By Rosine Alleva, Journalist and José Oliveira, Photographer -Rock at Night France
Venue: Woodstock Guitares – Ensisheim, May 6
We met French TOBACCO, Vanessa, his manager and Rémi his acolyte on stage, on an early evening. This interview was just a cool conversation, like meeting a friend we hadn’t seen for a while….coming back from a long trip abroad, suitcase in one hand and guitar in the other. Simple, intimate moment; two characteristics which represent well this English-Finnish artist living in the French capital, Paris. We heard about him already a few months ago as he is one of the new talents Gérard DROUOT, great European Producer, mentioned in José Oliveira’s interview for Rock at Night last January. French TOBACCO is a travel addict who loves as well to travel through his public and the people he meets. We were ready for the journey in Ensisheim!…And it was a great one!
For the event, the artist was supported by Vince RED, new local talented author-composer-singer accompanied by 3 other musicians. This was the perfect introduction to announce French TOBACCO on stage.Vince RED has a great potential and already a 7 titles EP “Words To Live By”. Long life to your project!
RAN- Can you tell us the History of your name “French Tobacco”.
FT- I was studying the music industry in England and I had only 2, 3 classes per week in Guildford exactly, an hour from London. I left with a friend who had a van and we burst out trying to live a real musical English adventure.
We played in pubs every night for months and months in exchange for a few beers, a place to sleep and some food. Sometimes pubs were full, sometimes empty. But it actually trained me, from there came the idea of the suitcase too. One evening, when I had finished a concert in a pub in Edinburgh, the boss of the Scottish bar, completely drunk, said “you should call yourself French Tobacco”. I did not understand why, I never really knew … finally it’s because I ended up with a Gainsbourg song and after that I smoked a cigarette. Then my buddy started calling me like this, then all my friends from England did as well. When I came back to France it was a nice nod to why I do this job today, because I really lived something great there. I wanted to go on, but my roots are in England.
RAN- What are your influences?
FT- My influences, there are many things. I owe much to my brother for my influences. He made me listen to Jeff Buckley, very early and also Radiohead very early. For me, it’s this pleasure to hear something that isn’t expected. Radiohead for example, these are notes you do not necessarily expect, the way of singing is also different. I take inspiration a bit of all this to try to make my music. There is also Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, BRMC, it’s pretty incredible, I find it quite amazing. It feels good to hear a bit Rock revival, especially in France, I am delighted when there are concerts. There are many things too. I am also very sensitive to Emiliana TORRINI, an Italian artist, who started in the 90’s. An incredible chance, she was spotted in the restaurant of her father. She has a golden voice, an angel voice, with very simple and very beautiful compositions, her lyrics are very pictorial, her voice gives an extent to the songs and her universe is just incredible, I had a real crush.
RAN- When did you start the guitar?
FT- Initially I began to play drums, I was hyper active when I was a little boy and my parents thought it was a good thing, it was a big mistake because I was making a lot of noise (laughs). So they were indeed very happy when I told them that I wanted to start the guitar, which I did pretty late, about 15, 16 years old, actually, later than most people.
RAN- How did you begin to make music?
FT- I began to make music when I heard one of the most rock tracks of MUSE, “Plug in Baby”. It made me feel incredible. I had rhythm, a minimum of voice. I thought, why not me?
RAN- You’ve done a lot of supporting acts, what’s your best memory already?
FT– It’s hard to keep only one … because, thanks to Gérard Drouot, I made many first parts. There were incredible things, Twice Jeff Beck and also Melanie Gardot. I love her music, her universe … she is class … it makes you want to join now. Then there was Bercy, incredible, before 14,000 people. Arrive with his suitcase and his guitar, to say that we are where you are not expected and try to convict. And see that people who adhere to it and when some people get up, say that we may have chosen something that pleases. There is nothing more important when making music is to know that we are on the right track.
RAN– How did you get into this “Gérard Drouot world”?
