Gimme a Break: The Penelopes
Hometown: Paris, France
Members: Axel Basquiat, Vincent Tremel
RIYL: Friendly Fires, Cut Copy, Passion Pit
New Release: Never Live Another Yesterday
Latest Single: "Summer Life"
The Penelopes say they’re the only rock band you can dance to during the daytime without the help of chemical assistance. Once you listen to the electronic dream pop on their latest album, Never Live Another Yesterday, you will understand why. However, there’s a lot more to this duo than just well-crafted experimental pop music. Axel Basquiat and Vincent Tremel are The Penelopes and best friends since childhood. While their music is danceable, the lyrics are sometimes gloomy, stemming from the trauma both experienced living in the council estates (government-funded public housing) of northern Paris. Multi-instrumentalist Axel Basquiat took the time to answer some questions for this week’s Gimme a Break.
Read the interview below and stay tuned to watch their video for "Summer Life."
What’s the history of The Penelopes?
We’ve known each other since we were babies, before school. Now, we realize it's kinda cute. But before being cute, it was tough. We grew up in an uber-boring area in the north of Paris. We were living in the same council estate. We were basically neighbors. Vince was on the 4th floor and I was living on the 2nd floor. Our area was/is still quite dangerous ... For us, when we were teenagers, there was nothing to do except go to the public multimedia library. I was listening to loads of music from post punk to dream pop and we had quite strange tastes compared to our friends. We never played in a band when we were teenagers. We created the band when we were students. We didn't want to work and playing together was the light at the end of the tunnel, a getaway.
What’s the meaning behind the title Never Live Another Yesterday?
It's an ambivalent title. It's like encouraging someone to try, to dare and at the same time, it's kinda pessimistic. It means you'll never live another yesterday … it's the end of the world. Things are going wrong.
What was the inspiration for the new "Summer Life" video?
Different crazy things like Pink Floyd in Pompeii. In fact, we have been very inspired by the designer Storm Thorgerson. We wanted to create something surreal, bright, epic but not that serious.
Are there any tracks on the LP that stick out in your mind as having a really strong message or deeper meaning behind them?
I like "Life Without Frontiers" because it's about our life in the suburbs, about politics, about fantasies, about people who sadly stay stuck in a routine. "Now Now Now" is about childhood and the time that has gone. I like "Sally in the Galaxy" a lot because it's twisted. People dance on the track while the story is talking about a kid who is sent in space to escape from a catastrophe on earth. I like this kind of strangeness.
What’s the recording process like? How do you achieve the sound you do?
I used to write and compose the songs, but I’m also very involved in the sound and the general spirit or groove of the track. Vince is working on production, engineering, the arrangements, the frequencies. Our goal is to create some intelligent and modern pop songs to which you can dance. We love artists like Bowie, New Order, Electronic (Johnny Marr & Bernard Summer). We like the idea to dance to some odd or melancholic lyrics. We hate when things are obvious or cliche. It's interesting to be ambivalent. We think it comes from our tough childhood. We don't want to touch the shit anymore. We’re not like those spoiled kids who sing their despair while dad and mama pay the rent of their flat. We want to sound loud and tight and modern and groovy and hedonistic.
What’s the meaning behind your band name?
At the beginning, there were only Vince and me in the live band. It was a kind of joke. People expected to see some riots girls and in fact, two French lads appeared on stage. More seriously, we thought it gave an androgynous side to the band. We're deeply … feminist.
Does your location have any influence on your music?
It has been a huge influence on us in terms of mood. It still gives us a strong will to beautify our life and an incredible desire to do something different because we just don't want to repeat the routine of our parents. Personally, I’m always in tears when I think about my childhood. It's a trauma. Music wise, we realize now that it's also a main influence. As I told you previously, we were a little bit odd compared to our friends because they were listening to hip hop and we were listening to Bauhaus, Joy Division, but the music we heard via our friends or on the street is in our DNA. So, we also love cheap disco, funky stuff, Prince, etc.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve actually followed?
In music, the rule is that there is no rule...
If you could travel anywhere in time past or future, where would you go and why?
I would just delete my childhood from my story. The problem is that I would not know my best mate, Vincent from The Penelopes.