Gilles Snowcat, Raw and Unfiltered

Here’s something new: A man, his feline persona, exotic liqueurs, and a few musical instruments. This intoxicating combination takes shape as Gilles Snowcat’s new live-in-studio album, “Nama Time!” I asked him about the title, with its Japanese inflection:

“The word ‘nama’ has a range of nuances and meanings,” he says, “more less politically correct, though it all goes around the idea of ‘raw,’ ‘unfiltered,’ which perfectly reflects the way the live part was recorded. However, ‘nama’ is also a fine way to do pleasant things in the bedroom or in the back seat of the car, and when you know that ‘Nama Time!” is made to be listened to in a cozy bedroom, I leave things to your imagination…”

Throughout the course of the 16 track disc, Gilles gets a chance to show off his wide ranging songwriting and arranging skills –encompassing pop, progressive, classical, and jazz– along with his keyboard chops and earthy baritone. On most tracks, piano accompaniment is masterfully provided by Awaken veteran Nicolas Leroy, whose keyboard pyrotechnics enliven the disc, along with brilliant guitar work by other Snowcat colleagues along the way.

The live-in-studio approach presents a mood of quiet intensity that showcases the tunes in an exciting, theatrical way.

The live in studio approach presents a mood of quiet intensity that showcases the tunes in an exciting, theatrical way.

The songs, spanning a period of about 10 years and written at various places around the globe (no doubt on the fly in overnight hotel rooms, cocktail lounges, and European coffee houses) feature an array of topics, including romance, travel (trains feature prominently), food, hotels, and various suggestive situations. This brother of Baudelaire, this son of Serge Gainsbourg, lives life to the fullest and has the stories to prove it, packing a wealth of worldly experience into a very enjoyable collection.

Intoxicating, Magic Stuff

“The stuff on ‘Nama Time!,’” Gilles explains, “all comes from a time when the boundary between Awaken (his previous band) and Snowcat-solo was becoming so blurred that it doesn’t matter under what label they had been originally released. Awaken or Snowcat — is there a real difference anyway now?” The songs were written “mostly (in) Japan, Vietnam, and Belgium,” Gilles says. “I’d say the common denominator between all the songs are some places in Kyûshû, Japan, and the fumes in the street, that addictive smoke from the hot springs, they must pour something inside, it’s powerful and inspiring. They also have strange citrus fruits and make wonderful liquors from them – once you taste them you’re hooked. All those songs are intoxicated by that magic stuff, and it makes the music so special.”

In addition to working live in studio on the majority of the tracks, Gilles arranged the record to feature evocative instrumentals interspersed between the vocal songs. The contrast creates a theatrical mood, as the wordless tunes create a dramatic backdrop that sets the stage for Gilles’ playful vocals, Leroy’s piano pyrotechnics, and the guest guitarists.

Gilles explains: “Well, except for the opener ‘Continental Breakfast,’ ‘Nama Time!’ is purely a live album, raw as it can be. It features more or less what I play on stage since the release of ‘Mokomoko Collection.’ The live songs of ‘Nama Time!’ have been recorded like some radio sessions, or Peel Sessions, totally live but in a studio. The audience is 100% the one who listens to the album in their bedroom. It’s a bedroom concert, to summarize.”

And what a concert it is. As Snowcat fans know, Gilles’ lyrics often take the form of surrealist poetry, in the case of  “Nama Time!” with artfully concealed messages of romantic hope wrapped in a stylish melodic package. From “Beppu Nights”:

And finally when winter’s gone
His plane is landing at your door
A pearl wrapped in a pink box
Treasure love like this precious stone
Remember, there’s a morning coming after Beppu Nights
He could be me
As sure as tall cats come from the year of the dog
A Diverse Cast
In putting the project together, Gilles recruited a handful of musicians who have joined him on stage in the past, including guest vocalists Antonella Corrias (“not only a great singer but she brought brilliant ideas for the arrangements”, says Gilles); and Marie de Condé (“a master in singing complicated love stories and seductive songs”).  Each of these contribute vocals on a handful of songs, with Corrias on the spirited art-rock romp “Continental Breakfast” and the duet “Room 211”,”  and de Condé on the lovely duet “The Train is Leaving Kokura.” The band on the disc’s opener “Continental Breakfast” is  made up of performers from all over Europe, while the remainder of the album’s vocal tunes feature an individual performer paired with Gilles’ vocals.

Musicians featured include: Folk singer-songwriter Pat Lennon (“the audience is always mesmerized when she sings” ); drummer Sebastian Bournier (“I gave him a hard time playing on a single note of the gong on the studio track,”); Ian Rigillo on guitar (“a highly wild, unpredictable, yet fine guitarist,” ); bass by Axel Dumont (“a groovy French musician living in Belgium – he’s full of music science and tricks”); Benjamin Steegens on guitar (“his guitar playing is pure; you know you can feel the wood of the guitar when he plays”); and Vassily Rudenko (“he’s a bit mad like a true guitarist should be; he turns a Stratocaster into a firework”). This diverse cast of characters represents Italy (Corrias), Africa and Belgium (de Condé ), Scotland (Lennon), France (Bournier and Dumont), Scotland and Italy (Rigillo), Belgium (Steegens), and the Ukraine (Rudenko).

But there’s more: Herman Martin, (sound technician on the live tracks and some parts of the opening studio track) hails from England. “He gave some British spirit to the sessions and his incredible sense of humor made it easier for everyone,” Gilles explains. “He had such a strong input in the mix that he should be credited as co-producer.” Japan is represented by Itsuo Hyûga from the It’s Oh! MUSIC Label, as producer in charge of mastering and promotion. “He also mixed ‘Continental Breakfast,’” Gilles explains, “because my own mix was too rough; he just made everything sound better and more appropriate for Japanese taste and a relaxing moment.”

With its jazz sensibilities, the disc presents a view of the romantic side of this feline rocker, resulting in a product that’s highly accessible, both to faithful fans and new converts. From “The Train Is Leaving Kokura”:

The train is stopping everywhere
And the night is falling fast
We’re living our life in a funny manga
The paper is wet but can never melt
I’m wearing your baby ring
As a sign of love
The train is leaving Kokura
And I know what I’m gonna do
‘Cause I know my life is you

 

In addition to the singer-songwriter feel of “Nama Time!,” several tracks incorporate experimental keyboard sounds and funky electronic elements, presenting the most commercial Snowcat album so far. It’s a gentler, unexpected departure from a man who has made a career living at the limits, and producing albums as testaments to that lifestyle. As a whole, the subtle intensity of the vocal tracks compliments the experimental and jazzy tracks quite well, resulting in an energetic, inspired collection of tunes, and a fitting mid-career accomplishment in the Snowcat oeuvre.

For more information, visit www.gilles-snowcat.com

“Nama Time!” is available from Amazon.com, iTunes, Google Music, Spotify, and directly from It’s Oh! MUSIC.

 

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