Relationship that last rely on a special and simple connection. Instinctive, profound, alive – it’s what is understood in an instant, sometimes at first glance. Love owes everything to it, so does friendship. This is how families are built, as well as tribes.
It is a liberation
of self to discover another – larger, more complete, more enlightening.
This famous song of Elvis Presley, here performed by Joséphine and Alexandre de la Baume on their album 'Ceremonies'.View more
Music works in tribes.
When the tribe begins to form, the sound either harmonizes or it doesn’t. Or, even better, it almost harmonizes which means there is a tension worth pursuing, a chord worth manipulating, a word game worth playing, a resonance with the nothingness of self toward the somethingness of together.
There are the tribes of music-makers and music-lovers, families, friends, lovers, late-night party collectives, partners in aesthetics connected by a shared twist of reality.
It is not
trying to be
Like when Irina Lazareanu launches into her
‘5am treat’ and starts battle rapping Spank Rock. “When there’s no more energy,” recounts her long-time friend Joséphine de la Baume, “here she comes with her poetry really loud and she starts dancing like Charlie Chaplin. It’s a really good one.
It’s a second wind. She kind of starts chanting. It’s really beautiful poetry most of the time, to be honest…Mark [Ronson] made a really good description of her. He said that when she starts singing she’s like a mix between Patti Smith and Charlie Chaplin. She starts moving her feet in the craziest way dancing around. She actually looks like Charlie Chaplin but she has a deep voice that reminds you of Patti Smith. With her tuxedo and her short hair…
I sit on a sound mixer’s swivel chair in front of this bewitchingly quixotic Irina Lăzăreanu – poet, model, muse – and Joséphine de la Baume who sits languidly, sphinxlike, beside her. We are in Paris’s legendary Studio Ferber, where Serge Gainsbourg once recorded among many others. Music played and gone
saturates the air ,
and the deafness of the studio’s soundproof walls cradles our words. I meet with Irina, Joséphine and her brother Alexandre de la Baume, who together comprise the sibling duo behind Singtank with their latest album out, called Ceremonies. We discuss friendship, artistic collaboration and siblinghood. A couple of weeks later, I see a flash of Joséphine at Gare de Nord, flying through the Eurostar security check, obviously very late, trailing behind her Louis Vuitton luggage monogrammed JdB. I imagine she is on her way to London to meet up with her husband, producer Mark Ronson. This may or may not have been the case but my imagination works at piecing together the tribe.
“…Poems and haircuts,” quips Pete Doherty a few months later, in conversation with Irina in the sleepy Parisian suburb of Melun, his new and unlikely place of predilection, “are not like songs. You can become deeply embarrassed about the things you’ve written. Whereas a song, you can’t release it out there until you’re sure that it’s true and will forever and ever remain true.”
Irina counter poses: “But sometimes the first version of something is in a way the purest, or kind of a little jam on its own because it’s the beginning of a foundation of something else.”
To which Doherty gently, almost sweetly, interjects: “What was the first poem you wrote? Can you remember?” The background sound to this conversation between old lovers and friends is an even older typewriter; Doherty taps on it while in conversation, sometimes using the tool to respond to her queries.
Irina : If you had to describe your band members by one French word, what would it be?
Pete : Impossible.
Irina : Which would you choose a romance or a tragedy?
Pete : Yeah. I’d choose a romance or a tragedy, yeah.
Irina : What’s your biggest fear?
Pete : A romance or a tragedy. Having to choose. God – that would be awful if you really did have to choose.
Irina : And awakenings. What artist awakened your curiosity and your sensitivity to art and to poetry and to going out there and sharing something with the world that is so personal but that you had to do because it felt right, or it made no sense.
Pete : On an immediate level, someone who made me get a job, made me move and made me seek expression was Oscar Wilde. To me, it was outrageous – the eloquence, the classical pomp and grandeur. I don’t want to go on about the army barracks but that gray, mundane, militaristic, polished boots, polished rifles, the barbed wire, the grey school and then on the other hand you have
cigarette smoke wafting across the gondola that has to be whisked back on a horse-drawn coach from the Victorian streets of London….”
