Posted November 1, 2004
Holy Curse: Pascal, Eric, Gooloo, Vinz and Paul
Emmy Etie photo
FRANCE'S HOLY CURSE:
If rock and roll had to nominate a representative from each country to contest an international battle of the bands, surely Holy Curse would receive the nod for France. A decade and three albums into their existence, this Paris-via-Detroit-and-Sydney combination shows no signs of mellowing their tuneful yet powerful assault on the senses. Unabashed Radio Birdman and New Christs fans, they've supported both of those bands and plenty of others too, but manage to stand out from a crowded field of pretenders inspired by the so-called Detroit Sound. Holy Curse draw upon that genre's energy but have their own distinctive style, injecting an element of Gallic drama that's all their own. All their albums - "Living With a Head", the multi-dimensional "Hereafter" and the dirty guitar attack of "Bluer Than Red" - are well worth procurring if you're a fan of hi-energy rock and roll; it's not too much of a stretch to say that the most recent two could be classed as "essential".
The arrival of "Bluer Than Red" in our online shop was enough of an excuse for having a chat to Holy Curse. Bass player Vinz obliged, with some assistance from singer Paul. THE BARMAN pitched the questions.
Q Hey Vinz, thanks for joining us at the Bar. It's been a busy year for you personally, with not only a Holy Curse album and shows but a Dimi Dero Inc release and another from Simon Chainsaw on which you played. Let's talk first about the second one first. Tell us about Dimi Dero.
Well, Dimi is a friend of the former Holy Curse guitarist, Juanito. Dimi has played in several bands before, he has been (and still is) a rock writer. They both came to see Holy Curse play, a couple of years ago, and after the show I asked them what they were up to. They were trying to form a band together but had no bassist and no drummer, so I proposed to join in, cause I knew a drummer, and that was the beginning of it. Dimi had already released an album, under his name, with the help from friends and former bandmates. But now it’s a real band, hence the Inc. in the name.
Q I detect a lot of Scientists and Birthday Party influences in that band. It's almost like Dimi Dero is from Melbourne, while Holy Curse is from Sydney, or whatever the French equivalents are. Is that a fair comment?
Yes, you’re absolutely right. While Holy Curse is clearly on the Radio Birdman side of Rock’n’roll, there is a more art rock side to Dimi Dero Inc, though the geographical differences don’t apply in our case. Dimi is a huge fan of Kim Salmon, he interviewed him recently for a French fanzine; and he’s working on a tribute compilation to Roland Howard, which is gonna be a damn fine record if all goes well. We already have contributions from Penny Ikinger, the Drones, the Bellmer Dolls (us) Dead Brothers (sw)…
Q Does Dimi Dero Inc play out live much?
Haha, that’s a good question. Not as much as I’d like, but it’s not just this band. I play as many gigs with Dimi Dero Inc as with Holy Curse, these days, but even with the two bands, I‘ve got a lot of weekends at home. Rock’n’roll and France are two paradoxical terms, you know…
Q You don't actually live fulltime in France do you? Tell us how that affects playing with Holy Curse? Do you actually see any live real rock and roll where you live in England?
I must be the only Eurostar commuter wearing Converse/black jeans instead of the executive uniform and tie. Apart from being hassled at the customs four times a week, I’d say the biggest influence on the music is that I’m more radical about how things should be done, or played. I mean if I just travelled 300 miles for a rehearsal, I don’t want to play a half good song in a half-assed way, even if I know that after a hard day’s work, people are not always at the peak of their form. So I will probably be more direct in the approach of everything we do with the band(s). Time is much more precious. I suppose you could say it makes me more intolerant and demanding, but you’d have to ask the others about it. On the bright side, I suppose my English is slowly improving… And to see how the music business works in a different country is always interesting and sometimes inspiring.
But I haven’t seen a lot of shows here in England. Partly because R’n’R is not in full swing in Oxford. It’s more techno, rap and indie stuff. I’d strongly recommand local band Winnebago Deal, though. And partly because I’m always in between trains, so I don’t have a lot of time to go out.
Q Speaking of live music, did you get to see any of the recent MC3 shows?
Typical of my commuter situation : I was in France when they played their Levi’s sponsored London show, and in England when they played Paris. We worked to get the support slot, but not hard enough, it seems.
But I did manage to catch the Stooges in Paris and Radio Birdman in London.
(Enter Holy Cuse vocalist Eric)
ERIC: Well I just had to commute from Paul's Sonic Machine record shop down to the venue and had the chance to see the MC3, and it was great. I mean the 3 original guys were just giving it all while Nick Royale was humble enough to show what a great guitar player and good singer he is. Cherry on top: Lisa singing lead on (amongst others) "Let Me Try" just made me all chilly and sweaty. After the show, I thought, Mom, why didn't you make it earlier with dad so that I could have had a chance to see the 5 live back then ??