FT- Thanks to my manager, Vanessa. She met Gaetan from Gérard Drouot Productions. They spread the word and they gave me a first chance at the “BOULE NOIRE”. As things were working out well both sides, I was really pleased, of course. I had then the chance to have a big date, Jeff BECK at the “GRAND REX”. I take the opportunity, when I do support acts, to make myself known but also to test new songs, to see what works. I’m only 26 , I still consider that I’m developing as an artist. Just to see so great musicians playing and assist to their sound checks, how they get such an amazing sound, how they play, I learn a lot. It’s an incredible opportunity.
RAN- How would you describe your musical world?
FT- I would say that my musical world is a combination of folk, blues, rock for the energy. It’s also a mix of sensitivity, I love minor chords, which touches me much, and obviously I also love it when it detonates. I love the folk too for the lyrics… there is a certain importance that you don’t always find in the rock. For me, it’s a nice way to declare a flame, to think about who we are, what we live. With folk music, you talk more about life, maybe philosophize more.
RAN- Folk is quite a risky bet, especially in France nowadays …
FT- Maybe, but I chose this job, and assume it. I couldn’t defend something else than what I truly love! Although, it would be funny to remix one of my songs in an electro style, it’s something to study. It’s the same thing when Rock appeared, it wasn’t accepted. It’s important to live in our time. I have this curiosity, why do people like electro so much? It’s an interesting approach, I accept modernity and the fact other things are coming, but I don’t adhere to this music.
RAN- Tell us about your last album, the title means already a lot … “A room with a view”
FT- The first album was more produced, I made quite a lot of radio and television broadcasts. I wanted to move on to something simpler, more honest. I don’t regret the first album at all, but I realized things were going on quite fast and I wanted to show I could do something else. This CD represents a living room and a fire, I really wanted people to have the feeling I was in the same room, singing a song with my guitar.This is what I was looking for, to be the simplest possible, with the rawest sound. I love to discover artists by looking at an acoustic live concert on YouTube, to discover their vocal timbre, what emerges from them, how they play guitar, when they talk between songs…This is how I adhere to a universe. Beyond the songs, it’s important to see what you like about an artist.
RAN- Why did you choose this sentence “Just me, myself and I and my guitar”?
FT- I think it represents the spirit of this ”French Tobacco” project quite well. Most things are inspired by the travel, stories from people I meet , it influences my songs a lot. For example “Three in the morning” became a song from a story someone told me in a pub in England one evening”. A song I perform a lot on stage. It is these encounters, this energy that’s transmitted to me, that I put down my way, and that I then reflect…I like to travel through people.
RAN- So this is how you compose?
FT- I like to learn and tell stories from the people I meet, like I said, I love to reflect on things while traveling, then I write many lyrics…Usually I write the melodies when I rehearsal with Remi or in my room. I first create the melody, then the lyrics.
RAN- In this collaboration with Gérard Drouot, do you intend to keep your freedom?
FT- What’s cool with Gérard Drouot is that I keep this freedom. I have the chance to have found a producer who trusts me and he encourages me to evolve. And it gives me this energy, to show my full potential! Be given completely free rein to an artist is the most beautiful thing. I’m delighted.
RAN- Laura Cox, with her rock influences, folk, an English father, reminds me a bit of you. What do you think about this new generation of young artists with combined cultures, with a mix French-English education?
FT- I’m not french but lived in France with my parents and traveled much with them as well. I had then the chance to discover other types of personalities and also to learn to adapt myself to these differences. This also comes thanks to the internet. Today you can see videos from French artists on YouTube with more and more great comments in English for example, which is fantastic. Even without understanding the language. All those combined influences lead to a great, new musical, artistic openness.
RAN- A last question, what music do you listen to?
FT- At the moment, I’m listening to a singer who sings in French. Her name is Alma FORRER,, she has a great song “Bobby”. Her lyrics and her voice are just wonderful. I also listen to the Lumineers, American folk, country blues trio. And of course Emiliana TORRINI I also like very much.
RAN- Thank you for this intimate and interesting moment! José Oliveira- Next Time I’ll meet Gérard Drouot, I’ll tell him you will go far. I have this feeling, exactly the same as when I interviewed Dire Straits and Police years ago, when they were playing in front of 800 people!
FT- It’s very kind of you, and I thank you for this moment!
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