LOMM: Can you give a little biographical and historical info; who is involved in the band, and how did you guys meet up?
Yacine: We are a four-piece band from France: with Marie on vocals, Emeline on the bass, Mogan behind the drums, and myself on the guitar and backing vocals. I had been living in Dublin for a couple of years something like ten years ago and when I came back to my hometown, I immediately reconnected with my musician friends at local jam-sessions. That’s where I met Mogan and Emeline, who’d known each other for a while. I was awestruck by these two unique players and wonderful human beings. We clicked instantly! Musically of course, but we also became friends. Eventually, Mogan and I got called to play in the same band with which we toured and recorded for quite a while.
Emeline: I was working with an American singer-songwriter, and when there was a line-up change, I was asked if I knew a drummer and a guitar player. Well, naturally I called these two gentlemen! That story went on for five years of extensive touring and making albums, which obviously makes for solid foundations.
Yacine: In the meantime, I was teaching in a local music school. And Marie was one of the students in a workshop I was doing. Again, I was blown away. She had this powerful, hearty soul and RnB voice and she sang with such passion! Which was in sharp contrast with her somewhat shy demeanour.
Marie: I don’t remember being that shy…
Yacine: Yes, you were! Anyway, I thought her voice would fit perfectly in a rockier repertoire so I sort of nudged her toward that by doing some Iron Maiden numbers. And guess what, she became an even bigger Maiden and Bruce Dickinson fan than I am! Eventually, we started working on some song ideas that I had laying around and started demoing them. I then naturally asked Mogan and Emeline if they would join. They met Marie, again instant match. And off we went. It was just a question of getting the right people together to form the band of my dreams.
Marie: When he mentioned Maiden, I was thinking “you can’t be serious, there’s no way I’m singing that!” But he was serious and didn’t let go until I sang the darn song. Well, I guess he was right!
LOMM: Pandemic has taken an emotional toll on everyone yet the arts have been hit especially hard. The musicians are vulnerable to financial upheaval. How have you guys have been holding up?
Marie: Obviously we were hit hard. We had just done several shows that went really well, we were starting to build some momentum. And most of all, the album was in the final mixing stages and was due for release in the spring of 2020. All that came to an abrupt halt. We are fortunate enough to have a rather strong state support system for full-time musicians here in France, which was helpful. Nevertheless, things have been tight. But more than that, it is just unbelievably frustrating to not be able to play live, even more so as that is what we do for a living. The things you took for granted became impossible overnight.
Yacine: The initial bewilderment quickly made way for the realization that we couldn’t see each other. We have become very close friends over the years, pretty much family. So, in hindsight, that was painfully hard for me. Of course, we did get together on Zoom once in a while, but it was nothing like the real thing. While it was some sort of consolation, it was frustrating to say the least.
LOMM: On the other hand you seem to have had a productive time. Is that right?
Yacine: Definitely. As I said, once the idea of being locked down sort of sank in, we reorganized and rescheduled. We tried finishing the mixes remotely, but that was way too tedious and inefficient. We could only hold our breaths until the waters receded and decided on getting back to the album as soon as we were allowed to do so. So to make the most of those lockdown months, we really took the time to fine tune the ideas for the album mix and the artwork, to organize the release, write the screenplay for the Zeitgeist / Absolute Monopoly short film and such. Another good side of things is that we remotely recorded and filmed two other songs: a cover (which we never do usually but we just felt like doing it) and an original song that we had never played together before. We decided on doing so just for the fun of it and and for the sake of ‘playing’ together albeit from afar. The cover was the song Can I Reach You by Noa, a song and an artist that we love. The beauty of it all was that a few days later Noa herself reposted it on her Instagram along with a very nice comment! It would probably not have happened in normal times.
Marie: The original song we did after that, As Far As I Know, was trickier to record because of our drummer Mogan’s overly (euphemism!) ear-sensitive neighbour. He had to figure out a way to record the drums in a very silent way, which doesn’t make any sense for the drums! So he used a tiny toy drum kit and it turned out great. As soon as the restrictions were slightly loosened, we jumped into the car and rushed to the studio to finish the mixes.
Yacine: And we managed to squeeze in 4 days of shooting for the short film as soon as we could because we had a feeling we’d eventually get locked down again. There obviously is frustration that we still can’t hit the road and support the release on tour. Because that’s what all this is about: we’re a live band. But things do seem to be getting better and hopefully will get back to some sort of cautious normality. So, yes, hard indeed, but we had no choice other than to adapt.
LOMM: Tell us about your genre, what does it means to you, why did you choose this genre?
