French shoegazers Team Ghost unveil their long-awaited debut
Gallic electro-shoegaze rockers Team Ghost are set to blaze a trail through the year with debut album Rituals. The Skinny got the lowdown from singer Nicolas Fromageau (ex-M83), synth-wizard Benoît DeVilleneuve and guitarist Christophe Guérin
No strangers to these pages, Team Ghost are a Paris-based five-piece who make slow-burning, cinematic electro-rock with doomy, sheet-metal walls of shoegaze guitar. Their first two EPs dropped in 2010 on Sonic Cathedral to critical acclaim, shining a much-deserved spotlight on the talents of songwriters Nicolas Fromageau and Christophe Guérin. Fromageau was a founder member of electronic shoegazers M83, with Anthony Gonzalez – the duo parted ways after 2004's Dead Cities, Red Seas and Lost Ghosts album.
Since 2007, Fromageau has been slowly assembling the members of Team Ghost, with the latest addition being synthesier wizard Benoît de Villeneuve, who joins Fromageau and Guérin as a co-writer. Live and in the studio, the band are backed up by a rhythm section consisting of Félix Delacroix on drums and Pierre Blanc on bass. Set to release their debut full-length album with the expanded lineup, and following incendiary shows in London, courtesy of All Tomorrow's Parties, and at last year's Trans Musicales de Rennes festival, 2013 looks likely to be the year when Team Ghost break out of the French music scene and take their expansive, muscular sound to a worldwide audience.
The album is called Rituals, and although the lyrical subject matter and tone of their music is often dark, Fromageau insists that the title is not intended to have occult undertones. “We are very close friends, so it's about little rituals, like stopping for coffee when I go walking with Benoît, or when we finish in the studio, and go and buy some beers... it's about a few things,” he explains. “Everyday things. It's funny, because it sounds a bit like it should be a black metal album. There are a few artists – like Burzum – who make shoegaze music, and who have that kind of occult influence, so maybe there's an element of tribute to that.” The album is coming out on a new French label, wSphere – Team Ghost are their first signings.
Recorded with the full band in de Villeneuve's studio, Riituals is a departure for Fromageau. “On this album, Team Ghost are more like a real band,” he says. “The first two EPs were just Christophe and I. Now we are a real band, there are five of us. We've been recording live on tape.”
How has bringing de Villeneuve into the songwriting process changed things for the band? “With Nicolas and Christophe I work on ideas for songs, making the whole structure,” says de Villeneuve. “He's the one with the strange haircut,” says Fromageau, chuckling heartily with Guérin. “That's his job!” de Villeneuve adds: “...and I like weird sounds.”
The most significant element that de Villeneuve has brought to the group is his huge collection of analogue synthesisers. “I like old synthesisers like the Prophet 05, the Juno 60 – not the 106, but the 60,” he says, warming to the topic as only an analogue gear head can. “My favourite synth, my favourite old one at least, is the monophonic Roland SH5. It's used less to do melody with, more for noise – but it's my favourite one. It's nice to look at, too. My favourite one now is a new synth – it's an OP1 from Teenage Engineering. It's very small but very powerful, and it has its own identity. It's really amazing. It's the synthesiser of the future!”
Asked about their influences, the band namecheck several vintage synth and krautrock legends: “Personally, I am very much influenced by John Carpenter,” says Fromageau. “For me he is a hero, when it comes to synth music. But maybe also older bands like Tangerine Dream, Klaus Schulze, Ash Ra Tempel – stuff like that, you know, German guys with moustaches. I love that kind of music.” The other main influence for the band is shoegaze: “I can't really remember discovering shoegaze,” says Fromageau, a distant look on his face – his love of the genre goes so deep, he cannot remember a time when he didn't listen to it. “I was maybe fourteen years old. A teenager...” De Villeneuve steps in: “For me, it was after I discovered Nirvana and Sonic Youth. That led me to My Bloody Valentine and Ride, that kind of stuff.” What is the enduring appeal of shoegaze, twenty years or more after the scene's birth? “It's a style that is established and it won't disappear,” says Fromageau. “Some elements go, but some stay – the way you use the guitars, things like that.”
“Even in electronic music today you can hear shoegaze influences,” argues De Villeneuve. He references German producer Aksel Schaufler, signed to Kompakt: “Take Superpitcher. It's kind of moody, melancholic, repetitive, with a lot of delay and reverb. There are no guitars, but it's not far from shoegaze. It's the same mood.”
Fromageau has been quoted as saying that for him, “music evokes landscape” when he hears it. What kind of landscape do the band think Team Ghost evoke? “I think it will be different for each person, but for me it's kind of a new, urban landscape,” says Fromageau. “Maybe at night, you know. Midnight cities...” Guérin, who stays quiet for most of the interview, agrees: “A city like Paris, with gloomy weather.”
The first hint of the direction the band are taking on Rituals comes in the form of the track Dead Film Star, which is accompanied by a gritty, pitch-dark horror video from director Simon Cahn. “We didn't write any material for the video – Simon did the whole project,” Fromageau explains. “We gave him some influences, some ideas,” says De Villeneuve. “It's kind of a tribute to our love of horror movies from the ’70s,” says Fromageau. “Mostly Italian films, but also American ones too. I believe that the video could be – have you seen Texas Chainsaw Massacre? It could be like, the lady who is still alive, she is going mad at the end... the Dead Film Star video could be after that, you know? She's running away, and she's so used to seeing blood that she wants to see more.”
Such dark themes are also addressed in Team Ghost's lyrics – are they unhappy, dark people by nature? “Actually, no, we are very happy!” says Fromageau. Nonetheless, he feels that: “the most beautiful things in art are kind of sad. Books, movies – all my favourite ones are dark.” Given that the cinematic treatment worked so well for the band's music in the Dead Film Star video, would the band like to write music for films one day? “We would love to do soundtrack work,” Fromageau confirms, but perhaps his list of preferred directors is slightly unachievable. “We'd love to work with Lucio Fulci but he's dead, so it could be complicated,” says Fromageau, drawing laughs from the other members of the band. “I'd love to work with Dario Argento, but he is getting old... John Carpenter, but he hasn't made a good film in a while!”
The band sing in English, because, as Fromageau puts it: “English is the language for rock and roll. Except for Stereolab, I can't think of any band I like who sing in French.” Guérin chimes in: “It's natural. There's no question of 'do we have to sing in French?' It just feels right.”
Fromageau is still in contact with former M83 band-mate Anthony Gonzalez, and Team Ghost remixed his single Midnight City back in 2011. “I saw him live maybe one month ago, and I loved it,” he says without a trace of bitterness. If their split was at all acrimonious, that is behind them now. “I like the album,” says Fromageau, but he speculates that the likelihood of M83 remixing Team Ghost is small. “He's much more busy now, so he won't be able to do any remixes for us.”
Now that the band are past the five year mark, and with that difficult second album in the bag, do they feel like they are on solid ground? “It will end in two years!” jokes De Villeneuve, but he is very much kidding us on. The band are a close-knit unit, finishing each others’ sentences, laughing at each others’ jokes and enjoying the small rituals of friendship and collaboration. “We like to work together, we like to talk together,” says Fromageau. “We'll do it as long as we can.”