Diane Theunissen

27 Mar
Music

L’Impératrice: “Tako Tsubo Resonates With Who We Are”

In 2018, Paris-based sextet L’Impératrice was taking the disco-pop scene by storm with the release of their debut album, Matahari. After three years, Flore, Charles, Hagni, David, Achille, and Tom return with a second project, the well-anticipated and absolutely brilliant Tako Tsubo. Prior to the release, we caught up with Flore and Charles over Zoom to chat about the evolution of the band’s sonic identity, the importance of authenticity, and the concepts behind their new record.

How’s everything going?

Charles: We’re excited, yet slightly anxious. It’s always a bit stressful to release an album to the world! Last weekend I felt completely at peace though, people asked me how I was doing and I would just tell them that everything was cool. Then again, we’re lucky that several tracks are already out there, and that they’ve been pretty well received by our audience. We’re relieved, even though we feel like we already released all the best tracks of the album (laughs).

Can you tell us a bit more about Tako Tusbo?

Flore: There are so many things to say, but I think that the main thing here is that we are super happy about this album. As musicians, we usually go on tour, come back home, write the next project, then tour again. It’s a cycle that never ends – or at least when there’s no virus stopping the whole planet from doing stuff (laughs).

This time, things were different. We were planning on working on that project hastily, we had very little time when we kicked things off in 2019. In the end, we eventually faced lockdown with a nearly finished record, so we used that extra time to refine the whole project: Charles spent pretty much the whole lockdown remixing tracks, and we re-recorded a few other things too. We even wrote a whole new song during the lockdown, it’s included in the album too.

We’ve been lucky in the sense that we had time to refine the project, looking into the various concepts behind the record, and identifying the right cover without having to choose one last minute as we may have done with some of the singles (laughs). We’ll probably want to get rid of this album one day – I can’t even look at Matahari anymore (laughs) – but we are extremely proud of Tako Tsubo and we’ll do everything we can to defend it. We won’t be able to present it live so we really want to give it a chance! It looks like I’m talking about a 3-year-old entering kindergarten, though this project somehow is our baby (laughs)!

It looks like being stuck at home has some advantages too.

Charles: At the time, we didn’t know that lockdown would last that long, we thought we’d be back on stage a few months later. Interestingly, the unusualness of the situation boosted us to dive in, head first. We were extremely energetic and creative, and I think that this extra time allowed us to write this album in the best possible way, whilst keeping it coherent from start to finish. We took a lot of freedom with this project, we trusted each other, whether it was with the writing or the inspirations we wanted to include.

This record is full of influences we’ve always had but somehow never dared to explore. It has a Californian and eclectic aspect. There’s a lot of R&B, soul, funk, and hip-hop influences too. And all of this has a very important place in our music. We had worked with a rapper on our very first track back in 2012, but we had never returned into that vibe. Now, you can feel it in the breaks, the beat, as well as in the groove.

I think that it’s also linked to the worldwide tour we did: touring across the USA, the UK, Turkey, it really comforted us into the idea that we had to defend our eclecticism. We’re proud of that, and we’re proud about the concept behind the album too: it’s closer to people, closer to our daily life. We talk about things that happen to everybody, we are observers. And I think more people can relate to our music now. This is a true break from what we were doing before.

Why Tako Tsubo? What is the symbolism behind this title?

Flore: The title actually arrived after we finished recording the album, and perfectly summed up the message we wanted to convey. When you listen to each track – both the music and the lyrics –, the main theme that comes to mind is the idea of creating a break into continuity. This can be perceived very easily in some of the songs, but it can also be translated by greater emotional, sad, and profound tracks too, such as “Hématome”, “Tomber pour la scène” and “Submarine”. In the music too, the idea was to create a break where you least expect it. With this album, the tracks never go where you expect them to go, there’s always a moment where everything changes. The whole process was to take the music to a different, unexpected place.

Whether it is “Peur des filles”, “Submarine”, or even “Hématome”, each track has a unique sound and identity. How does this album differ from the previous one?

Flore: There are more tracks in English this time. I decided not to put any boundaries regarding the lyrics, I wanted to follow my instinct and leave the music to choose the right language. It wasn’t a political decision, it was rather spontaneous. In terms of vocals, we chose to explore my voice in greater depth than before: we gave more texture to it and explored its lower ranges.

Charles suggested that we go deep into honest and organic vocals, and that’s what we did. It was done throughout the mixing phase of course, as I’m still using the same mic as before. Yet my voice has changed over the years, I guess that has an impact too. We also relied further on harmonies this time. Hagni [the band’s synths player] could tell you all about that, he’s been working super hard to decline all my voices and at some point, he just couldn’t stand it anymore (laughs).

Charles: We also wanted to escape from the regular verse-chorus structure we had before. It’s always tricky to make the first record, as you don’t dare to take any freedom. With Tako Tsubo, we just told ourselves “let’s do it, it’s all about having fun”. We’ve been heavily influenced by a couple of records we’ve heard in the past years too: whether they’re from Anderson. Paak, Tyler, The Creator, or even Billie Eilish, these are records that show freedom and modernity, whilst keeping a raw and retro vibe. And that’s exactly what we connect with.

