Caravan Palace explore smoky, trippy new album Chronologic.
“It got age restricted on YouTube,” says Arnaud Vial, guitar and vocals of Caravan Palace, about the band’s music video for the electronic hit, ‘Miracle’, which stands at almost 5 million views. Featuring an array of trippy vaginal imagery, the 3-minute animation follows a man stumbling into a powerful matriarchal society in a lush jungle before being restrained and abducted, backed by twangy melodies. By contrast, he says, violent material on the video hosting service “can be watched by 5-year-olds”.
Off-the-bat, Vial questions artistic freedom in the music industry. Caravan Palace’s yonic animation and feminist angle was deemed worthy of censorship by YouTube, but for what reason? he asks. There’s no answer. Directed by Double Ninja and released on the band’s new, independent label Lone Diggers, the video acts as the band’s attempt to create music without guidelines, with “artistic freedom”, Vial says. The guitarist reveals his love for art that makes people think and which takes a ‘twisted’ turn.
That’s what the collective has tried to do sonically, too. Caravan Palace, a French electronic music band, traditionally crafts upbeat, positive songs that are ‘necessary for a band and airplay’, but since the 2015 release of third studio album <I°_°I>, which garnered top UK TV spot performances for viral hit ‘Lone Digger’, the group has taken a creative detour, much like the character in ‘Miracle’.
Born from the Parisian art world, the band sees itself as a “messy blend of cultural influences”, with lead singer Zoé Colotis’ origins in theatre, Vial’s interest in 20th Century French impressionist composers, double-bassist Charles Delaport’s ‘chill electronic orientation’ and trombonist Antoine Toustou’s club career as a DJ. Thus, for album number four, the band has claimed a ‘more sophisticated’ sound, riddled with musical paradoxes and concurrently, the artistic freedom they seek. On the surface, Caravan Palace sounds like the love child of Chainsmokers and Daft Punk, but unlike the undoubtedly recognisable brands the groups have forged, Caravan Palace steps outside itself and music industry pigeonholing.
“For each new album it’s about a new story: how to reinvent yourself, how to be bold and honest without going too far from what people really like in your music,” Vial confesses, articulate and aware of the joy that the record represents for the band and its fans. “We are known for mixing swing and electronic music. In this opus, we keep mixing old and new, but it’s extended to other genres like blues, soul, RNB, cool jazz, old folk, bossa and even exotica.”
With seven members in total, Caravan Palace is a paint palette for experimentation – “we’re all very different, and it’s a force somehow,” Vial says with enthusiasm. The latest record, titled Chronologic, widens the boundaries within which they rarely stay, while still referencing their timeless sound. Featuring an array of upbeat Europop-meets-French-house tracks, the album journeys through lively, contemporary, digestible tunes that mingle alongside slow, melancholic, smoky interludes. Though intermittent, half of the record is like a comedown in a twenties speakeasy, or the grey tumbling from a quiet, mid-day cigarette at a festival.
But Vial first delves into the bouncier sounds featured on the record: “There’s modern influences of hip-hop, house, future base and even new-jack swing. That’s what we do. Mix old styles with new productions in every possible way.
“But nostalgia and melancholic feelings are something we really like. There’s always a pitch of nostalgic melody or sad harmony somewhere,” he says, citing track five of Chronologic, titled ‘Plume’. Summery and electronic in production, the pop tone is juxtaposed by vintage, humming choir samples and chord changes (also represented in the artwork for the record, which features a bulky robotic form standing immortalised in marble). “We love those musical paradoxes. We’re always trying to explore more sophisticated forms of composition.”
Simmering with highs and lows, Vial can’t pick a favourite from the eleven-track album. “Maybe ‘Leena’ or ‘April’,” he says. The latter for its heavy jazz, big-band riff and intimate, fragile vocals. “Hard question, I think I can’t really pick one. They all complete each other so well.”
With no pinpointable genre, Chronologic unveils artistic freedom in a music industry hell-bent on definitions. Surprisingly, though, some of the most freeing sessions were through collaborations for the album. New for the band, collaborative tracks ‘About You’ featuring Charles X and ‘Waterguns’ featuring Tom Bailey, successfully integrated a unique style into an already heavily crowded sound.
“They brought a very strong soul music direction. Those great voices, with crystal-clear recording sound,” Vial says, before excitedly exploring the recording process. “They both recorded some melodies on their phones with our tracks in the background and sent them to us. Then they came to the studio, where we did two sessions for each singer. We had a lot of fun. That’s the cool human [aspect]; the fun and rewarding part of working in a studio.”
The latter track, written with author J. Medeiros, most obviously diverges from typically ‘melancholic’ Caravan Palace lyricism to instead explore the band’s contemporary political stance on gun violence: “The idea was to imagine how children from different cultures, religions and socioeconomic backgrounds can all play together peacefully in the playground without a worry of these differences. But as they age, this difference becomes a barrier.”
Still blanketed under radio-playable vocals, Bailey dreamily sings: “We should be young right now/We’d be more fun with water guns.” Vial continues: “These barriers keep them from being able to play as they once did. They can no longer see themselves as children. Waterguns become real guns.”
Wistful of a kinder world and simultaneously nostalgic for the summer, Caravan Palace’s fourth record wields music like a high-art, genderless Parisian weapon, rendering the listener powerless to infectious, metaphysical ways of listening to their music. Living in a contemporary world, their voice remains playful, nostalgic and anachronistic, paradoxically repositioning present as past. Crafted with both effortlessness and purpose, Chronologic is a sophisticated end of summer album pumped with quirky nostalgia, trippy highs, ghostly comedowns and an eager, clubby anticipation.
Vial concludes: “It may be a lot going on, but it’s surprising, isn’t it?”
The new album, Chronologic, is released August 30th 2019 on MVKA. The UK tour begins January 23rd 2020 in Glasgow, Scotland. See www.caravanpalace.com for tour dates.
Interview by Otis Robinson.