This is the story of two ordinary girls, Vanessa and Anne-Claire, who grew up as I did with Louise Attaque and Gainsbourg. Meeting in high school and being able to relate on several grounds were the prerequisites to start a band; then came the introduction to Martin and Lucie through common friends, becoming friends, realising that something could bloom from that: Ex Nihilo Vox. Hi Anne-Claire.. Let’s start in the beginning: why Ex Nihilo Vox? Vanessa and me had this very inspirational philosophy teacher when we were in 12th grade, who often used the word ex nihilo. I was very keen on philosophy and thought this could be a meaningful name. We also wanted a name that could speak to anyone, something pretty universal, neither English nor French, we went for Latin! Concerning the meaning of the name, I think it reflects our belief that anyone has this voice, this strength inside of them that apparently comes out of nowhere. I have a voice, you have one too, wherever it comes from doesn’t matter, just do something with it. We’ve always thought what matters is not where you come from but where you’re heading to. The message of our name and of our songs as well is “there’s more inside of you then you think, there’s so much potential in any of us, just let it out”. Use this mysterious voice that comes out of nowhere and express yourself. In respect to expressing yourself – is writing a way to exorcise pain? To me writing is a way to put ideas, feelings, memories down, I write almost all the time because I’m scared that ideas are gonna get lost in the wind, that moments will vanish in the air and that nothing of this life will remain in the end. Exorcising pain is not the reason why I write, I write because I literally want to see what’s in my mind. Writing is like taking a picture of your inner self, you just have to imagine that your pen is a Polaroid. Often in your songs you make reference to a God. How important is religion to you? Well I’m tempted to say that religion has zero importance, but that wouldn’t be true. Martin was raised in Christian faith, Vanessa and Lucie are atheists – though Lucie was raised in a Catholic family and admits that it has influenced her personality in a way that is difficult to describe. As for me I would say that I’m deist or atheist at times. When I was younger I very violently rejected religion; all the principles, the duties and absurd rigidity could have made me sick just thinking about it. Today I think I’ve grown more mature and I try to understand it. I think that’s why it comes out in the lyrics I write. I like to think that if there’s a God, he doesn’t want to be praised, he doesn’t want people to obey, he wants people to be good and find their own way through life. What is good, and what the aim of life is are questions I’m permanently asking myself about. I wish someone could give me a plausible answer but as long as I’ll be wandering into ignorance I’ll be writing and trying to solve the equation myself. So, to come back to your original question, the existence of God is an open question for us. What about mythology? After all, your EP is titled “Gaia”. We liked everything she symbolizes, she’s said to have given birth to divine races but also to monsters. She’s this cold, remote figure which is mysterious and at the same time familiar. She’s powerful, she can smash you to the ground any second or reward you for your obedience. I think Gaia is an old figure for what is today known as society. This complicated, protective or destructive system which can wear you out to death or celebrate you for your success. Gaia is this tutelary presence we fear and cherish. And so is society. We need it as much as we sometimes wish we could escape its sight. She’s the love and hate mother we originate from but wish we could deny and forget. Well at least that’s the way we saw it and that’s what most of the songs on "Gaia" are about. You have mentioned that you are writing and “figuring out the equation for yourself”. I find a lot of your songs like 'L’Ecchymose' and 'Rendez-Vous' very dark; are situations narrated in those songs inspired by real life? I think every song has its part of invention and its part of reality. Inspiration has to come from somewhere, whether it is from a situation I’ve gone through or something I’ve witnessed. It can also come from metaphysical or rational questions, but most of the time I write from pure imagination; but I can tell you that I didn’t write 'l’Ecchymose' or 'Rendez-Vous' from my own experience at the time. I just tried to imagine what it would have felt like to go through those things. I’m just trying to write in a realistic way. Sometimes, yes things are bad, but they won’t be forever if you move your ass and do something about it. But sometimes, things are hopeless and I just don’t want to be naive, and write songs the way you write the scenario of a sentimental-Hollywood comedy. We can look down on past centuries and think we live in the best of times and that everything is wonderful but that’s just not true. We’re still living in a very dark world, and there are still so many things to fight for, so many things to become aware of. Life is beautiful that’s right, but I’m just not good at writing about happiness and all that stuff. I obviously still need to find a certain compromise between my pessimist and optimistic views. To finish on that, I think I used to write really dark songs, but I’ve moved onto a more optimistic path over the last few years. Somehow lately I always start from a very desperate situation and end up singing about bright and wide horizons full of possibilities. I think I’ve moved from a “dark writing” to some sort of a “grey writing”!
