No. It is not to me to do this job.
Listening to music is personal. Anyone should be able to listen without being
influenced.
Les trois fous perdégagnent (Au pays des…) was your
second album. Francis Grand joined you and played saxophone on it. Where did
you find him?
Guigou Chenevier: When Chris decided to stop to play with
Etron Fou to join ”Delices Dada”, we looked for another saxophone
player…Francis was a friend of a friend living in Grenoble…we met him,
tried to play with him, and it worked!

Chris Chanet: I met Francis during a visit to my parents, we
lived in the same small town of province, and he used to play in a band of
young people still in high school, a music of composition which was not Rock n
roll, which was very rare at this time. Before definitely leaving EFL, I asked
him if he would like to replace me, Guigou and Ferdinand agreed.

Ferdinand Richard: Don’t really remember. He was a friend of
Chris, if I remember well. Hanging around in Grenoble.

At the time of your second album Rock In Opposition
scene became quite popular in the alternative waters and Henry Cow organized
festival in London. Later there was another great RIO festival held in Milano
back in 1979. Can you tell us about memories from this two festivals?
Guigou Chenevier: First of all, the funny story is that we
discovered Henry Cow (I think it was at spring ’76) when we went to a concert of
Captain Beefheart in Lyon. Unfortunately, it was the worst period of Beefheart
when he was playing with studio musicians and released on Virgin
”Unconditionally Guaranteed”. In the contrary, Henry Cow was opening the show,
and we really loved them ! Some months later, we met Henry Cow in a concert in
Massy (Paris). We gave Fred a tape of Etron Fou…And it’s like that that
everything started…Soon after, Henry Cow contacted us and proposed us to tour
with them in England. What we did and it has been great! We played with them in
Leeds, Cambridge, London etc…Some time later, we toured also with Henry Cow
in Italy…3 memorable concerts in Roma, Napoli and Mestre (closed to
Venetzia). So, when we played at the RIO Festival in London, we already new
quite well Henry Cow, and Stormy Six too…But it was nice to meet Lars Hollmer
and Samlas Mammas Manna…and Univers Zero, even if we were not so interested
at the time by their ”dark” music…When we played in Italy with RIO, I
remember long discussions with some people of the Italian communist party.

Who were interested in OUR musics !!! Quite impossible to
imagine in France…

Ferdinand Richard: At the initiative of Henry Cow (especially
Chris Cutler), RIO was above all a gathering of independent and very diverse
groups who had in common this will to be “alternative” in their
economy. It was nothing to see with an esthetic common ground. It became later
on a “genre”, but this is a deformation of the original goal of this
movement.

It seems to me that the whole RIO scene was very
connected back then and with a help of labels like L’ Orchestra started
releasing some really avant-garde music, we also have to mention concert
organizations and so on. What’s your opinion about this?
Guigou Chenevier: First of all, RIO was presented as a ”collective” of European groups, but in fact it was mostly the idea of 2 people
: Chris Cutler and Nick Hobbs (Henry Cow manager). THEY decided to create RIO,
and what groups will be part of it…and what groups will not be part of
it…For us, it was really great to meet all these great musicians and play
around with them in England, Italy, Sweden…but as I said already many times,
RIO turned to be very soon a little ”musical ghetto” in which we were
stuck…for example, when RIO started (’78), it was the real explosion of punk
music in England, but RIO didn’t have any connection with the punk scene…too
bad in my opinion, because I am sure we certainly had many political point of
views in common ! And then, the RIO ”label” became much too big in comparison of what it was in fact…Only the reunion of 5 European groups who
made 3 or 4 tours together…nothing more in fact ! plus, that’s true, the
strong organisation and label in Italy built by Stormy Six (L’Orchestra)…but unfortunately this strong organisation fell apart quite fast at the end of the
seventies when the circuit of the communist cultural places and festivals in
Italy (ARCI) fell apart too…at the same time that the communist party nearly dispersed too…

Ferdinand Richard: Yes, and no… since the beginning of RIO
they were tensions between members who did not share the same political
positions. L’Orchestra was rather radical, as we were, and had not very much to
do with Univers Zero, for example. Political discussions were tense. The only
thing in common was that we did not want to be a part of the regular music
business, that’s all. Henry Cow, l’Orchestra and Samla Mammas Manna organised a few common tours/festivals in their
respective countries. They were extremely important for us, but that was it.
There has never been a long run centralized/organised common organisation.
Each group was organizing its own business. I did it for EFL. I have to say I
am a bit upset by the way the RIO branding has been instrumentalised by people
who did not have anything to see with its beginning, aims, objectives, and who
made it a fashion, or an esthetic movement. I have nothing to see with RIO today.
It is a manipulation of the history. But I guess this is very common in the
history of arts.

