The Limiñanas interview

December 4, 2018

The Limiñanas interview

They’ve Got Trouble In Mind – An Interview with Lionel Limiñana

Your base of operations is in the south of France in Perpignan. Were you both born in the area? Or how did you settle down there? 

Marie and I were both born in Perpignan. We grew up in Cabestany, a small village nearby… It’s where we live today and it’s also where we’ve set up our little studio. We’re typical Mediterraneans! The sea’s only fifteen minutes away from our house. 

It seems that you’ve managed to resist the lure of Paris, which we think of as the centre of the French music scene.

It doesn’t really matter where you work anymore, thanks to the Internet.
We’re not that sociable and we like to work a lot so we don’t go to clubs or bars that often. There’s no real impetus for us to live in Paris. But we love to play there. I don’t think it’s the “centre of the French music scene”. The most interesting pop and garage music has always come from other places in France: Toulouse, Nice, Perpignan, Bordeaux… Bands like the Dum Dum Boys, JC Satan, Hair and the Iotas…

For the record, can you clarify for me your name – is that your surname or a pseudonym? If the latter, can it be translated into English?

My name is Lionel Limiñana and Marie Limiñana is my wife so it’s our surname. It comes from the region of Alicante in Spain. My parents have Spanish origins but they were born in Algeria. My culture is like a mix of Jewish, Arab and “Pied-Noir” (Algerian-born European) cuisine.

Can you give us a brief background on how you began your career.

We come from a hardcore garage scene. In the early 90’s, I started a band with some friends in high school called Les Gardiens du Canigou (‘The Guardians of the Canigou’ — a mountain in southern France), which later became The Beach Bitches. We recorded a few garage psych punk albums and toured all over France. We were a pretty raw, Stooges kind of band. There was a ton of Soviet fuzz in our sound. After that, I managed an indie record store called “Vinyl Maniac” that specialised in British and American vinyl imports. We worked with Mordam Records in San Francisco, Get Hip in Pittsburgh, Ace in England, and Crypt, which was our favourite label. We also organised a bunch of garage and punk rock concerts with bands like the Oblivians, Revelators, New Bomb Turks, Country Teasers, Satelliters… Musicians would sleep at our house and we’d all eat together, drink wine from the south of France. It was a great period, we met some incredible people…

What is the music scene like in Perpignan?

There’s a lot going on. The biggest peak for punk and garage was in the 90’s. There were bands like Sonic Chicken who were signed by In the Red Records, Les Fatals, Les Bellas… But the scene is still very much alive today, there’s a new generation filling the old one’s shoes.
The thing about Perpignan is it’s a small city with a high unemployment rate and not that much to do. But there have always been very good record stores and book stores there. We owe them a lot. When I was fourteen, I would go to the local indie vinyl store, Lolita, twice a week. It was filled with all kinds of vinyl, old and new editions of albums, 45’s… That’s where I first found out about the Standells, the Remains, and most importantly, the Pebbles and the Back from the Grave series. This kind of tough town with a lot of record stores and bookstores is usually where you end up finding the most active and productive music scenes.

Is being away from Paris a help or hindrance to your career – recording, distribution, labels, gig opportunities, etc.?

We’ve always been isolated in our work. I’m not really interested in what’s trendy or fashionable. I don’t think we would have accomplished half as much as we did if we were in Paris because it’s more expensive and harder to live there. We never felt like we had to depend on networking or meeting the right people to make the band grow. It’s not like we have a career plan or anything! The most important thing for us is to release records and have fun when we’re on stage. We meet people after concerts, talk to them and have a few beers… We’ve made a lot of friends while touring. That’s how we met Jean de Barquin and his gang in Belgium — they always come out to see us…

Do you get inspiration from your own record collections or do you hear music on the radio or online that inspires you to create your own songs? 

I hardly ever listen to music on the radio. We usually either go through our record collection, or we stream music on the Internet, especially when we’re on tour.

Are there any artists that you listen to today that influence your songwriting and recording. Personally, I occasionally hear a little bit of The Raveonettes in your songs, particularly on ‘The Gift’ on the new album.

We still listen to a lot of 60’s American garage punk. And a lot of other things: Can, especially their Soundtracks period, every Serge Gainsbourg album up to Melody Nelson, The Action, the Troggs, Francois de Roubaix and Ennio Morricone’s film soundtracks… The two bands that are active today and that we like the most are Nick Cave’s Bad Seeds and Sleaford Mods – we’re huge fans of Sleaford Mods. Oh and we really like King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard too!

Do you ever fear that the variety of styles you include in each of your albums may make it difficult to attract new fans who are not used to so many different types of music – they cannot get a handle on what type of music you play?

