Rock Impressions

by Michele Maestrini

How Tadj Mahall Gates was born and what is it about?
Lionel : It's quite a long story actually. And there is no reason why we should intellectualize too much. As far as I can remember, the name 'Tadj mahall' (we have used the Eastern spelling for the famous Indian temple) came out just like that. We had been going through that brainstorming for ages, looking for a name for the group. We were about to play in concert in a pub – and as a group – for the first time. Tristan had just joined us, and I had been playing with my friend guitarist Fred Lesaint – in some local pubs mostly – for at least two years at that time. Vinc and Freddy Woff are childhood friends and we were all getting together to do something as a group. But time was rushing and we still didn't have a name. I remember talking to somebody on the phone – Freddy I think – while discussing the issue with the others. Early in the morning, Fred finally uttered the words 'tadj Mahall'... we knew at once that would do, it just sounded great. Still, we knew little about the story and the legends surrounding that beautiful monument. In fact, Fred had heard that name in a French singer's song – Michel Jonasz. We of course looked up for some information about that religious monument. Freddy also found out that the name had been used by a famous American Blues guitarist we had never heard about at that time. That is mostly why we decided to use the eastern spelling for 'Tadj Mahall'. Then we quickly understood our music might be mistaken for or assimilated with somebody else's stuff : so we finally added the word 'Gates'. Then the idea of that woman in front of the huge arch came up : we simply thought of the original story about that Moghol prince who had the temple erected as a tribute to his beloved late woman. The whole imagery around that story is simply endless and very rich. Then Pascal joined us and I sang the words on a riff he had just been working on... It's funny though because this song is really a band's song, it's collective work and it is very much what we had in mind at that time, all pretty much in the same trip. Those few words definitely inspired us. Nevertheless, this album is not only about the images around the temple. To me, this album most probably evokes the difficulties we experience to become grown-ups : the need for friends, love, points of reference, the many doubts we have during that particular period of our lives.
Fred : More recently, We decided 'Tadj Mahall Gates' was to remain the name of the album, as it is also the opening song. Aside Beside is much more recent for us, we changed name because it seemed a bit difficult to pronounce and it was a bit too long. According to many, Taj Mahal evoked both a blues man and eastern traditional music, so we eventually accepted to go through another long brainstorming to find a new name.

I liked your cd very much, I think it has a very '70 feeling but it is always fresh and original. How did you choose to use a vintage sound and vintage instruments?
Fred : Since my early my childhood, I’ve always been admirative of the sound of the 70’s – Thanks to my dad’s music, I fell in love at the age of 4 with the Hammond Organ sound without knowing what type of keyboard it was…I naturally came to the prog stuff when I grew up, I knew what I wanted to hear…and I founded it ! Few years ago, I got interested in what some people call ‘new prog’, but I must say that kind of music didn’t really attract me, most of the time because of the sound. I said it a lot in other interviews, my viewpoint is: I don’t like the current typical production sound, and more particulary the drums takes which are too aggressive, and some snare drums are far too much reverberated , as well as toms & kicks. Some people may think I’m a bit old fashionned – but the main problem is the sound standardization tendency, which I criticise and reject…
We enjoyed experimenting with vintage stuff and sounds, we often got to use some samples of old keyboards as well as my organ and Leslie. But now, Vincent and I don’t want to get stuck with these types of keyboards, cause we’re keen on acoustic stuff too. In another way, I want to experiment more and more with sounds... and some may simply come from our daily environment. I’m interested in dealing with a large sample of sounds, from natural to synthesized and modified sounds. I want to insert electro-acoustic music pieces in our future productions. It’s my desire, but I don’t know precisely whether we’ll do it right now with Aside Beside or not – but most probably in another project. Or later with the band. Time will tell!

What can you tell me about the musical scene in France and about progressive rock in particular?
Lionel : Unfortunately not much as far as I'm concerned.
Fred : To be honest, I’d rather listen to other types of music : I’m not really interested in the current French prog music. And I must admit I listen to very few things at the moment. The most recent “musical flash” was Alain Bashung’s last album. Just one word : great. A lot of sound research, good orchestrations, interesting harmonies, and special lyrics. Thinking about “prog-rock”, I’d rather listen to the old stuff, that’s the sound I like and… there are so many interesting albums in the period of the mid 60’s to the seventies that I think I will still be discovering great oldies at the age of 70 ! More seriously, if by fortune I happen to hear about a new progressive band in concert in Rennes, I’m curious to go and listen to it. And when there is a good progressive concert (it’s pretty rare but from time to time, we have some good surprises, as recently with Caravan– great!), I’m definitely up to it.

Tadj Mahall Gates is your first cd... are you happy about the recording and the promotion?
Lionel : Concerning the promotion, Musea is doing all right, especially with the sales abroad. We simply have to keep in mind this is a debut album and our sales will remain modest.
Fred : Concerning the recording, I have a distinct preference for the second session recordings. We had a far better sound, since we could afford some new recording stuff : it better reflects my demand and expectencies as regards to sound, and better represents our current musical orientation. If I had to pick up the song I am the most satisfied with, it would be Autumn.

