Her pure voice first appeared in Ginger Ale, then graced several songs of Piano Magic and gave dreamy shape to her project Klima. Angèle David-Guillou just started a new and deeply personal step of her activity, through releasing for the first time a record under her own name, “Kourouma“, mainly focused on piano. Here’s how she tells her musical story and explains the reasons of this latest trasnformation.
For the first time, you’ve chosen to use your own name for “Kourouma”: is it because you feel it very personal or is there any other reason?
From the very start, it was clear to me that this record was not going to be a Klima record, I was not going to write songs but something more free form and instrumental. As it turned out, in many ways, making a mostly instrumental record felt much more personal than anything I had done before. You may think it surprising and that singing should be the most personal thing, but actually for me, at this stage, not singing, not hiding behind my voice, is doing something extremely personal and authentic. At some point I envisaged finding a different name, but then I thought hell, why not just use my own name.
“Kourouma” is also your more subtle and essential work, being focused nearly only on piano. Is the first time you write pieces on/for piano or do you have a classical music formation?
I received a classical music education from the age of 5 to 15, and learnt the piano this way. I joined a band when I was 15 though, and from then on did all I could to forget what I had learned in music school and in many ways I succeeded very well at this! I bought a piano 4 years ago because I wanted to learn again and I missed the instrument very much. I totally rediscovered the instrument in fact and felt in love with it. It’s just magical to have a piano in your house, incomparable to having guitars. It’s a much more convivial instrument, it inhabits the place. At a very basic level, I rediscovered that I loved playing, especially the feeling it gives you in your hands; that was what really started me. Then I composed little things here and there, and decided, partially as a challenge, that I wanted to write everything. I didn’t demo any of the songs, I just played them over and over and changed the writing as I went along. It’s been a really exciting process for me.
“Kourouma” has also a timeless and somehow mysterious feeling; which inspirations you had for writing an album like this?
Strangely most of my inspirations for the record are probably literary. Typically the title track was inspired by a book by Amadou Kourouma, called “Allah Is Not Obliged”. I read a lot of African literature around the time I was composing the pieces, I love its bareness and aridity, Coetzee is a favourite of mine for instance. I wanted to translate some of that in music. I also started reading in French again, and especially the work of Marguerite Duras and Françoise Sagan. The atmosphere of these books has really inspired me. Musically I’ve been listening to a lot of traditional French songs, children songs but also resistance songs, such as those written by Anna Marly (she wrote “The Partisan” covered by Leonard Cohen). I love Russian traditional songs too (Marly was originally Russian so there is a link there), like the Volga Boatmen. All these songs were on mind when I was writing. I am very interested in their structure, with repetitive lines and not necessarily a chorus. I also love their timelessness and there is something so very bare, very direct about them, which really appeals to me. I have also been listening to a lot of Baroque music, especially, French, Spanish and South American. I certainly can hear this on a piece like “Kuril”.
For how definitions may mean…do you think that the one of “modern classical” could be partially appropriate to define the album?
Hmm. I don’t like the term ‘modern classical’ at all. I think it’s a shtick and that most of the time it includes music that is extremely pretentious and forgettable at the same time. It’s not because you compose songs on a piano that you are suddenly a classical composer or that you make interesting music. I’m not even a great pianist myself… There are great people out there, like Hauschka or Gonzales, but I doubt even they’ll be happy with the term ‘modern classical’. My ambition for this record was very modest, I wanted to write melodies, or as David Sheppard and I joked about: ‘tunes on the piano’. I’d be happy with the term ‘melodist’, if anything.
Has writing and composing all on your own been the end of an artistic process started “only” as a singer? Do you think that writing your own music is more complex than only interpreting other people’s songs?
I was never really ‘only’ a vocalist. If you’re talking about Piano Magic here, Glen wrote the lyrics that’s for sure, but I have always been involved in the general writing process, whether it has been in writing the melodic lines, the vocal arrangements, when not co-writing the songs all together. With Klima, I have always written my songs and my lyrics. Composing has always been what I have done and what I wanted to do. The fact is: I’m a singer too. People may think that if you sing and you’re a woman you don’t write, but that’s not the truth. The challenge for me, for this record, was to write down everything, instead of playing more randomly and picking up what’s best. Here I wrote every note and then I had to give it an emotional life through my interpretation at the piano. In this respect it has been a more complex process than just spending a couple of hours finding the right interpretation for singing a song. But I’m not saying either that interpreting a song and meaning the lyrics is something easy to do. It’s not. It requires that you let go, that you enter a different world. It can be very challenging and difficult too.
And do you feel any difference between singing your own songs and someone else’s ones?
