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It is very rarely that a musical project lives up to the billing of being a ‘supergroup’. However, the exception to this rule comes in the shape of L’Epee. A stellar combination of the talents of The Brian Jonestown Massacre’s Anton Newcombe, cinematic femme fatale Emmanuelle Seigner and ice-cool pop provocateurs The Limiñanas (Lionel and Marie Liminana), L’Epee transcend artistic and traditional borders. “We are living in very culturally insular times, so it feels really good to be swimming against the tide,” says Anton of the band’s bi-lingual, cross-continental approach. “There’s something really positive about branching out, collaborating and taking risks.”
Far from being defeated by a world seemingly regressing into turmoil, L’ Epee’s strength comes from a long history of challenging the status quo. From Anton’s legendary battles with ‘The Man’ with The Brian Jonestown Massacre to Emmanuelle’s eclectic screen career to The Liminana’s community-minded ethos- setting up their own record shop, L.G.D.C, and promoting gigs by the cream of the world’s garage rock scene ( New Bomb Turks, Oblivians, Fleshtones, Revelators) -they share a fierce intelligence and an outsider aesthetic which, over the decades, has been sharpened to a razor’s edge. Fitting, then, that their name translates as The Sword. “It came to me in a dream,” explains Anton. “I woke up and there it was, ‘The Sword’. Someone told me there had already been a band with that name so I flipped it into French. It suits the band because we’re united in a common cause.”
This pent-up creative energy has been channelled into their extraordinary debut album, Diabolique. Named in tribute to Mario Bava’s 1968 cult classic ‘Danger: Diabolik’, it’s a musical masterclass where elements of garage, ye-ye, sleaze rock, cult soundtracks, sci-fi, spaghetti westerns and girl-group pop noir are combined with the cut-and-thrust zeal of a band bursting with ideas and energy. All delivered by Emmanuelle in a sultry Gallic drawl which will send a frisson of recognition through anyone familiar with her iconic roles in, among many others, Frantic, Venus In Fur and Bitter Moon (all directed by her husband, Roman Polanski).
“I’ve loved rock music since I was a kid,” she says, namechecking Lou Reed, The Velvet Underground and The Stooges as key influences. “I always wanted to be a musician, but it wasn’t so easy in France as I couldn’t meet the right people. Then I became a model and then very quickly after that I did Frantic and became an actress. It worked for me, but in my heart I always wanted to do music.”
In the last decade, Emmanuelle has enjoyed commercial success as a singer with French pop outfit Ultra-Orange and with her own solo career -once sharing a stage with Prince at the Montreux Jazz Festival. However, it was only when she heard The Limiñanas’ track ‘Down Underground’ in an episode of Gossip Girl she was watching with her daughter that she realised that the kindred spirits she longed to meet actually existed. “I loved that song so much I had to find out who they were,” she explains. “I flew to Perpignan to meet Lionel and Marie with the aim of making a record, and we got on so well together that they asked me to sing on a song called ‘Shadow People’. When they told me Anton was going to mix it I was so excited, because I’d always been a fan of his. The results were so good that it became obvious the four of us should be in a band together.”