Yacine: We’re not genre-minded. We don’t really know what we sound like and we don’t want to feel boxed into a particular genre. And given our diverse backgrounds, we probably couldn’t anyway. Of course, the overall sound is rock, probably because of the guitars. I suppose there is quite a strong progressive rock aspect given the different ambiences, atmospheres and textures, instrumental sections and time changes. Especially in songs like Face Tomorrow, A Line In The Sand and Breathe, Pretender. And that’s fine too because there is freedom in it. Freedom in duration, freedom in form and so on. But others of our songs are more straightforward, some are heavier. One review said « they craft a sound that defies easy categorization ». That a very nice compliment. We just play the music that sounds right to our ears.
LOMM: How did the initial musical and thematic elements evolve?
Yacine: There wasn’t a central theme that we were tied to. But some of the songs do have a loose thematic connection. Fortunately, we were able to include all the songs to our live set before recording the album. And we were therefore able to tweak some of the arrangements. Also, it was easier to choose the six songs that we thought fit best together on record. Musically speaking, it was pretty much straightforward: the songs sort of took shape in a very spontaneous manner.
LOMM: Are you happy with your product? What aspects of it do you think you guys nailed, and what parts do you think you could improve upon?
Yacine: That’s a good question! It can prove difficult to decide when an album is finished, and this applies when recording tracks, arranging songs or mixing. On the one hand there’s always something you think you can improve. But on the other hand, too much tinkering could go against spontaneity. Are we happy with the album? Yes, definitely. It came out far better than what we could have imagined. I don’t know if we nailed anything but we gave our best to capture the essence of the songs.
Marie: I’m very happy with it! As a singer I’m constantly working on my voice, learning new techniques and so on. Meaning, I might sing things slightly differently over time. Especially if there is a long time between the recording and the actual release. And sometimes, I would think ‘hmm, maybe I should have sung that part this way…’ But that’s the beauty of it: an album is a snapshot. And live shows are the perfect playground for variations.
LOMM: How has the overall reception been?
Yacine: Quite overwhelming to be honest. Our following has grown and, well, from the nice message we got, the audience seems to like it. The album got a lot of positive reviews form blogs and magazines in France, Germany, the UK, Ireland, Belgium, Norway, the USA and Canada, Mexico and even as far as Brazil and Japan. And the icing on the cake was that it was voted album of the year in the French rock magazine Music Waves.
LOMM: Have you ever been on a tour? Given live performances? Is it tough for you not to be able to do so now?
Emeline: We haven’t been on a tour with this band yet although each of us have done some extensive touring with previous bands or as sidemen. But we’ve played quite a few concerts since we started off and as Marie said earlier on, in the months before lockdown we were on a series of concerts and had some more coming up. Obviously, all that got cancelled. It is tough indeed not to be able to play, even more so, not being able to support the album on the road right now. But, now that things are gradually opening up, we’re back on track and are working on putting a tour together.
LOMM: What is the next step for you? How is the future looking?
Yacine: Gigs, gigs and some more gigs! We just can’t wait to get back on stage. On the studio side of things, we’ve started tracking two acoustic songs using vintage equipment and recording techniques. On of the songs we’ll record fully live in the studio. We’re filming the whole process so as to release a short-film of what’s going on behind the scenes as well as the live recording. And we will start recording the second album quite soon. It should come out in the spring of 2022. So there’s quite a lot in the pipes!
LOMM: Could you tell us about the lyrics / themes /concepts you focus on or plan to focus on? How did the ideas come about, and how do they influence the writing process? Who is writing the lyrics?
Yacine: Ideas will sprout from life experiences, events, books, films, essays, newspaper articles, social trends, anything. I wrote most of the lyrics on the album. Marie wrote Something I Don’t Know, which is about missed opportunities, hesitation, stalling and feeling overwhelmed by the pressure of making the right choices. Generally speaking, the songs are articulated as stories, with impersonations or directly questioning the listener. Breathe, Pretender is about abuse, as seen through the victim’s eyes. The narrative is constructed around the victim confronting her abuser, basically saying: ‘sit down, hear this until I’m done’. The other songs are a bit more political. The narrator in Zeitgeist / Absolute Monopoly is an omniscient figure explaining how and why they achieve domination. It’s an allegory. It can have multiple resonances. For instance, we all know well enough that the handful of digital companies are not so benevolent and are basically gigantic data harvesters, and yet we seem to be helpless and fall into the trap. The Empty Man asks the question of the possibility of a new totalitarianism. It seems unlikely given the catastrophes of the 20th century. And yet, recent events could be seen as a prelude to the advent of new authoritarian regimes. A Line In the Sand and Face Tomorrow are linked as they allude to the tragedies of the Middle-East, and the dire consequences originating from the secret 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement between the United Kingdom & France.
LOMM: Who is composing the songs?
Yacine: I’ve done most of the composing until now. Sometimes a song will be pretty much complete, and sometimes I’ll bring rough ideas that we’ll put together jamming or demoing at home.
