Exotic, wondrous, adventurous and exciting are a few ways to describe Vamoise. Louder Than War’s Chris Hearn had a chance to do an email interview with the band’s lead-singer and multi-instrumentalist, Najah Zaoudé.
Earlier last year, Montreal based “bohemian electro-pop” band Vamoise got in touch with Louder Than War to introduce themselves. I did a New Artist of the Day profile on them after being rather blown away by just how interesting and talented these folks truly are. At that point, they were working on their EP, ‘Another Critical Moment’, which I was fortunate enough to get an advance listen to. It is out now, so it seemed like a good time to find out more on Vamoise by doing an email interview with lead-singer Najah Zaoudé.
Vamoise is made up of Najah, Jean-Sébastien Brault-Labbé and Bart Frydrychowicz. They offer up stunningly creative music that is beautifully layered without being overwhelmingly complex to the point of being inaccessible. As mentioned, they have labelled themselves as a “bohemian electro-pop” band. Okay, that’s cool. But what is that? And what influences have gone into developing this particular sound?
According to Najah, “We want to dissociate any geographical location from the music and create a sense of movement, exploration and freedom that comes from traveling the world. The songwriting is personal and speaks directly to the audience, kind of like a traveler telling stories and creating landscapes with words. Also, the mix of acoustic and electronic instrumentation is what fascinates us, as we try different textures of sound, we try not to work with one style of music. As [Jean-Sébastien] was producing the EP, he felt that if a song calls for a certain sound we used it without having a predetermined direction. The idea is to blend and create something that stands on its own during an exploratory journey.”
Even the way that this question was answered shows, to me, a dedication to creating not just music, but an entire experience. This is an in-depth, well thought out, well-constructed project. Am I gushing? I can’t help it. This is one of those bands that comes along that you want to scream out, “HEY WORLD! Listen to this!”
In further defining or explaining their sound and objectives, Vamoise’s PR material says that “The band is characterized by the transportable nature of the music, as a metaphor for a universal identity – the rhythms entice us to dance through the cultural barriers and find the source of what moves us towards those critical moments where our dreams come true.” So, again, what does that mean exactly?
“As many people believe, music is a universal language, so we want to show unity between cultures. There are universal themes represented in the songs such as yearning and empowerment. We hope to inspire those who have goals, and be the best at what they can. For example in ‘Come With Me’ I sing “together we’ll hit the sun”, as an invitation to join forces and surpass our limits and reach our goals,” explains Najah, which further gives me a well-rounded appreciation for what this band is doing. This idea, in my opinion, is a wonderful approach not just to music, but to the world around us as a whole.
Najah Zaoudé has a Middle Eastern background, and has become part of the Mosaic that is Montreal specifically and of course Canada in the big picture. “I’m a mix of Syrian and Lebanese origins; we moved to Montreal when I was 10. I grew up with Middle Eastern rhythms and free-form singing (improv), but also all other types of music ranging from jazz, pop to classical, electronic, trip-hop, etc… So these styles of music have found their way into the songs in some way or another. The melody of ‘Undecided’ was written without a pre-defined chord progression, it was sung acapella as if waiting to be discovered in that improvised form. It is only in studio that we then added chords and ambiance. For the new material, I would like to push the envelope of vocal exploration, maybe even using unidentifiable sounds or languages other than English.”
Which leads to my next question / observation. Montreal has been a hot bed for eclectic artists, as well as many “world” music artists. Kid Koala, The Narcicyst and Mercan Dede pop to mind. And, of course, there is a lot of electronic music there. How did this happen and how important was this in the development of Vamoise?
As Najah explains, “Our guess is that it’s probably due to the mix of Francophone and Anglophone communities, which opens doors to cultures from all corners of the globe; also that the fact that it’s a hub for many creative technology-driven industries such as movie production, gaming, theatre, entertainment, etc. Musicians in Montreal have access to so much diversity, so there is no doubt that growing up in such a multicultural city has influenced our music.”
Now that their EP has been released to the world, I was excited to hear what people have thought of it. Like I said before, when I heard it, I was amazed and was looking forward to it being released, maybe as much as the band itself. Gushing again? Sorry, can’t help it. So, what has been the reaction to the album? Again, Najah explains, “The EP has just been released and got positive feedback in Canada and Europe, quotes are all agglomerated on our website. We have gotten radio airplay in UK, Norway, Spain, Holland. The songs have gotten broader international attention online.”
And, along with a new EP, as is often the case, it will soon be time for these songs to be played live and a tour to commence… one that I hope will bring them to my town, Winnipeg. So, what kind of plans does the band have for live performances and what is a Vamoise show like?
According to Najah, “While we are practicing the set we will be doing as many shows as possible, we are also planning a special release show later this year. Ultimately we hope to re-create the visuals that people see when they hear the music. We know that recreating these songs on stage is going to be a challenge (especially for fuller songs such as ‘Wonderful’ and ‘Come with Me’), so I am working on the live arrangements with the use of a looper. [Jean-Sébastien] will be handling all the drums, and playing guitar on ‘Undecided’. Bart will be playing fretless bass and creating guitar and synth loops, and I will be handling some more synths, guitars and the extra instruments such as darbouka and charango. We might bring in some guest musicians that were on the album, and will probably do the release show with other bands, but this is yet to be determined.
A what and a what? A darbouka and a charango? Please explain, Najah! “I’ve always wanted to texturize the songs with instruments that do not usually fit together. Darbouka is a Middle Eastern hand drum that is largely used to accompany free-form improvised dancing (usually belly dancing). It was important for us to create a song that would inspire someone to dance. We wanted to put a touch of it and Jean-Sebastien did a great job without making it a full Arabic-sounding production. I bought the charango on my trip to Ecuador where I met locals who played this instrument and carried it with them as they travelled across the country; the imagery of freedom that came with it inspired me to use it in the songs. Another example of mixing textures is in ‘Wonderful’: the electro-pop song that breaks down into a little reggae beat after the chorus.”
The live band is made up of multi-talented, multi-instrumental artists, who are involved in several other projects. Bart Frydrychowicz is in a band called Quo Vadis (a melodic death metal band!) and Jean-Sébastien Brault-Labbé (who is in Blue Seeds, runs a studio and makes music for TV, commercials, websites, etc.) and of course Najah who plays several instruments and does lead vocals. So, does this mean Vamoise is a side project for all involved? Or is this primarily Najah’s baby?
As Najah explains, “Even if Vamoise is lead by [myself], Jean-Sébastien contributed a lot in the production of the EP and will continue to be involved as the music evolves over time. Bart is contributing significantly on the business side, the visuals and direction of the band (having more that 20 years experience in the music business); he is helping a lot in clarifying the path we should take.”
So, thus far, Vamoise has had an excellent start with international attention, their new EP hitting the market, a well formed and interesting philosophy to build on, and no shortage of talent. So, what does the future hold for the band? Where is this all heading? According to Najah, “We will continue to create new material and play shows. Next summer, we hope to spend more time on the road and touring. We have many more songs than on the EP that we can play live. Then hopefully we will start recording a full album late 2014. We keep our Facebook page updated so one can stay in touch with our latest news!”
It has been a pleasure to get to know Vamoise over the past several months, and witness what I believe to be the beginning of a long journey of musical exploration. I feel a certain amount of nationalistic pride in the fact that this is a Canadian band that reflects Canada’s multicultural diversity, which is something I love about this country. I don’t mean to brag, but Canada has produced some wonderful artists and music. Vamoise, in my opinion, is one of them, and they are excellent ambassadors for this nation.
Words by Chris Hearn. More writing by Chris on Louder Than War can be found here.