A REVOLUTION OF CURIOSITIES
A CONVERSATION WITH OLIVIER LIBAUX OF NOUVELLE VAGUE
“Inspiration, Unexpectedness, Intuition” – this is Nouvelle Vague in a nutshell, according to Olivier Libaux. Just like a dazzling French lady, Nouvelle Vague is delicate, sentimental, and dancing seductively with the flow of music, while devouring the hearts of many, but always keeping it cool, most often smoking a cigarette. Olivier Libaux, founder and guitarist of Nouvelle Vague, unfolds all the beautiful colours of this “unusual cover experiment” in a heartfelt conversation.
It all began on May 1, 2004 in Paris, at Café de la Danse, when Nouvelle Vague appeared on stage as a cover band for the very first time. Since then, they have produced five studio albums and have toured around the world multiple times. Today, 15 years later, they are celebrating their 15th anniversary, marking it with a 2019 tour. Never have they ever expected such a big success, but it seems that the fame has not washed away their intrinsic spontaneity. Rather they are still utilizing “the same kind of formula” and going with the flow.
The band has arrived quite early. “Before Nouvelle Vague I don’t think that there were that many cover bands, actually. Cover band in my memory was a band playing on a Saturday night the top ten songs or the classics… In France not that much good music was happening”, shares Olivier. Within that ambience, Olivier Libaux and Marc Collin used their vast knowledge in music, both coming from a production background, and came up with their formula: new wave equals bossa nova equals Nouvelle Vague. At first, they covered the classic songs such as “Love Will Tear Us Apart” and “In a Manner of Speaking”. “The results could be interesting, maybe beautiful, just to see if that could work.”
And it sure did! Slowly, they found a resonance between Western punk and the new wave movement: “the times were hard, because there was unemployment, attacks. And we were thinking this was the true Brazil of the 50s and 60s.” On stage, they rely on the “freshness” of the young, non-established female signers, who often do not even know the originals, to impersonate the punk animosity and the bossa nova softness of the songs. Transcending the Nouvelle Vague charisma all around the world, they have made fans and friends from all sorts of ages.
“This way we started to be exactly like an indie band switching from touring to recording, touring, recording, touring, touring…” Olivier laughs. “Nouvelle Vague has probably invented a new genre of being a cover band.”
It is behind the stage, however, in the recording studio, where the raw Nouvelle Vague resides, and where Olivier has allowed us a sneak peek to unveil “the real, real way that the songs are happening.” The producer talks about the ease and the artistic impromptu ambience, where their musical pieces flourish in: “When a good song is happening it takes two hours. It’s super quick”. At first, Olivier’s acoustic guitar segment is recorded and with little to no editing Marc, the computer whiz, polishes the piece to their taste. In about an hour and a half the instrumental is completed and it is time to give it the right voice. As soon as the singer comes along, they aim to “catch the right edge, so that there will not be much editing to do, because the general flow is perfect. It’s quickie-quickie.”
Nouvelle Vague has fully tapped into its natural flow, but it has taken the producers a long time “to understand and to have the ability and enough confidence in the experiments”. They started the band when Olivier was 40-years-old, and Marc was 36. Olivier tells me that he cannot give a set recipe to young musicians: “It’s really a way of the real thing, the knowledge of doing it, so that you can rely on that general simple flow”.
In a lyrical deviation Olivier once again reiterates: “It has to be this flow we are talking about”, because people will hear it and follow it. Olivier is highly invested when it comes to his fans: “The best way to know our audience is to know what happens between them and Nouvelle Vague.” A story that really has touched his heart happened in 2006, when after a concert in the Netherlands a young couple went up to Olivier after the show and said: “Thank you so much for your music, for Nouvelle Vague.” The producer welcomed their sincere appreciation, and then they added: “We met each other because of Nouvelle Vague.” Olivier adds: “The story is not finished yet!”. Two years later Nouvelle Vague were playing at the same venue in the Netherlands, and after the concert he met with the same couple who showed him a photo of their newborn baby and said a big “thank you” to him. Olivier exclaims in awe: “Can you imagine?”
It has now been 15 years of touching stories like this one and we wonder what other nuances the French band going to add to their artistic repertoire. Having released their new album Rarities on February 15, 2019, their intricate play with numbers leads to Nouvelle Vague’s celebration of their 15th anniversary with a tour of Europe starting in April 2019. Throughout the years, the band has produced a rich amalgam of songs, and the shows in this tour would be a triumph to the past, present, and future of Nouvelle Vague. “We are going back to a simple formula, but we are not doing the same as in 2004.” What is unique about this tour is that there will be no drums, but the rhythm flow will be compensated by the usual guitar and keyboard played by Olivier and Marc respectively, with the addition of one more keyboard player, “which means that he is playing the main keyboard part and Marc is doing what he is very good at, which is creating atmosphere, ambience”. The band is looking forward to their dreamy enchantment and to “just let some music flow”.
Some might say that Nouvelle Vague has reflected a revolution – the bossa nova ‘50s/’60s ambience and the new wave. But Nouvelle Vague has also created a revolution, a revolution in the way a cover band has established a new genre. The French band is raising its voice in the most feminine, versatile and acute manner of singing. Olivier Libaux concludes “And if I am being very proud, I would say it will be very difficult for another band to do something that strong.”