Q Back onto Holy Curse, the new album, "Bluer Than Red", is a departure from "Hereafter". I think "Bluer..." is really hard and dirty while the earlier album was really was a more layered, textured recording. Is that a direction Holy Curse were aware of when they started writing and recording? Is the co-production of Lucas Trouble a factor in determining that?
Well, if I’d had to look for flaws in “Hereafter”, I’d have said it was too “clean”, too “written in advance”, the spontaneous feeling that I like was somewhat missing. For “Bluer…”,we tried to recapture that. We knew our sound had developed since Hereafter. The main cause being the replacement of Manga by Gooloo (formerly in the Backsliders). Lucas, being, well ,it’s Lucas aka the Kaiser, you don’t make him work when doesn’t want to, and you can’t make him do anything you want to try.
Also, we had little time, and certainly no time for overproduction. On top of that, Paul was already there for the three tracks on the Kaiser Bordello comp, but it was his first full length with Holy Curse; he was feeling more confident about his guitar playing, too, he wasn’t just filling in for Juanito, and he contributed with great ideas and riffs. Pascal has grown an interest for the “mid tempo full of feedback between the power chords sound”, almost in a Neil Young sort of way. So, yes, I’d say we knew it would be different – for better (that’s my opinion) or for worse…
Vinz and his bass.
Q I think what I'm saying is that "Bluer..." is a dark album, though more aggressive than "Hereafter". Is that partly a product of slogging away in a place where rock and roll is looked down on?
The recording was a bit shambolic. Four tunes were finished in the studio. The schedule was extremely tight. We had only two days to record the rhythm tracks, cause Gooloo had his plane ticket for Brazil in his pocket and couldn’t delay it. Eric couldn’t be there in the studio the first day, so we had only one day with the five of us at the studio, and we were supposed to record most of the tracks live!!! etc. We knew all that before recording, but it was either that or no record at all, because of too many personal obligations.
Besides, I like that idea of hard work in hard conditions. It leaves no space to make up for weaknesses in your music. I’d love to make a “live in the studio” record. Day one: recording, day two: mixing, day three: gone to press. I like the mathematics (!) in it. It’s like “you’ve only got three colors, but you can still paint a good picture”.
At the same time, we’re not THAT hard working, let’s face it.
Q How has reaction to the album been? I've seen a stack of reviews at your website but my French is non-existent so I'm only presuming they were good. We've sold quite a few copies at the Bar and no-one's been disappointed.
It must be 25-30 good to excellent, and even a couple of ecstatic reactions, for three lukewarm reviews. So it’s pretty cool. But mind you, it doesn’t change anything AT ALL, which is the most worrying. We are struggling to get gigs now more than two years ago… But again, it’s the same for other bands, and I don’t want to complain. We could work harder, as I said.
Holy Curse performing at La Fleche d'Or in Paris on March 15, 2004 . Sue Rynski photo
Q Lucas Trouble is an intriguing character. Tell us about him and his studio. Is his label Nova Express very prolific?
This guy is an underground legend in France. He formed the Vietnam Veterans in the '70s, toured Germany and the US with the VV, which was some achievement at the time, living rock’n’roll excesses to the full, though now he eased up on drugs and settled for white wine.
He opened the Kaiser studio and his label Nova Express in Burgundy. I’m afraid you won’t find a lot of infos on the internet: He’s the kind of guy who screams and pulls out an axe when he sees a computer, especially in a studio! He must be the only record company boss who doesn’t have a reliable e-mail address, and Nova Express has no website. He still has a band, the Mediums, but only for recording, they don’t play live. Basically, he earns his living with the studio, and he is alone at Nova Express. Thanks to his reputation, he has secured an honest distribution deal. There’s not much money for ads, promo, etc. but it’s a family-like business.
The biggest acts on Nova Express are the Cowboys From Outerspace, Simon Chainsaw, the Hawaii Samurai and us. So no cash cow, but we feel at home there. He must have a hundred of references on his label; most into the psychedelic genre…
Q I note the explanation in the liner notes of the title "Bluer Than Red". It's a band term for situations that are less than ideal, right? Especially when touring? How much touring does Holy Curse do in Europe and is the gig situation improving or slackening off?
It was more a literal joke at the start: Some cheap wines REALLY turn blue in the bottom of the glass, but its metaphorical side is perfect, too. Couldn’t estimate the amount of donkey piss we’ve drunk while touring with the band, but it must be thousands of gallons.
Touring in Europe, well we haven’t properly, except for a few gigs in Belgium, but we found a new booking agent – thanks to the show we did with Radio Birdman in Nancy, by the way – who’s gonna sort this out. She’s the booking agent of Sonny Vincent in Europe, and works a lot with Germany and Switzerland, so let’s just hope. I think things are harder for everyone, i.e. Radio Birdman or the MC3 play in the 500 seats venues instead of 1500, the Dirtbombs in 300 venues instead of 800, and son on, to the poor-little-unknown-local-bands at the bottom of the ladder that are kicked out of it. But that’s the rule, and we’re game, so we can’t complain.
