Panem came to our world like a wrecking ball. It hit us hard and I will always remember the very first time I heard ‘Zeitgeist/Absolute Monopoly’. It was hard to believe that it is the very first song from French band. There is so much magic in the song that gives me goosebumps. It carries the message that is extremely relevant to those experiencing the global pandemic. Even the video brings apocalyptic concept and it was super thrilling to have a chance to get to know the band much better.
It is no surprise that the song managed to reach the top spot on our chart and it is still rocking on. In a very short period of 10 weeks the band shared four singles, It was the best time to get to know them a little better! You want to make so me tea, take a moment and enjoy! Introducing…. Panem!
Congratulations! Looks like 2020 has been an incredibly productive year. Tell us more about your journey until the release of your debut single ‘Zeitgeist/Absolute Monopoly’.
Thank you very much! Yes, we’ve managed to get a few things done indeed, amid the hecticness of 2020! As soon as we had enough songs, we set about bringing the band to life doing live shows, which we did during the last two years. This was important because it enabled us to shape our sound and identity as a band. In the meantime, we kept writing new songs which we gradually added to the set. When the time was ripe we headed to our long-time friend Thierry Chassang’s studio in Le Mans. We were supposed to go back to the studio to start mixing the album, but then lockdown happened along with the inevitable flood of cancellations that followed. Just like everyone else we scrambled to adjust to the situation and finally got things done anyway up to the release of Zeitgeist in mid-September.
How did you guys meet? Did you already know each other?
Yes, we did know each other. About ten years ago, when I returned to my hometown (Tours is located in the Loire Valley in France) after living in Dublin for a couple of years, I immediately reconnected with my musician friends at local jam-sessions. And that’s when I met drummer Mogan Cornebert. I had never seen such a unique drummer. I was as awestruck by the player as by the wonderful human being he is. We just jammed and jammed over and over again. Eventually, we got called to play in the same band with which we toured and recorded for quite a while.
Enter bassist Emeline Fougeray. She already knew Mogan and we met at, guess what, a jam-session! The same story all over again, we clicked instantly: huge bass, crazy grooves and a lovely person. So, Mogan and I were in this band, Emeline and Mogan were in another band together and the three of us quickly became close. She was also playing with an American singer-songwriter called Zem in the La Rochelle area, and when that line-up needed change, well, she called us two. That went on for five years of extensive touring and making albums, which obviously makes for solid foundations. To me, there has to be something more than just the music for a band to thrive, as a living organism if you will. And the chemistry definitely happened here. In the meantime, I was teaching in a local music school (probably an equivalent to BIMM that you have in the UK). And singer Marie Moreau was one of my students. Here comes this somewhat shy girl, who says she’s into soul and RnB, sings a tune or two and I’m blown away. Who the hell are you?? Where have you been hiding all this time?? The workshop begins, I pull an Iron Maiden song out of the hat (‘Can I Play With Madness’ if I remember well, haha yes yes I know! But I’ve always been a Maiden fan!) And she shot daggers at me, the words ‘there’s nowhere in hell I’m singing that!’ written all over her face. A little persuading later, she killed it. Again, we clicked. We started working on some ideas that I had laying around and started demoing them. At that point, I just felt the time was ripe for the four of us to get together and start the band I had in mind during all those years.
A planetary alignment of sorts.PANEM
What does it mean for you to be releasing music in this historic time?
I think it keeps us “sane” in a way. Obviously, these are hectic and unprecedented times for our generation. So, the simple fact of carrying on with the release in the midst of this chaos is us clinging to some sort of normality perhaps. It’s a way of not giving up and just keep on doing what we do – music – be it in the middle of an event of this magnitude. On the other hand, maybe it’s totally futile to be releasing music now… I don’t know. So many artists have released crazy good and diverse material during this time. I think it’s quite clear that a surge of creativity has emerged from this crisis, especially on the indie scene.
Obviously, no live shows for 8 months and the foreseeable future means sheer catastrophic consequences for the entire music ecosystem. But this crisis leaves us with no other choice than to adapt. We had to make a choice: finish the mixes remotely – we tried: impossible – or postpone and wait for the waters to recede. Some great things did happen during those two lockdown months. We posted a cover of a song called Can I Reach You by Noa, an artist that we love. A few days later Noa herself reposted it with a very kind comment. It would probably not have happened in normal times.
There obviously is frustration that we can’t hit the road and support the release on tour. Because that’s what all this is about: playing the actual songs live. We’re a live band in essence. But you just have to accept the fact that that’s how it is, there’s not much you can do about it and nobody knows if and when things will get back to some sort of normal. But, we’ll adapt regardless.
I got to admit that Zeitgeist is my favourite track so far. It managed to reach the top spot on our chart and holds a special place in my heart. What does the song mean to you? Do you remember the moment it came to life?
