THE POWER OF POP INTERVIEW - XAVIER BOYER (TAHITI 80)
"We wanted to make a modern-traditional pop album! "
French pop has not been held in the highest esteem in international pop circles compared to their neighbors across the Channel or even (of late) compared to Scandinavia BUT the improbably monikered Tahiti 80 is doing their damndest to change all that. AND based on their new shiny, funky pop album - Puzzle - they just might pull it off! In the hot seat for the band -- singer-songwriter Xavier Boyer.
How did the name "Tahiti 80" come about? Anything to do with "Brasil 66"?
The name of the band comes from a T-shirt that friends of my dad brought him back from Tahiti in 1980. Pretty simple, isn't it? We chose that name because it could be understood by anybody, in any language. I don't know any band called Brasil 66, but I do know a British band in the late 80' s whose name was Mexico 70. I think it sounds good but what I like about our name is that it' s not connected to soccer or anything.
When and where did the band form?
We met in Rouen (the town where Joan of Ark was burnt), back in 1995. We basically met in the hall of the university.
As a French band, why did you decide to sing in English? Do you sing in French as well?
No, we don't. We tried to sing in French at some point because of the pressure from record companies ( you have to play 40% of French music on the radio in France, it 's a law! ), but it didn't sound natural. Our musical culture is Anglo Saxon, I' ve listened more to the Beatles than to Serge Gainsbourg, even if "Melody Nelson " is one of my favourite albums. Looking back, I don' t think we decided anything, the first time I picked up a guitar I started to sing in English. I think it is the most appropriate language when you want to play pop music, like Spanish is for salsa, etc...
At the moment, the French pop scene is better known for its electronic pop artists like Kid Loco, Daft Punk and Air, are there other French pop bands like Tahiti 80?
Yes, bands like Fugu, Maarten or Calc sing in English and share with us the nostalgia for " traditional " songwriting and arrangements. Though, I wouldn't say we are prophets in our own country!
Do you feel out of place in the French pop scene?
It 's a fact that we feel much closer to Swedish bands like the Cardigans or Eggstone, or Belgian bands like dEUS or Soulwax for instance, than to other French acts. If you consider the recent years, it' s true that the electronic artists were the only ones to experience international success. I think we 're just another branch from the "new" French music scene.
What kind of music influenced the making of "Puzzle"? Who are your musical heroes?
Actually, anything from the 60's till today. We are huge fans of bands like the Left Banke, The Zombies, Big Star, XTC, The Pale Fountains, The Stone Roses, My Bloody Valentine, The Boo Radleys, Aphex Twin, The Chemical Brothers, Stereolab...and many more. Our idea was to write "classical" pop songs, yet we didn't want them to sound like they were recorded in 1968 or 1974. We wanted to make a modern-traditional pop album! That' s why we use string quartets and electronic programming on some of our songs.
How long did it take to record "Puzzle"? Was it a difficult process?
We spent 1 month and 10 days at Stratosphere, NYC to record it. I think everything came pretty easily. The general mood was harmonious, that's quite important when you' re into melodic tunes (laughs)!
How did you hook up with American artists like Eric Matthews and Adam Schlesinger?
Adam plays bass in Ivy, the band of Andy Chase, our producer. He was often in the studio so it was easy to ask him to play keyboard on 2 songs. We are great fans of Eric Matthews, and we had one song that needed a trumpet player. Andy immediately thought of Eric so we sent him some rough mixes. He agreed to cross the States to record with us. It remains one of the great moments of the sessions. I wouldn't say he's one of our idols, but having this guy that we respect so much on "Puzzle" means a lot to us.
Do you have any problems with playing a so-called archaic style (i.e. guitar pop) in year 2000?
What for? We' d like to prove that you can still make interesting music with guitars . The difficult thing is to admit that it' s quite impossible to invent anything, and that the only thing one has to do is take some risks ( i.e. not only repeating what the Beatles have already done) and try to do something personal.
Is "Mr Davies" about Ray Davies of the Kinks? If so, what inspired the song?
When you open a Dictionary of pop music, you read Ray Davies close to the word songwriter. He wrote (writes?) great songs with great lyrics, my idea was to talk of him like he told the story of Arthur, Victoria, David Watts...It' s also me comparing myself to him. Of course, he has won the
match ! It' s also a song about all those British rock stars ( though I know Ray doesn't live there) who went to live in California, and who can't write good songs anymore. What has happened in the 70's?
Who listens to your records and comes to your gigs?
People wearing leather jackets and beatle boots...no. I don't know, it's quite varied, they can be pop fans always looking for new bands, girls who have seen our faces on T.V, guys in their late 30's nostalgic of the good old days,or 30 year old girls who watch musical channels and read the N.M.E.
How do Tahiti 80 intend to achieve world domination?
For our next effort we plan to record subliminal lines like " I wanna give all my money to Tahiti 80", or " Tahiti 80 is the best", like on those old Queen's and Led Zep 's album. It was good for them, it will be good for us.
How is Tahiti 80 promoting "Puzzle"?
The album has been released in France last October, we 've almost been on a "never ending tour" since. It still remains confidential in France but I think something is happening here, our video is played on TV (the single is "Heartbeat"), more people come to our shows . We' re doing quite well in the Benelux, proportionally we sell more records than we do in our own country ."Puzzle" is going to be released in Japan through JVC on April 21st, and in the U.S. via Minty Fresh on May 9th .We've got also good contacts in Britain and in other European countries. So hopefully(?), we 're going to promote "Puzzle" in a lot of different countries this year.
(Interview conducted in 2000 or 2001, I cannot remember!)