Q I know that in the liner notes, you guys also tried to distance yourselves from being branded a political band (that album title again!) but some of the lyrical content is pretty political, isn't? I'm thinking about a song like "Superfortress" which puts the boot into imperialism. Do you want to comment?
You’d have to ask Eric, because he wrote lyrics, and he’s sometimes surprising in his explanations… For me, it’s not only about the good guys/bad guys and “is the war justified” thing. It is about imperialism and Iraq of course, seen from the receiving end, but it’s also about the fascination/repulsion provoked by sheer power, the helplessness of man against technology and machines, and the madness of trying to control things. This is where the real politics are, for me: what do you do with power? I’ve seen so many so-called leftists with totalitarian leanings, given the opportunity…
ERIC: Well, "Superfotress" is a song of mixed feelings: fascination for such a magestic and deadly aircraft but also disgust for the death it brings along. The real anti-imperialism song is actually "Rivers of Pain". But don't get me wrong, I like the American people a lot, although as Wayne Kramer says, "American Ruse" was written 35 years ago and it still is valid today. What about that?
Eric and Polo
Q Speaking of "Superfortress", that song has some scalding guitar on it. Did it take long to work up? (The segue into "I Wanna Be Your Dog" was inspired too!)
VINZ: Man, that was the quickest song we ever did. Pure Sonic Polo & Eric inspiration. Polo works a lot with different scales than the usual pentatonic or whatever. He’s interested in harmonic theory, 4 notes chords, and it gave us a new field to play in…So he came up with this riff and that was it within ten minutes. The segue into “Dog” came so naturally I think we did it the first time we played around with the riff. Eric developed the lyrics practically on stage, within two or three shows.
Q So what's your favourite song from the new album to play?
VINZ: Everyone in the band has a different one, I think, just like the critics who reviewed it. They all had different songs for favourite. Mine, being the usual punk, would be Brother Kaiser or Long Gone. But Superfortress has a power when played live we’ve rarely reached.
ERIC: Lone Gone and Superfortress are three miles up front of the rest.
Q What's actually the current line-up of the band. Gooloo is the new drummer. Where's he from and what happened to Manga (and don't say he exploded!)
VINZ: Tempting to use the Spinal Tap joke, but in fact, it’s more incestuous : Manga is now the drummer of… Dimi Dero Inc, while Gooloo, was the first drummer with DD Inc. A proper swap, which suits me fine. Gooloo is more the archetypal Jerry Nolan-like rock drummer – as Stiv Bators said, those who can really make girls’ hips/asses shake – Manga is more tight and at ease with 5/4 time signatures, things like that. There are more original members of Holy Curse in Dimi Dero Inc than in Holy Curse, now, haha.
Before that, Gooloo was the drummer for the Backsliders, Francois Lebas’ band after Fixed Up. So he grew up in Le Havre, and the Radio Birdman/Detroit connexion was familiar to him. In short : Eric sings, Polo and Pascal play guitars, Gooloo is the drummer, I play bass and last but not least, Isa is our sound engineer. She really is the 6th Holy Curse.
Q I know Holy Curse's songs are credited to the band as a whole but is it really that democratic?
There really is no rule. Pascal tends to finish songs before he brings them to the band; the rest of us tend to develop them together, and ask Eric to write lyrics afterwards. On Long gone, I’d had written half of the lyrics but couldn’t finish them, maybe cause they were too much autobiographic, and I tried to show the guitarists the riff. Only, I’m the bass player, so they started on something completely different, and it suited the idea, so we kept it.
For the last one, Eric wrote the words first, had a melodic line in mind and Polo just put the chords to it afterwards… there’s no rule, which brings friction sometimes, but each song is written differently. Crediting songs to the band as a whole relates to the idea that if everyone pays for the recordings, do what they can for the band, so if there’s gonna be money to make someday, it’s only fair that they get their share, regardless of who actually wrote the song. Besides, I do believe that a drumbeat or a bass line can be as important in a song as the chord progression or the lyrics. This is the engine room, point of view, here…
Q You often say Holy Curse is a lazy band but three albums and 10 years isn't a bad track record. What plans do you have for a new album? Is the prospect of a trip to Australia any closer to reality?
We are writing new songs, but a new album, I don’t know. I think we are at the stage where the album has to be paid for by someone else than ourselves, or at least that the gigs have to bring in enough to pay for a new record.
Even “Bluer than Red’ is a co production between the band and Nova Express, and we’re in debt – thankfully, it’s mostly to our girlfriends. We haven’t discussed that, but I don’t think we’ll want to pay for our recordings again. We’ll first work and tour with this one, which is “only” 6 months old, and see what we can get. The trip to Australia is closer, in the way that we know now what we have to do for it. It’s only a matter of how can we pay the bloody tickets, haha.
