Interview: Hifiklub & Roddy Bottum
Caught in the spontaneous flow of the recorded tracks, he wrote new arrangements and texts that led the compositions into an other-worldly dimension.
Hifiklub are a French instrumental group known for their experimental and forward thinking approach to their music. Roddy Bottum is best known as the keyboardist of Faith No More as well as his involvement in other bands, most notably, the recently revived Imperial Teen. Together, they have teamed up for the album Things That We Lost In The Fire and it’s an intriguing and fascinating collection of songs. Gavin Brown caught up with Roddy Bottum and Regis Laurier & Jean-Loup Faurat from Hifiklub to hear all about how this collaboration came about and what what went into the album’s creation as well as talking to both of them about their respective musical careers and what they have planned for the future.
E&D: Your collaborative album Things That Were Lost In The Fire was released recently. How did the creation and recording of the album go?
RL: After a handful of rehearsals, Hifiklub recorded the music in Toulon, without Roddy, at the very end of 2016. Pure DIY mode, in the basement of an old, dingy nightclub. The idea was to create the rhythmic and melodic foundations of nine original songs, plus a unique cover of ‘Eye of the Tiger’ (Survivor). In a single day session, we recorded all the instrumentals. Much later, in May 2018, Roddy went to see us on the French Riviera, in Saint-Aygulf to be precise. We rented an amazing studio called Coxinhell for 3 or 4 days, not more. Caught in the spontaneous flow of the recorded tracks, he wrote new arrangements and texts that led the compositions into an other-worldly dimension.
RB: It was a crazy idea, to go to France and record. I said, ‘yes’ in a particularly adventurous mood and thought a French adventure would be a lot of fun. I didn’t know the guys very well, we’d only met once and though we’d worked on a smaller project before, a full record of spoken word seemed like an insane project to jump into. I love insanity.
E&D: How did this collaboration come together in the first place?
RL: We met by chance in New York City, at a gallery! Hifiklub was working on its album and film In Doubt, Shadow Him! alongside Lee Ranaldo (Sonic Youth). A few months later, the band got together with Bottum to compose a single for a project as a tribute to American poetess Emily Dickinson. This first musical collaboration inspired us to embark on a more extended project together.
RB: I was flattered to be asked by Hifiklub. I always liked the idea of being a voice actor. I thought I could be good at it. Spoken word was kind of a stretch and a challenge. The band was really sweet and accommodating and made it very easy.
E&D: What were your intentions at the start with where you wanted to go with the music and do you think that you accomplished that with Things That Were Lost In The Fire?
RL: When we recorded the instrumentals, we were some kind of influenced by our underground workspace, the old nightclub I mentioned: a tight trance-like pop, « african » grooves … a music quite different from Hifiklub’s previous experimental tracks with Lee Ranaldo, Alain Johannes, Scanner or Fatso Jetson. Then the all vibe changed, when Roddy and producer Anthony Belguise entered the game. Roddy’s voice and spoken words — unpredictable, deep, and melancholic — added a sensual vibe to this project that is further accentuated by Belguise’s modern artistic direction. The clear sunny blue sky became much much darker. So the original intentions changed, for the best I think.
RB: I’d gone through a particularly difficult time prior to recording. I lost a couple good friends and had a fire in my apartment building in which I pretty much lost everything. It seemed like a good project to exorcize the demons in my life and to process all of the damage that I’d experienced.
E&D: Were you aware of each other’s music before you started working together?
RL: Yes, of course, Faith No More, Imperial Teen… Roddy didn’t know Hifiklub’s music before meeting us in New York.
RB: Just a little bit. I did research when we started talking and liked what the band did a whole lot.
E&D: You cover ‘Eye Of The Tiger’ by Survivor on the album. What made you choose that particular song to cover?
RL: Sometimes you grab your instrument and start moving your fingers, randomly. You got the 3 first notes of your favorite Sabbath’s song, you hit the melody of a commercial… that’s what happened with ‘Eye Of The Tiger’! I played something on my bass that reminded me the chorus of the song, then I tried to play the original line for real, just for fun at the beginning of a rehearsal. It’s such a great riff and a powerful song. A few minutes after, we learned the all song and played it. Simple as that, without talking about it before. It could have been ‘Enter Sandman’ or ‘Baby One More Time’, you know…
E&D: What are the biggest influences, musical or otherwise, on this record?
RL: We listen to so many different musics and we always try to make very different albums. For this record, I could mention The Legendary Marvin Pontiac (John Lurie).
JLF: Battles, Parquet Courts, Morphine, a kind of Tuareg math rock for the groove, mixed with the implacable New York stiffness.
RB: I’m always inspired by gay icons. I got a lot of inspiration lyrically from David Wojnarowicz, Shawn deLear, a drag queen friend from Los Angeles, Shannon Michael Cane, a friend who recently passed, Leonard Cohen, Bambi Lake and literally, things that I lost in the fire.
E&D: What has the reaction to Things That We Lost In The Fire been like so far?