And he trails of into memories of when, as the son of a military sergeant raised on army garrisons, he likely found creative contrast in connection with the outrageous world of words that Oscar Wilde left behind.
Doherty, like Irina, knows how to spontaneously entertain, to dip immediately in the immediacy of simply playing. This can sometimes call for other artistic media than what others might expect of him, like his artworks on paper notoriously incorporating his own blood, of which the Rome-born New Yorker Vassili di Napoli is its most comprehensive collector.
If an artist doesn’t evolve, he becomes a caricature of himself, or, “the person you are staying true to that doesn’t exist anymore” to paraphrase Doherty. There are many ways to avoid this: by being consistently surprising (Doherty’s not bad at this), by being unbearably prolific or persistently collaborative.
It’s an uneasy task staying connected to one’s self. This “one’s self” is not the image that fans or family think they know and love, nor the trite, self-help sense of the term. Rather it is the ego-less part of who we are, where creativity is sourced, where songs come from, where the honest, original, raw, spontaneous stuff comes out that makes others wanna be startin’ somethin’. It is the foundation for any real, worthwhile connection with others who are on a mission after the same. It’s a going-inward-to-get-it-out-there sort of trip that happens naturally as a child, compulsively as a young artist, and then habitually as a professional.
Doherty reunited with The Libertines and, in particular, with his long-time musical partner and “frenemy” Carl Barât on stage, for the occasion of the 2015 Parisian musical festival Rock en Seine. They sang songs from their latest album together, Anthems for Doomed Youth and even did a reprise of Les Copains d’abord by Georges Brassens – a particularly poignant touch given that their creative partnership and friendship have passed through a remarkable set of highs and lows. By now, they are a veritable tribe à deux. Their shared twist of reality centers around the mythology-inspired notion of being on a ship called The Albion (an ancient name for Great Britain) travelling to Arcadia (an utopia, one where the noble savage rules). Around the time of the show, Doherty recounted to a journalist for Le Parisien that for him, it came as quite a surprise “to see that the magic still works between us”.
Largely based in New York City, Irina puts herself in front of a project called Operation Juliet. It is an ongoing, collaborative venture where musicians – friends mainly – perform together whenever and however it happens to come together. “Sometimes in music today, everything is very planned,” explains Irina. “This is just pure fun; it’s spontaneous. It is not trying to be anything it’s not…you’re just jamming, there’s less ego, people just get involved, they sing.” Friends include New Yorker Sean Lennon, Teddy Purvey from Lady Hawk, and Spank Rock, he who was once arguably out-battled by a certain Irina Lăzăreanu one fateful morning at 5am. “If you look at all the members and all the extended families of the members, then there’s like thirty members worldwide and every gig is different… it’s like a travelling caravan. You’ll see either music things or fashion things and it could be in New York, in London or in Paris, it would be the same friends.” I begin to get a clearer idea of the tribe.
really word it,
have in front of someone
but it happens very fast.
What is that ‘click’? A sense of knowing that there is something there worth befriending, pursuing, creatively collaborating with, loving even?
“You can’t really word it, the feeling you have in front of someone but it happens very fast,” recounts Alexandre de la Baume back within the walls of Studio Ferber. “On our last record [Ceremonies], we worked with Samy Osta, a young French producer. Immediately when we talked we realized we were talking the same language and there was something very smooth in the encounter. Whereas sometimes you can really enjoy the company of someone but you know that you don’t want to spend a full year in a tiny studio in Paris with them.”
