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Frédéric L’Épée

Interviewed by Gary Hill

Interview with Frédéric L’Épée from 2019

MSJ:

Can you catch the readers up on the history of your involvement in music – sort of a "highlight reel?

My father was a good amateur violin player. My first awareness of music was as a baby, sitting in front of our home’s turntable listening mainly to violin concertos.

I discovered rock music with the Beatles, the Kinks, and I was at that time making sounds with every resonant material.


First band when I was 13, covers or Pink Floyd, Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin and others, then discovery of progressive rock with King Crimson (the very first contact with prog rock, through the album Earthbound) Yes and Genesis.

I founded Shylock in 1974, at 18, and then understood than my life would be musical.

MSJ: What brought about doing a solo album, and what does that do for you that a band release doesn't?
Interesting question, as I was wondering the same thing a few years ago. My current band, Yang, plays mainly my compositions. So why do I need to compose solo music?


It is surely because, as a band, and as the name of the band suggests, Yang is open to the world, playing with and for the others. When I compose for Yang, I have in mind each of the musicians of the band: "Here, Nico will give the perfect expression to that phrase… " "Laurent will play this melody, I should make it scream a little bit more, I can hear him play… " "This rhythm can be that twisted, I know that Volodia will perform it perfectly… ". It is a "Yang" act in the Tao te Jing sense.


In another hand, I actually compose in very different other domains : new contemporary music, chamber music, studies for my guitar students, ambient or solo guitar, and some of these compositions are simply too personal, too intimate to be widely shared - my "Yin" side.

Then I collect them for a solo album. And these albums, eight opus before the last one, The Empty Room, are only available to download or,  for physical copies, made to order.
The Empty Room is also very intimate, but it refers from the very beginning to grief, a universally shared state, which made me naturally want to share it more widely.

MSJ: If you weren't involved in music what do you think you'd be doing?
I would be a scientist or an astronaut.
MSJ: Who would you see as your musical influences?
J.S. Bach, Chinese music, Jimmy Page, Claude Debussy, György Ligeti, Robert Fripp, Benjamin Britten
MSJ: What's the best thing that's ever been said about your music?
"It changed me."
MSJ: What's ahead for you?
I am preparing the release of two "Frames" improvisation albums: Campanologie, very experimental, to be released beginning July, and Mornings, a double album to be released in September.

One or two concerts with Yang, yet to be confirmed, and hopefully in 2020 the fourth Yang album which name should be Designed for Disaster.
MSJ: I know many artists hate to have their music pigeonholed or labeled, but how would you describe your music?
Instrumental fusion rock
MSJ: Are there musicians with whom you would like to play in the future?
Yes, I have in mind two Berliner musicians, a bass player and a female singer with whom I would like to start a trio, but we have to wait for the right time, if it occurs one day…
MSJ: Do you think that illegal downloading or streaming of music is a help or hindrance to the careers of musicians? 
It depends on musician’s level of notoriety. When you are a famous artist, your incomes depend directly from people who buy your music, and as you are famous, when these numerous people use illegal download, it is highly damaging.


In the case you are an unknown artist, streaming is a good thing, a good way for your music to be heard. And even illegal download is not so a problem for the same reason.


With The Empty Room, though, if the listener wishes to get the real spirit of this music, it should be listened to in one go, without interruption. This is the reason why this album will not be distributed on iTunes, Deezer or any streaming platform.

MSJ: In a related question, how do you feel about fans recording shows and trading them or posting them online?
Not a problem for me. The results are usually of poor quality and must be taken as testimonies, not real releases. Some musicians can be disturbed by this in their performance. I am not.
MSJ: If you were a superhero, what music person would be your arch nemesis and why?
If I were a superhero, I wouldn’t have enemies
MSJ: If you were to put together your ultimate band (a band you'd like to hear or catch live), who would be in it and why?
I’ve never been fond of gatherings of musicians, where each of them is there to demonstrate his skills. I like real bands, people who have a story together, who evolved and improved together.
MSJ: If you were in charge of assembling a music festival and wanted it to be the ultimate one from your point of view who would be playing?
It would be an instrumental rock/math rock festival, with Adebisi Shank, The Wrong Object, Sonar, Melt Trio, Kotebel, Cloudkicker and Yang, of course!
MSJ: What was the last CD you bought and/or what have you been listening to lately?
The last CD I bought was Hilary Hahn: Violin sonatas n°1, 2 and Partita n°1, J.S. Bach. She is, in my opinion, the best Bach performer of our time.


The last music I’ve been listening to was Maja S.K. Ratkje in dialogue with Eugeniusz Rudnik.

MSJ: What about the last concert you attended for your enjoyment?
It was yesterday: A concert for experimental contemporary music solo guitar (classical guitar). It is actually exceptional for me to attend a guitar concert, as I pay to much attention to technical things. The music has to be exceptionally good to capture my attention.
MSJ: Do you remember the first concert you attended?
No. As a child, my parents didn’t bring us to concerts. The first concert I remember is the first one I performed. I was 13.
MSJ: Do you have a musical “guilty pleasure?”
I like good techno music.
MSJ: What has been your biggest Spinal Tap moment?
It was with Shylock. We were performing in Nice, our last gig before traveling to Switzerland to record our second album, Ile de Fièvre. The show was nice, very crowded and people were excited. A guy at the first row was beating the floor of the stage with an empty bottle, and suddenly the bottle exploded. A shard of glass has been thrown to my forehead and cut a vein. The blood started to gush, but I was so absorbed by the music that I did not immediately realize what was happening. Then the lights were switched on, and I saw our manager, Christian, running to me…and I saw the blood. They took me backstage and called an ambulance, trying to stop the bleeding and after a moment, we all noticed that there was still music on stage: Didier, the keyboard player, didn’t see anything and was alone on stage, all lights on, still playing.
When we entered the studio in Geneva two days after, and I opened my case, the guitar was covered with dried blood.
MSJ: If you could sit down to dinner with any three people, living or dead, for food and conversation, with whom would you be dining?
Definitely people in charge or who have been in charge of the world, but still living: Barack Obama, Angela Merkel, for those who could be open enough to help for a change. A third one? Then a dead one: Albert Einstein.
MSJ: What would be on the menu?
Changing the world, lasagnes.
MSJ: Are there any closing thoughts you would like to get out there?
We have to face a very important and difficult moment, where greed, hate, jealousy and intolerance are overwhelming the world. We, musicians, are struggling to keep the head out of the water and soothe it (the world) as much as we can (don’t get me wrong, for me the weirdest hardcore soothes the world!). I wish that people do not give up on their humanity, goodness and hopes, and most of all, reject the tyranny of mediocrity.
MSJ: This interview is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2019  Volume 4 at lulu.com/strangesound.
 
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