JLF: Pretty good actually, as it is a break from our last mostly-instrumental recordings, this one is a foray into short track, playing more with pop music codes, with a dark twist from Roddy’s voice and synths. Fans of either Faith No More and Imperial Teen might be attracted by the name, but what they find here seems to be something quite unique in our respective discographies, and we are proud of Roddy assuming vocals for a whole album.
E&D: Have you spoken of doing any live performances of the album when things get back to some sort of normality regarding gigs?
RL: Yes, we’d love to! But let’s go back to normality first.
RB: Hell yes.
E&D: Have you got plans to hopefully work together in the future?
RL: We’re both super busy with our other projects. Roddy now got MAN ON MAN, Crickets, Nastie Band… Hifiklub releases 2 or 3 albums every year… But this album had been such a beautiful experience and we love playing together, so we never know. I hope so!
RB: Yes, another different record would be so fun.
We also had the opportunity to talk to Hifiklub about their past work and collaborations.
E&D: You released the Rupture album earlier this year, what has the feedback been like for the record?
JLF: The reactions following the release of Rupture were quite surprising, as we started this project during lockdown, our line-up had just undergone sudden changes, everybody was locked at home with minimal recording setups, it totally was a new approach for us. With this global slow down, we reached an audience that had time to listen to this piece which is thought as one long track. It might not be as immediate as the songs we made with Roddy, it’s a more introspective work, and people seem to discover new layers with every listening. It really is a snapshot of those weird times.
E&D: How did the creation of that album go?
RL: In a way, spring 2020 has offered us the luxury of time. Eight unforeseen weeks of creation during which Hifiklub was able, on the one hand, to provide the single ‘Staying At Home’ with Jad Fair (Half Japanese) for Joyful Noise Recordings compilation ‘Safe In Sound – Home Recordings From Quarantine’, but also, on the other hand, remotely record Rupture album with producer Anthony “Daffodil” Belguise, drummer Matt Cameron (Pearl Jam, Soundgarden) and trumpet player Reuben Lewis (I Hold the Lion’s Paw). That, while reformatting the internal balance of the group, returning to an “open trio” formula – and no longer a quartet – around permanent members Pascal Abbattucci Julien, Jean-Loup Faurat and myself. Originally, we were supposed to do a residence with Reuben Lewis, who was supposed to come to Toulon for a few days. Because of the lockdown, Reuben Lewis couldn’t travel. But we really wanted to collaborate together. So, Hifiklub wrote a brand new track and sent it to Lewis, just for fun and to experiment at first. Once the trumpet recorded, Daffodil re assembled, transformed our takes to create in the end a single track of 25 minutes, thought of as a whole, sub divided in 6 movements. At the same time, i was talking with Matt Cameron on Instagram and we quickly chatted about doing something together. Rupture project was already activated, so it was the best «excuse» to realise the collaboration we were talking about.
E&D: How was the experience of working with Matt Cameron, Reuben Lewis and Daffodil on the album and what did they bring to the album and its sound?
RL: Rupture is a real sound puzzle assembled by Daffodil. I think it reveals the darkness and modernity characteristic of his latest productions. His meticulous mixing work allows this 25-minute musical piece to evolve in the sandstone of unexpected rhythmic and harmonic breaks during which the trumpet and electronic sounds constantly revive the machine.
E&D: Did you envisage working with these artists on the album from the beginning?
RL: With Reuben Lewis, yes, because of the residence that was supposed to happen in Toulon. Daffodil produced and mixed many of our latest projects (with Roddy Bottum, with The Legendary Tigerman…) or – still – unreleased albums (a massive project with Mike Watt and 25 other guests, to be realised in 2021…). It is very natural for us to work with Daffodil, so his presence was very obvious for us. We can say that he is almost a permanent member of the band now. A close friend. Matt Cameron joined us while Rupture was already started.
E&D: Did you work on Rupture at the same time as Things That Were Lost In The Fire?
JLF: Things That Were Lost In The Fire was already recorded, mixed and mastered at the time we worked on Rupture, it was supposed to be released in June but as the global situation went down in flames, we postponed to October to give it a better visibility. Rupture is a pure product of the lockdown, as every other project was in the unknown, we used the time we had on our hands to try this new (for us) way of composing and recording.
E&D: Have you been working on any other new music at the moment?
JLF: When are we not?! We’re composing for a future project in Chicago, without additional guests for once, recorded by Steve Albini.
E&D: How was the experience of working with Lee Ranaldo on his In Doubt, Shadow Him documentary?
RL: We knew Lee from previous projects, so it was very easy to work and collaborate with him. Thanks to Lee we also recorded the movie’s soundtrack with other great musicians such as Nels Cline, Alan Licht, Sarah Register, Ikue Mori, Don Fleming or Bob Bert. An amazing experience realized at Echo Canyon West, Sonic Youth’s studio in Hoboken.
E&D: How did that opportunity come along for Hifiklub?
