Friday, June 26, 2009
ANDY HAZEL takes an early morning call from Norwegian indie-popsters JE SUIS ANIMAL, finds their musical time machine jammed firmly to an idealised Paris and has no complaints.
If you can imagine Ludwig Bemelmans’ picture book heroine Madeline as a reclusive, reflective teenager spending a winter indoors then you’re coming close to conjuring the world created by Je Suis Animal.
Winter 2008 saw the Australian release of their debut album Self-Taught Magic From A Book, a snow globe heirloom from Paris between the wars. Full of songs of imagined people and places, the album (created in a hut in the Norwegian woods) is so evocative of an imagined time, it’s surprising that five people leaning into a laptop on a dusky midnight in Oslo can chat cheerily about its creation, a band about to illuminate winter 2009.
“It was our plan,” laughs singer Elin Grimstad. “When we recorded it, it was wintry then as well. The lifespan of the whole album was wintery, but that we are coming to Australia in winter is a coincidence. I love imagining places I haven’t been; I imagine the jungle now when we go to Australia.”
Geography is a malleable and versatile framework for storytelling for Je Suis Animal, wilfully skewering perceptions for a more dramatic outcome, in the manner of Tove Jansson’s Moomins. “It’s like the imagination of a place becomes something in itself,” she continues. “A dream has a particular quality and the idea of a place can become as real as the reality; the way Rosseau became obsessed with painting jungles,” Grimstad says emphatically. “Say you’re in love with an unknown time or place, it can create a dramatic and unreal quality that’s very inspiring, like how kids play. And after a couple of years, it creates very solid ideas of what things are like; if you have a strong enough imagination.”
The collective imagination of Je Suis Animal then, is Herculean. That they choose to use this resource to create vignettes of perfect shoegaze-influenced pop is another minor miracle, as Self-Taught Magic… indicates. “Our intention was based around each song rather than the album as a whole, to make a desert album. It was made over a long period of time and has many different atmospheres. We hope it’s like a book.”
Grimstad cites My Bloody Valentine’s Ecstasy and Wine as her favourite desert album, a glistening collection of songs with sonic similarities to theirs. Attention to fantastical detail becomes a hard, and alluring reality when the band’s music meets their lyrical flights of fancy, a point guitarist Matt Bagguley takes up. “A mixture of things inspired these songs; books, films, things that happen in our lives, music not so much. It’s not intentionally escapism - everything can be seen as escapism.”
Grimstad continues: “Often songs will come from dreams and the idea of somewhere imaginary gives me a rush of excitement. Like the music in the film Un Chien Andalou (hums the film’s motif); it goes up and up and up and never ever goes down, I’d love to make music like that, with that ecstatic feeling.”
For a band chasing ecstasy, their name is rooted in the scientific reality. “I just thought of Darwin really,” Grimstad explains. “My favourite animal is the seahorse - I only just realised they existed,” she says laughing, “I thought they were mythological.”
Though very happy with their day-to-day reality, the reality of touring is something the band enjoys even more. Focusing more on the UK than Norway with their releases and tours, recent adventures have taken them to the hallowed indie turf of London club night Twee As Fuck and legendary festival Indietracks, with reviews of their gigs as enthusiastic as Bagguley is of their experiences, “Twee As Fuck and Indietracks were amazing. Easily the best festival I’ve been to. We played the smallest stage they had, inside this tiny church. The whole location is a railway museum, every now and then an enormous steam train comes through, and everyone has to get out of the way.”