When their debut album is released here in October, French For Rabbits will be in the midst of their third European tour. Brooke Singer provided NZM with a tour diary from their 33-date previous tour, which included performances at The Great Escape festival, disappointing Monday night gigs in small bars and fun house concerts. Greta Yeoman talked with the French For Rabbits’ front person and stoical jazz guitarist John Fitzgerald, in the courtyard of a busy Christchurch café, about ‘Spirits’ and the road so far.
French For Rabbits’ debut EP ‘Claimed by the Sea’ was a finalist for the 2013 Folk Tui prize. The band, fluctuating between the core duo of Brooke Singer and John Fitzgerald, and a four-piece that adds Ben Lemi on bass and drummer Hikurangi Schaverien-Kaa, have been around for four years. They’ve toured their dream-folk extensively in Europe and now have recorded and produced their debut album on the road.
For such a quiet, seemingly shy songwriter / singer / keyboardist / acoustic gutarist Brooke has proven a powerhouse in self-managing the band.
“I guess I have that kind of nature. Even though I’m fairly vague on stage, I find when I get into the business side I quite enjoy that.”
Armed with a post-grad qualification in PR and knowledge of the music scene from previous bands Ragamuffin Children and the O’Lovelys, she handled all the band’s management affairs up until the end of last year when they signed with American label Lefse Records.
“Lefse Records are helping us release the new record everywhere else [besides NZ].They are printing the records, arranging the promotion, and generally just being really wonderful and helping us anyway they can.”
She likes the community the music scene offers, which is one of the reasons their own local label was formed. As a collective of musical friends they can offer contacts, skills and knowledge under one label. Home Alone Music now includes Eb & Sparrow, City Oh Sigh and label founder Timothy Blackman. Brooke reiterates they don’t want to be seen as “businessy”.
“It’s all about the music.”
When we talk French For Rabbits are not long back from playing at the Going Global Music Summit in Auckland. It’s too early for them to say if anything came out of it. They did get coverage on TV3 and feedback suggests people liked their music, but John admits that upping their stage presence would help. He also notes they don’t really have a niche market for their music.
“It’s a strange between audience… mostly younger music fans but also we go over into older music fans.”
Their upcoming debut album ‘Spirits’, which has been almost two years in the making, may just resolve that question for them. French For Rabbits have been growing up in public.
Brooke only started singing at the same time the band began (really), playing at the same open mic nights in Wellington as Ebony Lamb of Eb & Sparrow. She tells of playing a song to her mother who didn’t know it was her, because she had never heard her daughter sing.
“Because I’d never sung before I never thought I could sing.”
Their new 10-track album was begun at Blue Barn Studios in Wellington, with various parts recorded in Auckland at David Parker’s Little Monster Studios and most of the vocals recorded in French for Rabbits’ laundry in Island Bay, Wellington.
“I guess the thing that was most interesting about this album was that I recorded most of the vocals at home by myself. I like recording by myself.”
Brooke and John took their production studio on the road, doing a lot of the mixing while on tour in Europe mid-year.
“The songs were sent backwards and forwards with Ben Lemi who was back in NZ, while we were working on the final mixes for the album. In short it was a fairly long, complicated process, taking place in many locations.”
John says they discussed the album sound and production, though recording and mixing while on tour was not without its challenges.
“It was a difficult process communicating ideas over the internet.”
‘Spirits’ was produced by Brooke, John, their bass player Ben Lemi and David Parker, who has built a considerable reputation producing for acts including Great North and Watercolours.
They attribute a remix of Claimed by the Sea for affecting the sound of the album, saying it was quite a “modern approach that they had taken towards the album using the effect of side-chaining (“a way of compression”) for the production of the drums and bass parts.
“It was more in the production that things changed,” says Brooke. “I really love how you can use production to affect the emotions you feel when you listen to a song.”
She says the songs had been recorded quite naturally but with the added input of Ben Lemi and Hikurangi Schaverien-Kaa the songs have quite “a lot more depth as to where they go”.
While they don’t write for radio they have got some airplay on UK stations and are gathering mentions on overseas blogs, including premiering single Woke Up In A Storm on highly-regarded indie music site Stereogum. Not working towards radio play allows them the freedom to write the music they want.
“I think that’s the good thing about the internet these days is that you don’t have to be anything but yourself.”