Mi & L’au
released their debut self-titled album two years ago on Michael Gira’s Young God Records
. Their music is profound in its simplicity, powerful in its use of silence – not as omission, but as conscious addition. With the barest of instrumentation, the songs are sculpted from the silent gossamer of human intimacy and the infinite emotional forms it can assume. I’m proud to present an interview with L’au here on naturalismo. Enjoy, and stay close – we’ll be DEBUTING an exclusive track from their upcoming record as well as exclusive performance footage from their last United States tour. For now, take a moment to listen to “I’ve Been Watching You“
from 2006’s Mi & L’au
Naturalismo: The story behind the creation of your debut album is fairly well documented – that you met in Paris and then moved to a cabin in Finland to record the album. Did you move to the cabin with the idea of crafting songs in mind, a means to be inspired? Or did you move there to escape the city, and the songs were the byproduct?
L’au: Well documented i don’t know. It’s just a short cut. Like taking a plane. From A to B, except than life is not at all a straight line.We never escaped or left the city. We took a break, a long long break. When people say that we lived ” in the middle of nowhere “it makes us laugh. Why would you be more in the center of the whole thing, just because you live in a big city ? Anyway, we had it all in Paris, but we were ready for new experiences. Mira and I get easily bored and so we never thought that we would stay by the lake forever. You can’t play with the bears eternally, and the trees never taught us anything. In fact, being there, on our own, was a way to digest what happened before us. I call that luxury. Screaming at your ghosts. Your body like a hygrometer. Billions of cigars in the box. Storms of lights. Nothing was calculated. It was like a recompense, something you really don’t deserve, you know, like glory. We were the king and the queen of our own emptiness. Silly kingdom. But most of the times, beautifully silent too. I mean, we had to get out of here, because we would have gone mad. But to answer your question, yes, the songs are a byproduct, a never ended discussion between a man and a woman.
N: You’ve cited classical music and blues as two major musical influences. What is it about those two forms that you find so appealing, and how do you translate those influences into your own compositions?
L’au: Classical music is the root of European music. And European that’s what we are. when you say ” classical music ” it’s very large, like saying ” Cinema “. ADAGIO was the main influence. We had this idea to add words to this shape, to transform adagio style into songs. A WORD IN YOUR BELLY is one example. We have quite a lot of songs like this one, most of them sung by mira in Swedish. It reminds us of Latin and immediately gives a sneaky feeling.Blues is not an influence. Son House is in our hearts, that’s for sure. His way of playing the guitar and singing are beyond many discoveries. Long live Son House ! long live the blues ! But when you listen to Mississippi john hurt, Elizabeth Cotten, or Joseph Spence, I’m not certain that these guys are playing the blues. It’s closer to Valse and Charleston, and that’s what got us interested in their music. Also, the way American musicians play acoustic guitar is circular. This grove, this rythm that they’ve got, we don’t have it. We are more into something i don’t even know what it is. But we tried to incorporate that aspect. They got the crossroad, we got the lake, which is the same thing after all .
N: I agree that Mississippi John Hurt is not blues at all – his music is far too joyous, almost transcendently tranquil. I sense an American folk influence on “I’ve Been Watching You” quite a bit, that song always sends shivers down my spine.
L’au: I don’t know where this song came from, i just woke up one morning, plugged the microphone, and that was it … i had Nick Drake in my mind i have to admit … the story goes like this … we just came back from this long break by the lake, it was one of our first days back in town … when we were by the lake, we didn’t have music to listen to … and Nick drake songs came back to me very clearly, and that’s probably why i grabbed my guitar and played fifteen hours a day and composed so many songs … so when we came back in town, that morning, i had to thank him in some musical way for his divine support. But i agree, my way of playing the guitar comes from Mississippi John Hurt as well … those two are like the same, but one is European and the other American … i like that! Nowadays, i think that Django Reinhardt came into my blood too.
N: When did you first start playing music? Are there any guitarists or composers that you would say most influenced your style?
L’au: When i was born i killed many baby chickens. The yellow ones. My mother was horrified. Her screams were the notes of my first composition. It was also my first trial. When i explained to the judge that some people are actually using music as a way to hide tortures and crimes. He advised me to become a banker, which i refused, you know me. These guys influenced me a lot more than guitarists and composers… I had a recurrent dream when i was a kid. People were in the desert, scared to death, thirsty. I was far away, in front of the sun. With one hand i took a bone inside my body, with the other hand i made a drum out of my flesh, and i bit it so hard that the ground began to move. People had no other choice but to dance. My mind flew around until i reached a box through which i came by the smallest door i’ve ever seen. It was dark. You couldn’t see a thing. Time to feel. It was not an empty space. It was full of silent people, waiting for something to happen. I walked through it and jumped into this thick air. When the lights went on, I wasn’t there anymore. I was gone… By he way, do you know the meaning of style ? In french, at least, it comes from STYLET … a thin long knife that was made to stab people in the back.
N: Neither of you are native English speakers. Was there any reason for wanting to record your album in English, and does writing songs in a foreign tongue make it difficult to express your thoughts or emotion as vividly as if it were in your native tongue?
L’au: We compose songs in French, Swedish, Finnish, and English. We signed with an American Label, that’s why we sang in English on the first album. It could have been funny to send a french demo to Michael Gira, but i’m not sure it would have been effective ! We also sent music in France and Finland but America shot first …
I agree, it would have been easier to scream or clap our hands. But we do like our Babylon … ( Don’t miss the exhibition at Le Louvre, there’s a fantastic statue of Pazuzu )
N: I recently asked this question to Greg Weeks of Espers in regards to his (The Valerie Project) score for a Czech film. I have heard before that you spent a time in your life writing soundtracks for films. I know, for me, a visual component to music is often very helpful in understanding the “tone,” “mood,” or “setting” that the musician intended for his or her music. To what degree do you feel a musician’s “image” – both the manner in which they carry themselves and the simulacra which they use to brand themselves – alter the listener’s perception of the music itself?
L’au: Depends on if the images are dressed with potatoe bags or straight black tie …
N: Is the act of creating music – such an intense, personal endeavor – made more difficult when it is done with the person who most inspired it?
L’au: It would be even more difficult to do it alongside someone you despise, don’t you think ? Only a master and a slave could do that, but that’s a different subject …
let’s come back to intimacy …
N: Devendra Banhart’s song “Gentle Soul” was written about you during the time he spent with you in Paris. In that song, he says “Your voice has a calming strain / All whispering / My voice wants to do the same.” It seems you shared more than just physical space, but mutual inspiration as well. What was it like living and working alongside him during that time?
L’au: It was like walking on the moon, i guess … I wrote an answer to this song called THE BIRD. It will be on our next album. You see, that’s the point. It is a correspondence, but instead of writing letters, we make songs.
N: What contemporary artists have been inspiring you recently?– Mark Hollis – Harmony Korine – Chan-Wook Park – Paul Thomas Anderson – Arvö Part – Jim Jarmusch – Daniel Day Lewis – Martin scorsese – Chan Marshall – Cate blanchett – David Cronenberg – David Lynch – Gus Van sant – Louise Bourgeois – Annette messager – James Blackshaw – The babyshambles – Damien Hirst – Max Richter… etcN: Have you been working on any new material since the release of your self-titled debut album and, if so, do you believe your songwriting has changed since then?L’au: Yes sir ! we’ve been working touring working touring working touring all the way up, and all the way down. So everything had changed. Now, we’re old, we moan and we shiver !