If the lyrics are good, and in the case of Piano Magic they have always been very good, then singing them feels absolutely natural. In fact I didn’t write the lyrics to some of my favourite songs as a singer, “Help Me Warm This Frozen Heart” is one of them. Obviously some of the lyrics that I wrote (and some are better than others) mean something extremely personal, something for which I have an intimate understanding. This means that I have a special connection to them, I am baring my soul.
Is there any artist you consider important in your musical formation or at least someone you feel close to your way of making music?
The musicians to whom I feel closer to as creating artists are the people around me, like Glen Johnson, Oliver Cherer and David Sheppard. In recent years, through my involvement with Second Language, I have met many artists and have witnessed how they work. This has been very inspiring. In general, I feel a connection with artists who see themselves as craftsmen and do their own thing and keep at it, but who are also ready to experiment and take risks. If you are talking about musical influences, some of the big landmarks for me musically have been artists like Sonic Youth, Low, Dead Can Dance, Aphex Twin, Moondog, Bach, Xenakis, Carl Orff, John Coltrane, Muddy Waters, The Everly Brothers… a very random bunch of people really.
As you’re already used to be involved in projects involving other musicians, is there any other artist you’d fancy working with?
Bill Callahan, Nick Cave or Johnny Greenwood would be a good start. ;-)
How do you feel playing live with Piano Magic or as “frontwoman” of Klima (which I’ve never seen live)? Would you like to play solo concerts on piano in theatres?
I am definitely going to play solo concerts at the piano. I supported Colleen in London in June, and am playing again in October. I’m hoping to play in Italy soon too in fact. Playing live and creating emotions with other people is so special and magical, especially if like in Piano Magic they’re your friends. It’s about finding the connection and entering the zone with them, in front of other people. Playing alone is obviously very different. You are naked, there’s no question about that. You are not just playing to the audience but with them. It’s very daunting but greatly exciting too. Either way I love playing live; just don’t try and get in my way when I’m sound checking; I’m usually in a terrible mood!
It looks like, through your experiences in bands and now on solo, you’re developing a more and more delicate and essential sound: has this been a conscious process or something that came naturally? Is there any musical context you feel more fitting to your voice?
I think I just may be becoming more myself! I am really interested in directness and bareness in music and in singing. This is what touches me most really and this is what I get a kick out of doing. I like that you’re talking about an ‘essential sound’. It was my plan for this record. The next one may be super produced though, with tons of vocal effects…
The first Klima record had some catchy and simple (somehow) electro-pop melodies, so that some people compared you even to Bjork: have you ever fancy becoming a “popstar” like her or similar?
No, I never fancied becoming a popstar. In my 20s I certainly dreamt at some point that I could perhaps one day have a career like Bjork or rather a little more modestly like Stina Nordenstam. But such careers in the sense that these are excellent single-minded musicians, not popstars. I make music because it’s a necessity and something I enjoy at a very deep level. My primary ambition is to create beautiful music, not to sell records or have a big car.
You released the second Klima record, the wonderful “Serenades & Serinettes”, on Second Language, the label run also by Glen Johnson. What do you think of the label’s philosophy and of the “collective” of artists sharing a somehow common style that’s quickly gathered around it?
I think Second Language is amazing. I am so admirative of Glen’s incredible work with the label, and I’m delighted that I have been able to be small a contributor to it. I’m not certain that there is a common style but there is definitely a real sense of common purpose and understanding between all the musicians. We know each other, we play gigs together, we play on each other’s records; it’s just incredibly fun and exciting.
What’s your ideal condition for writing music? Generally speaking, are your songs mostly born from emotional inspiration or do they come out in a more “technical” way?
Emotional inspiration is always at the core. What works for me as a process is to experiment and little by little to come with melodic lines, small various parts. I record everything on a crappy minidisk or even my phone, and then at a later point I listen to those little bits and some of them make sense and inspire me to do more. Sometimes I will write an entire piece or song out of the blue, in one go, but it is rarer. Mostly it’s a slow process for me. It’s about capturing the spontaneous emotion whilst taking some distance from it too. Everybody’s different, but that’s what I do.
How would you describe the meaning and the goal – both personal and artistic – of your music?
Enjoyment and honesty. My primary motivation is to find enjoyment in what I do. There’s no point otherwise. I also aim at creating a music which is honest, where it is really me who is speaking. I have no interest in striking poses.
Lastly, after an album so intense and peculiar as “Kourouma”, what else can we expect from you in the near future, and what do you expect from music?
In the near future I want to play this album live, on my own or with a couple of musicians to recreate some of the more orchestral pieces. Then I definitely want to do an album of moody electric guitars and vocals. I can hear the sound in my head; I just have to get cracking.