October 11, 2018
One of the fashion world’s great provocateurs, Michèle Lamy has embarked on releasing a second album with artist and musician Nico Vascellari and daughter Scarlett Rouge. Touching on spoken word, electronics and an innate sense of drama, Garden Of Memory flourishes from the trio’s intuitive approach to song-writing and performance. They tell us how it’s done.
It’s late June, and Michèle Lamy is smoking in a shaded area at the back of the Strongroom studio garden in Shoreditch. Her ink-dipped fingers hang heavy with jewellery, which clinks as she moves her hands. She’s joined by musician and artist Nico Vascellari, and her daughter, the artist Scarlett Rouge, who lend the VA and SCAR to the trio’s name to discuss their second album Garden Of Memory. We catch them in mid-flow and the ideas are fizzing between them.
LAVASCAR was born in Paris in 2017 and the release of debut album A Dream Deferred, inspired by Langston Hughes’ poem Montage of a Dream Deferred, and just the latest manifestation of her love for his writing. In an interview with Dazed in 2013, Lamy recounted how it was Hughes’ King Kong Blues – “written on a napkin in a St Germain club” – that encouraged her to be a raconteuse, among other things.
Now, stretching her vocal chords once more, Lamy has turned her attention to 93-year old Lebanese-American poet, journalist and artist Etel Adnan. As she leafs through a collection of her writing, Lamy explains that using the words of others helps transmit something of their character, meaning and action into the work. As Vascellari elaborates: “I think it’s somehow nice that we have this universe of words that we can choose from and somehow recreate something that we can all feel somehow comfortable with. And the words are used in the tracks to suggest certain topics and emotions.”
It’s a connection which also made sense for Scarlett Rouge. “She [Adnan] wrote political poetry, she is a journalist, she is lots of things, so that’s why I think when Michèle discovered her there was an immediate ‘this is now what needs to be said.'”
“I like poetry,” Lamy adds. “I don’t like when a sentence tells you everything. I like suggestion.” It’s a sentiment which has drawn Lamy to hip-hop in the past and which now informs this new record. There is a sense of unfolding meaning which pervades Garden Of Memory. Unlike A Dream Deferred, which Vascellari famously described as “an evocation of Michèle Lamy sitting in a cave, surrounded by wild beasts ready to devour her,” Garden of Memory has loftier concerns. “So far it seems like we are more in the cosmos… We are coming out of the hole!” Lamy explains.
Sonically, this translates as a record which revels in the tension between industrial and organic – Lamy’s oratory, both fragile and assertive – often in counterpoint to that of her daughter – set above ambient soundscapes, and pulsating EBM-inspired electronics.
“With the first album what we wanted to do was create something very primitive, and archaic and somehow spiritual or even somehow religious, even if it’s not that defined religion,” describes Vascellari. “But the beats were an important part – that came from a primitive and instinctual way of approaching music, because at the end of the day none of us are truly musicians.”
Having such a mixed bag of creative experiences excites Lamy. While neither she nor Scarlett would call themselves musicians with a capital M, both have lived lives surrounded by it. From the age of five, Scarlett was on singing on stage with Devo’s Mark Mothersbaugh, while Lamy has collaborated with everyone from Joni Mitchell and James Lavelle to Mos Def, FKA Twigs and A$AP Rocky.
It goes without saying, that teasing the primitive from each other was not a problem. As Scarlett exclaims: “We are primitive, that’s the point! We haven’t a really joined the technological age yet, we’re trying to bring you back, we’re using digital music to help people remember their roots and the heartbeat that started music in the beginning.”
As with A Dream Deferred, there will be a visual aspect to Garden Of Memory, that will further help explore the multi-disciplinary nature of the work and is intricately entwined with the theatre of the music itself. Such is the nature of the project that even Lamy was surprised at how it turned out. “For me, I was seduced by a new sound, because it’s not what I listen to or what I thought I would do. For the first album, I thought I would be doing something more like sampling, hip-hop or techno, which that I do listen to.”
Garden Of Memory may have other reference points, but as the trio head back to the studio, it becomes clear that, like the name of the band, their’s is a sound inextricable from their personal experiences. What emerges is something unexpected, primal, truly collaborative. For Lamy, that means “going from seduction to seduction, and thinking this was just right.” Musicians they may not be, but you can’t get more intuitive than that.
Garden of Memory is out now on The Vinyl Factory.