Do you think it’s difficult for a french band – singing in French, like you – to establish a solid fanbase abroad? We’ve never really thought in terms of “fans”. We’ve chosen to write in French because that’s such a beautiful language and there’s so much to do with it. I have never agreed with people saying that French doesn’t “sound” musical, it does! But honestly, singing in French is a challenge nowadays, first because so many (French) people have prejudices like “French rock sucks no matter what”. Secondly because as your question implies, people who don’t speak French won’t be attracted to French music at first, they need something else to catch their attention, a voice, a melody, a riff. On the other hand, I clearly think that more and more people are getting saturated with English music and they feel the need to open their musical horizon to other languages. I’m not saying they don’t listen to English music anymore, but they get less exclusive in my opinion. How do you mean? Well, my German is terrible, but I love a couple of German bands singing in German, I’m a huge fan of Wir Sind Helden for example, they definitely are some of my absolute favourite artists. Vanessa also listens to loads of Icelandic bands and no offence to her but her Icelandic is non-existent! I think, you know, language barriers can be crossed, it just takes a bit of open-mindedness and curiosity. To come back to your previous question, singing in French might be more difficult to get a fan base abroad yes, because it’s not exactly what the vast majority of people would naturally listen to, but before we go international, we’ve got a whole French speaking world to conquer! And as surprising as it can sound, after France the first place in the world where people download us the most from music sharing platforms is the United States! I’m a huge fan of French rock actually, and feel that at times your music reminds me of great songwriters like Saez. But which are your ‘local’ influences? Well as weird as it can sound, we don’t “really” have local influences. We like a certain number of French artists but I wouldn’t say they influence us. I have hardly ever listened to any song by Saez for instance and I think we all started listening to Noir Désir after we had been told several times that there was something of Noir Désir in our songs (which was a huge compliment by the way). I’m sorry this might sound really pretentious it’s totally not meant to be, but I’m telling the truth, I swear! I think it’s also that we don’t want to be influenced by our French counterparts too much, we don’t want to steal, reproduce or sound like anyone else unconsciously, if this makes any sense to you! Nevertheless, I think Noir Désir had this very powerful, mesmerizing music and they really are what French music had best to offer in my opinion. Vanessa and me also really liked Louise Attaque, they had such beautiful and poetical songs. Mademoiselle K‘s first album was also really good and we listened to it a lot. Otherwise I really like artists like Alain Souchon or Benjamin Biolay, Vanessa has listened to singers like Renaud, Bashung or Gainsbourg since she was still in the belly of her mum, Martin has had these French-jazzy parental influences with songwriters like Claude Nougaro for instance since he was little as well. All of that must influence us in some way, undeniably, anyways. I also wanted to mention Cocoon or Phoenix, but I don’t think it counts since they sing in English! Anything else? Well, our real local influences are not exactly to be found in French music but in French literature, Sartre, Beidbeger, Schmitt, Vian, Nothomb, Sagan are very influential. Desnos and Breton have also been some of the greatest sources of inspiration I have ever found, without forgetting a certain number of American/British poets & writers like Allen Ginsberg, Philip Lamantia, Robert Frost, Janett Winterson, Don de Lillo, George Orwell, Philip Roth, Toni Morrison, even Walt Whitman or Henry Thoreau and the genius William Shakespeare. Their work has provided a great deal of intellectual material for us.
Have you already considered the possibility of writing more songs in English, like "The Curse of Love"? Well, we’ve talked about it with the band, and we’ve figured out that we have to be consistent in our musical choices, that’s why we’ll keep singing in French in the upcoming years. Nevertheless, I’m working on my own soul/folk solo project to which "the Curse of Love" now belongs. I have a couple of other songs in English that I’ll make public when time has come. Right now there’s just too much going on with Ex Nihilo Vox, I need to keep my mind focused on one thing at the time, and XNV is my priority! Speaking of priorities.. What important things in your life have you, and the rest of the band, given up for music? That’s a tricky question. I wouldn’t say that we have given up things for music, but it has highly influenced the paths we’ve taken professionally speaking. Martin is now a sound engineer and I think he discovered his calling not long after he entered the band. Lucie works in web communication and Vanessa works in film/video editing. After she obtained a bachelor at university in the field of languages she decided to start all over again and to study video editing, I think the insight she got into the world of music helped her find her real thing. As for me I’m the only one who has a job that has apparently nothing to do with music, I’m an English teacher and I’m still studying English at university. I think we haven’t given up anything but we made sacrifices, like not going abroad for a really long period of time in order not to break the dynamic of the band. We tried to follow each other, and we all live in the same area now in order to make it possible for us to rehearse and keep going. I don’t think it’s possible for a band to make it without sacrifices anyway and I don’t think any of us would want to rewind and do things differently. How has your sound evolved since the release of "Gaia"? What is to be expected in the future? Since the release of "Gaia" we have been experimenting a lot. We’ve been really influenced by post-rock music over the last two years, and I think more instrumental songs will have to be expected in our future sets. We already made a demo of a song called 'Atem des Lebens' public on our myspace, and we play it on stage regularly. We of course haven’t given up French texts, and songs like "Trafic de nuit" that we haven’t made public yet but that we also play live, carries the continuity of our music with its flow of words, and what I like to call its urban-melancholy. The next EP will deal with the relationship between people and cities, how we love them, hate them, get lost in their streets, find and lose love in their bars, how we want to grow powerful, master them, shape them the way we want, how we get deluded and desperate when we realise we are surrounded by so many people but that we matter for so few. A few songs like "We are History" deal with our role in history making, how we can change the course of history no matter how important or unimportant we think we are. I think I was too much influenced by Gandhi and the 4 of us believe that change starts in the mind, revolution starts in the way people consider each other, in the way they grow respectful of everything that surrounds them. We want to sing “the change that we want to see in this world”, if you see what I mean! This next EP to make it short, will be dealing with feelings of solitude, exile, loss of bearings, individualism and paradoxically (because human-beings are paradoxical, aren’t they?) with feelings of belonging, fate-sharing and above all : appeals for mutual respect. All of that with the city as background or central scenery. It sounds interesting, I’m eager to hear it. And what can we expect from the rest of 2011? A lot of concerts hopefully. And the release of our new EP! Any chance to see you live outside of France anytime soon, or are you focusing on French shows first? We are up for playing anywhere basically, Germany, England, Switzerland and so on, we just haven’t had any opportunities so far, but if they come, we’ll be delighted to cross borders! Right now we just want to travel and play everywhere, so feel free to contact us if you know any cool venue next to your place. You can buy Ex Nihilo Vox’ music from iTunes, listen to their music on myspace, befriend them on facebook, and read their blog here. Photos courtesy of Ex Nihilo Vox & Olivier Lépicier