French Sci-Fi Psych Rockers SLIFT on New LP Ummon: “It is mainly inspired by Homer’s Odyssey”

Handmade collage by B.

SLIFT’s music takes you on an epic journey to the far reaches of the Universe and back! Their latest slice of heavy sci-fi psych-rock album Ummon is excitingly one part Homer’s Odyssey and one part sci-fi trip. We interviewed guitarist-vocalist, Jean F. to find out more.

SLIFT are from Toulouse, France; what’s it like there? Can you tell us about your neighbourhood?

JEAN: Toulouse is a beautiful city made of red brick, and there are a lot of musicians here. Many very good bands, one of my favorite is Edredon Sensible, they are two percussionist and two saxophonist, They play a groovy and heavy trance, with free jazz elements. I think they will release their first album this year. There’s also BRUIT, evocative post-rock, and Hubris, krautrock warriors. We have a bar (Le Ravelin) where psych and punk bands from all over the world come to play. It’s the last bar in the city to regularly book great bands that play loud and fast. Many venues have closed, the city’s politics sucks and prefers to set up hotels in the centre of town rather than clubs and venues. But I hope things will change in the near future.

What have you been doing today?

JEAN: Today, we are going to pack vinyl to send them as quickly as possible despite the health crisis. Post offices are idling right now and that makes things more difficult. And then, as we are out of town at the moment, we are going to walk in the hills. We play a lot of music as well.

Two of you are brothers (Rémi and Jean), you met Canek in high school; what kind of music and bands were you listening to growing up?

JEAN: When we were kids, our parents listened to the Beatles, and a lot of blues, like John Lee Hooker and BB King. We’ve always loved the blues. Personally, I like the idea that we are still playing the blues with SLIFT. A different blues, but a blues anyway. In high school we listened to a lot of punk stuff, Rancid, Minor Threat, then Fugazi, No Means No and Melvins. In the van on the way to the rehearsal room, Canek’s father introduce us to South American music, psych stuff and jam bands. And of course we are extremely fans of Jimi Hendrix.

When did you first start making music yourself? You played in punk bands?

JEAN: We started playing together in high school. Rémi was still in college, we played punk in Green Day mode at the very beginning. It’s all good memories! We quickly started to add instrumental phases in the compositions. Then we played in different bands before meeting again and forming SLIFT.

Who are your biggest music influences?

JEAN: The Electric Church of Sir Jimi Hendrix.

Photo by RABO.

What made you start SLIFT?

JEAN: We came from punk, and after discovering Hendrix, we started to lengthen our songs, to stretch the structures and especially to jam. It was 4 years ago, we wanted to start a band and play these new songs. We did not know at all the modern psych scene, when we had the chance to attend at the last minute a Moon Duo concert in a museum in Toulouse (we grabbed the last tickets by begging the porter to let us in). This concert was an important event, it was just after leaving the museum that we decided that we were going to record and tour. After that we have of course dug up the modern psych scene, there are so many great bands! People often associate us with this scene, and it’s very cool, but to be honest, today we don’t listen to bands like King Gizzard or Oh Sees anymore. We are more on the groups which, I think, influenced them. Like Amon Dull, Can, Hawkwind, all the 70’s German scene, 70’s Miles Davis, electronic and prog stuff. Among the current groups, we really like the Doom scene, and we particularly love a trio of English bands: Gnod, Hey Colossus and Part Chimp. We listen to a lot of film music. I would love so much that one day we have the opportunity to make one!

What does the band name SLIFT mean?

JEAN: SLIFT is the name of a character from a novel, La Zone du Dehors by Alain Damasio. Read it, you wouldn’t regret it. This author also wrote a masterpiece, La Horde du Contrevent. Probably my best reading experience.

How do you think SLIFT’s sound has changed over time?

JEAN: At first we just wanted to play a lot live, so we recorded quickly, and we composed quickly. Today and for the first time on Ummon, we took our time. The composition method has also changed. On our first two recordings, we all composed together in the rehearsal room. Now I mainly compose on my side, which allows me to go to the end of the ideas and to have a precise vision for the album. Then we test the songs in rehearsal and in concert, we jam the songs, and we talk a lot about where we want to go, what sound, what we are talking about. Personally, it is for me a more accomplished and coherent record, because I have the feeling that we have put a lot of personal and honest things in it, whether in the music or in the concept and the conception of the album. And in terms of sound, we often listen to new things, so it’s always enriching the way we play music I guess. Maybe in two years we will make an album with only percussion (… still with fuzz haha).

You are influenced by cinema and books, especially science fiction stuff; what are some of your favourite books and films?

JEAN: La Nuit des Temps – Barjavel, Rick and Morty, Hyperion cycle – Dan Simmons, Le Dechronologue – Stephane Beauverger, La Horde du Contrevent / La zone du Dehors – Alain Damasio Alien / Prométheus.

Your album Ummon is s real journey for the listener; what inspired the songs themes? It tells a story? It’s a concept album?