Q How about licensing the album outside of France? Is that something you've worked on? I suppose what I'm getting at is that you guys need to be more widely heard!
We’d love to... Just one example : still with the Australian tour in mind, I got in touch with Nick at Corduroy Records. “Oh yeah, I’m always interested to hear new stuff” etc. but he couldn’t find the time to reply to my e-mails, yet. I don’t even know if he got the disc or not… and it’s more than six months. I don’t blame the guy, or suspect him of anything, I’m sure he’s working like a dog to run his label/shop. But if he has no time to even listen to it or reply to my e-mails, what can I do ? And even if he replies and likes the disc, there’s 99 percent chance that he won’t have the money to do it.
So if there’s anyone who want to give it a try… I’ve had an idea of a double 10” version of Bluer than Red which I’m sure would work out fine. Red disc/Blue disc, rocking songs on one disc, dark introspective songs on the other. Collector’s item in three months, guaranteed. Those interested, just get in touch…
Q You played bass on Simon Chainsaw's "Down to the Wire" album and Eric sang some back-ups. Holy Curse also backed him on an earlier release (three tracks on the Kaiser Bordello compilation "Pretty Princess of New Garage"). How did you hook up with Simon and how was it working with someone who's very much into getting the recording nailed quickly?
It was thanks to Didier Georgieff. He had this idea of a Simon Chainsaw/Holy Curse split single, that eventually didn’t come out. Then Lucas asked us to be on the Kaiser Bordello comp, but we had to come up with seven songs, and we had only three, so we suggested Simon be added to the comp. he was coming from Brazil, so I put him up for several days in Paris before going to the studio. We got along well, so after recording the comp, he asked me to come to Hannover and play the bass parts on another album he was working on, that Badass Roadshow stuff.
With Simon Chainsaw (bottom left) in the Kaiser's studio. Photo by the Kaiseress.
It was a bit strange, cause the drums, guitar and guide vocals were already recorded. I recorded something like 16 songs I’d never heard before in four days, standing alone in front of the recording desk with headphones on, while the others were drinking or smoking in the kitchen, dropping by from time to time to see if all was OK...
And last year, Lucas offered Simon to cut an album so I played bass again, this time in “live in the studio conditions”. With Johnny Rio, Simon’s guitarist when he’s in Germany, James, the guitarist with local band “Les Ecureuils Qui puent” (the Stinking Squirrels); and Buenax, the drummer of the Hawaii Samurai. I liked it. Simon’d show us the song once or twice, I’d write down the chords and structure, we’d run through the song a couple of times, record it, listen to it, ok bang, next one. It can be a little bit frustrating, cause you have no time to experiment, so it’s basic bass playing from a basic bassist, but it sounds good anyway. Ramones-like.
Q Simon's pretty busy playing in Brazil but is there a chance you'll work together again?
I hope so. I’m trying to set a German tour up for him, and hopefully will be in his backing band. You never know with Simon… He’s got so many projects at the same time.
Q I know you must have been disappointed not securing more supports to Radio Birdman on their European tour but I also understand that's often down to the promoters over there. You also reviewed one of the gigs for the Bar. I was wondering if there was some sort of residual enthusiasm for the band after those shows? I know "Radios Appear" just got re-released in Spain (www.radiobirdman.com webmaster Greg "Birdman" Bowen just scored a copy).
I think so. Young people take interest in that kind of music, even if it’s not exactly “fresh of the day”. I can see at Sonic Machine, (Paul’s Record shop) that Radio Birdman records go regulary, if not by numbers. Ditto for the MC5 or Stooges discs. But transferring this interest to local bands playing the same kind of music is a different story. People want big names, I suppose.
Q Speaking of Monsieur Bowen, I hear Holy Curse is playing a show with his band at his bar in Morlaix. Are you looking forward to that? (How could you not be when the venue's called The Funhouse and is plastered with Birdman symbols!!?)
Yeaaaah! The only trouble being that the Nomads play in Paris the same day, so I’ll miss them once again! But expect some steaming versions of New Race, KOTJ or maybe City Slang that day!
Q Since we're in a bar, what are you drinking?
VINZ: Ooooh, I spoke for too long: what’s the largest glass you have? Budveiser (the real Czech one), that’ll be great. Cheers.
ERIC: A six pack of Strohs, what else?
FOOTNOTE: Shortly after this interview was completed, one of the two guitarists Pascal decided to leave and pursue his own path. Holy Curse continues as a four-piece.
BUY THE "BLUER THAN RED" ALBUM
VISIT THE BAND'S WEBSITE
CHECK OUT AN EARLIER HOLY CURSE INTERVIEW