We stopped worrying about the garage scene’s codes a long time ago. The analog obsession, the need to record live, the constant bickering between the lo fi preachers and everyone else… It’s pointless. Guys like Andrew Weatherall put together incredible sets incorporating Turkish psychedelic music, the Cramps singles and electronic music. We’ve allowed ourselves to have the same kind of freedom with the Limiñanas, on our own modest scale. That absence of barriers has contributed to our sound. Marie and I are really into the Cult’s Love but we also admire people like Pascal Comelade and Billy Childish.

Has it been difficult to get gigs from promoters who want to know what type of music you play so they know which clubs or festivals to book you into?

No. Not at all! We just tell them that we play psychedelic pop music. Which doesn’t mean anything really!
These days, on stage, we sound like a French krautrock band… So Fraug Rock?

You record in both English and French. Are you more comfortable in your native language or do you believe you have to sing in English to expand your audience?

We don’t choose to sing in English for those reasons. That decision is usually taken at the last moment, when the music’s already been recorded. French is tricky, it can easily end up sounding ridiculous. English, Spanish, Italian… Those languages are great for pop music. To us, French is better for storytelling. It’s very fragile, very dangerous. The French songs are the ones we work on the most… 

Forgive my cultural ignorance, but I see that Perpignan is close to Catalonia. Has the recent Catalan political climate affected you or found its way into your songs?

Everything that’s happened in Catalonia, the state police’s behavior, the violence that was committed against women and elderly people, among other things… it’s unforgivable.

Also big news is the recent death of Johnny Hallyday. Was he an inspiration to French rock and roll in general and you in particular? Or has his influence been exaggerated by the foreign press, calling him “the French Elvis”, etc?

Johnny holds a special place in French people’s hearts. He did some interesting things in the second half of the 60’s, recorded some wild freakbeat songs with British musicians like Jimmy Page, Mick Jones and Tommy Brown… Some of his singles and B-sides from that time are just crazy — ’Psychedelic’ for example. He was also the one who brought Jimi Hendrix over to France by letting him open for his shows. There are many other great stories. He was an esteemed performer.

You’ve used several guest vocalists throughout your career, including Guillaume Picard and Nadège Figuerola from your side project, Les Bellas and the mysterious Mu and Murial Margail. Are these local friends? 

Guillaume Picard is one of my best friends. He was the singer of my high school band, the Beach Bitches. Mu is a friend as well, she lives in the same village. She loves Serge Gainsbourg’s work, Anna Karina, etc. Nadège lives in Perpignan — she’s a primary school teacher and has her own band now. She used to sing for the Bellas. It’s a small town, we’ve all played together at one point or another.

Tell us about Les Bellas. What brought about this other project and how does it differ from your Limiñanas material? Can we expect more or is that project finished?

We formed the Bellas in 2003 and released two 45’s. Les Disques Steak put together an album of unreleased material many years later. There were four us and no bassist. Marie decided to buy this enormous Gretsch drum set — which she still has — with a very big kick drum and a huge floor tom to compensate for the lack of bass. By then, we had already begun mixing our Crypt influences with elements of pop music we were drawn to. We were also writing French lyrics for the first time… And we were just starting to consider the production and recording aspects of making music thanks to our singer Guillaume who produced all of the Bellas material. A lot of the techniques that we use today, like vocal double-tracking, we learned during that period. But no, the band won’t get back together. 

You’ve also collaborated with diverse performers like Peter Hook (New Order), Anton Newcombe (Brian Jonestown Massacre), and novelist Kirk Lake. You even have Roman Polanski’s wife, actress/singer Emmanuelle Seigner helping out on your new album and video. How did these collaborations come about? Did you approach them or did they reach out to you to help out on these recordings? Perhaps they heard a bit of themselves in your songs (viz a viz, the twangy guitar in ‘La melancolie’ that seems rather inspired by Anton’s BJM material?)

It’s almost like you’re casting for a film… We asked Peter Hook because he’s one of our lifetime heroes. We knew his bass and his voice would bring something to the music. Anton contacted us on the Internet so we worked with him as soon the opportunity arose. Emmanuelle came by our house to talk about making a record and we recorded her… It’s great that you think ‘La Melancolie’ sounds like a BJM song. We never did that consciously. 

Has Emmanuelle asked you to reciprocate and write and/or back her on her next album, as Ultra Orange, Adan Schlesinger (Fountains of Wayne), and Keren Ann (Zeidel) have done in the past?

Yes! It’s supposed to be a secret but we have an album project with Emmanuelle! We’re working on it right now at home. I’ve written 12 songs, which we’re going to arrange, rewrite, etc. We have a lot of work to do. The demos definitely have a Stooges feel to them! Tons of fuzz, wha wha… There are ballads and 60’s garage types of songs as well…

I see some songs co-written by Serge – is that a brother (-in-law)?