What kind of music do you listen to? What are your favourite bands actually and what are your inspirations from the past?
Fred : We actually tend to listen to many different things. You know, I like many good things between 1965 to 1978 in prog&rock music, but contemporary/classical music and jazz too. At the moment, I listen everyday to some Czech composers like Dvorák, Smetana, and particularly Janácek, a music I’m definitely interested in. But last week I listened to Gentle Giant…We all come from different musical backgrounds you see.
Lionel : We can't deny being very fond of 70s sounds and spirit. Tristan is more into groovy and jazz music, Pascal used to listen to hard rock, Vinc and Freddy are very fond of classical music. Today, I think we’ve grown more and more open to many different things, apart from the usual commercial stuff of course. All right, good artists may sell lots of cds but it’s getting so rare. Like Today, we can mention French exceptions like Alain Bashung, Noir Desir or Thomas Fersen. But these people go on experimenting with sounds and lyrics, and they’re doing very well indeed. We’ve had plenty of great artists in France, I’m thinking of Serge Gainsbourg and his wonderful orchestral arrangements at once, or the classics such as Brel and Ferré. Vinc, Freddy and me tend to exchange a lot about the things we discover. The diversity of our tastes may not clearly appear on our first album though, and we’re quite aware of it. Did we deliberately seek to sound 70s? It might be. It was probably something we had to do and experience. But concerning our 70s influences, I sometimes feel like giving up making up lists of musicians I appreciate. References may help to sell cds but I wish we were not always compared with the same people, even if it's often flattering and somehow unavoidable. I'm quite aware of the obvious influences we share with the guys but the point is… I do hope you don't need to know all these groups to appreciate our music. We of course admit there are deliberate veiled references on this album. The most significant allusion remains Vinc’s singing on ‘And I Hate Her’ when he really sounds like Robert Wyatt. It just came out like that, Vinc started improvising in a Wyatt-like tune... we finally decided to keep it as it was. You can also see in this a modest tribute to a musician we appreciate.

Listening to your cd i noticed a lot of influences and a lot of different feelings from fusion to simphonyc prog . Sometimes it reminded me the famous French band Arachnoid, specially in the darkest passages, what do you think about it?
Lionel : I'm afraid we don't know it.

Your album is very well balanced between technic and emotions; I think that today progressive rock bands are interested more on the technical aspect of music and don't concentrate enough on the emotional aspect.... how can i say... too much notes and not much feelings and originality. What is your opinion?
Lionel : Well, that's a compliment, thank you. I couldn't give you my opinion about today prog music as I don't know any recent group. I hope we're just trying to be demanding and critical with our work. But it's also more a natural thing than something consciously made up. Many songs on this album began with a few chords and a tune, rhymes would sometimes appear by themselves, then the structure with the others... Music comes first, supporting sounds. We've recorded lots of songs since we started to record our music when we were kids. With the distance, the one condition to record a compo has always been..., well, you used the word 'emotion' didn't you?

How long did you take to realize Tadj Mahall Gates?
Fred : As you may have noticed in the credits, there were two recording sessions. These sessions obviously correspond to two periods in our band’s life. The first session mainly presents what we used to play live at that time, four years ago now. The second session contains new songs that were written during a long recording break. We had other musical intentions on them – we wanted to make something a lot lighter, and with more acoustic instruments. It was a new orientation we needed, and for me it became more and more natural as I was in my last year of studying harmony and composition. So, as we wanted to have arrangements, I had to write them first once the basic structure of each song was recorded. After that, we had to find and brief musicians, try to make everyone available at the same time and so on… Finally, you know, it took us a long time to achieve this “side” of the recording…That’s a thing we had never done before – and I assure you we’ll continue to develop it.

Did you play on tour after the realization of the cd?
Lionel : Actually not. Before the album was released, we did a few concerts, the five of us, mainly in our hometown in French Brittany, Rennes. It was fun and we thoroughly enjoyed that. The group did not play all the songs from the album but at least half of them, plus a few others we did not record at last. The arrangements were lighter as you can imagine, also because most of the songs we played were not those on which you can hear guest musicians on the album. Unfortunately and for various reasons, we can’t and won’t play live in concert this year. But it’s also a decision we made because we are very much attracted by recording experiments and studio devices. I also think an album is not enough to go on a tour. For now, we'd like to get enough time to get involved in a second album. Tadj Mahall Gates was our first professional try, it was very important not to rush. We need more songs, and we want people to know we still have many musical landscapes to explore together.

How much time do you spend for your band? Have you got other jobs or do you live just playing music? What is music for you and how is important in your life?
Lionel : Music is our one passion and we wish we could spend some more time playing and writing songs. But when you are musically demanding and when you’re not into commercial stuff, you obviously have to find another way to cope with everyday life... Which means, if you are an honest guy like me : study and work. On the other hand, I’ve never been capable of betting my life on music. It would just be too much and I’m sure it would mean making compromises we’ve never wanted to make as regards to creation. Only Tristan and Freddy dedicate their professional time to music, working for others. Freddy is a sound engineer, arranger and composer, Tristan is a bass guitarist in various groups. Vincent is in charge of a cinema, Pascal is a Spanish teacher, and I am an English teacher.

What are your projects for the future and what direction will have the new Aside Beside cd?
Fred : We feel like going on experimenting through new sound colours and different cultures… We hope the next album will amaze you as well. For instance, we've been considering using different languages, using modified instruments… or even trying to integrate elements of electro-acoustic music, as I told you before. Of course, all these possible orientations will have to be cleverly integrated on a balanced basis. To be continued. We’ve been considering different experimental options in fact. We will attempt to make a music that must be more concise, a lot lighter, trying to get more into orchestral subtility, into harmonic research and sound experiment… or at least this is what I want. We’ve made decisions with Lionel about the leading ideas to keep in mind for an album to come, knowing the others pretty much agree on the whole. Anyway, any excessive desire on anybody’s part might be moderated by the others’concern for balance. We now have got good technical devices that may allow us to get a better sound in terms of definition, something which will not prevent us from mixing and finalising the next album with the aesthetic concern not to have a “perfect” sound, in the commercial meaning of the term.
Lionel : Thank you again for showing so much interest in our work!


Review (in italian): Tadj Mahall Gates

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