But you released your second album also on your own
(beside the issue on L’Orchestra), named as 9H17 Productions…
Guigou Chenevier: Yes ! It was a real choice for us to do it
like that…but this choice was also influenced by the fact that at this
period, it was normal to sell a lot of records at the end of the concerts, and
also in record shops etc…A situation completely different than now!

Ferdinand Richard: Purely self-production.
How many copies do you think got pressed?
Guigou Chenevier: We always pressed 1000 copies of each
album at first…with the print that L’Orchestra made in Italy, plus the
different re-issue on CD later on, probably we sold more than 5000 copies of
each album ? Maybe more ???…In fact, I really don’t know!

Ferdinand Richard: I do not remember precisely, but I don’t
think we ever printed more than 1500 copies, as original productions.
You toured USA and performed at Squat Club in New York
City and Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut where you recorded and
released a live album, En Public aux Etats-Unis d’Amérique. How was it to play
in USA? It seems to me, that the RIO scene was not so strong there?
Guigou Chenevier: That’s true…the RIO scene was nearly not
existing in the US when we played there the 1st time in ’79…Even though
Cuneiform was already existing. But we had strong contacts with some musicians
like The Orthotonics, V-Effect, Massacre etc…through Fred Frith who was just
starting to live in New York…We also discovered the New York Scene
(Plasmatic, Suicide, James White, Sonic Youth etc…) many groups that we found
very close of the Etron Fou ”spirit” (much more in fact than many ”RIO” groups!) Anyway, for us, it was really exotic to play in the US ! I remember
strongly our first concerts in Providence and Boston organized by Michael Bloom
(thanks to him!) and Jonathan Thomas…In Boston we played with Hatefield and
the North…We also played with some crazy american groups like The Stikmens (a
kind of ultra punk and over speed band from Philadelphia if I remember well)…
I remember that their concert was really astonishing, but
who remember this group now ??? I would be curious to know if some of these
musicians are still making music…But anyway, for us, the shock in the US was
that EVERYTHING was bigger than in Europe…the cars…the distances…and the
funny thing was that a lot of american people told us that our music was ”so
french” !!!…It was a real discovery for us, and we never thought before that
we had something specifically ”french” !!!


Bernard Mathieu: I met Ferdinand just before the USA tour. I
was the owner of a little record shop named Margot Music and Margot was my nick
name that explains my name is Margot on the first solo album of Ferdinand.
The saxophonist was Gérard Bôle du Chaumont who left EFL
suddenly before the USA tour for a pop solo career as a singer that failed.
I met EFL by Michel Augier leader and founder of Johnny Be
Crotte, band with whom I played before.
At this time I was the founder and leader of a Street Brass
Band named l’Etrange Napolitaine. This band played on the first solo album of
Guigou.
When I new that EFL was searching a sax player I said to
Ferdinand I was interested. At the first time Ferdinand refused because I play
tenor and soprano saxs. And EFL used to play with alto sax.
Finally we start to rehearse together 3 or 4 weeks before
the USA tour. And it was OK.
The tour was fantastic. We played at Boston , Hartford, NY,
Philadelphie and Baltimore.
It was Fred Frith that helped us to organised this DIY tour.
At the time Fred lived in NY and played with Bill Laswell in the band Material.
That explain that we recorded with Bill laswell on Speechless Fred Album.


Ferdinand Richard: In the summer of ’79 Fred Frith, with whom
I had a closed+ friendship, decided to move to the US, and I went together with
him, not to stay, but to see if organizing a tour for EFL was likely. This
first US trip of mine came at the same time the New York Gong was touring the
East Coast, so I followed them a bit, since I had good relationship with Giorgio
Gomelsky, who was in charge of this group at this time. He also had a club in
NYC, the Zu Club, where a young musician was living (in the club) and was also
the bass player of the NY Gong. His name was Bill Laswell, and we we were good
friends then. The EFL tour came a few months later, in 1980. We recorded it on
a 4-track machines, although one of the track was most of the time out of duty,
so you can considered this has been recorded on 3 tracks, in very acrobatic
conditions!