JEAN: It is mainly inspired by Homer’s Odyssey and science-fiction trip. The first part tells of the titans’ ascent from the centre to the earth’s surface. The construction of their Citadel on a drifting asteroid, then their departure towards the stars in search of their creators, a journey which will last forever. The second part talks about Hyperion (a Titan born in a Nebula during the endless drift through space) and his exile from the Citadel. After wandering for millions of years, he will return on Earth, alone, then dig the Son Dong’s cave with his bare hand. Hyperion rests at the far end of the cave, and its body will be the breeding ground for life which will soon climb out of the abyss and cover the Earth.

Where does your fascination from space come from?

JEAN: When you are a child, space is synonymous with adventure and wonder. Growing up, what I find cool is that it’s probably endless.

Can you tell us a little bit about recording it? It was recorded at Studio Condorcet by Olivier Cussac, right?

JEAN: You’re right, it was Olivier Cussac who recorded it, and we both mixed and mastered it, we wanted to have as much control as possible over the sound of the record. Olivier is a very talented musician, he play a lot of instruments, and he’s a very good arranger. He mainly composes film music. He has a fascination with vintage stuff, so his studio is a real museum. It is a dream to be in a place like this. He liked the album project a lot, so we took a full month to do it. The atmosphere was super chill, we had the best time!

What is your favourite thing about Ummon?

JEAN:  It is a team effort. We feel fortunate to work with very talented people who passionately love doing what they do. Guthio (who designs the clips and makes the video live), Olivier, Philippe Caza (who designed the artwork), Clémence (who came to sing), the fearless Vicious Circle Records and Stolen Body Records. Hélène, who made so that everything goes well and that ensures that we never sleep on the floor after the shows. And the coolest thing is that these people become a friends.

What do you strive for when playing live?

JEAN: We try to never do the same concert twice. Some pieces are lengthened. We don’t want to recreate the record on stage, its two totally different listening experiences. The record, you can listen to it at home with headphones, it’s an intimate and personal experience. Concerts are an experience of the body, it’s about feeling the volume and the vibrations and seeing humans playing live music.

What do you do outside of music?

JEAN: We do Bonsai!

Please check out: SLIFT. SLIFT on Facebook. Ummon is out on Vicious Circle and Stolen Body Records.

Belgium band Millionaire’s Tim Vanhamel: “Laughter is one of the highest goods in the world… when we laugh, we are what we’re meant to be as human beings; we’re ourselves and there’s no war going on”

Handmade mixed-media collage by B.

Millionaire have released LP number four APPLZ ≠ APPLZ (pronounced Apples Not Apples), a burst of psychedelic rock n roll energy with a soul twist wrapped in a celebratory flavour, while exploring themes of consumerism, environmental destruction and the peril humans are facing, largely due to our own hand. Millionaire founder, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, Tim Vanhamel talks to Gimmie from his home in Belgium.

Why is it important to you to create things?

TIM VANHAMEL: Let me think about that, that’s a good question. I have no idea. I was contemplating that yesterday actually. It just happens in a way. If you want to give it importance then it usually is not that good, it’s more the ego trying to do something or create or whatever. It’s best to just let it happen, it doesn’t matter what it is, whether it’s making a dish or making a song or making a little video, or just singing to yourself or making a joke. The best creativity just comes up, there’s a need to.

I know what you mean. At Gimmie we love making things, we feel we just have to. It is hard to explain. There’s just something there that needs to come out, that needs to express itself.

TV: Yeah, exactly. I can see that with you guys. It is what makes you feel good in a way, if it makes you feel good doing it then the art is usually good and other people will like it as well. We all do different things and sometimes, writing a song in my case, if it’s not happening that’s fine, then something else can happen.

I saw you mention online the other day that because you’re in lockdown at home you’ve been writing and painting?

TV: [Laughs] That was a joke actually! I’ve been making these little films the last week. I posted one and I was making a little fun about how all these people feel called to live stream and how they feel like, “oh I gotta help the world”. The world doesn’t necessarily need help, in the way that everybody is locked down, mediocrity is really coming out. It was a little joke I was posting. People were like “Oh, it’s a lockdown, we have to be creative! I’m gonna write a new album”. I made a joke that I was doing six paintings and writing two books and doing a movie script [laughs]. I then made a second film and then it became kind of a thing, a character that was playing a song but it just never works out, everything goes wrong; he was trying to get a song going for everyone but he kept failing all the time. That’s also creative though, I was following that creativity, that need to share a joke.

I think laughter is important in these tough times.

TV: Exactly, I think that laughter is one of the highest goods in the world. People are really serious, also with sharing all this advice… everyone is so serious. A good laugh is good, it’s a high good and when we laugh we are what we’re meant to be as human beings; we’re ourselves and there’s no war going on. It’s fantastic.

We laugh all day long here. About everything!

TV: [Laughs]. That’s beautiful!

Everything that’s happening in the world is so crazy and intense right now, consumerism and capitalism is finally failing! In a crisis like we’re experiencing, people are realising that they don’t need all the excess stuff they fill their lives with, all the luxuries they usually take for granted and don’t’ think twice about.

TV: Yeah, it’s not so crazy though. As you know I just released an album and I am singing on that album about everything that is happening right now!

You are!

