Interview with UNISON

Photo Credit: UNISON

Salut Mélanie and Julien!  Thanks so much for doing this interview with me during such an exciting time for you.  Your magnificent self-titled debut album came out in your native France, and the rest of Europe, in September 2011 – and it will be released in the U.S. in April on Lentonia Records.  You are originators of a musical style known as “Witch House”, which the electronic artist Pictureplane coined.  What does this term mean?  

Melanie: Here is a video that our Internet friend Mario Zoots did in 2010 that explains the term very precisely: http://vimeo.com/16644002

Julien : We don’t really care about the meaning of this term. It was a joke that Travis Egedy (Pictureplane) did, and after that some bloggers made it more serious. It doesn’t mean anything…

You released your debut EP, titled Outside, in 2009 on the American label Matte Black Editions.  How did they find out about you?  Were you searching for an international record label or did they approach you?

Melanie: All the things that have happened to us are completely unexpected and surprising. We are really amazed by it all. Each time something like this happens to us, we think “Wow!  This is unbelievable!”  If I remember well, Matte Black Editions found us on MySpace.

Of the three songs on your EP, two of them, “Outside” and “Brothers & Sisters”, have made it onto your album.  Did you re-record those songs or are they the originals from the EP?

Melanie: They are totally re-recorded, re-mixed, and re-mastered.

Your debut album is a breathtaking collision of percussive to skittering beats, dystopian industrial noise, miasmic synths, and Mélanie’s dispassionate to forlorn, sweetly angelic vocals.  What types of instruments or “sounds” do you use to create such complex, but captivating sonics?  Do all the sounds originate from keyboards?

Julien: Almost every sound is made with Logic Pro on a Macbook Pro, with many synth plug-ins and many, many effects. I used to use effects plug-ins in another way than what they are made for…An unorthodox way…  The routing between those effects is also very important.  I also use side-chain a lot.

As for Melanie’s vocals, it’s a subtle tuning of some reverbs, compressors, equalizers, and some special effects like vibrating phasers, strange filters, rotovibes…

But equalization, compression, and reverberation are 80% of the thing.

Photo Credit: UNISON

Mélanie, your vocals are so lovely and airy, but it’s difficult to discern what you’re saying on each song.  I hear that you’re singing in English and some words and phrases filter through… Is it intentional that your vocals are a part of the overall sound and not pushed to the forefront?

Melanie: Vocals are managed like the other elements of the music, like an instrument. We like it like this and wanted to keep the possibilities of interpreting the meaning totally open.

Julien: Well, the voice is the most beautiful and difficult instrument in the world. I can’t imagine the music without Melanie’s voice.  But it also has to sound like a storm, like if you were inside the heart of a giant tornado.

You have professed an admiration for U.K. band My Bloody Valentine and the more dynamic aspect of the Shoegazer sound.  Are there other bands labeled as Shoegazer that inspire you, like possibly Lush, Curve, and/or Slowdive?  I’m a fan of all those bands, plus Secret Shine and early Catherine Wheel.

Melanie & Julien: We adore all those bands. The one we like the most out of all of those bands is My Bloody Valentine (They’re like gods for us; they changed our lives.), and also Slowdive, Ride, The Boo Radleys, Swervedriver, Fleeting Joys, Heaviness, Lilys, Swirlies, Secret Shine, The Radio Dept., A Place To Bury Strangers…  Not to mention Mazzy Star and Julee Cruise who aren’t shoegaze, but that can be added to this list of our favorites.

You have also been stylistically labeled as “deathgaze” (I guess a mash-up of shoegazer and death metal?) and your band logo is designed in the black metal style and was created by Christophe Szpajdel, who has done designs for black metal bands Emperor and Enthroned.  Why did you choose Christophe and this design style?  Are you into certain black metal bands?

Melanie & Julien : We are the new Black (Haha).  Well, we really like some of those bands, but we are more into the new school of Black Metal like Liturgy, Wolves In The Throne Room, Xasthur, Alcest, Darkthrone…

But we used to listen to numerous metal bands, and other styles like death metal, speed metal, NWOBHM, ultra fast grindcore, brutal death, negative hardcore, positive hardcore, punk, hardcore emo punk, crust, first wave screamo…  The aesthetics of brutal music are really familiar to us.

Christophe was the perfect man for this work. He’s simply the best; he’s the Lord of the Logos.

I have to ask about what French bands and singers you’re into.  I’ve been digging Charlotte Gainsbourg in a big way for a long time, as well as Keren Ann, and Air.  Of the more mainstream acts, I also like the occasional Benjamin Biolay, Camille, and Indochine.  What French bands are you into? 

