Matthieu Malon/Laudanum's Interview
Vindication of constraint
– How would you describe your music under the name of "Laudanum"? And your music under the name of "Matthieu Malon"?
– "Matthieu Malon" I’m used to saying it’s French rock, to sum up. "Laudanum" at a point I said abstract pop, at another I said nagging electro (laughs).
– Why 'abstract'?
– Laudanum’s basis is Californian music, with DJ Shadow... that is abstract hip-hop, from movie-sampled material... I keep 'abstract', and I say abstract pop.
– Are these 2 projects necessary to you?
– In the last 20 years, there were periods when I did both, like now, and periods when I dropped one or the other. In 2006 I had completely stopped the French project, I thought Laudanum was what I really wanted to do. And the opposite 3 years later.
Generally speaking, music is necessary to me. I’d be dead already if I hadn’t that in life. Without it to be pejorative, it isn’t the same thing as go and do scale modeling or kung fu on weekends. It’s vital. I’m happy to do it, but I feel obliged to.
– It’s your mission.
– Yes, maybe.
– Will the 2 projects end up meeting?
– They do meet, oddly. In 2009 I completely moved away from the reason why Laudanum was conceived, I was making rock music. Actually I was just preparing what I was going to do in French afterwards.
– And conversely, the 5th album in French meets...
– Exactly. In 2019 I did this electro record, Le Pas de Côté because I had explored all the possibilities of rock with guitars and I wanted to go back to machines. The idea of setting off with Laudanum was already taking seed.
Thus junction points. But joining them in one and the same project no, I like to wear the 2 hats.
– Do you have other extra projects?
– I had 2 more. In 2018 and 2019 I made 2 records with a friend called Cédric under the name of Breaking the Wave.
The other project was Ex Ex with my drummer friend Simon, who did sleeves for Laudanum. We did 5 singles.
And then Have the Moskovik, a post-rock band from Orléans, in which I play bass and co-write music. We’ve just recorded a new album for early 2024.
–10 years ago you confessed you put an end to Laudanum project. What made you change your mind?
– In 2011 I said stop, enough. I think I had moved to far from this abstract music, binged on movie samples, rather minimalist, with guests. In Decades, the 3rd one, I did the exact opposite. I don’t deny this album at all. But since I am plain-speaking, black or white, yin yang, I said “no more Laudanum, never”. Never say never. The yearning came back.
– At Laudanum, generally the guest singers bring the lyrics. Do you talk together, or do you give them carte blanche?
– I tell them from the start: “You can do whatever you want, but if you want to talk of it we can”. For "Beauty of a shadow" – the 1st peace of 4:3 – Marie Delta, who is Parisian, told me: “I’m alright but you write it”. But a large majority said: “I write my lyrics, I’ll manage”.
– And then you validate them as they are?
– That’s the nature of the game. Some did a passionate thing, other rather wrote à l'anglaise, very simply, with imagery, to stick to music. But it’s already such a beautiful present when they tell me “yes I feel like working with you remotely” – because it was 75% remotely.
Obviously, if they had written something with homophobic remarks or so... but I was given nothing that could make me say no. I like to work with what I was given, that’s the constraint. With no constraint I can’t work.
– What does "drekjnd#1" mean? [1st piece of Decades album (editor’s note)]
– Nothing. I was a game. Often when the pieces aren’t done they have working titles. This one was a bit like Gaston Lagaffe’s swear word, you know, "rogntudjuuu". And then the piece made me think of Aphex Twin a little, his album Drukqs, an unpronounceable name. Indeed, it’s between Aphex Twin and Gaston Lagaffe.
– Have you ever had the idea to adopt a peculiar style, like Robert Smith for example?
– I don’t have enough hair. He’s still got plenty for his age. No, but I like to blend in with the crowd, not being noticed. I’m no shadowy figure, but a little. And it goes with Laudanum project.
– Great Manitou behind the machines?
– That’s it. Yet I don’t wear a mask like Daft Punk, but no, I’ve never thought of that, never.
– The open piece of As Black as my Heart is called "ReZisTanZ". How can your music be considered as resistant? What is resistance for you?