Thanks! It means the world to us. Reaching that number one spot was unbelievable, we could never imagine being on the top spot of any chart whatsoever. ‘Zeitgeist / Absolute Monopoly’ is a song we hold so dear that we named the album after it. The whole process was like magic. This time, I was sitting at home after an experimental recording session at my friend – electronica music producer Ben Fitoussi’s studio. We had just spent an afternoon recording bits and pieces of guitar loops with no precise aim or anything, just fiddling with sounds, effects, layers, messing around like two adult-children left with an obscene amount of toys at hand. And he sends me this email with a loop he made layering some of my guitar tracks, with a message along the lines of ‘here, this is some of the crap you played, you like?’ And I thought ‘hang on a minute, now this is something here’… I don’t know what wizardry was at work (well, Ben is quite the wizard when it comes to music, sounds, a true craftsman) but anyway I was hypnotized on the spot, there was to be no rest until this was over and done with,
I was just overwhelmed by a sense of urgency that I had never felt before as if I was panicking at the idea of not being able to capture the flow of music that was drowning my mind.PANEM
It was coming in faster than I could process. I just jumped to the laptop, hastily made a straightforward drum loop, picked up the guitar, made a verse and then another part that eventually became the chorus. At that point, the title emerged and the lyrics just started to pour in and fall into place like Lego. So I was literally writing them down on paper as I was digging further into the song. The fear of forgetting something or failing to capture a particular bit of melody led me to actually record the whole lead vocal part. By that time, it was probably something like 3 or 4 in the morning… So I did the vocals regardless, whispering through a mic with the gain turned all the way up. Other ideas sprouted as I was recording vocals, the instrumental part. So here I go again, switching from guitar to bass and back again. I kept hearing this morse code sound in my head, so I went into my sample library and dragged one in there. And that was it. When I finally stopped, the feeling was really eerie. I had never finished a song from scratch in this manner, after 6 or 7 hours straight. Not to mention lyrics! Never happened before.
We had a gig coming up at that time and when we got to rehearsal I didn’t think that we’d play this one live yet as I thought maybe it needed a bit of time to mature. After we’d listened to the demo, I was getting ready to get the set rehearsal going and I remember Mogan saying: ‘wait, this is mad, there’s no way we’re not playing it tomorrow.’ He picks up his sticks and starts counting us in 1, 2, 3, 4! Not much of a choice but to go ahead with it then. The dual lead vocals were not planned at all when we first played I sang along in unison with Marie to sort of cue her in so she got a hang of the melody. But then all three of them just wouldn’t let it go: ’you have to sing this as well!’ So I was sort of coerced into it! I can’t describe how it felt when we first played it in the rehearsal room, we were filled with emotion, we just looked at each other in silence for quite a long time. And it does so every time we play it live. So, yes, it’s a special one indeed.
What was the experience of shooting an apocalyptic music video?
Now that was extraordinary! Quentin Rousseau, one of our close friends happens to be a talented filmmaker as well as being a slick piano and keyboard player. When I wrote Zeitgeist / Absolute Monopoly, I could already see images, people I knew who would be perfect fits for the different characters, eerie locations and a story that could encompass the broad meaning of the song. Countless emails and Zoom meetings later, it all started to take shape, we started planning things and ended up with only 4 days where everyone was available together, which is a real tight schedule for what turned out to be more a short film than a normal music video. I asked Raphaël Fournier – an up-and-coming French stage actor whom I met while he was studying music here years ago – if he would play the main character and he immediately agreed. His performance really carries the whole thing I think. He just played the scenes with such intensity that he inspired the rest of us non-actors. It was early August, in the middle of a scorching heatwave. We were shooting from 7 in the morning to 8 at night for 4 straight gruelling days, which is in keeping with the writing process for that matter, relentless and urgent. So the conditions were quite apocalyptic in the first place, but how inspiring! Quentin and Max Bregowy (who did an unbelievable job as first assistant director) were so focused and dedicated. We all agree that what the way they handled things is a tour de force.
The locations were great, my local Irish pub called The Pale (if any of you ever come to Tours, France, be sure to go have a pint in there and tell Warren the owner I sent you!), a half-abandoned factory, a carpenter’s workshop and an abandoned iron-ore mine for the final scenes: it doesn’t get much more post-apocalyptic than at that place.
