In the closing months of 2011, a new band from Paris called FareWell Poetry leapt from obscurity to a prominent place on various best-of-2011 lists, thanks to their arresting debut album Hoping for the Invisible to Ignite. (Read a review and stream the music here). Weaving together spoken word, a literary narrative backdrop, film, and compelling, slow-burning instrumental soundscapes, the album combined a high-art conceptual seriousness with an accessible musical appeal. It evidenced a capacity to delight and move and fascinate while appealing to the intellect as well as the gut, allowing the listener to be carried away by the guitar crescendos or ponder the poetic allusions or both at once. Jayne Amara Ross composed and performed the poetry and directed the accompanying film. Frédéric D. Oberland (whose recent collaboration with Richard Knox, The Rustle of the Stars, is also excellent), contributes guitar, fender rhodes, piano, harmonium, soundscapes. Stéphane Pigneul on bass, Eat Gas on guitar, Stanislas Grimbert on drums, and Colin JohnCo providing analog electronics complete the line-up. Jayne and Frédéric kindly agreed to talk to us about how the debut album came about, about the band’s creative process, and about plans for the next release.
FareWell Poetry seem to have skipped the common route of a couple of promising-sounding EPs and a local following and gone straight into contention for 2011 album of the year. Tell us a little about how the project came about and why you think it turned out so good so quickly.
Jayne : FareWell Poetry came into being when Frédéric was commissioned to create a performance for a Parisian experimental music event in 2009. He asked me and Jeff (aka Eat Gas) to join him and the three of us created ‘As True As Troilus’. I had been working on the mythology of Troilus and Cressida for two years and had a lot of material (on film and in writing) but it wasn’t until this collaborative effort that I felt able to chisel a coherent piece out of the amorphous mass. One performance led to another and, in order to create a richer sound, Frédéric and Jeff called on musicians that they liked and admired, inviting Stanislas Grimbert, Colin JohnCo and later Stéphane Pigneul to join us. ‘FareWell Poetry’ is not a just a reference to the literary aspect of the project, it also refers to the music and the films: the musicality of the poetry, the filmic quality of the music, the cadence and deliberate rhythms of the films… we were (and still are) aiming to create a powerful whole, a tightly coiled skein.
Frédéric: ‘Hoping For the Invisible to Ignite’ was created in two very separate recording sessions. Initially we were actually thinking of releasing an EP and we went into the studio and recorded 3 tracks, only one of which survived (All in the full, indomitable light of HOPE). I think that we were a little green going into the studio for that first session, we still had a lot to learn, about what we wanted and what we didn’t. When we went back to record ‘As True As Troilus’ over a year later, everything seemed really simple, as if the tracks had come fully into themselves, as if we had come fully into ourselves as a band.
Jayne: We wanted our first release to be a sort of manifesto: introducing the narrator of all the poems (that are all written in the first person) as someone who wants to communicate with the listener, enter into some sort of communion and the notion of hope as an access to higher things. Basically, its our shared feeling that it is easy to be blasé in this day and age, to feel hardened against life and love because of the violence and the superficiality that surrounds us. Having hope and believing in beauty is harder but we still think that it’s worth it. This perhaps explains the bold (or even blunt) nature of this first record. Reality may be really bleak but we are still hoping for the invisible to ignite.
Frédéric: Receiving nice reviews is really encouraging but we are still a young band. I think that we were all surprised to see people turn up at our gigs despite the unusual format. Often when you say ‘poetry’, ‘drone’ or ‘experimental film’ people take fright! Perhaps something in our unabashed desire to communicate emotionally with the audience allowed us to lure the reticent and the curious into our performances (well…that’s what we like to think!). We have quite a loyal following in Paris and have performed a little in the UK with our label mates but that’s it, so in many ways we remain quite local. Hopefully 2012 will come with some opportunities to travel, meet new audiences.
Pulling people in for something that is ‘poetry’, ‘drone’, AND ‘experimental film’, and creating as much dramatic tension as you do with those elements, certainly seems an achievement! Having the music, the film and the poetry together opens up a very rich space for interpretation. You’ve talked elsewhere about using Troilus and Cressida to provide a mythology in which to explore your own loves and hurts – it seems likely that listeners will follow suit with your poems. Is it important to you that listeners get the authorial intentions behind the poetry? Are you content for listeners to explore their own readings, or are there some things in there you really want us to notice and get right?