Yeah, Serge is my older brother. He writes texts and sends them to me on a regular basis. I just pick stuff out when I need it…

Your work with the extremely prolific Pascal Comelade seems very different from your own work – more experimental…frightening, even! What brought you together?

We’ve been friends for a long time. We’ve played on each other’s records, performed at the modern art museum of Ceret and in the streets before touring France together. We share the same love for American primitive music from the 60’s, British music from the 60’s and 70s, American punk, Italian cinema, Hammer Films… tons of stuff. Pascal has the same recording philosophy, he sticks with the first take. We learned a lot from him…

You’ve released material on numerous labels, Trouble In Mind, HoZac, Because. Do you offer each new album or single (7”) to specific labels or do they ask you for “product”? Or do you have separate contracts with each label for a specific number of releases?

No, the only label we have a contract with is Because Music for Europe. We record all the time and release a lot of stuff because we’re vinyl junkies.

You’ve released many more singles and EPs than full albums in your career. Do you prefer to work in this “short form” medium or do you just prefer to release material when it is ready rather than waiting to assemble a full album?

When we work on a 45, we think A-side and B-side, but when we work on an album, we think of a story with a beginning and an end. It’s completely different. We love singles, it’s my favourite format. I like maxi-singles too (a defunct format for rock and pop music). I like the dynamics in maxi-singles. The Cramps and New Order maxi-singles, for example, sound amazing… 

You have a lot of fun with your song titles, such as the Ian Hunter reference in ‘You’re Never Alone With A Schizo’, ‘The Darkside’ (a Spacemen 3 offshoot), ‘Down Underground’ sounds like a lost Jesus & Mary Chain title!, references to ‘Belmondo’, Moby (‘Mobylette’), Brigitte Bardot (‘BB’), ‘Dick Dale N’était Pas De Bompas’, and film references like ‘Carnival of Souls’, two references to Black Sabbath (‘My Black Sabbath’ and ‘(They Call Me) Black Sabbata’ – the film or the band…or both?!), ‘Dahlia Rouge’, and perhaps American TV show ‘The Dead Are Walking’. I also particularly enjoyed ‘The Train Creep A-Loopin’’! You’ve even taken a page from Nick Lowe’s songbook by writing a song for your record label (‘(I’ve Got) Trouble In Mind’)! Do you intentionally sit down with one of these “punny” titles in mind and set about to write a song around it?

No!! The titles always come at the end, at the very end. It’s a sort of game, as if we were sending a message in a bottle. But the greatest title finder is Pascal. His titles and records are filled with references to Hammer films and pop music in general.

Sometimes you elect to recite your lyrics rather than singing them. Are these songs intended a mini-dramas or song-stories rather than a typical “song”?

Yes, exactly! The voiceover songs are like a form of storytelling. We love that format. It reminds me of Melody Nelson and some of the singles and albums we used to listen to when we were kids. Or of a timeless story read by an actor, like Pierre et le Loup by Gerard Philipe. 

Lionel, you bring many instruments to the party – everything from sitar and melodica to ukulele, banjos and bouzouki. Yet you also have collaborators who perform bass, oud, bouzouki, theremin. Do you specifically invite other musicians on to your records, or are there just certain instruments you feel more comfortable having others play?

Marie and I record most of the instruments by ourselves. The bass, guitars, etc. On some albums, there are hardly any guests and on others, there are many. To give you an example: if we’re going for a specific sound to give an oriental direction to a track, or a Mediterranean feel to the music, then I’ll invite my childhood friend Laurent Sales, who’s an incredible player of oud and bouzouki. I’ll record him for two or three hours while we look for something that fits. Then I’ll come back into the studio the next day and listen to what we’ve done, slice out what I like and edit the takes. Just like a movie. You try to enhance the recording that way. You don’t want to repeat what you’ve done on a previous album and go around in circles. 

Your discography includes several songs that almost seem like rewrites of earlier songs, such as the aforementioned ‘La mélancolie’ (BJM), the Suicide-inspired ‘Cheree’ rewrite ‘Je m’en vais’, Serge Gainsbourg’s very ‘Bonnie & Clyde’-like ‘Longanisse’ (right down to your “woo-hoo” in the background!), and a rather groovy hint at Van Morrison’s ‘Gloria’- meets-Prince’s ‘Head’ throughout ‘Votre Coté Yéyé M’emmerde’. I even hear a bit of ‘Wild Thing’ in ‘Tu es a moi’. Do you intentionally set out to wear your influences on your sleeve (so to speak) or do you just get these melodies in your head and decide to “rework” them into your own composition?