“It’s probably chemical…”
“It’s almost like a first date,” adds Joséphine. “You know quite fast whether this is going to work out or not. The elements that are going to make that work or not work for you… especially when you work with music, could be similar references or references that you might be interested in. And feeling understood, which is pretty much like a first date, too. You need to understand each other and speak a similar language and then its just kind of
being charmed by each other.”
can't express things
with words - the music,
writing a song together, -
would be a way
to interact and share feelings.
But what is the nature of a bond, if your bond is in nature? Joséphine and Alexandre are all at once siblings, colleagues, and confidants and despite all these things, quite close. They started making music as a way of spending time together and as a natural progression of sharing with each other, over the years, the music they like.
“We were always very close.” Alexandre explains in his lulling voice. “We have a very…its almost boring [laughs] but we always got along super well. The only time when we were not as close as we generally were, we always bonded through music and art in general. Creating together, it was always a way of getting back together. When you can’t express things with words – as a teenager – the music, writing a song together, something like that would be a way
to interact and share feelings.”
“I remember one time that Alexandre really impressed me,” recounts Joséphine. “He used to play so many video games, I used to think it was quite scary how he was so disconnected from real life but, I mean, it was normal he was really young. I think he saw I was worrying. And instead of talking about it, or addressing it – we were too young, we weren’t adults to talk about this…He went on the piano and just made up this song and started singing about it, about this guy called Peter – which is his second name – who has taken off from this world but he’s coming back soon so whoever is worrying about him shouldn’t worry too much because he’s aware that’s he kind of taken off but he’s about to land.”
“And he just sat down and sang that song and then stood up and left and I was alone doing my homework in the dining room. I was like – that’s pretty crazy. This guy is kind of a genius but a total weirdo. It was like a very Wes Anderson moment. He didn’t even look at me. I’ll always remember he was wearing his pajamas and everything…but I mean I got the message, I wasn’t worrying anymore and it was true, very soon after that, he was over it.”
“It’s a nice way of saying things in life and sometimes it’s easier.
Music gets you to the right place
in your head to word things too and sometimes to be less shy to express things to each other.”
Alexandre smiles and almost bubbles with tenderness, the kind that we all let out when someone who knows us well shows us to ourselves. “What’s interesting,” he notes, “was that when I did that I had no idea I was doing it. I just had this song that came to my mind and I started writing it…but it wasn’t a conscious effort to reassure her; it just came out like this. It’s even prettier I think because it shows, you know, sometimes that which is great with music. It makes things come out of you that you didn’t even know were in you, in a way,” Alexandre trails off.
have to be like
i don't have to say anything
The key to connections made in this life is understanding, and the surprise of being understood when blocks, doubts, fears and frustrations arise.
“It’s true that the inner critic is a crucial element of writing…you need that sort of demand in you to go further and to surprise your own self in a way,” says Alexandre. But his cosmic sibling throws back: “Which is great but when it paralyzes you, you have a sibling that kind of unlocks all the knots or unlocks all the locks that you put around your creativity.”
Alexandre abstracts: “Together we can keep the intimacy necessary to write and to go further in a composition in lyric writing but at the same time having that challenge”. His sister softly echoes in reflection, “Challenge…challenge, yeah.”
Irina, on the other hand, might prefer the word ‘play’ instead of ‘challenge’. In her view, in the arena of creative connection and collaboration, we all seek “somebody where we can find some kind of mutual playground,where we can somehow understand each other or remotely speak the same language.”
The term ‘playground’ begs the consideration: what if everything we every really needed to learn about relationships took place on the schoolyard playground? The time when playmates were made and dropped in a second, when tribes were formed with blind confidence and the games you played were a very, very serious affair. And yet, a remarkably effortless one.
“Everybody wants to be understood,” says Joséphine. “It’s not easy to find somebody that does, for sure…”
It doesn’t have to be like a language but it would be something that’s a little bit kind of like…you don’t have to say anything, they’ll understand. It’s enough,” says Irina.
And her friend Joséphine brings the point home, looking off with dreaminess in her eyes, “It’s enough, yeah.”Sara White Wilson
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