French trio Zombie Zombie have earned a reputation worldwide for both their reinterpretations of John Carpenter’s horror film themes as well as their original electro-psych tunes. Vice called them “Best French Band” and that’s not much of an exaggeration.
We met with Etienne Jaumet (snyth) & Cosmic Neman (drums) at Austin Psych Fest and talked about their first US tour, being at APF, their love of John Carpenter and much more.
Is this your first time playing Austin Psych Fest?
Cosmic Neman: Yeah, first time, first time being on tour in the US so it’s a very exciting time for us.
What have the US crowds been like so far?
N: Well good, yeah pretty good. I think we might bring something “different” from France, so it might be interesting for the US audience.
So, the American crowds have received you well so far; are they caught off-guard by your live set?
N: It’s hard when there are so many bands in the US, and so many great bands, it’s not easy to interest people I think.
You guys did an entire album of reinterpretations of John Carpenter’s classic horror themes – is that getting you more attention from the American crowd?
N: I think so, I think people only know us there because of this, they don’t really know the other albums we made. But it’s OK, we love that record, we love John Carpenter. We made this record for fun, so thanks to him.
I really like it. I’ve always been a big John Carpenter fan myself, and that’s what the first Zombie Zombie record I heard was, but when I checked out your original music it was just as good. What drew you to John Carpenter’s music? Where did the idea for the album come from?
N: Well you know, like a lot of kids, when we were younger, we watched some horror movies when we were teenagers. I don’t think at the time we really noticed the music, you know? And then Etienne started buying a lot of keyboards and synths and we noticed that the sounds were pretty similar. We thought, ‘Well, we should check his music because he’s probably making music with the same instruments’. That’s how it began, we started looking into his music.
His music was all very simple, usually just him and keyboard…
N: Yeah, I mean to me, what is really stunning about his music is that it’s very simple, but at the same time so efficient and powerful. Especially at the time there weren’t many soundtracks like his. At that time people were recording with orchestras and you didn’t have those simple bass lines. I think he was one of the first to do soundtracks like he did, probably because he didn’t have much money. It changed music forever.
In the ’80s, you had all of these American pop artists like Kenny Loggins & Huey Lewis doing theme songs for movies, but Carpenter took the music aspect upon himself and just simplified the whole thing.
N: And I think for us the idea was also to cover his songs to show that you could play the songs without the images. To us, they’re all hits. You can play them in clubs, and it’s very danceable. They’re pop songs.
As far as your live sets go, do you find yourselves playing more of your original songs, more of the John Carpenter covers, or is it pretty much a mix of both?
Etienne: So for this set we are expected to do one, most of the time we don’t decide until very late what we will play. But, I think we have to play one today. [laughs]
To please the crowd, I take it?
E: The [John Carpenter] album is already 4, almost 5 years old now. We’ve played it a lot already, but we change the way we play it all the time.
So your “claim to fame” here is definitely the John Carpenter stuff?
How did you get involved with Austin Psych Fest?
N: Well, we played a festival in France with The Black Angels. We played right before them, and they checked us out and really enjoyed our set. Alex, the singer and came to us and said, “I really enjoyed it, we have a festival in Austin, would you guys come to play?” We said of course, we know about it, that would be amazing. So it’s thanks to them for inviting us to come over here. It’s funny because we played a festival in a small town in France set up by some friends so we had no idea it would bring us here. It was a great surprise, so always play a great show anywhere! Always useful.
The Black Angels have been great, they bring so many amazing bands to this fest. There’s not one bad band here, I’d love to see each and every act this year.
You guys also did a film soundtrack of your own recently right?
N: It’s set during the war between France & Algeria, and it’s just about these kids hanging out in Algeria. They’re starving and just trying to get some food so they attack this French military base. But you don’t see any violence, there are very beautiful images. It’s not like a horror movie at all; it’s a very contemplative movie. So I think that’s interesting because our music has nothing to do with the movie, it’s a great mixture I think.
What was it like working on a movie score? You guys had already been re-working John Carpenter’s movie themes, did making original music for a film just seem to make sense for you guys?
N: Yea, we were really happy because that was something we really wanted to do at some point. So definitely, it was really exciting.