At that time, it was really unusual, I think we were the
first french group to tour there, at least the first to record a live album,
which was unbelievable for the regular french music business. Some of these Parisian guys declared that this was a fake US tour, that we had invented
everything and had never been there

After USA tour you became a quartet. You, Bernard
Mathieu joined the band. What do you remember from joining the band and maybe
if we can hear the story of making your next album, Les Poumons gonflés, that
was produced by Fred Frith and came out in 1982 on Turbo Records.
Bernard Mathieu: I joined the band just before the USA tour.
We met a Swiss guy owner of Turbo records and also a very
good recording studio. He was really enjoyed by EFL and he produced as the French meaning (Fred was the executive and artistic producer):”Les Poumons Gonflés”.


I remember a very good experience, working with Fred as a
producer was really great. But I recorded this album (very good I think) even we
decided that I was leaving EFL. Because I was not very OK with the evolution
stagnation of the music of EFL.



For the fifth album, Les Sillons de la Terre (1984) the
saxophonist changed again with Bruno Meillier replacing Mathieu. What can you
tell us about your involvement, Bruno?
Bruno Meillier: My first memory of the band goes back to
June 1975 at a pop music festival in St Just sur Loire, a small town along the
Loire river, this is where I discovered them. Nana Vasconcelos was part of the
program and it was mostly folk acts which I was not so excited about back then.
But when the trio got up on the stage, I liked them immediately. It reminded me
of Captain Beefheart, a bit of Egg and Van Der Graaf Generator. That
combination of bass and drums, odd time signatures and no electric guitar was
unusual. The next morning I approached Chris, their sax player and asked if
they would consider hiring a synthesizer player (which I desperately tried to
be at the time)…”Why not give this a try ?”. His reply made me walk on air ! I
was only 18 then. Luckily the opportunity never arose, it would have been a
disaster musically.
Later I happened to see the trio in other festivals, here
and there, each time with a different saxophone player. In July 1980, Ferdinand
Richard came to hear my own band, Les i, in Tournon (we opened for Here &
Now) and proposed, since he was living next door to an 8 track recording studio
in Avignon, to produce us an album (he was going to produce the three we made
actually, it would be the beginning of a successful and lasting collaboration).
At about that time Les i had become part of a new rock circuit here, festivals
and clubs, and eventually opened up for a Captain Beefheart last tour’s date in
Lyons. Our music was a mix of no wave, jazz and funk with probably a French twist, certainly not as original as Etron Fou’s. But our drummer, Dominique
Lentin, had belonged to Dagon, Fille qui mousse, Kool Gool, all mythic bands
from the early seventies underground Parisian scene, bands which just like
Etron Fou, had walked on the Beefheart, Zappa or Soft Machine trail (a major
influence here in France in the early ’70s).


Right after the first Les I album came out, we heard Bernard
Mathieu, EFL sax player, was to quit and I proposed to replace him. I was
thrilled to join them. But guilty as I felt to leave my own band aside, I
always saw this as a temporary replacement, limited to a one-album only
collaboration. The reason why I remained less than two years in the band
although we had fun and it was an intense creative time. Les i would not get
invited abroad – I think we played just one gig in Basel – while, EFL’s image
not suiting the new wave inclination here – they were regarded as old hippies,
communes, goatherds, etc -, I remember I played four gigs only with them in
France, one of them which I put on in Saint-Etienne, my hometown. Thanks to
Ferdinand’s obstinate management, EFL would tour Switzerland, Austria, Germany,
Holland, Sweden, east-European countries and USA instead, places where
audiences were more open-minded. The four of us composed the material for Les
Sillons de la Terre
, their most jazz-oriented album (I listened to a lot of
jazz back then). After I quit, the no-sax trio would be (to my own opinion) the
band’s strongest incarnation. I saw that trio on a special event on the Effeil
Tower’s first floor in 1984. And Face aux éléments… sounds to me like their
best album ever. Fred’s production is terrific, adding colours and knitting all
instruments together perfectly.