Melanie & Julien: There are a lot of very good French bands that we adore.  Stuntman5 (The project of our homie Christian, who is part of Unison on stage now), EDH, Mansfield TYA & Sexy Sushi, Cercueil, Manatee, Haussmann & Claude Violante, Deleted Sin, Mechanism For People, Sons Of Frida, Pockett, Papier Tigre…

You’ve mentioned elsewhere that you identify with both the countryside and the city, and that the transitional locale of the banlieus informs your music.  How so?  Do you think you would feel differently, and create music differently, if you grew up only in the city or only in the country?

Julien: I moved many times to many locations when I was a child, with my parents. This is a really important thing in my life. I’ve met many different types of people, and some became friends, and some were less friendly.

Mentally, this is a great thing, because I was open to new experiences, and everything was rebooted to zero each time (that was a pain too, but not just that). I can easily say that I became totally self-reliant because of the changes in locations during my childhood.

The duality between the countryside and the city was conducive to a kind of mental escape where music was finally the common denominator.

Photo Credit: UNISON

You’ve done a lot of shows in France and other parts of Europe in the past few years.  What is the atmosphere like at your shows? 

Melanie : The atmosphere that emanates from our shows is primarily a concentrate of raw, almost anarchic emotion. We deliver our music to the public very freely and some find that the emotions that we and our music release is almost disturbing because it’s the opposite of the traditional model of mere entertainment.  We just love the stage and to play for people.

Julian, your stage name, in French, is Inusable, which translates to English as “Everlasting”.  Since you do the programming and most of the controller work, does that mean you’re inexhaustible when it comes to working in the studio?  Mélanie, do you have a stage name, perhaps “Voix d’Une Ange”?

Julien : Inusable is a solo project I had before. I was making pure electronic music, IDM style; very, very experimental.

Actually, we don’t have any stage name at all. Well, maybe sometimes “Melanie Unison” and “Julien Unison”, like on Facebook, haha!

You recently re-released your Outside EP with 11 bonus remixes and it’s available for purchase at: http://unison.bandcamp.com/ .  I also noticed that you enjoy remixing other bands’ songs.  Do you both like doing this?  When you remix a song, are you trying to make it sound more like UNISON or does it depend on the song?

Julien : We adore remixing other artists’ songs!  It’s a really pleasurable process.  We essentially keep the vocal tracks, and then try to take the song to another land, another world, maybe Unison’s world.

Melanie, on your official Facebook profile at http://www.facebook.com/groups/weareunison/#!/unison666 there are a couple of photos posted of you sporting a Guns N’ Roses t-shirt.  Are you a fan of this band, perhaps at the time of Appetite For Destruction or maybe the Use Your Illusion time period?  I actually first read about (well, saw…) Guns N’ Roses in the German music magazine Bravo way back in 1987!  I was a fan from then on, although I began to waver by Use Your Illusion

Melanie: We used to listen to GN’R when we were young teenagers.  We were fans of many bands like this.

Julien: Sometimes we listen to some old Iron Maiden or early Metallica or Slayer albums. I was especially into those bands just before I discovered Nirvana and all the indie-rock bands that I adore, like Sonic Youth, Sebadoh, Pavement, Dinosaur Jr., early Mercury Rev, and many others…

But at every period of my life, I was too hungry for music to limit myself to one style. That’s why I’ve always listened 1000 musical genres at once, taking the best in each.

I’ve also seen a few issues of the influential French music magazine Les Inrockuptibles in the 1990s.  From what I’ve read, you entered a contest at Les Inrocks.  What happened with that?  Was it a “best new band” contest?

Julien: Well, it was more like all the bands that were doing that became human adverts for the website that curated the whole thing. That’s not really what we’re into… Never again…

I’m into French film in general and I’m partial to certain directors who have a strong visual style like Leos Carax, Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Olivier Dahan, and François Ozon.  What specific French directors, or films, do you like?  I can picture you doing the soundtrack for certain scenes in Les Amants du Pont-Neuf by Leos Carax. The film is filled with bold, dazzling imagery, of fire-eating, posters in The Metro in flames, and the main characters plunging into La Seine.

Julien & Melanie: We are actually not really into French popular culture in general. Almost every band, filmmaker, and artist that we like are American, or British, or German, or from other countries…

I personally like Jean Luc Godard films like A Bout De Souffle and Pierrot le Fou very much, and Bertrand Blier films like Buffet Froid. And Philippe Grandrieux films; Gaspar Noé ones too, Jacques Audiard ones, Jean Cocteau ones…

We are in love with very original American filmmakers like David Lynch and Harmony Korine, Richard Kelly, David Fincher, Miranda July, Gregg Araki, Christopher Nolan …

What is coming up next for you?  Are you planning on touring to support your album?  Will you be making any other videos besides the recent one for “Brothers & Sisters”?  I don’t mean to sound impatient, but are you working on any new songs yet?

Melanie: New videos, new tracks, some unexpected covers, more remixes, and a LOT of shows all over the world!  We are trying to plan a mini tour in the U.S… Maybe soon.

U N I S O N – http://weareunison.com