TV: Everything that’s happening, I could feel it already about a year ago. The first song “Cornucopia” is about consumerism etc. The second song “Los Romanticos” is about there’s a shit storm coming and its moving fast, it’s an ironic song about how supposed love eats up the world, it’s not true love, it’s false. The third song “Strange Days” I’m singing about doing nothing, I’m literally singing: “when the world ends I will be watching from a front row seat, you bring the thunder, I’ll bring the lightning and maybe we can meet for the very first time…”, it’s not to pat my own shoulders but this is exactly what’s happening. I don’t think there’s another song in the world that’s more true than that right now. I can’t believe it. A week ago the album came out and I did a bunch of interviews, which I don’t really like doing, I don’t like explaining my songs… it’s bizarre that five days after I released my album everything happened big time!

Your new album is great! I like how in interviews you rarely talk about your songs, I know you like people to have their own interpretations of your songs, to think for themselves about it. Like with something like all the visuals to accompany the album, the cover art, film clips, they feature the apple and that right there has so much symbolism attached to it throughout the history of the world and can have so many different meanings.

TV: Exactly. Explaining art is like the Wizard Of Oz pulling back the curtain and then you have a little man in a machine sitting there and the magic is gone. If it was my choice, I would never ever, ever say one word, I wouldn’t’ explain nothing. I try to boogie around those questions. [Laughs].

Recently I was reading a rare old interview with Marvin Gaye and he was talking about his record “What’s Going On?”. He said that when he wrote it, it was reflective of the times and that “The material is social commentary. I did it not only to help humanity but to help me as well… It’s given me a certain amount of peace”; do you feel like it could be the same for your writing APPLZ ≠ APPLZ? To give yourself peace?

TV: Yeah for sure. What is being expressed in the music is always a reflection of what you’re going through in a way. A human being is so many things, it isn’t just one thing, people want to put things in boxes but it’s impossible, that’s bullshit. It is a reflection of a part, it’s soothing to you and you do it for yourself and hope others get something for it. It’s an output, I wouldn’t say its therapy though it is just what I do; everyone has something they do.

When I started writing this album a year and a half ago, 2017/2018, the first song I wrote “Cornucopia” was just channeling a Marvin Gaye and Curtis Mayfield kind of figure, a soul figure, these albums that were commentary on the social situation. The thought came to me, should I change what I’m making? I’m not a political artist, I’ve always stayed away from that because I don’t want to preach. I’ve always felt with music that the beat, the groove, has to be catchy first and then the rest will come. Although I’ve always been a fan of explicitly political bands like Public Enemy, I never wanted to be that. I thought, I’d already written my album so, why change it? I know cynical minds will think, “Oh yeah, ok we have a political record now” but then I thought, fuck that! I’m not changing anything. I wrote more songs in this theme, at the same time it became an ode to these records. I didn’t copy them or it isn’t an exercise in soul music but influences can come and go in many directions. The music was always first. I wrote this press text and it said, please forget every word I wrote, they are all absolutely irrelevant, just put on your dancing shoes and boogie your ass down to the ground like this moment is the only one you got!—that’s the deal you know.

One thing I’ve always loved about your music is the solos, when they cut through the track they remind me of Jimi Hendrix! The warmth and wildness.

TV: Thank you that’s great, I love that. I’ve been a guitar player since I was twelve years old, my dad was a musician.  When I started playing, I’d play many hours a day, it was my passion—I loved it! I started with jazz and blues. I was always soloing in my bedroom. In the late ‘90s soul was out of fashion in a way, it wasn’t really done, so I got side-tracked. It became more about making lots of noise and crazy guitar playing. I’ve always been a fan of Funkadelic, Led Zeppelin, Jim Hendrix, all these icons of guitar music. Ten years or so ago, I was like, oh man, I just want to play guitar and rip and shred, it got integrated in my song writing again. It’s just good old fun. I’ve been influenced by Jimi but not his guitar playing. Of course, he is a guitar god and so many people are influenced by his playing but I decided to stay away from that, I learned more from other guitar players. I think he is an amazing songwriter, that groove, I love, love, love him. He’s next, next, next level. You can’t touch Jimi, that’s impossible. I just do my thing.

In “Can’t Stop The Noise” I wanted to have this huge crazy, a little bit too loud of solo going on. I had it in my head but I didn’t know how I was going to do it, then when the moment came when I was recording in my kitchen, it just happened exactly like I wanted it too. I was so happy and satisfied, I texted some friends like, “oh my god, you’re going to love this! This solo is amazing! Fuck I loooove it!” [laughs]. I love stuff like that that’s a little too loud and you hear it and you’re like, what the fuck is that? That’s fucking insane! That’s crazy! That’s whack! [laughs].

That’s one of the solos I was talking about! Last question how do you remind yourself to stay in the moment?

TV: It’s a myth. You can never not be in the moment, actually. If you’re trying to be in the moment, you’re actually out of the moment. [Laughs]. If you can drop the worrying about being in the moment, it will help you much more. Don’t think about it!

Please check out: MILLIONAIRE. APPLZ ≠ APPLZ out now on Unday Records.