Jayne : That’s a ‘yes’ and ‘yes’ question! I like the idea of mythology as a language that allows one to communicate a very personal experience without being hindered by superficial specifics like, for example, the specific details of circumstance or a specific time frame. Once you set things in Troy 3000 years ago and involve characters with names like Diomedes and Cressida, no one is worried about relating to the story on a ‘well-that’s-just-like-my-everyday’ level anymore. Hopefully this allows for the listener/audience to open up on a more emotional level, making the story their own. It is also more comfortable for the poet/narrator to use an allegory to relate all these terribly intimate things. Personally I find that it allows me to be more truthful, or truthful in a deeper way and at the same time retain my own dignity and privacy.
Although I enjoy the thought that each person has a different reading, the poetry (as well as the films, which are visual poems for me) is designed to reflect meaning with a certain clarity. I do not believe in random association (which is very different from free association) and there is nothing experimental about the format of the poems. I don’t think that anything in my poetry is obtuse, or at least it is not intended to be so. I have read a few confused interpretations but mainly from people who are more familiar with writing about music and perhaps feel a little uneasy about talking about the rest. The few in depth reviews of my work by film critics have been spot on, or in keeping with what I feel I have put into the poetry/films. Though even as I say that I am aware that this is a gross generalization and that it is too early to see a pattern emerge.
But yes, there is a very definite narrative behind the poetry/films and if the listener/critic has read things thoroughly and some things still remain opaque, then that’s my fault for not being dextrous enough.
Would you be willing to choose a line or image that was particularly resonant for you and unpack it a little for us?
From ‘As True As Troilus’ : ‘In the small font of a footnote, I beg for the tight screw, the green light, the hungry flutter of white hands at the blackening keys, to hammer out my own truth, weave a sharp confession, my knuckles chiming over the launch pad like church bells.’
This part of ‘As True As Troilus’ is me talking about the process of writing and the feeling that I could be writing more, and better. I try to write every day and be very disciplined about it. I feel like a runner who has difficulty beginning but then revels in the moment when the body takes over the basic movements and the mind takes flight. I believe that writing is an art of endurance and the best things (the deeper analogies, the wildest similes) often come after two/three/four hours of writing complete drivel. Somehow these comments on how well I think I’m writing and how much I want to take flight always creep into the poetry.
More specifically: The ‘green light’ is a sort of internal laissez-passer, the ‘tight screw’ is discipline, ‘the hungry flutter of white hands at the blackening keys’ is the way I feel when the writing is going well, as if my whole body is participating the choreography (and the hours of fluttering over the white keys of my little macbook make them a dirty but glorious black!). ‘In the small font of a footnote’ is an attempt, like the ‘in jest’ at the end of the poem to be self-deprecating. The narrator is aware that she is being very raw and very melodramatic all through this and clumsily drops these ‘I don’t really care that much/Its not so bad’ comments that are quite obviously fake.
Then ‘weave a sharp confession’ takes us back to the hands weaving in the film and the tale of Philomela (an excerpt of Ovid’s telling of this tale opens the film). Philomela was raped by her brother in law Tereus. After raping her Tereus cut her tongue out in order to prevent her from telling her sister. Unable to communicate orally, Philomela decides to tell her story on a tapestry that she weaves by hand, depicting the violent act committed against her. The hands that you see in the film are the narrator’s, weaving a series of tableaus of a mythology that is not her own but still serves to communicate the essence of her plight. I also feel very close to Philomela who, when words fail her, turns to another means of expression in order to impart her tragedy. This, to me, seems to justify all creative impulses. The longing to communicate is the impetus and then the choice of an appropriate and possible medium comes next.
‘My knuckles chiming over the launch pad like church bells’ is a celebration of the feeling you get when the words are flowing easily, that sort of ecstatic joy, a feeling that all your disparate parts are finally pulling together to create a perfect whole.
Continue reading this interview here.
David Smith currently lives in the Midwestern United States, where he teaches, writes, and enjoys a very wide range of music, with regard to which he claims no expertise whatsoever beyond that of a dedicated and appreciative listener.
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