Tako Tsubo sums that up in the best possible way: it symbolizes the moment when an overly strong emotion completely disrupts the order of things and creates a rupture. In Japanese, this phenomenon indicates when someone’s heart stops beating because of an intense emotional distress. In our tracks, the symbol is of course more abstract and global: it’s a break into continuity. We were touched by the poetic aspect of this phenomenon. Even though it’s very sad, I find it beautiful too. Then again, the percentage of taco stubs has risen during the pandemic, especially among women. I think there’s a lot of poetry in this image of emotion – whether it be negative or positive – that’s so intense that your heart stops beating. For me, it’s something you only hear in songs and romance novels! I didn’t even think that such a thing could really exist.

Having such an eclectic repertoire probably allows you not to be stuck in one genre, right?

Charles: Exactly, the aim here is not to surf a trend. We prefer to be on the fringe because sometimes the trend does not embrace what we like. You’ll never hear Flore rapping for example, at least not with L’Impératrice (laughs). Also, I think that having six musicians within the project helps to make our music more eclectic. We’ve all had a different education when it comes to music, some of us have a classical background, whilst others have more experience with jazz. We enjoy blending genres, which makes us hard to identify I guess. That being said, our music is still pop. The main idea here is to combine influences, which are often fairly niche and sharp, to eventually make them accessible to a wider audience.

It seems like this album is fairly influenced by Japanese culture. Was it a deliberate choice?

Charles: Not consciously, I think it’s quite misleading. It may seem like evidence but I think it’s just something that is part of pop culture, and we tend to embrace everything that touches upon pop culture. As mentioned earlier, we tend to go and source niche details and eventually make them federative. It’s a very Tarantino-like way of working: it’s typical of pop culture, to go and find lots of little hidden details and turn them into something hyper-visual, hyper-visible, and colorful.

It’s not voluntary at all, knowing that the illustrator who did the cover is called Ugo Bienvenu, he’s French, and he’s got more of a 70’s French comics culture, reminiscent of Fluide Glacial. But not necessarily Japanese. After all, we listen to a lot of city-pop and we like Japanese music a lot, but maybe not enough to consciously want to put it forward. It’s funny because this cover represents the three moires, so the myth of the moires. Three deities who decided the fate of men and gods. One weaves the thread, one cuts it and the third one, I don’t know what she does…

Flore: She’s just chilling with her mates (laughs). There you go, I have the answer: there is one that weaves, one that unwinds, so it’s a bit like that in fact, she chills (laughs), and the other one cuts.

We’re in de middle of a pandemic, yet you’ve managed to write, record, and release a magnificent album. How would you describe the group dynamics when working on this release?

Flore: Actually, we’re sort of used not to work all together anyway. No that I think about it, I wonder whether other bands manage to work all in the same room, all the time – if so, it must be really tough (laughs). What we usually do is that we all meet up in a house somewhere, and write. For this project, we kicked things off in Tanger in February 2019. We had taken two weeks off to focus on the album and get some inspiration.

There is a really nice vibe over there, it’s very interesting. We worked separately, sometimes in small groups. Charles and David – our bassist –work really well together for example, and with Hani too. I usually work on my own, I try melodies out, and then I show them to the guys. The guitarist is often working hand-in-hand with the drummer. Once we’ve got stuff, we all meet up and make each other listen to what we’ve come up with. Then we mix up teams, we work on each other’s music and make our own puzzles with it. Eventually, we all have some input, but luckily we don’t step on each other’s toes.

Working in smaller teams sounds like a great idea. That way you can always ask the rest of the group for help when you’re stuck on something, right?

Charles: Sure. Then again, when we’re stuck on something, it usually means that the whole band will be too (laughs). We very rarely keep on working on something that doesn’t work.

Flore: Surprisingly enough, lockdown only had little impact on our creative process. We were not scared of being away from each other and working separately. There’s enough caring between us all to make it work.

How would you describe the Tako Tsubo era?

Flore: I think we’ve added way more honesty to this project. We didn’t want to compromise, whether it was with the music or the lyrics. The project resonates with who we are.

Charles: It’s more mature. There’s a lot of work into this record. With Tako Tsubo, there has been an attention to detail, from start to finish.

What are your favorite tracks on this album?

Charles: I’d say “Hématome” and “Submarine”.

Flore: Come on, I was gonna say the same (laughs)! We’re so alike. I think we’re both happy about “Hématome” because it has been quite difficult to write, we worked super hard on that song. Then again, we wrote Submarine during the lockdown and the process was fairly quick. We love it as much, so I guess what I’m saying here doesn’t make any sense (laughs). I guess we just love the paradox of it all!

Charles: I also very much love “Souffle au coeur”, which is an instrumental piece. I’m really happy we did one again. There’s a lot of space for the instrumental bits in every track but that one manages to tell a story without any vocals or lyrics.

What are your favorite tracks on this album?

Charles: I’d say “Hématome” and “Submarine”.

Flore: Come on, I was gonna say the same (laughs)! We’re so alike. I think we’re both happy about “Hématome” because it has been quite difficult to write, we worked super hard on that song. Then again, we wrote Submarine during the lockdown and the process was fairly quick. We love it as much, so I guess what I’m saying here doesn’t make any sense (laughs). I guess we just love the paradox of it all!

Charles: I also very much love “Souffle au coeur”, which is an instrumental piece. I’m really happy we did one again. There’s a lot of space for the instrumental bits in every track but that one manages to tell a story without any vocals or lyrics.

L’Impératrice’s new album Tako Tsubo is available everywhere.

Pictures by Gabrielle Riouah.

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