We had so much fun, the atmosphere was great and I cannot describe the feeling really, it felt like actually living inside the song. Filming that final scene on the roof of an old 35-metre-high bunker was breathtaking. I still have the shivers when I think about it. Clémentine who plays the White Walker-type Empress character did a fantastic job, scary as hell. Some scenes we shot in the streets near the city’s cathedral on a Sunday morning, there were some oddly funny moments when we had to cut some scenes because a group of nuns was coming up the road and crossing the set! I’d have loved to have one of them do a cameo in the video but I wasn’t bold enough to ask. We also had to improvise as one of the locations bailed out on us at the very last moment. The whole experience was uplifting and the team was incredible. Raphaël, Clémentine, Julie & Robin (who play the two beaters), and last but not least Max and Quentin: we can never thank you enough for making this happen!
Tell us more about each of the singles:
This one’s about abuse. What is the trigger? What turns your average Joe into an abuser? There are so many cases of everyday abuse and harassment where the guys aren’t even aware that what they’re doing is wrong. That just can’t be the norm any longer. I’m not talking Weinstein-type predatory syndrome, more the regular guy that will ‘try his luck’ so to speak, in an abusive manner just because the girl was being friendly at a party or a bar. How can that be an excuse for throwing oneself on people like that? Not to mention the ridiculous excuses that are systematically made, always minimizing the issue: ‘I didn’t do anything’, ‘it was nothing’, ‘she didn’t seem to mind, she didn’t resist’ (Well, of course not! It’s called tonic immobility, a state of involuntary paralysis!). Even worse ‘she was asking for it’. No, there is no excuse whatsoever, it is called attempted rape, period. The lyrics are spoken by a victim, confronting the abuser, showing them ‘a few home truths’. That’s the ‘I’m not taking your sh..’ section of the song!
The main guitar melody and the verses I’ve had for quite some time. My brother, who’s also a musician, picked it up and expanded. He came up with the chorus and the riff in the bridge section. It’s a great feeling to have collaborated on a song with my brother!
‘A Line In The Sand‘
The title refers to the 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement, a secret treaty between the United Kingdom & France to define their spheres of influence and control over the collapsing Ottoman Empire and the ensuing struggle that shaped the Middle East: literally creating non-existent borders by drawing lines in the sand. You just need to look at borders on a map of North-West Africa for example: endless straight lines through the desert, drawn with a pencil and a ruler, just like that. And to this day, there are still dramatic consequences of forcing the concept of nation-state on populations who weren’t asking for anything in the first place.
It is bassist Emeline’s favourite song this one! The song is in 7/8 and has a rather unusual structure. The guitar thing on the intro goes on throughout the song with other layers coming in here and there. There also are multiple voice layers and ostinatos that gradually come in as a counterpoint. I love the way the bass and the drums flow together here. The atmosphere in the studio during that session was really powerful and emotional. It’s quite a tricky one to play live compared to other more straightforward songs, but it’s always a highlight during the shows.
‘Something I Don’t Know‘
This is one of our earlier songs. Marie contributed a lot to write this one. I had the music and the ‘Tell me something I don’t know’ idea for the beginning of the chorus but that was it. She took it from there and came up with the rest of the lyrics. They are about hesitation, missed opportunities, stalling and feeling overwhelmed by the pressure of making the right choices. Again, the music has a few twists on the rhythmic side of things, the verse is a straight 4/4 and evolves into a half-shuffle beat on the chorus. There’s a sort of soul-blues vibe going on with the vocals and the guitars which could be viewed as quite a departure from what we’d usually do. Marie’s natural penchant for everything soul and RnB that I’ve mentioned earlier on comes to the foreground on this number, and we love it, especially when she unleashes the whole soul galore vibe in the outro when we play it live.
Where do ideas for songs come from? Tell us more about your creative process.
There are no set rules I think. Ideas will flare up whenever they feel like it. That might occur while you’re reading a book or an article, watching a movie or washing the dishes… And then it all depends on the mood you’re in, what personal life experiences you’re going through or what any particular event will touch you or inspire you to the point of making a song. When you’re walking in the street, there is a rhythm, there is a pattern. That might spark a melody, a riff. I very often come up with ideas without an instrument, just hearing the music in my head. Conversely, quite a few song ideas will appear while playing on a different instrument than mine, say the piano or the bass. Sometimes it might be a particular sound, say fiddling with different effect pedal settings that will bring inspiration. And also in the ‘classic’ way of course, just playing around with a guitar.
As far as lyrics are concerned, I very often think of a title first, I don’t know why, I’ve always had this odd kind of interest for titles, in the sense of how evocative or intriguing a title can be. I do carry an old fashioned notebook with me all the time so that I can write down any phrase or line whenever they come to my mind. And I record everything. Sometimes an idea will quickly evolve into a song while other ideas won’t, but they’re interesting nonetheless. So I’ll store those, with an elaborate filing system with codes in the filenames for future reference and use. As far as aesthetics go, we don’t care much about musical boundaries. We find it difficult to categorize ourselves in a musical genre without feeling boxed into it. If a song is good, if we like it, we’ll go for it.