One evening in 1984, Ferdinand called and proposed we would
start a duo together, Bruniferd, which now looks to me like an expansion of
what I did in EFL. Except that duo worked on a more minimal concept (no chords,
no drums, no electricity, just bass, flute and saxophones skinny lines, and
poems of our own, in between pieces), chamber music of a more ascetic kind. A
lot more flexible economically, that duo would export itself better than a four
or five members band with equipment, etc, and lasted longer. From 1984 to 1997
we made several tours in Europe and Japan and recorded 4 albums (one of them,
produced by Hat Hut, is still in the vaults).
By the mid-eighties, we had all committed ourselves in
various projects including solo albums, well we had to; restricting to just
one band could not be enough to make a living or gain recognition. Conditions
were difficult, and are, by the way, much much worse now. Would EFL reunite
today, I am convinced life would not be easier. To be honest with ourselves we
would probably not play the same music, create new challenges and as a result
not get invitations elsewhere than from those festivals for R.I.O. nostalgics.
Which are indeed not so many and have not cared much about EFL anyway. No
tears, no regrets ! Etron Fou were true originals in a sense, always against
dictated rules, with a strong and typically french ”esprit de contradiction”.
Should people expect us to play rock, we would turn improvised, should they
expect us to sound prog or rock in opposition-like, we would play regular 4/4
time signatures, and so on. While still making of our own technical limitations
an asset.
Since there has always been a lot more of interesting bands
around than opportunities to perform for them, the idea came naturally to
Ferdinand to set up in St Remy de Provence in 1986 the MIMI festival (where
Etron Fou played his last gig), and I followed his example with one called
Musiques Innovatrices at the Saint-Etienne’s public theatre the next year.
Almost 30 years later, both festivals still exist and do connect in style. Guigou also started one of his own in the meantime. It seemed musicians could not
be satisfied with making music in the old-fashioned romantic way, the genius
retiring from the world to compose timeless masterpieces !… We definitely had
to seize the bull by the horns and commit ourselves in extra activities
(recording, writing, producing, labels, festivals, etc) to help the economical
survival for these musics. I know France is regarded internationally as the
number one country for culture. Our experience, I am sorry to say, reflects
just the opposite, grants do not exist for musicians of our kind, private
sponsoring is just a dream, culture money goes to opera houses, to big
prestigious venues,… Neither the independent musician nor the independent producer gets supported. My festival (22nd édition) does not get any financial
help this year in 2014. After years of struggle and keeping on. C’est la vie… !



Face Aux Éléments Déchaînés was your last album released
in 1985 as a trio of Richard, Thirion and Chenevier. Frith produced the album
and guested on four of the tracks…




Guigou Chenevier: Yes, and this is in my opinion, one of the
BEST album of Etron Fou…I would like to add also to mention Sophie
Jausserand, who made the art design of this album…and it is NOT because
Sophie is my wife that I want to say that her sleeve art design for this album
was absolutely great…The music of this album is also completely different than
on the early albums by Etron Fou…Less humoristic, satiric and funny…darker, deeper and stronger on a way…The line up of the trio with Jo was also going
to the essential in terms of composition.


Ferdinand Richard: This album is a good one, although I
think Fred is a little bit too present on it, even though his contributions are
great. Fred is probably the best record producer I ever had the chance to work
with, and on this album he tried very ambitious things as a producer. I learnt
a lot from him. But as a musician on this album, I would not consider his
contribution as major. He has produced
much more important musical works in other contexts.

What happened next for you? You decided to break up?
Guigou Chenevier: The
group was existing since 13 years…At this point we already had made 5 albums,
more than 400 concerts all over Europe and The States…A real change was
necessary to continue and to not repeat what we did in the past. Plus, at this
point, all of us (at least Ferdinand and I mainly) started to play with many
other musicians…it was a very positive experience for us of course, but also
that was meaning that ”The” group (Etron Fou) was not any more our only
musical occupation…And finally, there has been this crazy story with
Ferdinand who had at the time a huge problem taking the plane…because of
that we cancelled at the LAST minute a tour in the US !!! (we were at the
airport in Luxemburg and Ferdinand couldn’t take the plane)…
We went back home completely depressed…Some months later,
Ferdinand organized again the tour, and BANG !!! Same scenario again when we
arrived at the Luxemburg airport…But this time, Jo and me decided that we
couldn’t cancel this tour for the second time…So we took the plane without
Ferdinand…in the evening, we had a first concert in Reykjavik in Island, on
the way to The States…Then, in the US we did some concerts as a duo (Jo and
I), some concerts as a trio with Fred Frith, and some concerts as a trio with
Ann Ruppel (the brilliant bass player of V-Effect). Then, when we came back in
France, it was clear for me that this story was acting the end of the group. I
decided to quit the group in July 1986.