LOMM: What bands do you draw your inspiration from?
Emeline: We’re influenced by so many different bands and artists! I love the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Rage Against The Machine, Muse. But also all the funk greats: Earth, Wind & Fire, Prince, and the more recent funksters of the likes of Anderson Paak.
Marie: I’m into gospel and soul. I love Aretha Franklin, which got me into singing. But I can also name Bruce Dickinson, Myles Kennedy, Sara Bareilles as major influences. I also love Theo Katzman.
Yacine: Quite a few and also quite different. Iron Maiden and Adrian Smith in particular blew me away when I was young and I’ve been a die-hard fan ever since. Other major inspirations are Seal, Sting, Tori Amos, Noa. I also have to mention Dhafer Youssef and Tigran Hamasyan. On the guitar side of things there’s Eric Johnson, Greg Howe, Shawn Lane, Paul Gilbert…
LOMM: Which is more exciting? Being on the road or studio?
Emeline: I love both. They’re obviously not the same experiences. The atmosphere is different. But be it on the road or in the studio, what I love above all is to spend time together.
Yacine: Both are equally exciting to me. I love the raw energy, the interaction with the audience, the band dynamics both on and off stage. But I also love being in the studio. The intimacy, the focus, the details, the endless possibilities, experimentation. I could spend ages in the studio!
LOMM: What first got you into music?
Emeline: My parents played several instruments in their youth. They listened to a lot of music. When we were kids, they took my brothers and myself to loads of concerts. Therefore, I have always been immersed in music. Naturally, I wanted to play an instrument when I was fairly young. I started to play the flute when I was 7. And I picked up the bass when I was 13.
Marie: « I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You) » by Aretha Franklin. My parents gave me this album when I was a child, I’ve been listening to it on repeat ever since. That’s what me sing, as a means of expression.
Yacine: There always was some music playing.There was a classical guitar laying around the house when I was a kid, but I was drawn towards the drums at first, which I still play to this day. I did learn a few chords on the guitar with my uncle but the real turning point was when I first heard The Evil That Men Do by Iron Maiden. That guitar intro still gives me goosebumps. There was no looking back from that point.
LOMM: What do you like the best about being a musician? And what is it that you do not like much?
Emeline: Most of all, to play music that I love with people that I love. And Panem is a perfect example of this.
Yacine: That is spot on, and it is indeed the very essence of the band.There’s nothing I don’t like about being a musician. Maybe only when you get asked what your real job is… Being a musician is wonderful, it gives you a very different perspective on things. It’s a never-ending story in which you’re constantly learning, evolving, questioning. And it’s a very organic, abstract to concrete transformation: to express and turn ideas into sounds that you produce with your hands or your voice. Magic.
LOMM: If you weren’t musicians, what would you be doing?
Emeline: I would probably be running a restaurant or managing a bar that hosts concerts.
Marie: And I’d be the pastry chef in that same restaurant!
Yacine: I’d definitely be a regular in that place! I don’t know what I’d be doing. Probably doing research and teaching linguistics.
LOMM: If you could change one thing about the music industry, what would it be?
Yacine: Tough question! Get rid of sexism for starters! And implement a fair streaming revenue share. Streaming has now become the predominant mode of listening, in all age groups. The present pro-rata system is illogical and unfair, with major companies reaping the bulk of the royalties. There needs to be a paradigm shift toward a user-centric model where the rights holders would be paid based on what each subscriber has listened to according to their listening time. For an indie band that is starting off, streaming is a necessity if you want to spread the word. Any revenue is immediately invested into releasing new music. Indie music brings so much more diversity and innovation than mainstream acts. But being fully indie means you have to bear all the costs. Unless a fair streaming revenue split system is implemented, it will become more and more difficult for indie bands to keep on releasing music.
LOMM: What’s more important to you? Catering to the audience or music for its own sake?
Yacine: I don’t know of anything as subjective as music. In this respect, as far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t really make any sense to cater to the audience by thinking along the lines of ‘oh let’s do this, the crowd is bound to love it!’. I don’t know how to do that anyway. How do you know what an audience will like? And we’re certainly not at a point where the question actually pops up. We just make the music that feels right to us, without any restrictions. Commercial success is a multifactor thing, and the actual music is one of several. And while success is a possibility, it shouldn’t be taken into account when writing songs. It isn’t for us. I think you have to be authentic, keep it real, natural and honest. The audience feels those things. Then again, I suppose the idea of audience response is something worrying for the big label people. Take Maiden’s Number of the Beast album for instance. They obviously knew they had made a strong album. But did they know that they had made a landmark album that would turn them into the biggest heavy metal band? Did they cater to the audience? I don’t think so. And if they had, I’m sure it would have been a whole different story. And a more recent and radical example is Steven Wilson’s The Future Bites. Also, I’m sure the audience like a bit of innovation, risk-taking and expansion. Although there might be an urge to present something familiar to whatever following you have, you don’t really want to hear things such as ‘well, they’ve gone and made the same old album all over again…’ Double-edged.
