“I think you have to follow the Monty Python saying, ‘always look on the bright side of life,’” says Marlon Magnée, frontman of French avant rockers La Femme. Reflecting on the past year, the singer says now couldn’t have been the more inopportune time, particularly in France, to release the band’s third album Paradigmes (Disque Pointu/IDOL), yet, here they go.
“We have no money, we have no gigs, and also for us it’s fucked because our album is released this month, and the French government just said that everything is closed for the next month,” says Magnée. “But it’s fine. We keep smiling, and we work on videos, and we try to work with other artists and stuff like this. We’re more ready than ever.”
On Paradigmes, a follow up to the band’s 2016 release Mystère, La Femme unravel a body of songs, some dating back to 2012 like “Le sang de mon Prochain” (or “My Neighbor’s Blood),” the gypsy-goth chanson française of a vampire, portrayed by La Femme front woman Clémence Quélennec, in the track’s video, directed by Ilan Zerrouki.
Psych swirls around opening “Paradigmes,” and shifts through La Femme’s paradigms, from electro “Disconnexion” and new wave-fused “Foutre le bordel,” through the more dreamier pop of “Le Jardin,” and closer “Tu t’en lasses” (“You get tired of it”), a track Magnée says was originally written in 2015. Throughout, Paradigmes also intersperses English titles—intentionally done in jest, poking fun at how the band perceive French people tend to make up lyrics in English— from the frenetic bursts of “Foreigner,” and ambient flow of “Pasadena,” an ode to Los Angeles, a city La Femme loves, to “Cool Colorado,” a tale of “being free and smoking weed in the streets without being arrested,” says Magnée.
Forever in their own world since forming in 2010, and releasing their debut Psycho Tropical Berlin by 2013—which earned the band a Victoires de la Musique award—Magnée says the band, which he co-founded with guitarist Sacha Got, remain true to their original form, never listening to the outside “noise” of other music and instead their inner voices, stirred by a tangle of musical influences, and varying genre-twisted vibes.
“Basically, our workflow is to always make new songs,” says Magnée. “We always make new songs every day, and we always have 100 songs when it’s time to do an album. When we do an album, we love to have versatile, different kinds of music, and we like to have a different kind of vibe—not only rock and roll, not only electronic music.”
He adds, “We are very arts and craft men, and we like to take the time to do very good quality music, so if it takes one or two years, or longer, we prefer to wait. Sometimes there are no rules. A song can be ready in one month, but most of the time we are very perfectionist in all the detail, and if we don’t have the inspiration for finishing the song, we prefer to wait.”
Referencing “Le sang de mon prochain,” a song Magnée says is a longtime favorite that was never ready when he initially wrote it more than eight years ago. “After eight years,” he says, “it was still something special.”
Magnée says there’s also a bigger sonic “universe” the band thinks about when creating, one without a direct musical model, even album’s title Paradigmes, or paradigms, meaning a “standard” or “archtype,” embodies La Femme.
“We like to make our own songs, because if you listen too much to the trends you’re going to be stuck in a decade and you’re gonna sound cheesy 10 years later,” says Magnée. “We don’t listen to the music that they make right now, except a few bands that we like or met on tour. We are just stuck in our world, which is bad and good, but we have our own sound like ‘Psycho Tropical Berlin’… people are still listening to this album today, and it didn’t get old, so we’ll keep doing things this way.”
Formed in the coastal French Basque town of Biarritz in 2010, La Femme immediately received backlash for their chaotic sound, and for singing in French. “Everyone was like ‘you’re crazy. This music doesn’t sound right. It’s not what you listen to on the radio,’” says Magnée. “When we went to the U.S. the first time, people were like ‘you’re singing in French in the U.S. You’re never gonna make it.’ Now, everyone in France is singing in French. It’s so funny.”
Painting their own psych- and art-pop musical renderings, pilfering from the B-52s and The Misfits, or the scuzz-punk of The Cramps, there are no limitations, nor aspirations, when creating La Femme’s music.
“Our most biggest fear is to be sad about our song and not be proud of them,” shares Magnée. “We want to be proud and keep visiting our record five years or even 10 years later, and if we don’t do that it means the music is not the same quality and not that good. When we do music, we never plan anything. We’re never like ‘okay, I’m going to do something like this.’ Art can also be spontaneous.”
Oftentimes, songs come in the night, or in dreams, for Magnée, and then they’re gone. “Sometimes you have to wake up in the middle of the night and write things down,” he says. “The only problem is I’m fucking lazy, and sometimes I think of it two days after, and I already forgot. You really need to slap your face, wake up, and write it, because it’s going to just disappear.”
Now, more than a decade since La Femme’s inception, Magnée is proud of all their curated pieces of music through Paradigmes.
“I’m proud because we did it all by ourselves,” he says. “When you are an artist, I think the most scary thing is to die before releasing anything and have all your art forgotten. Even if we have more to do, or to prove, at least we already have three records. In high school, I was really scared to die without anyone knowing my songs, so even if it’s a few people, I’m just happy that it’s out there.”