Paco Versailles is very… Je ne sais quoi.
Named after influences—the Spanish guitarist Paco De Lucia and the Versailles-bred French electronic artists Daft Punk and Air—Paco Versailles, conceived by Ryan Merchant of the Los Angeles pop duo Capital Cities and guitarist and composer Vahagni, is a mergence of the pair’s respective disco and classical guitar roots.
Dubbing their dance-flamenco fusion “dancemenco,” the Los Angeles-based duo, who have already released “Alive,” “Unwind,” and “Gemini” in 2020, continue to work through their experimental soundscape, offering a unique message of love on “Je T’Aime.”
“Vahagni came up with this really beautiful and evocative chord progression that kind of took me on a journey in itself,” says Merchant of the new single. “It’s almost hypnotic, and I could just listen to that chord progression over and over, which is kind of a rare thing, because most chord progressions have been done before and are pretty predictable.”
Playing around with a very French surrealist harmonic structure, Vahagni added in Merchant’s lyrics, and both produced the track simultaneously. “There’s no one, definitive way that we work,” says Vahagni. “It’s just a mixture of everything, and we respect each other spaces.”
“Je T’Aime” shows the exquisite form of Paco Versailles. An “I Love You” to a person, place, or thing, “Je T’Aime” is an atmospheric dance trance, weaved through intoxicating beats and instrumentation with Merchant effortlessly switching French to English throughout singing Je t’aime. Tu es la plus belle de la ville [I love you. You’re the most beautiful in the town] to No one gets me high like you.
“Sometimes the harmonic feeling of music can actually influence the language that you want to sing in and certain melodies lend themselves to different languages,” says Merchant. “It just became this ethereal love song. I don’t think I had a specific meaning. I was just looking for words that felt evocative. It’s about appreciation and paying homage to something that’s very special to you.”
Everything has been a natural progression for Paco Versailles. The two first met in 2016 after Vahagni joined Capital Cities as a guitarist on tour and later wrote songs and had their first “show” at a party thrown by Merchant in Los Angeles. “We became good friends and had this notion that we wanted to one day pair our two musical influences together,” shares Merchant. “We thought it’d be interesting to marry those two and bring his particular harmonic style of flamenco and classical guitar into a more modern context with beats.”
Shifting from Capital Cities, where Merchant often found himself thinking too much about what was happening in the pop world when creating, Paco Versailles is more free flowing. “We just do whatever comes to us,” says Merchant. “We’re not trying to write the perfect, coherent pop song. It’s a mix of songs that can stand as something you’d play on the piano, but then there’s stuff that’s more dreamy and captures the essence of Paco Versailles.”
By 2021, Paco Versailles plan to compile their singles into a debut album, tentatively titled Dancemenco, and continue to release new single per month throughout the year.
Music comes so effortlessly because there is no process around the project. Constantly writing, when both finish a song, they put it out and don’t think about it much.
“At times you can write music, and then you’ll edit and re-edit and just destroy it, because you’re trying to make it perfect or fit some sort of mold,” says Vahagni. “With this, we stop at that inspiration state, so what you get is a very pure, naturally flowing creativity. I think that’s what makes the sound very unique. It’s not artificial.”
For Vahagni and Merchant, Paco Versailles is about enjoying and being immersed in the process. “We have to constantly remind ourselves of it, because there are some songs where you start to get a little bit picky and obsessive and all of a sudden, it goes having fun into stressing about the process of making music,” says Merchant. “We’re not trying to write a top 40 hit here. This doesn’t have to be absolute perfection. It’s more about something that is an authentic expression of something that we can be proud of, and are excited about.”
Vahagni adds, “If you let go, and you’re not so precious, things just kind of work themselves out perfectly—everything from the name to the genre dancemenco to the music and the whole kind of brand that’s been created. The seeds were planted in both of us, so we just had to get together and let the muses do the rest.”