Q&A with Watoo Watoo

Photo Credit: Miguel Ramos

Photo Credit: Miguel Ramos

Salut Michaël!  I’ve been spinning your lovely recent album, Un Si Longue Attente, and for some reason the phrase “jolie-pop” springs to my mind… Since you and Pascale are both natives of France, maybe you understand what I mean by that terminology.  Your music is pleasing and inviting, despite the occasional bleak lyrics. Do you think the “jolie-pop” description fits your sound?

Serge Gainsbourg used to say that most of his lyrics were about love, & that they were all dark & negative. Morrissey said that music must talk about your life, & I like the fact that the Buzzcocks songs are very fast & “happy sounding”, while the lyrics are quite dark, too. I guess that this had an influence on me (& I haven’t mentioned Felt yet!).  I like the paradox of pretty tunes mixed with gloomy lyrics.  “Jolie-pop” is an expression never used in France, though, but why not!

From what I’ve read, you’re a husband and wife team and I’m wondering how that dynamic shapes the songs you create.  Who is the songwriter and do any autobiographical disagreements or relationship issues make it into your songs?

Basically, I write & arrange the songs. I sometimes ask friends to help me as I’m not a very skilled musician. Pascale sings the lyrics I give her; the melodies are 95% from her.  Some of the lyrics have an autobiographical background, some others not (how could I talk about lost loves, or the end of an affair while we’ve been together for 23 years?). It’s not a problem whether the lyrics are for real or not, as long as the listener can identify him/herself.

You’ve been active as a duo for over 10 years, releasing 4 albums and 3 EPs.  How has your sound changed or developed over the course of this time period?  

We did our first song together in 1993, but the 1st CD was released in November 1997, the same week our first child was born!  My songwriting & the way I do the arrangements have evolved and gotten much better (hopefuly). I think, though, that my lyrics haven’t changed much along the years!  I started using a 4 track tape recorder, then 8 tracks, then a computer at the end of the 90s. Always at home.  At first, songs were recorded in an afternoon. Now it often takes months, or even years. Some may think that I have lost spontaneity but I just think that the songs sound better, are well played, well sung, with note-perfect, sophisticated yet not boring arrangements. Or at least this is what I strive for. Some people just think it sounds too naive, too twee…  Also, some years ago I thought that I had lost some inspirations, so I started listening to bossa nova or jazz to find new ideas, new chords… Recently I’ve listened to a lot of minimal wave and cold wave, etc… It shaped some of my new songs. I’m definitely not scared of synths anymore!

Your latest album is out on Jigsaw Records.  How did you connect with that record label?

I first met (briefly) Chris at the NY Popfest, where we played, in 1997!  But we talked about the release on an indie-pop group on Facebook.  Jigsaw is a small but good label!

What is the origin of your band name?  Does it have any meaning in French?

It came from a cartoon made in the late 70s, Wattoo Wattoo. When Pascale had the idea for the name, there was no Internet, so we didn’t know that we had the spelling wrong (which is probably better).  It’s about a small bird from another planet that comes to save the Earth from all the bad things human do & the music is really cool!

Pascale sings mainly in French, although “Searching For Mr Right” is an exception, with her singing in English.  Does she sing in English a little bit (or a lot) on your previous albums?

That song is a Young Marble Giants cover – a very influential band. I used to write lyrics in English, when I started, often borrowing verses from Felt songs.  After a few years I switched little by little to French. Recently I’ve started writing in English again, because I had some very “new wave” songs & I felt English would work better. 

Musically, many of your songs have retro-pop, 60-era touches like tambourine, woodwinds, and hand claps that remind me of early work by Saint Etienne.  Is that band an inspiration to you?

Pascale is very inspired by Laetitia Sadier from Stereolab & Sarah Cracknell from St Etienne.  We both love these bands!  I would love to write some songs that more dancefloor-oriented, the way St Etienne does, but I’ve always failed. I’m glad that you found some similarities, btw.

Who did you collaborate with on Un Si Longue Attente?  Who is playing the symphonic strings on “Correspondance”?  I especially like the lively percussion and horns on “Ce Vide”.

There’s something special we like in this song and we hope to make a video quite soon.  I did all drums programming, bass (the only instrument that I can play quite well), rhythm guitars & some synths… We had guests for some guitars (including Seapony’s Danny Rowland for the solo on “Correspondance”, & Spike from legendary bands Weekend & “Alison & Spike” on the Young Marble Giants cover), & some other guests as well.  It takes me hours to record a keyboard part, or some guitars; that’s one of the reasons why I’m so slow (other reasons are a job that takes too much time, some children & photography as another activity).

Watoo Watoo - Une Si Longue Attente

Watoo Watoo – Une Si Longue Attente

On record you’ve covered songs by a variety of artists like Felt, Donovan, Luna, Serge Gainsbourg, and Etienne Daho.  If you made a covers EP or album right now, what artists or songs would you want to cover?

We’ve also covered the Wedding Present, the YMG, the Buzzcocks, the JAMC, the Velvet Underground, the Beatles etc…, for compilations or live; & also other French singers such as Alain Souchon  or William Sheller.  One day or another we should cover the Smiths as this band has been so important in our life.  We should also probably cover Stereolab as we have taken so much from them.  But it would be difficult not to imitate these bands, and to find a new approach to play one of their songs. I don’t remember many good Smiths covers.

I think you played gigs in England and the NYC/NJ area in the U.S. as recently as February.  How were the shows?

Manchester was in February, the USA last July.  Our kids told us that we should relocate abroad, as people in other countries seem to enjoy us better as a live act than in France!  It was a great pleasure to play these gigs. In NJ, we supported Glenn Mercer from the Feelies.  I was so impressed! & the audience enjoyed the gig, him included.  Sometimes in France people are not so interested  – we play mostly fast & short songs, but we don’t rock the house & we’re only two on stage, playing with the computer as a backing band.

Michael, I think you’re also in another band called Mumbly, although I don’t know if you are active in the band at the moment.  What is the status of Mumbly?  I read that you covered a Cat’s Miaow song.  Which song was it?

Mumbly was a jangly indie-pop band that was active in the 90s & early 2000s. We never split up, but 2 of us (including me) left Paris… We did an album in 1998 on Marsh Marigold and recorded an EP after that, but the songs slept almost 15 years in my computer until I decided to mix them last year. The EP was released by Dufflecoat Records.  We did “4è étage” for a Cat’s Miaow tribute that was never released.

https://mumbly.bandcamp.com/

https://dufflecoatrecordsuk.bandcamp.com/album/mumblybule

You’re both living in Bordeaux now and have lived in Paris.  What do you think of the location switch?  What do you like best about each environ?

I miss Paris a bit as it’s a big city, with lots of museums & gigs.  Bordeaux is smaller, yet magnificent too. We have a big house in the city center, which would have been impossible in Paris, which is a too expensive city.

Lastly, can you please list your official site(s) so we can find out more about you and your music?

I’m sometimes a bit of a geek, so we first have a website (a bit outdated I’m afraid): www.watoowatoo.net

Then: https://twitter.com/Watoo_Watoo/

Two Facebook accounts: a “person” page (don’t tell fb about that!): https://www.facebook.com/Watoo.Watoo.pop.band & a “fan” page: https://www.facebook.com/watoowatoo.pop

People can also check my photos here: https://www.facebook.com/mk.photographe.Bordeaux