RL: Hifiklub and french artist Arnaud Maguet worked together a few years ago on a series of 3 documentary films. The first one was about / with lo-fi pioneer R. Stevie Moore (I Am A Genius, And There Is Nothing I Can Do About It, shot in Nashville). The second one was about / with our dear friend and guitar maestro Alain Johannes (Plans Make Gods Laugh, in Mojave Desert – California). The last volume of this series is the project with did with Lee, who had already produced a part of our second album and recorded a live EP with us.
E&D: What other artists would you love to work with in the future?
RL: So many! Too many! Finlay Shakespeare, Richard Dawson, Micaela Tobin (White Boy Scream), Warren Ellis, Colin Stetson, Iggor Cavalera, Anna von Hausswolf, Alessandro Cortini, Daniel Higgs… Kim Deal!
JLF: The list could be quite long, but at the top of my head i’d say Bill Orcutt, Jandek, Kelly Moran, Chris Corsano, Shahzad Ismaily, Caspar Brotzmann, Heather Leigh, John Herndon, Moor Mother…and David Yow.
E&D: What have been some of the most memorable moments in the bands career so far?
RL: We had the pleasure to work on more than 150 collaborations so far. So you’re question isn’t that easy. The two albums we did in Corsica, with singer Jérôme Casalonga, guitarist Jean-Marc Montera, saxophonist André Jaume, producers Kramer (first album) and Alain Johannes (second one) have a special place in our discography… but I have to say I got a special relation with this island. Not released yet, but I am very proud of the album we made with singer Duke Garwood, composer Jean-Michel Bossini and sting trio AnPaPié… a project produced and mixed by Alain Johannes. The next collaboration is always the thing that excites me the most. I always look at the future and rarely at the past.
We also talked further with Roddy Bottum about his new project MAN ON MAN and the censorship they have faced as well as Faith No More, Imperial Teen and career highs.
E&D: You formed the band MAN ON MAN during this quarantine period. How did the band start and what are your plans for the future with the band?
RB: Joey and I drove across the country when the pandemic started. My mom was really sick and it felt like a good idea to get out of NYC and help her. We had to quarantine in a small house in Oxnard, California before we stayed with her. We were afraid we might have acquired the virus on the road trip. We bought a microphone and had a piano and a guitar in the house we were staying in. We started writing songs to keep busy and proactive and creatively inspired in our quarantine. It turned into a full record after we got really positive feedback for the video we made. We’re going to put the record out on Polyvinyl Records in February.
E&D: How has the music of MAN ON MAN been received so far?
RB: Really well. We had recorded just four or five songs before we made a video for ‘DADDY’. The feedback we got from the queer community was really empowering and kind of inspired us to keep writing and recording. We’ve released two songs so far and it’s been really rewarding.
E&D: The video for the song ‘DADDY’ got removed and then reinstated from YouTube. What are your feelings on that debacle?
RB: It was frustrating and a shitty revelation that YouTube is run basically by white straight men who are interested in pleasing the straight masses. It gave us a reason to push harder in ways that made sense to us as a political band.
E&D: Do you still think that censorship is a big issue in the music industry?
RB: Absolutely. For specific queer artists and most definitely for people of color and non-binaries, women, and people outside of the box.
E&D: Have you been working on any other music at the moment?
RB: I just finished a 30 day ‘song a day’ project on my Bandcamp account. It has kept me busy and engaged. I just wrote the music for my best friend, Christeene’s performance. She’s a rad performance artist and is doing a covid inspired performance from inside a glass box next week in Brooklyn.
E&D: How was it getting back with Imperial Teen for the Now We Are Timeless album and have you got plans to do anything again in the future?
RB: It’s like a vacation with the family, recording with Imperial Teen. They are my family and recording together feels like a holiday. We laugh and write and create in a really natural way. For sure we will record again.
E&D: Are you looking forward to hitting the road with Faith No More next year on your rescheduled tour?
RB: Kind of. I don’t know what the future brings. I miss shows and I miss playing. I miss Faith No More too. We haven’t played together for a while now. Getting back together and playing live will be a somewhat religious experience.
E&D: Do you miss touring at all, especially with the way things are at a the moment?
RB: I really do. Playing music is one of the few things that I do well. More than anything I miss the connection with people. It’s why I live in New York. I love to be with the people, on top of the people, all crowded and relating. I hate not having that in my life. I’m extremely depressed.
E&D: Are there any plans for a new Faith No More album at all?
RB: None at all.
E&D: Who did you enjoy touring with the most in Faith No More and how was the experience of the massive Guns N’ Roses / Metallica tour for you?
RB: I liked Babes in Toyland and I liked Kyuss. Watching Metallica was really fun and inspiring. Guns N’ Roses were kind of like a fucked up circus. I didn’t really relate but it was entertaining. We got to play with the Pop Group a while ago, that was really fun. We also had the opportunity to share the stage with Sparks. That was a highlight.
E&D: What have been the highlights of your vast career so far?
RB: I got to play Rock in Rio one year. It was in the biggest stadium in the world and we were relatively unknown. We became famous there overnight because our performance was on live TV. On that trip I met Rob Halford, DeeLite and Prince. Prince smelled amazing.