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Les Sans Culottes
n'est pas faux-french
by: Handlebar Jack - November 27, 2007

The doyens of New York’s surprisingly rich faux-French scene, Les Sans Culottes, released their new full-length album on Vibratone Records in May. "Le Weekender" bears all the hallmarks that have made Les Sans Culottes popular among lovers of 60s French pop on both sides of the pond: tight musicianship, clever songwriting, and an all-pervading sense of fun and humor.

Looking back on the years the band has been active, what are you most proud of? What about disappointments?

I started the band here in Brooklyn in April 1998; so we’re coming up on 9 years of French rock’n’roll. I think I am most proud of just getting the band started in the first place. It was an uphill struggle. I approached so many musician friends with the idea of starting a French language rock band here in NYC, and let's just say, the initial responses were not enthusiastic. It took about 2 years just to locate the people willing to give it a try. Ever since that initial accomplishment the rest has seemed like gravy, although also very satisfying. We've played at the top of the World Trade Center, headlined at the Bowery Ballroom, played for thousands of French people, played all over the U.S. It's been really great. In terms of disappointments, no real letdowns, although there was a bizarre episode where some people who were former band members (and others) decided to start a second band called Les Sans Culottes.

None of you are native French speakers. How does that affect writing lyrics?

I've written the lyrics for almost all of the songs since we started. It was a matter of reacquainting myself with the French I studied in college. Who knew it would ever be useful? Had I known, I would have studied harder. But as in writing lyrics in English, you look to the writers you admire. So in this case it was a lot of translations of Serge Gainsbourg and Boris Vian's lyrics to get some feel for how they wrote. It’s challenging but also really interesting writing in a different language. I read where Samuel Beckett said he preferred writing in French rather than his native English because it made him much more conscious of his selection of words. It helps that French is a beautiful language full of great idiomatic expressions and colorful turns of phrase.

What are some of the motivations behind having a faux-French band?

It started when I was visting a French friend in Paris who I used to play in a band with back in Detroit. I discovered the music of Serge Gainsbourg, Jacques Dutronc, et al, and became obsessed with the idea of doing French rock. The fact that the goal was slightly quixotic made it even more appealing. It seemed odd to me that the whole world was singing rock’n’roll in English. So if you were Swedish or French, you were compelled to write songs in English. There was some bit of truth to the "cultural imperialist" charges laid on us. I thought it would be nice to show that Americans were in fact interested in other cultures. Ultimately, if the music was good and people could see you were doing it for the right reasons the language barrier would prove to be illusory, I thought. I mean, it took me thousands of listens to decipher Joe Strummer or Robert Plant's lyrics and they were supposedly singing in English.

What are some of your goals as a band?

There is always a fairly high Degree of Difficulty in our goals of just writing good and interesting songs, which are both captivating to someone who doesn't understand much or any French and for someone who thoroughly understands French and the jokes and wordplay in the lyrics.

I think the Singing Nun is the last French language chart topper in the U.S. so that's our goal, to knock her off her pedestal. We're gunning for the Singing Nun.

 
 

"It seems odd to me that the whole world is singing rockíníroll in English. So if you are Swedish or French, you are compelled to write songs in English. There is some bit of truth to the "cultural imperialist" charges laid on us."


Les Sans Culottes
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what it is

Rock'n'Roll sung in French