Ferdinand Richard: I did not decide to split. I started the
MIMI festival in 1986, and the very first concert of this very first edition
was the very last concert of EFL. But at this time, I did not knew it. Guigou had other groups with other musicians, especially Encore Plus Grande, and I
believe he was more interested to try new things with this group than keeping
on with Jo and myself. The fact that Jo and myself were a couple was maybe also
a factor which counted for him. So he decided to stop the group.  Jo and myself became suddenly jobless.
All of you were involved with various of other musical
projects, which we didn’t mention and we would really appreciate if you could
highlight some of them …
Guigou Chenevier: In my case, I started to play in 84 with ”Les Batteries” (a drum-trio with Rick Brown of V-Effect (USA) and Charles
Hayward of This Heat (GB)). At the same time I started also to play with ”Encore + Grande”, a franco-dutch band with Han Buhrs (voice), Raymund van
Santen (keyboards) and Guy Sapin (guitar). Later on (in 1987-88), I created ”Buga Up” a trio with Tom Cora (cello) and Christiane Cohade (bass). This trio
was soon after is joigned by René Lussier (guitar) who replaced Christiane. In ’93, I created ”Volapük”, a trio with Michel Mandel (clarinet / bass clarinet)
and Guillaume Saurel (cello).
”Volapük” played all over the world (including crazy
places like UshuaIa in Argentina, Tachkent in Uzbekistan, or Wellington in New
Zeland!!!) during 17 years (1993-2010), and made 5 albums (3 of them appears on
Cuneiform). I also did some cine-concerts with some musicians of my collective
”Inouï” (Greed by Erick Von Stroheim, The Unknown by Tod Browning , Nanook of
the North by Robert Flaherty etc…) and I played with many musicians in
different contexts like Albert Marcoeur (with ”Les Batteries”),Ted Milton (in
the cine-concert ”Le Bonheur”), Nick Didkovsky (with our duo ”Body Parts”),Richard Deutsch and Elio Martusciello (with my project ”La Musique est-elle
un Art de Combat ?”), Phil Minton and many others…
Bruno Meillier: The french journalist and music lover Pierre
Durr, spoke at the time of an Etron Fou-Les i nebula. Just like Magma, Gong or
Henry Cow had been nucleus for many side projects, our own bands generated
theirs, some of them which are still active today. To name a few : Virgule 3, Virgule
4, Ni Treve Ni Relache, Barbarie Légère, Buga Up, Zero Pop, Les Batteries,
Encore Plus Grande, Voyages Extraordinaires, Arminius, Ferdinand Et Les
Philosophes, Ferdinand Et Les Diplomates, Art Moulu, Zar, Le Vaste Océan, Best
Before, Zou, Volapuk, Body Parts, Octavo, L’Empire Des Sons, Voé,… I am sure I
forgot plenty.
Bernard Mathieu: I founded the Mathieu Combo who recorded
for AYAA records and 52ème Rue Label I wrote the music for two theatre plays in
which I was also an actor playing music : Epreuve d’Orchestre and Le Murmonde. I lead a new Street Band Les Bontuillos for 4 years. I founded a saxophone quartet named Faburu Combo with a
young girl as a drummer and Francis Grand as a Barython player who lives in
Avignon. At the first time I have the idea of a Saxophone Quartet
with the 4 saxophonists that recorded with EFL. But the project failed. I have a lot of music on my PC but not issue. It’s a
project. I recorded a rock album with my young brother as a
drummer/singer : Les Frères Delabone. I enjoyed really to wrote words and music
for rock songs.
If you need I can send you this records.

Ferdinand Richard: I started working improvised music with
this group group, Gestalt et Jive, with Alfred Harth and Peter Hollinger, and
this was a complete change. We toured a lot in the north, including the former
soviet block, which was a true experiment! I also released a couple of solo
albums, with my own way of experimenting the music/song writing. They were a
commercial flop, but I like them, even though they are far from being well done.