Equally, for Lionel, the opportunity to compose the music and lyrics for an album sung by Emmanuelle felt like a dream come true. “I used to watch Frantic over and over again when I was a teenager,” he says with a grin. “She is the source of inspiration for all the themes and lyrics on the record. I saw the album as a sketch film from the sixties. Like (Italian film director) Dino Risi’s movies, each one of them a short story, with Emmanuelle as the heroine. Her voice and her personality are unique.” Having asked close friend Bertrand Belin to provide lyrics for three further tracks (‘Grande', ‘On Dansait Avec Elle’ and ‘Lou’), the trio set to work at The Limiñanas’ studio in Cabestany, Southern France, in November 2017 -with Emmanuelle, ever the perfectionist, fine-tuning them the following February. Satisfied with the results, the trio flew to Berlin to hook up with Anton and (Liverpudlian engineer) Andrea Wright at his Cobra Studio in Berlin. Utilising a treasure trove of vintage equipment (“I’ve got way more ‘60’s gear than The Beatles and The Stones had, I’m mad for that stuff”, explains the BJM man), Anton set to work, re-recording the drums with Marie and adding -and deleting- tracks so that the shifting layers of sound suited the mood of each individual track. “I’ve got plenty of other ways to express myself, so I really enjoyed taking a backseat, creatively,” he explains. “Lionel is such a great composer. There’s a very visual sense to his songs and I was very conscious of not stepping on his intentions too much. There were some really interesting sonic things I would add, like a track of the craziest feedback, to give a song a weird ambient quality. It’s the role that Brian Jones had in the Stones, or Warren (Ellis) has in Nick Cave’s band. Musically, they’re all over the map, but they make things happen.” “It was so inspiring to see Anton work,” says Emmanuelle of seeing him in action. “When we sent the songs to him they were good, but they were nothing like how it ended up. He’s so talented, like a genius. He made the whole thing darker, more interesting and more psychedelic.”
From the opening bars of opener ‘Une Lune Etrange’ - where Emmanuelle purrs: “I’m the Queen of Furs/ the Earthquake Lady” Diabolique draws the listener into an alternate universe where Francoise Hardy, Phil Spector, Martin Rev, Ennio Morricone, Sylvie Vartan and The Velvet Underground live in narcotic harmony, intent on exploring new psychedelic frontiers. If the shimmering drone rock of ‘Lou’ is mirrored by a lyric about a possessive boyfriend (“That song is about jealousy, guys can be so paranoid sometimes,” says Emmanuelle) garage nugget ‘Dreams’- already a staple of Jarvis Cocker’s dj sets- comes with a contemporary twist. “Dreams is a really funny song,” explains Emmanuelle. “It’s about a guy that is bothering a girl. She gets so fed up, she eats him. It’s like a hashtag MeToo song, where the woman wins.”
While they all stress there is no overt political message in L’Epee’s music- “I am not an activist,” stresses Lionel, “We just advocate for DIY”- Diabolique comes with a raw emotional honesty which peaks with the sublime ‘On Dansait Avec Elle’. An erotically charged duet between Emmanuelle and songwriter Bertrand Belin, it inevitably brings to mind Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin’s timeless ‘Je T’Aime…moi non plus’. “For me, it is the song of the record,” says Lionel. “The lyrics are very beautiful and the bassline also gives it a ‘Gainsbourgian’ feel. I also love Anton’s production and arrangement work. He helped to breathe life into the song. It is very sad and tribal. And Emmanuelle sings it wonderfully well.”
‘Ghost Rider’ meanwhile, benefits from Anton’s studio wizardry, conjuring up images of Suicide jamming with Duane Eddy. “Lionel’s songs are great because he pays homage without ever sounding like a pastiche,” says Anton. “Usually If I hear something brilliant I’m so jealous, so it was great to collaborate with him knowing we were all working towards the same goal.” Add in the motorik groove of ‘La Brigade Des Malefices’- inspired by the cult French TV show of the same name- sleigh-bell driven gem ‘Springfield 61’ and hypnotic mantra ‘Grande’ and you’ve got an album as compelling as anything in the illustrious back catalogues of all concerned. Throughout, it’s shot through with a sense that L’Epee are embarking on a mission to a destination as yet unknown. Or, in the words of fantastic full-tilt finale ‘The Last Picture Show: “Blood on the floor/ The thirteenth floor/ I’m dressed to kill/I need more.” “It’s the combination of the four of us which makes it work,” says Emmanuelle of L’Epee’s rare alchemy. “I’ve been waiting for these people all my life.”
“I’m never out of ideas and neither is Lionel, and that’s a wonderful place to be,” says Anton in conclusion of their future plans. “The goal is to get another record in the pipeline. I just hope it gets some wings and flies some place.” For L’Epee, the sky really is the limit. -- Paul Moody
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