When do you know when the song is done? How do you make decisions as a band?
Most of the time, when I come up with an idea, I can’t help but demo it right away because I’m eager to get a broader picture of how it could sound in context. Sometimes, these demos are really elaborate and are close to the final version structure-wise. At other times, they’re just drafts, a riff here, a would-be chorus there. I’ll send them out right away and when we get together we’ll just go ahead and jam them, experiment with things, sounds and so on. As I said earlier on,
We get along so well, there’s no endless debates over this or that, no votes or that kind of thing. There are discussions and we just seem to agree on everything.PANEM
Would it be fair to say that you are trying to wake people up with your music? There are so many messages in your songs. Was that intentional?
Maybe so, but not in a pretentious manner. The songs deal with themes that matter to us and sometimes with personal life-experiences. We think there is room for music and lyrics with a bit more substance. But we don’t claim anything, we’re not telling anybody how or what to think, it’s up to them. We may be expressing opinions, thoughts, points of view, raising questions. But the original idea or topic is a starting point that will evolve into the story told in the song. Then it’s always up to the listener and how the song resonates with them. The original meaning is important of course but it all comes down to the listener’s interpretation, that’s the beauty but of it. And if a song can make people think or raise awareness about a subject or an issue, well that’s already something. A simple line in a song can sometimes be stronger than a whole conference. Because there’s a melody that carries the words and gives power to the message.
For instance, when Sting sings ‘the Russians love their children too’ in 1985 it says it all. Imagine a president about to give orders to press the nuclear button, torn between intelligence reports and the pressures from warmongering hawks in his administration. Maybe the simple humanity of those very words in that song would prevent him from unleashing a nuclear holocaust. That’s the power of a poet. As Stewart Copeland said in an interview about this, Sting is a poet, and you can’t win a debate with a poet. And there is so much political ineptitude all over the place that it’s hard to remain silent.
The lyrics for Zeitgeist come from reflections I was having at the time about the ruthless competition, the strife for global domination going on over our heads between this handful of behemoth companies, and how helpless we seem to be.PANEM
I imagined an omniscient character actually explaining how and why they achieve domination. Now, this can have multiple meanings and resonances. It could be an allegory of the unfathomable data gathering that is going on behind the scenes online. Everything, every little piece of personal data, online behaviour patterns is stored, processed. This data hoarding may seem harmless today, but who can tell what will emerge from it.
How do you define success in the music business?
Umm… having a roadie? That’s when you know you’re successful, right? (smiles) You know, having done this, from writing and recording the songs to releasing them is already a form of success in itself. If we can keep on doing this, get back to touring on a regular basis, and make it sustainable would definitely be a success, especially these days. If it goes further than that, then great! … Two roadies! We’ll definitely keep working hard, and we’ll see where that gets us to.
I am extremely curious to know what inspired you to choose Panem as a band’s name. I know the story you shared that it is a Latin word that comes from a phrase bread and games. What was the hidden meaning?
The name Panem comes from the Latin phrase ‘panem et circenses’ (bread and games or circuses), an expression that denounced the Roman emperors’ egotism: the deliberate use of bread distributions and the organization of games for the purpose of flattering the people in order to attract the benevolence of the masses. And this definitely still persists in the Zeitgeist of today.
Music to us is the very air that we breathe. Music is a key that opens the door to all human emotions.
Also, we stand by these two beautiful quotes
“Without music, life would be a mistake” – Friedrich Nietzsche
“Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and life to everything.” – Plato
How would you summarize 2020?
An annus horribilis would be an apt description of 2020, wouldn’t it? Who could have imagined that the whole planet would abruptly come to a halt? As if this tiny virus was saying “okay people you’re not going to like this but you can’t keep on going as recklessly as this, and you weren’t going to realise all by yourselves. Therefore, I’m going to have to put you guys on ‘pause’”. And yet, we must remain optimistic, be it through sheer willpower.
What you got planned for 2021?
Depending on how the situation evolves and the restrictions lifted or not, we’ll do everything to get back to touring as soon as we can. We will also be releasing a couple of bonus singles: The Winter House, which is the opener to our current live set, and As Far As I Know. That one is an acoustic song. Mogan always had a clear vision that our music had this intrinsic acoustic aspect from the very beginning we started working on Panem. So we’re definitely going to explore that side of things. Acoustic versions of these songs or new material or both, that remains to be debated and ultimately decided. Now that’s not saying that we’re going to abandon the big rock, this amp-goes-to-eleven vibe! Definitely not.
And finally, we’d love to make another short film as well, maybe for The Winter House. We’ll see how we can make that happen. Oh and we also have a second EP ready for recording! So, yes, 2021 will definitely be a very busy year for us.
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