Salvatore Patti

The most distinctive trait of Czech band Miou Miou is undoubtably their singing in French, something that few bands outside France have attempted. But from the moment you set ears on their album it becomes clear that the sheer musicality of the language fits perfectly into their aesthetic, complementing a richness of sound that shows the level of committment to their music. Their first album "La La Grande Finale" is a true masterpiece of pop songwriting, orchestration and arrangements, from the overall sound to the tiniest of details. It's instantly catchy, yet the moment you think its songs will start to fade away you are drawn to the compexity of the instrumental work, the intertwining of analogue and acoustic sounds, the magnificence of the arrangements.

The band started out in 2003 in the local scene around Pardubice and after three years of hard work has gained local recognition, earning support slots for international artists like B.Fleischmann and Masha Qrella. And the sheer brilliance of their last work, "La La Grande Finale", is likely to break through to otherwise close markets, like UK and USA. We instantly fell in love with it and felt compelled to know something more about the band. Singer Karolina Dytrtova and keyboardist Jara Tarnovski have decided to help us.

I know the band started in 2003; can you tell us something more about Miou Miou and their background? What's the independent scene in the Czech Republic like?

Jara: All of us played in local bands before forming MM – the genres varied from experimental electronic to blues. This eclectic mix has projected into our music. The interesting thing is that most of us played a different instrument than we play now, e.g. Karolina played bass and classical guitar - she had also never sung in public before.

Regarding the indie scene, it’s quite diverse and has a long tradition in Czech culture. Everything was started by the legendary Plastic People of the Universe in the seventies. They were truly-both the band and individually - “independent”. There have been many collective projects of so-called “Czech alternative” music, as well as individual endeavours, e.g. band named Dunaj or singer Iva Bittova. Even though the Czech Republic is a small country, there is quite a wide network of clubs and independent labels. In the 90’s - after 40 years of communistic isolation – and from then on, more and more bands released their albums abroad and started to tour the whole of Europe. If we were asked to recommend some groups from the Czech scene, it would be the electronic project Floex, postrock band C, indiepop Nierika and Here or wierdfolk Selfbrush.

I like the way MM puts along the elegance of the singing parts with a very rich instrumental setting in a perfectly balanced mix. Are these two parts of your sound planned together or separately?

Jara: It’s different with each song, however most often there is a simple rhythmical link and a melodic song structure with basic vocals. Then each song demands something to develop and strengthen it – the same as with babies. However, we feed our music with instrumental and vocal arrangements. We admire bands such as The American Analog Set or The White Birch, which have brilliantly simple arrangements. However, we are attracted by big instrumental backgrounds, combining acoustic and electronic sounds, using wind instruments, strings and others.

Karolina: Sometimes the process is reminiscent of a very popular fairy tail by Josef Čapek, when a cat and a dog are baking a cake: they put everything that they find in their kitchen into their cake. The most difficult part is to find the moment when to stop so that the cake remains edible and you don’t wind up with a stomach ache.

A record as instantly catchy as "La La Grande Finale" may sometimes be too simple and forgettable. This doesn't happen because there seems to be a lot of musical knowledge behind it. Is there space for improvisation/experimentation in your music or do you tend to spend a lot of time perfecting the songs? Is someone in the band a classically trained musician?

Jara: Within some songs, we have places dedicated to improvisation. It comes out mainly during concerts, when it can be funnier. However, most of the songs have a stable structure. Regarding our records, we spend a lot of time in postproduction. We try various instrumental combinations, experiment a great deal with effects, sample ourselves, and then introduce these elements in different contexts. On our album, there are places with 50 tracks of instruments or sounds. Sometimes when they appear all at once, it was extremely difficult to mix it in to make a meaningful piece that is also airy and natural.

Some of the members of MM have a classical music background, e.g. Adél, who helps with arrangements of stringed instruments, studied the basics of conducting. Nevertheless, we try not to be bound to traditional techniques, rather we try to work as much as possible with intuition. We tend to be tempted to connect apparent discontinuities than to follow time-tested musical formulas.

