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French For Rabbits

French For Rabbits

Interviewed by
Danielle Street
Wednesday 29th October, 2014 11:30AM

Originally forming in Wellington in 2011, Canterbury-born folk duo French For Rabbits has quickly gone from strength-to-strength. The two-piece has signed to North American imprint Lefse Records (which operates under the umbrella of Fat Possum), made a habit of touring the world to woo audiences with their melancholic dream pop, and have expanded to to include two new members. This week also sees French For Rabbits add another feather to their cap with the unveiling of their debut album Spirits, which sees it's official New Zealand release this Friday. UnderTheRadar caught up with vocalist and pianist Brooke Singer to talk about the new records, how she overcame her fear of singing and having a surname that aligns with your job...

UTR: Hi Brooke, I want to start at the beginning a little bit, you guys formed in 2011, how have you evolved as a band since then?

Brooke Singer: I guess in 2011, we had really just started. We weren’t even sure what we were doing at the time. And that was just a duo with me and John. We moved up to Wellington in-between the earthquakes and we started doing some open mic nights, because I never use to sing. So we started kind of quietly. And, I guess, last year and this year we’ve been doing a lot more. We put out a little EP in 2012 and from there we started playing more, and now we are playing as a four-piece. We’ve got a bass player, Ben, and a drummer, Hikurangi, so we are trying to more of our shows as a band.

Is that just for live shows, or for recording as well?

Definitely for recording too, so this new album Spirits we did as a full four-piece. The songs change quite a lot I think because we were recording with a band. We don’t always play as a four-piece, we are still doing some duo shows. That’s just because we live in different cities at the moment, but for this tour of Europe, and when we come back to tour the album in December we are touring as a four piece.

Going back to what you said before about not really being a singer, how did you break through that barrier?

So I did play in other bands, but singing was something I was terrified of, so I avoided it at all costs. I even used to play the melody I wanted to sing and just mumble the words so they didn’t have to hear me sing. Then when we moved to Wellington I didn’t feel so scared because there was less people I knew, so we’d play to strangers and then runaway and not have to talk to them about the consequences. And then I recorded a demo and played it to a few people, including my mum and she didn’t even know it was me, because she had never heard me sing.

How do you feel about it now that you’ve been doing it for awhile?

I still feel like I’m learning. I actually just had my first ever singing lessons in the last month. I’ve had two singing lessons, that was quite exciting.

What made you take that step?

Well, we are playing these big shows overseas, and because we are playing so many shows in a row I wanted to know my voice would last. Because you’re playing every night, and you’re staying up really late, and getting up really early, so that’s why I had them - just to make sure I could do it.

And you have the fortune of having a surname that aligns with your job…

Haha yea, maybe that’s why I never wanted to be one, because it’s just so ridiculous, because you have to say to people, “yes, that is actually my last name, I’m not some weirdo who thought because I’m a singer I’ll change my surname to Singer”.

You and John have done a lot of travelling over the last year or so, are you able to write on the road?

Sometimes yea, the last time I felt like we started doing that more. The first time round it was all a bit too bewildering, but the second time around in soundcheck and stuff, I would start making things up and I always felt like they were the beginnings of really good songs, but then we’d have to stop, so a lot of them didn’t get finished. So on this tour I think I’d like to bring a recording device and get some of the ideas down.

That could help capture those fleeting ideas…

Yea, because often it’s like this really great idea but you only sing it once, and it’s like, I know there was a really great idea but it’s gone into the ether.

So you have been together a few years and you are just putting your debut album out now. How did it come together?

Um, well we recorded it at this place called The Blue Barn in Wellington, and that’s a really great rehearsal space crossed with a studio, and they’ve got bunk beds in there, which is cool. So we started it there and recorded it with David Parker from Auckland. And we did some of it in Auckland at his house. And we did a lot of it via the internet with Ben and David, kind of going backwards and forwards when we were on the road.

So how long was the whole process, if you had to tally up?

It was about a year and a half.

How did the songs change over that time?

Definitely the textures and the overall feelings changed on some. I guess in the end we went a bit more experimental with mixing and modernised it quite a lot. Originally we thought we would make it quite lo-fi, and now it’s gone a bit more… strange.

What I’ve heard is quite rich and layered…

Yea, I’m not quite good at articulating how I want something to sound, I’m quite vague, so people have to interpret my strange ways of describing things into sound.

It seems like a lot of your music is tinged with sadness, where does that come from?

That’s a good question… they definitely are sad songs in general. And if they are not sad they are angry, but you can’t tell they are angry because they are surrounded in this warm layered cocoon. Um, I don’t know where it comes from, I’m not sad as a person, but all the sad bits in me come out in the songs.

So there's a kind of melancholic part of yourself that you tap into as a creative source...

Yea, I’ve tried to write happy songs, but it doesn’t quite happen. Sometimes they are a little bit hopeful because I’m quite optimistic but I can see all the bad things that happen in the world and that what’s happen when I write the songs.

You are signed to Lefse and have been touring the world, did you see French for Rabbits going in this direction when you first formed?

Well, I’ve always played music since I was very small and I don't think I would be happy if I wasn’t playing music. And John kinda just comes along for the ride, he loves playing music, but he probably enjoys surfing more.

So maybe the next tour you plan will be of the best surf towns…?

Yea, I’d really like to do that, maybe on our next tour.

French For Rabbits are currently on tour through Europe, but have plans to tour Spirits through New Zealand in December, so keep your eyes peeled for those dates.


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