– The words come from Lucie Aubrac: “The word resist can only be conjugated in the present tense.” So obviously it had to be called "ReZisTanZ". It’s almost the only political moment in the record.
The idea was also to say: Laudanum comes back after 14 years, obstinacy is good. I’m someone who don’t throw the towel. At 50 years old I could spend my time in the sofa watching series and doing nothing. This is not my idea. As long as I’ll be able to make music I think I’ll do, even though I’ve known for a long time I won’t make a living from it. But also I wouldn’t live if I didn’t make music.
– As it happens, what are the differences between a nonprofessional artist, a casual worker and a star? To what extent does their situation influence their art?
– Difficult question. A long time ago, I said to myself I may try to make a living from it. But I needed a little comfort, I didn’t want to struggle too much nor to compromise too much. I want to make music I love.
The casual worker has to find contracts. I have available human brain time for music, in my quiet times.
– The star too can take the liberty of not compromising...
– The star has all possibilities. The star has got too much comfort. Which can harm creation. That’s why I like constraints. You’ve got to place yourself in a rather coarse situation to really create interesting things. If you are highly at ease, it doesn’t work. For example during Covid, I had nothingness, I threw away dozens of pieces that ended in nothing. The star has all the desired time, money on bank account, people looking after his/her business and interests, to organise his/her life. So it goes fast. Time runs counter to the star to create.
– Danger’s needed.
– That’s it. That’s why constraints interest me.
– But you choose your own constraints.
– Of course.
– In the very good film devoted to you, Le Coureur de Fond, it is said you were fixed on becoming a rock star and “it didn’t really happen as expected, so what?”
– As a child, I sang in front of people, at a family meal, with a mike-shaped pen. Or in front of the mirror with a tennis racket as a guitar. Then I played the piano at 6. I think I verbalised it this way: “I shall be a star.”
– And little by little you realised the long way to come...
– Yes, and it doesn’t necessarily have to do with "talent". It takes luck. And a part of network too, a way to communicate. I’m not good at that.
So quickly I realised I wouldn’t become a star. The "so what?" is to say it doesn’t matter. Why the hell should we care? "So what?", it didn’t prevent me from continuing making music. Resistance, obstinacy...
– In mainstream collective unconscious, any talented being will necessarily become a star – and it’s false.
– People think, because you make music and records, you want to be famous, make a living from it, appear on TV, be in the newspapers... It doesn’t condition my life. Let fate do, it may happen, but let’s not run after it.
– I propose you to have a look at the list of the albums reviewed in japprecie. Which ones do you know? Which ones do you like?
– Zaho de Sagazan I don’t like. Philip Selway is the guy from Radiohead? I haven’t listened to this album, I had listened to the his previous one, I liked it. Gliz you made me listen, it isn’t bad. Gaspar Claus: superb. Emilie Zoé: genius. I love Marie-Flore, I’m so happy I saw her this year.
Cats on Trees, I am not fan. Strange as Angels is it Marc Collin? It doesn’t speak to me much. Bacchantes yes, seen in Vendôme. Agnes Obel I don’t like. Other Lives I don’t like. Puts Marie: super. Liz Van Deuq is just being recording a new album, I saw that this week. Tamino, seen at Hop Pop Hop Festival.
James, I’m a fan from the outset. I saw them in concert several times, including once when they had an opening little band named Radiohead!
Stereophonics I listened quite a lot at one time, like Franz Ferdinand, now not at all.
Alphaville it’s my whole childhood. It can be heard a bit in my work, all this influence of that time: Human League, Ultravox, Alphaville, Duran Duran, Depeche Mode...
– As I know you, you surely have plenty of other artists to suggest to Appreciators. Can you name a few who matter to you?
– This year I couldn’t find a lot I loved in the new ones. Yet I’m still monitoring, still searching. (He grabs a pile next to his CDcase) These are the CDs of this year, I didn’t buy a lot. I love BDRMM, an English band, it means "bedroom".
– Not easy to guess!
– The latest Chemical Brothers is a bit disappointing.
This is one of my favourites this year: the new album of Robert Forster, from the Go-Betweens. Hiw wife has cancer and he wrote this record with her, supposing it’s the last one with her. So it’s very nostalgic, very sad, magnificently written.