Do MM strive to reach pop perfection? Is melody the most important part of a song in your idea of music?

Jara: I don’t know what perfect pop is. :-) We do not try to be radio-friendly, which is probably one the principles of pop music. Pop is for us only the base material. Wherever necessary, we add various flavours and ingredients. When asked, (as in our promo) we say that we play “pop experimental”, which is as much of an oxymoron as a “public secret“. As we've said before, we like to connect that which is “unconnectable”.
I’m fascinated with material that is right on the barely visible border between kitsch and ingenious composition. The sixties were full of such music. Strong melody is obviously the basis for a good pop song. However, the authors of the best songs are not afraid to break down even the most brilliant tune, disturb it and inject it with “weird” items. A good example is “Some Velvet Morning” by Lee Hazelwood or Gainsbourg, who was a grand master at it. For us, this is very attractive.

What are like MM on stage? Do you have to strip down some arrangements and/or change any way the songs are played or sung? Are you more of a live band of a studio band?

Karolina: For a live performance, we use just percussions, guitars, analogue keyboards and vocals. No sample background, everything is 100% live. Because of this, the difference between the record, where you can hear up to 20 instruments at a time, and the concert version is obvious. We do not try to adapt one to the other. The concert versions are more straight and crude, but because of that sometimes the merits of the song paradoxically emerge – what remains is what's most important.

For the band, the live performance is very central - the contact with the audience. But regular studio and postproduction work is also essential for the development of the musician – that’s a big lesson too.

Can you tell us something about your previous records? I am curious about the experimentation brought in "Analogue & Acoustique". What was it about and how did it happen?

Karolina: We got the idea to record this single in the middle of the year 2004. After our debut mini-album, it would have been expected for us to release a maxi-album. However, we went in the opposite direction and recorded just 2 rather short songs. During the recording, we used only acoustic and analogue instruments in addition to vocals. The resulting songs are somehow step away from our usual sound – it is MM surrounded by jingles, tinkling and small machines in a home studio. The song 360 ° has the feeling of a nursery rhyme. It spontaneously sprung up in English, so we left it like that. It’s a bit cheap, a bit trendy and hopefully good :-)

The next piece, “Mon minet,” was supposed to be recorded on our debut EP, however due to a lack of time it didn’t happen. The song tells a story about a little girl who is mourning for her lost tomcat. We got our inspiration from the girl band The Shaggs and their “My Pal Foot Foot” from the end of the 60´s. “Mon minet” is our version of the same story, honouring this amazing band as our thanks for being our source of inspiration.

It seems to me you have some musical background in common with bands like Stereolab or Pram, that used to be dubbed "post-punk". The interactions, the sounds of the sixties, Gainsbourg, but you're missing the futuristic elements or the kraut influence of those bands. Would you agree?

Jara: It’s possible that these futuristic elements are not as expressive in our music as in the bands you mentioned. I think we don’t use so often oscillators and theremin as them. :-) Our poetics are also more rural than metropolitan, and that’s reflected in our music. Also, you don't tend to find too many big futuristic visions in the countryside. By all means, we have been affected directly or indirectly by most of the artists you’ve mentioned – including German krautrock bands as Can or Neu.

In our lyrics and art stylization there are often reflections from childhood, which should indicate the difference between us and British bands: what we were uniquely surrounded with and what formed us during our childhood. By that logic, we are very specifically our own. But one thing we do have in common with these bands is that we're attempting to find something “old” that hasn’t been here yet :-)

What kind of responses are you getting in your homeland, both from the press and the public? Have you had any response from abroad?

Karolina: Czech reviews of the album were very positive and we’ve gotten the chance to play with such names as B.Fleischmann or Masha Qrella. So far we're satisfied with our position in Czech indie scene. However, we’ve only released our debut album, so this is just the beginning. It’s important to contact the local distributors and labels for particular regions in order to make the album available both in Europe and overseas - then we can start a concert tour. We hope to play in Italy soon!
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