Caravan Palace has always been somewhat of an anomaly, even to themselves. Helping found the genre of electro-swing back when they were one of the only bands in the scene they promptly turned heads and quickly became a go-to band for unique dance music that appealed to fans across generations. Crafting a live show out of necessity that quickly became a pull in its own right they’ve now become superstars in a niche genre that grows every day. We caught up with founding member Hugues Payen about how a few coincidences and lucky moments shaped their entire career.
NT: How did you guys go from scoring a silent porn film to a massive genre-blending band with so many members?
Hugues Payen: It was quite natural. Charles, the bassist, has had a studio since before the band, and he was editing a film for a French channel to re-edit some old silent porn films and they had asked him to find someone who could mix old stuff with new sounds, so he asked his brother who was working with Arnaud and myself in a Gypsy-Jazz band. We couldn’t do a full project at the time so we decided to play it at parties for our friends and they told us it was awesome and we should do it for the next ten years. We tried because we had the time as young musicians, and we were already electronic music producers so it let us mix our two passions.
NT: Why do you think your blend of very modern and very retro has been so popular?
HP: We are very lucky because the same guy who brought us together for the silent film project also works with a producer who owns a venue in Paris, and this guy wanted to become a producer. He heard the track and wanted to produce it, we didn’t even have time to say “Do we want to do this?”
NT: Since you blend both styles so well how exactly does a song start, instruments, production or a blend depending on the track?
HP: There are no rules. I just began a song because my daughter loves “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” by Michael Jackson. So I listened to it a few times and liked the vibe and tempo, so I tried to base something on that song and I really like it. The lack of rules is why it’s difficult to make a homogenous album because we’ll have so many places we’re pulling from and we have to make them live together.
NT: I would’ve never imagined Black Betty as a cover for you guys, how did that idea come about?
HP: We played on a TV show where they invite musicians and ask them to play a famous cover. We tried five or six ones and they didn’t work but our guitarist suggested it because he’d thought Ram Jam was Rock but also blues so it still had all the same rhythms. It was interesting to make a mix like they did so we tried to do it in our own style, we didn’t keep the riffs though. It wasn’t that easy, and that’s why we haven’t done a cover before, as it’s not so easy to not start from scratch.
NT: Why do you think your live shows became popular so quickly, considering the interesting mashup your music presents?
HP: We never worked on the way we were on stage. We started the project and made our first concert a year and a half before the first album was released. It was a surprise even for us, because when we began we didn’t think we could even play it live. When our producer from the venue wanted us to play, we said “Okay” but we didn’t know how to do it. It was a pleasant surprise. We talked about it on MySpace, and it was the first place our public met us. It worked very well and very fast, so our first concert was very full. We didn’t know exactly how to move on stage but we felt something with the people there, very strange but very special. We didn’t want to rehearse on the specifics. We had a very long tour to rehearse and figure it out, we had 250 on our first tour to make it better and better. A lot of people tell us they’d never heard us before our concerts but their friends tell them to go because of the show, especially in the U.S..
NT: Have you dealt with glaring push back from either EDM or swing/Gypsy Jazz communities?
HP: We decided quite early to not put too much pressure on ourselves with that. The Gypsy Jazz community is a conservative community, we played our fourth concert at a Django Reinhardt, it’s a pilgrimage for gypsies in France every year. We were a bit afraid because of that. It worked perfectly and we came back the next year, all the young gypsies were walking around us with stars in their eyes. If you’re authentic you won’t have a problem just play the music. At the time there wasn’t any electro-swing or electronic gypsy-jazz so there was no reference. A jazz magazine wanted to do a review of our album but didn’t know how to do it so their editor asked four people to review it and it was 50/50 either they liked it or Django was turning in his grave. It was good exposure, we didn’t think we deserved that much interest.
NT: What’s coming up for you guys ?
HP: It’s a bit difficult to answer this early because we’re still between the first and second steps of sketching songs for the new album but we’ve taken the break from touring to write it. We want to go deeper on the sound with this album that we started on the third album and we want to make it more modern. We also want to put more acoustic instruments back in, a lot of people told us we’d abandoned them on the last album and I agree.
Words by Owen Maxwell