100 Musicians Answer the Same 10 Questions
Part Sixty-One: Paul Francke of Alsace-Lorraine
instigated by dave heaton
About five years ago a trio called Alsace-Lorraine, then based in Chicago, released a gorgeous, dream-pop album with its own distinct sound called Through Small Windows (Darla). This coming November the central figure in the group, Paul Francke, is set to release the second Alsace Lorraine album Dark One, including some songs featuring Isol, formerly of Entre Rios, on vocals. It's an event which music fans who love atmospheric, transporting pop music should take particular note of. Check out Darla's website to keep up with them.
What aspect of making music excites you the most right now?
I'll be writing and playing with a band this year, so the most exciting thing at the moment is the prospect of seeing how other people mess with the bare bones of songs I introduce to them. It's been a lot of fun to work on songs with Isol, for that reason.
What aspect of making music gets you the most discouraged?
My computer's old and slow. This time next year I'll be able to upgrade, but at the moment, it's all feeling totally dark ages.
What are you up to right now, music-wise? (Current or upcoming recordings, tours, extravaganzas, experiments, top-secret projects, etc).
I just finished a second album and am getting a band together to work on a third. The plan is to play some shows after the third album.
What's the most unusual place you've ever played a show or made a recording? How did the qualities of that place affect the show/recording?
Joe Moore plays on one song on the second Alsace-Lorraine album, and in high school Joe and I played music at a birthday party in Ravenswood, West Virginia. The birthday girl and her friends were all goths, and I think they stared at us blankly as we played in her tiny, stone-walled basement. The sound wasn't great, and that was mostly our fault, but also I don't think they were into us in general. We played after some of our friends, a classic goth band called INRI, who were much better received. I just remember no one saying anything, even in between bands. We sounded hesitant in response, I think, like we were just waiting for someone to outright say "this crap is too happy." There was this weird, suburban wasteland feeling to the house and neighborhood. As we were trying to leave, we somehow got blocked into her dead end street by a huge black pick-up truck which sat there for an uncomfortably long time. There was nothing scary or even pointedly disconcerting about it, just weirdly emotionless.
In what ways does the place where you live (or places where you have lived), affect the music you create, or your taste in music?
Half of this latest album, Dark One, was recorded in an apartment in Humboldt Park, Chicago. The other half was recorded in an Episcopalian seminary dormitory in Alexandria, Virginia. I finished mixing it in Scotland while working out there. I like to think I'm still writing the same old songs as when I was 12, but the environment has to do something. I do get exposed to a lot of ancient hymns, especially on Sundays, which reminds me that Isol said one of my songs ("Who Will Take Your Side?") sounded part '70s, part medieval to her. I'm not sure I agree with the medieval part, but maybe that's the subconscious influence of all those hymns.
When was the last time you wrote a song? What can you tell us about it?
The one I'm messing with now has a chorus from the days of my high school band with Joe, but I never introduced it to that band (the P'u Rens), and I forgot about it until recently. I thought up new words to it on a train ride from Campbeltown to Glasgow. I think I want to call it "Blood Without a Heart."
As you create more music, do you find yourself getting more or less interested in seeking out and listening to new music made by other people...and why do you think that is?
Definitely more. I write songs in spurts, and when one of those moments comes along, it helps to have a lot of experience just reacting emotionally to music, so you can say: playing this progression makes me feel sort of bland, but playing this other progression makes me feel some version of that crazy melancholy I got from that one Smokey Robinson song. Somehow if I don't listen to other music, it's harder to decide between different options like that. There's some old saying that says in effect: the more you get into your own tastes, the less things in the world you can enjoy. So when I get more and more into the specific types of music that I really love, I like less and less other music, but also I like less and less of my own ideas, so hopefully that helps me develop better quality control.
Lately what musical periods or styles do you find yourself most drawn to as a listener? (Old or new music? Music like yours or different from yours?)
Lately I like stuff that sounds bare or spacey to me, but it doesn't all fit in the same genre or time period. Like Edith Frost and Windy & Carl.. both doing stuff now, but different genres, and yet they do the same thing to me. What a bad answer: I like stuff that does that thing to me. But I can't explain beyond that.
Name a band or musician, past or present, who you flat-out LOVE and think more people should be listening to. What's one of your all-time favorite recordings by this band/musician?
Flesh For Lulu! I love 'Postcards From Paradise.' But people a couple years younger than me haven't heard them, and people a few years older than me (I'm 27) have probably heard them quite a lot already and moved on 10 years ago. Still, that's a great rock song.
What's the saddest song you've ever heard?
The old folk song "Barbara Allen," or as they sing it in West Virginia, where I'm from, "Barby Allen." I'm not sure what I'd think of it if I heard it now for the first time, and I wouldn't say the words themselves are necessarily sadder than Anthony and the Johnsons or Bright Eyes, or another band with really sad songs, but my mom sang it to me when I was a kid, in a hammock in the woods, and I think it was the first song I ever heard with a tragic ending. I had never heard a story that didn't end in a bland or happy way, at least in a song, until that one came along. So it hit me unsuspectingly, and it's so beautiful and simple. It still triggers tears and I try to minimize the amount of times I hear it, so it will keep doing that, because there aren't many things in my life with that special ability to channel me back through the years, while still keeping me connected with who I am now. Everytime I've heard it it's always a slightly different reaction based on what I'm like at the time, but it's always linked to those first few times I heard it.
To check out the rest of the Q&As, click here.