LOMM: What is the most memorable gig that you have played to date?
Emeline: Each concert is memorable for various reasons. But if I had to choose one, it would be a concert I did with Ben l’Oncle Soul who’s super famous here. I was a filling in for the regular bass player. No rehearsal, huge stage. It went very well but it was really impressive. And of course, the first Panem concert.
Yacine: I’ve played quite a few crazy gigs as a sideman. My first gig at The Olympia in Paris was quite an amazing experience. And one in a huge amphitheater in Istanbul for a festival (I can’t remember the name) was equally breathtaking. But the thrill of bringing Panem to the stage for the first time was quite incomparable.
LOMM: When you look back your music career, what do you consider to be your greatest accomplishment?
Emeline: The greatest accomplishment is to be able to make a living out of my passion. I feel blessed to be able to do this every day.
Yacine: To have such a band with my three closest friends.
LOMM: Who would you like to collaborate with?
Emeline: Obvious, RHCP!
Marie: Theo Katzman
Yacine: Dhafer Youssef
LOMM: Who would you like to go on a tour with?
Yacine: Iron Maiden of course!
Emeline: Would it be too repetitve to say RHCP?
LOMM: If you could play any festival in the world, which one would you choose? Tell us why.
Yacine: I’d gladly play anywhere! Now if we’re talking unique locations, then there could be several. Les Dunes Electroniques in Tunisia which takes place in the abandoned Star Wars film set would be crazy. Or Norberg Festival in Sweden held in an abandoned iron mine. Even though they’re electro festivals, playing in those setting must be quite a dazzling experience.
LOMM: Name some of your all-time favorite albums? Include controversial ones.
Yacine: Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son – Iron Maiden
Mercury Falling – Sting
Human Being – Seal
To Venus And Back – Tori Amos
Awake & Octavarium – Dream Theater
Calling – Noa
Operation: Mindcrime – Queensrÿche
Abu Nawas Rhapsody & Birds Requiem – Dhafer Youssef
Polaris – Tesseract
The Wall – Pink Floyd
Emeline: Californication & By The Way – Red Hot Chili Peppers
Rage Against The Machine – epon.
Showbiz & Origins of Symmetry – Muse
LOMM: What does your collection look like? Mostly Vinyl, Cassettes, CDs, Digital? A bit of everything? A total mess?
Yacine: It’s all digital now, just because it is convenient. But I have kept each and every hard copy that I have ever owned, and sometimes I’ll pull the odd cassette or vinyl and play them. Vinyls for sound and cassettes for the sake of nostalgia.
Emeline: Mainly CDs. I bought loads when I was in my teens. But in recent years, I’ve gone full digital. It’s been ages since I bought a record. Actually, the last CD I held in my hands is our own.
LOMM: What Country/Region are you from and what is the Metal/Rock scene like there?
Yacine: We’re from Tours, France, located in the Loire Valley. The music scene is really vibrant for a city of this size. And also very diverse. There’s a huge amount of talented musicians here. A lot of jazz going on, electronic music, hip hop, and rock of course. And a some really good metal acts as well. The cool thing is that with all these genres around, crossovers are frequent. Always a good thing.
LOMM: You can invite 5 people to a dinner party, from the future, the past, rock stars, a movie characters, you name it. Who are you having dinner with?
Yacine: Bruce Dickinson, Antonio Gramsci, Stephan Zweig, Paul Atreides and Darth Vador
Emeline: Probably all the RHCPs.
LOMM: What is your weirdest memory in your music career?
Emeline: Mogan, Yacine & myself were the backing band for a singer. During a concert, he left the stage after three songs… and never came back. There was a large crowd that night, we just couldn’t stop playing. So we just carried on and improvised a whole set of instrumentals… Lots of weird memories from those times!
Yacine: Oh yes, I forgot about that one! We ended up playing jazz standards! A very Spinal Tap moment…
LOMM: What is the weirdest gift you have ever received from a fan?
Yacine: That hasn’t happened yet, but we will tell you when it does!
LOMM: If you had one message to your fans, what would it be?
Yacine: You’ve given the album such a warm reception, thank you for all the love and support! We’ll be coming to a place near you, come out and see us live and let’s have a drink.
Emeline: Thank you so very much for the amazing response and support. We hope we’ll see you soon in concert.
LOMM: Anything else you think your fans should know?
LOMM: Thank you for taking the time.
Thank you so very much for having us.
Photo Credit @Rémi Angeli