We left her “On the Far Side of the World” with her first album. Now three years later, we find her exploring the confines of a “Wild Country”.
Emily Loizeau is no sedentary contemplative singer. Not for her the captive heart and cracked whisper of some Proustian maiden kept far from the world’s clamour. Emily tends more towards Rimbaud, Jack London and certainly Kerouac. She expresses her taste for adventure and hazardous encounters musically with all the force of a tropical cyclone, and lyrically with the reflective delicacy of the bilingual child still living within her. And sometimes vice versa.
Written and recorded with just a few other people back then, her first album went through a long process of development on stage. Emily’s increasing success brought her new freedoms – first as a performer, then as a songwriter – and also a small house in a remote corner of France’s southern Ardèche region. At the end of her remarkable tour, she went there to recharge her batteries and consider the next stage. She might have returned with a basic, raw record (which would of course have been splendid), but she chose to use her retreat to devise the most extravagant and generous of albums: open, irreverent and carried by the collective vibrations of an exultant band of revellers. Emily calls Pays Sauvage her “hippie record”: all her friends were invited to join the party, bringing their instruments and temperament along.
Since the country house was too small to accommodate the whole shebang, these encounters took place in the studio in Paris, with sound recording from Jean-Baptiste Bruhnes and production by Emily. In today’s France, where bands are born of international marriages, Emily (who is half English on her mother’s side) has no shortage of cousins. Having admired albums by Herman Düne and Moriarty, she offered them visas for her “country”, which she saw as a land of fertility and communion. David Herman Düne contributed to five tracks in different roles (co-arranger, musician and duettist), while the entire Moriarty family appear on four songs (their distinguished folk collective sets some memorable sparks flying!). Still, Pays Sauvage was primarily built around the two musicians who back Emily on stage and worked on the album’s arrangements: cellist Olivier Koundouno and drummer and guitarist Cyril Avèque. Over the months, an extended troupe formed around this nucleus (with the addition of violinist Jocelyn West), building on songs that Emily devised in a spirit of pure sharing, deliberately choosing not to make herself their sole focus.
As a result, we find Thomas Fersen in batrachian guise on The Princess and the Toad and impeccable dandy Vic Moan elsewhere, along with the remarkable “bearded women of Paris chorus”, consisting of Jeanne Cherhal, Olivia Ruiz and Nina Morato. Captured in his Reunion Island territory, wise old lion Danyel Waro agreed to improvise a heartrending maloya on Dis-moi que tu ne pleures pas, a mirror image of the Tell me that you don’t cry found earlier on the album. Emily Loizeau, who freely admits to being a “childhood melancholic” (free of nostalgia, but flushed with affection for paradises lost), remembered that another member of her family had a taste for the nomadic life. An uncle on her mother’s side took a theatrical company all the way to Canada, living in caravans and returning with stories that long inspired her dreams of showbiz adventure as she dutifully practised scales on her piano. Emily’s profound attachment to her family also lies behind two key moments on the album. Sister needs no comment, but Pays sauvage does require a brief explanation. This devastatingly lyrical, deeply moving song echoes L’autre bout du monde (The Far Side of the World), where in the first act of her artist’s life, Emily discreetly filled the gulf of mourning for her late father with metaphorical landscapes. Now, based on a similar model, the bonfire of memories sets the icy plains of grief ablaze, suggesting at the start of the album a possible second birth under the sign of assuagement. Yet the radical differences between the first and second albums show that Emily Loizeau refused to rest on her laurels after the success of L’autre bout du monde, co-produced with Franck Monnet. For instance, she has toned down the piano a little, especially since there was no piano in the Ardèche home where she wrote most of the songs: she simply used her voice and those instruments that came to hand.
Another encounter gave her an opportunity to revolutionise her working methods: Pef, aka Pierre-François Martin-Laval, the outlandish acrobat of the Robins des Bois comedy troupe, asked her to write a negro spiritual for a film soundtrack. She handled this tricky proposition with a startling lack of concern, writing the resounding, feverish Fais battre ton tambour (Have Your Drum Beaten). The film version was performed by singer Sandra Nkaké, but Emily reclaims the song here. She can be proud of her version, which features backing vocals by Guinean Bruno Koundouno, amateur gospel singer and father of her cellist.
Throughout the album, Emily’s voice gains in range, gravity and frivolity, amusing itself with a few acrobatic tricks and landing very softly when it must, almost gliding over the hairs of the forearm, surely standing on end as it brushes by.
Her influences have not changed, from an ideal Tom Waits/Rickie Lee Jones couple to wild child Nina Simone, via Dylan and Devendra Banhart, with a long pause on Springsteen and the great Seeger Sessions released two years ago, which gave impetus to this second album gorged with a similar reverential faith in folk, blues and country traditions. Emily’s dual nationality extends to her musical tastes and she remembers her French heritage, a childhood serenaded by Brassens, Barbara and Julien Clerc, so it seems quite natural when she sings ultra-sensitive lyrics (La photographie) written for her by Jean-Lou Dabadie and set to music from Monteverdi’s Orfeo.
Two important points provide the final touch to Emily’s Pays sauvage. Firstly, painstaking sensorial work on sounds recorded in natural settings by a rare talent in this field: Elodie Maillot, whose contributions run through the record like a connecting thread, with snatches of birdsong (of course), sounds from the countryside of Ardèche, and cock fights, volcano embers and the laughter of children on Reunion Island.
Then someone had to take a look at this remarkable venture with its colourful characters and capture its unbelievable effervescence. The great Jean-Baptiste Mondino was asked to design the cover, featuring (almost) the entire company and expressing an irrepressible urge to seek asylum in this extraordinarily convivial Wild Country.