Most of the time we start with a riff, or something repetitive. Our favourite songs are classics from the 60’s, ‘Louie Louie’, ‘Gloria’, ‘Wild Thing’… Half of the Troggs’ discography is variations on the chords of ‘Louie Louie’. ‘Wild Thing’, ‘I Want You’, ‘Anyway You Want Me’… On our own modest scale, it’s the same thing with our albums. If the first riff I come up with when I turn everything on in the morning at the studio reminds me of something I love, it’s because those songs you mentioned are part of our musical DNA. We’re not trying to pay tribute or plagiarise them, we’re just subconsciously revisiting those riffs. Most of the time, anyway…

You also have a lot of fun with your actual cover songs, such as the marvelous banjo-and-vibes rendition of The Beach Boys’ ‘I Know There’s An Answer’! Is it important to respect the original in your cover versions, or do you sometime enjoy “taking the piss” out of old chestnuts, particularly when Pascal is involved, as on ‘Why Are We Sleeping?’ and Phil Spector’s ‘Christmas’.
Generally speaking, when we’re working on a cover, we try to keep the original chord progression and record a standard rhythmic foundation to get things started. After that, things can go a little crazy! Especially if Pascal or Ivan Telefunken are around. The way you read into the main theme, the choice of instruments… that’s how you come up with something different. If you record the riff from ‘Ace of Spades’ with an accordion, then you’re definitely making a strong decision. But the most important thing for us is the excitement. I need to be able to wake up in the morning and feel excited by what we accomplished the day before.

You have many songs that incorporate cinematic overtones, particularly Italian soundtrack music a la Morricone. In fact, your new and previous albums both begin with rather cinematic instrumentals. And I am guessing that is Michel Magne’s theme from the Charles Bronson film (‘De la part des copains’, aka Cold Sweat) that you cover to end the album? And sometimes when listening to your spoken-word songs, I feel like I am at a Godard film (I’m thinking of ‘Je Me Souviens Comme Si J’y étais’ or ‘Le premier jour’.) These songs feel very cinematic to me. In fact, you even namecheck Camillo Mastrocinque’s 1962 film anthology I motorizzati on the new album (slightly (or intentionally?) misspelling it on ‘Marie Motorizatti’. I’m thinking it is no coincidence that Morricone was the film composer?) It seems your material would work perfectly in a David Lynch or Quentin Tarantino film. Have either of them approached you? Or has anyone approached you to score a film soundtrack? If not, is this something you’d be interested in attempting someday? 

Thanks for saying that! We’re currently working on the soundtrack of a British movie which will be titled The World We Knew. Our friend Kirk Lake approached us. But Kirk is the only one who’s ever asked us to do this kind of work. Of course I’d love to work with the directors you mentioned! You think about production and recording in a different way… I’m learning a lot these days about letting the music breathe, reworking a theme a certain number of times, doing variations around that theme…

And might there be a second volume that includes the rest of those rare early releases, similar to the album collection Down Underground that compiled your first four albums? As music collectors yourselves, I’m sure you understand the frustration of completists anxious to get their hands on ALL of your releases!

Yes!!! Trouble in Mind came up with the idea back then. We’re currently working on volume 2. We’re trying to compile all of the stuff that’s hard to find — the tribute songs, the 45’s, etc. We’ll be able to put together a double album of unreleased material, which should be released in the coming year.
[Note: I’ve Got Trouble In Mind Vol. 2 was released on 16 November 2018.]

Typically, the two of you record your material as a duo with the occasional guest vocalist or performer. But how do you assemble the personnel for your live performances? Is it a matter of who is available or is there more of a method to your madness! Are there certain musicians you prefer to take out on the road with you? I’ve seen some live videos on Youtube where it seems like half of Perpignan is on stage with you!

Yes! It’s like we’ve been reenacting Spinal Tap. We’ve been pretty experimental at times. 25 to 30 people have played with us on stage since we started. But the band’s been stable for the past three years. This is the best we’ve ever been. The hardest part of having a band is finding a way to bring everyone together and keep things alive. There are nine of us on the road and everyone has to sacrifice their time, as well as their family. We’re really grateful for that, we love our friends. We’ve finally managed to assemble a dream band — something along the lines of the Bel Canto Orchestra and the Bad Seeds, on our own scale of course.

‘Pink Flamingos’ off the new album is a bit of a departure from your more aggressive and vibrant rockers. Does this suggest a kinder and gentler Limiñanas to come on future material?

The new album talks about a kid who starts high school and tries to fit in with the cool kids, the mods, the rude boys, the skins, the hippies. ‘Pink Flamingo’ is an unreleased song I wrote with my friend Guillaume Picard in the late 80’s.

– Jeff Penczak
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