How do you approach your own music; your original compositions? Is it much different from your cover songs?
N: I think it’s pretty close. We play the same way when we cover music as when we play our own music. It’s pretty much the same idea.
E: We don’t feel bad playing covers, we just learn.
N: We love playing covers. The idea… so Etienne plays the synth and I play drums and there’s a second drummer also. We really like to let our minds go when we’re playing, there’s a lot of improvisation. It’s usually long, pretty long songs, like trippy… taking time to get into the music. That’s the basics to making it happen, I think we do it the same way when we cover some songs.
So when you play live, it’s just the three of you, two drummers and a synth. With so many bands playing here that rely on multiple guitarists and large bands do you ever feel like your live show is not enough?
N: I’m glad at the same time because I think we’re going to make a difference here. Hopefully because people maybe will be listening to so much guitar music, we’ll be welcomed as something different. I think that’s what The Black Angels understood. We don’t play the same instruments, but I think the vibe is pretty similar. I think our music is pretty psychedelic too just with different instruments.
That’s the great thing about this festival, I’ve interviewed a bunch of bands this year and last and “Psych” music has become more than just guitar-based music. It’s a little bit of everything.
N: To us it’s all about the trance. Getting the people into the pace of the music, something like that, a trance. It’s been in existence since the beginning.
E: There’s a big scene in France of psychedelic music…
N: Also, this is not really that well known here or the rest of the world, but there are great [psychedelic] bands from the ’70s in France, and really great records. It’s a really small scene, but there’s amazing stuff from that time.
E: I don’t know if you know Magma?
N: Yeah, Magma is pretty famous, they toured the US before. For instance, yesterday another French band played, Aqua Nebula Oscillator. It’s the new scene from France, there were some bands like this in the ’70s as well.
I saw Wall of Death here last year too, they’re from Paris.
What other things have you been influenced by besides the ’70s French psychedelic music?
N: Well many things, I think Etienne and I are very curious about anything in music whether it’s Jazz, Free Jazz, Electronic, Contemporary Music, Krautrock, you know…
E: World Music.
N: Yea you know, African music. There are good things in every genre. We’re trying to not be just one “scene” or one style.
It’d get boring if you kept doing the same thing right?
N: Yeah yeah, there’s always something interesting in every piece of music I think.
Going back to the John Carpenter themes for a moment, what is your favorite one to play live?
N: These days, we’re playing a lot of the Escape From New York Main Theme, “The Duke Arrives”.
E: It’s Groovy.
N: It’s really groovy, I love to play the main theme from Assault on Precinct 13 a lot too. It’s really exciting, well, I mean we like them all. It’s was already hard just to choose a few to record. People say, “why didn’t you do this one or that…”
E: Christine or..
You could do another album, there’s a ton of them…
So who are you excited to see this weekend?
N: Many bands…
E: Acid Mothers Temple, I’ve seen them many times already but every time it’s an experience.
N: I’m very excited about Moon Duo playing right after us, they’re good friends and I really dig their music too. Most of the bands, as you said, we’re really excited about.
Wherever go you’ll find good music here. We have a lot of music festivals in Chicago, where I’m from, but they’re a lot more mainstream like Pitchfork, Lollapalooza, etc. That’s where the Kanye West’s of the world play.
E: It’s too much.
Yea I agree, here you can move around without fighting large crowds and actually enjoy the music. How does Austin Psych Fest compare to some of the festivals you’ve seen in Europe?
E: I think it’s very hard to compare to a European one…
N: Well you know they have psych fest’s everywhere now. There’s going to be one in Paris in July, we’re playing this one… so there are similar things going on.
Are they bigger in Europe? I feel like they’re more widely attended?
N: You mean the psych fests? I dunno, I mean this is pretty big here. I think it’s pretty similar. I was talking to the girl from Moon Duo and she was saying she thought there were more theme-orientated festivals in Europe than there were in the US. Austin Psych Fest is not the only one, but it’s a very special one. This is our first festival in the US, so it’s hard to compare.
The band’s latest release, the Loubia Hamra OST, is now available for purchase on vinyl here. Check out their earlier albums via Spotify, Soundcloud, or whatever else you use to listen to fine online tunes.