This is one of my favourite records of this year too: Lankum, Irish band of traditional folk. It’s the most beautiful concert I saw this year, in Mai in Paris, at Petit Bain. Only folklore instruments: bagpipes, acoustic guitar, traditional percussion. But as they alisten to noise and rock music too, it gains intensity sometimes, it’s almost deafening, just with the bagpipes.
– It reminds of the Chieftains doesn’t it?
– It does, but less traditional.
This is the latest Sparklehorse. He died 10 years ago. He had almost finished to record his album. His brother released it.
I’m into Depeche Mode in the moment.
My disappointment of the year will probably be the Blur. I’m a true fan since the beginnings, and I don’t like this record.
I love the Rozi Plain, she’s the bassist of This is the Kit. It’s her debut album, it’s sublime.
Well, I’m fan of Gontard! so I buy all his records.
– What’s that? Electro?
– French singer, oh, it’s all over the place, no recipe. And I said not much is political in Laudanum, with him not much is not political (laughs). He tells how the world could be in 2032. And it’s a disaster.
There you go. I can give you 12,000 others if you want...
Ah yes, one of my favourite records of last year: Australian Carla dal Forno, sublime. This is minimalist electro-folk, she did it in her room with next to nothing. You see, constraint again. All people I make listen ask me why she isn’t famous!
– What’s the most famous album of your whole personal record collection?
– The Beatles: Sgt. Pepper. In French it must be the ones from Gainsbourg.
|1||Frank Black or Kim Deal?||Your question is horrible... By love, Kim Deal; by influence, Frank Black.|
|2||Rock or electro?||Bastard!... Rock|
|3||Dombrance or Rebotini?||Rebotini|
|4||Stage or studio?||Studio|
|5||Tea or coffee?||Coffee|
|6||Paris or Orléans?||Orléans|
|7||Left or right?||Left|
|8||Netflix or cinema?||Cinema|
|9||Gainsbourg or Gainsbarre?||Gainsbourg|
|10||Dr Jekyll or Mr Hyde?||Mr Hyde|
|11||Malon or Laudanum?||Malon|
|12||And thus, Stones or Beatles?||Beatles, hands-down (don’t understand the Stones).|
– How do you deal with time, duration, in your songs?
– Sometimes I don’t question myself, and sometimes I force myself. For the next album in French, my writing constraint was less than 4 minutes definitely, less than 3 minutes if possible. It’s a relief. 10 songs. Not even 32 minutes. It ends with a cover which lasts 4:20.
Otherwise, Laudanum’s 4:2 album ends with an instrumental piece called "The Argument Song", which I play live in versions of 12 or 13 minutes. This piece was created in concert. I improvised around a couple of samples. Then I started to work it in studio, I tried to reproduce this long time stuff here. And I didn’t manage. It made no sense. So I started to cut it. And in the end it lasts... 5 minutes? [4:47 (editor’s note)]
– It’s in 2 parts: the 1st one being fully instrumental, and then all of a sudden you’ve got the arguing voices.
– It turns, yes. The argument’s increasing and a thing triggers something else. Live it made sense so I wanted to keep it. I’m not sure I perfectly succeeded.
– In all your concerts you’ve got a rather nonanticonformist principle, which involves never doing any encore. For which reason?
– 2 reasons. The 1st one is thanks to the Wedding Present, a band from Leeds I’m fan of. I saw them in 1992, for the release of Seamonsters (he takes the CD). And at the end of the concert he says: “I’m sorry but we never do any encore.” What a beautiful punk attitude! It was perfect, nothing couldn’t speak to me more. As soon as I did my first solo projects I used this method.
The 2nd reason? In cinemas, when the film is over it’s over. In a book, after the epilogue, the writer doesn’t bring it up again. After a play, the actors come back to salute but they don’t do a part of the play again. Why would it be different for music? It makes no sense.
Now, for me, saying it has become a gimmick. It makes laugh or grumble, it creates interaction with the audience. I like that moment.
• Fragile (band from Angers)
• RVG (Romy Vager Group, Australian trio)
Zaho de Sagazan
“Obstinacy is good.”
...And now, listen!
Created25 October 2023
Words recorded on September 30th 2023.
Thanks to Matthieu Malon.