What currently occupies your life?
Guigou Chenevier: I am still playing a lot in different
projects :
-”Le Cabinet du Docteur Caligari” a cine-concert that I do
with Loïc Guénin
  (young musician
playing keyboards and percussions)
-My solo ”Musiques Minuscules”
-”Les Mutants Maha” a new trio with Takumi Fukushima
(violin) and
 Lionel Malric
(keyboards)
-”Le Miroir et le Marteau”, a trio with Gilles Laval on
guitar and Franck Testut on bass (we recently released a CD distributed by RER)
-”L’Art Resiste au Temps” a crazy project with 6
musicians, 1 poet, 1 painter, 1 actor and 1 sound designer…
-”Reve General” a creation we will do next fall with 3
members of Volapük (Takumi, Guillaume and I) + the 4 members of the Czech group
”Metamorphosis”
-”Balungan” an other big project that we’ll start next
fall too with 6 musicians from the Java Island (playing gamelan music) and 6
musicians from France
-”Le Contraire de Un” a new project too, kind of theatre and music project on some novels by the great italian writer Erri De Luca
”Résister à la Chaine” a theater and music project with 2
young and brilliant musicians (Thomas Barrière on guitar and Bastien Pelenc on
violin and voice)
We also get a little theater now in my town (Avignon) since
2 years, where we work, organize concerts, invite other artists to rehearse. A
place where we also organize workshops etc…
Bernard Mathieu: I am since the early 90’s an elementary
school teacher. It was as a teacher I lived in NY in 1995/1997. And I played
with a NY band named Twenty % Tippers.
I was involved in the Collectif Inoui but I left Avignon
for the Bourgogne where for the moment music is a little down for me. I hope to
“reborn” soon as a composer and player.

Ferdinand Richard: I am still running the MIMI festival (30
years in 2015), plus a music center in Marseilles (rehearsal studios,
micro-businesses incubator, etc…). I am also supposed to be expert in
cultural policies for several institutions, including UNESCO and others. I am
very busy…
Etron Fou Leloublan also got a reissue by little French
label. Owners will tell us more about the reissue and also if there will be
something else released by the band on your label?
Guigou Chenevier: Only one thing : the interest of your
magazine (as the interest of many people) for a group like Etron Fou (who
stopped any activity more than 20 years ago !) is very strange for me…Of
course it is very nice for such a magazine as yours to propose us such a long
and interesting interview…but in my case, Etron Fou belongs to the past, and
as you see I am still very active musically…nostalgia is not my cup of
tea…Thanks a lot for your interest in this old dead group…
Sorry, but I will go back to play music NOW !
Florian Schall: The name of the label is Replica. It is run
by a small collective mainly revolving around a record store from Metz called
La Face Cachée. Our goal is to re-release osbcure gems from the French
underground “patrimoine”. Bands that have gone out-looked or forgotten
through modern times and its various plagues (Internet, MP3, quite
surprisingly). We give those records a second birth. With love, passion &
respect. We work in collaboration with Musea (a label from Metz who owns the
mechanical rights) for those reissues. We love the way it goes with Bernard
Gueffier. Very smooth and gentle. Just the way we like it. Artwork-wise, we
recreate our reissue from the original art. Soundwise, it’s pretty much the
same. We work with Julien Louvet for that and he’s the coolest guy of all. So
far, we’ve released Mexico by Ergo Sum and Batelages by Etron Fou. Of course,
regarding Etron Fou, we plan on re-releasing their whole discography. Coming up
next, we’ve got the first and only record made by French progster Arachnoid and
Les Trois Fous… by Etron Fou. We plan on doing a lot more official reissues
in the near future so keep eyes and ears out for more.
Thanks to all who have been part of the band. We are
really proud to share your story and to include Etron Fou Leloublan on It’s
Psychedelic Baby Magazine. Would you like to share anything else with us?
Bruno Meillier: I am still playing. I work since 2003 for a
record distribution company, importing and promoting in France, Cuneiform,
Recommended Records, Tzadik, Moonjune, esp-disk, Sublime Frequencies, etc.
Orkhestra (founded in 1993) is a catalogue of more than 6000 albums :
And I still run the Musiques Innovatrices festival at the
Mines Museum in Saint-Etienne: our 22nd édition early June http://www.musiquinno.fr/
Florian Schall: Thanks a lot for the interest. Listening to
music on vinyl is not just a trend. As ridiculous as it may sound, to us it is
a way of life. Do not hesitate to get in touch with us and drop us a line if
you wanna get our releases. Just check that nice website:
www.la-face-cachee.com

*Special thanks to Guillaume Jankowski for translating part of the interview and to Fred Frith for helping me to get in contact with the band.

Interview made by Klemen Breznikar/2014
© Copyright http://psychedelicbaby.blogspot.com/2014
2 Comments
  1. Paul

    That's a great interview!Thanks for information about one of my favorite bands of all times.Nice to know that guys are still making great music,keep it up!!

    Paul from Pskov,Russia

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