Caravan Palace talks electro-swing, robots and what it's like inventing a genre

Imagine a cross between Django Reinhardt and Daft Punk. That’s the basic formula behind electro-swing, a new-meets-old genre with an international cult following.

One of its pioneers is Caravan Palace, a seven-piece big band from Paris with an upright bassist, violinist, trombone player and guitarist as its founding composers. The group’s 2008 debut record went platinum in France, and quickly through word-of-mouth, its reach could be felt stateside. Northern California will get a rare visit when the band plays the Fox Theater in Oakland on Wednesday, June 8. Tickets cost $35.

Caravan Palace is on tour promoting its third album, which is generally referred to as Robot, but our website can’t handle publishing the real title because it thinks it’s a malicious script! Here’s a picture:

Anyway, the album dropped last fall. Like its previous records, it’s filled with infectious beats and feel-good energy. Good luck listening and not dancing in your chair at work. But with Robot, Caravan Palace dives deeper in modern electronic dance music, with some gritty, glitchy and dub-based sounds.

SN&R chatted with violinist Hugues Payen just before the band embarked on its North America tour.

How did you approach the newest album?
Of course we try to have a different approach for every album we make. This time it was difficult because the second one was very specific and very special music. The first one was fresh, different, unique music. It was difficult for us to follow up something like that. We have to do something different but not too different. For this one we wanted to come up with something fresh between the actual sounds and the current sounds—the things we were listening to at the moment, which was not always the case for the other two times.

Do you mean you’re inspired by new types of electronica?
Nowadays, it’s a living music, it’s different every day. … So it’s very current songs, from Rihanna’s “Bitch Better Have My Money” to some Kendrick Lamar.

Do you see yourself expanding beyond swing and electronica in the future?
We’ll see. We don’t know. [Laughs] … It’s difficult for me to answer because we don’t know exactly what we’ll do next. It’s difficult today to make something you’ve never heard.

Why the robot image as your album title?
It was a mistake our manager sent us one day and he didn’t type it right, and it appeared to be a robot. He wanted an image that’s an icon. We found it very funny. It was risky to do it because maybe the newspaper wasn’t OK with it. But everyone thought it was OK—a good idea, maybe. So we decided to keep it the title of the album and not to give it a name, and let the people choose the name. But we didn’t tell the people to choose a name. It was just like that. We just say, our album is that emoticon. That’s all. And you can call it as you want.

Do you think robots will take over the world one day?
I don’t know. I, uhhh, don’t know. I don’t know what to say. [Laughs]

You don’t have to answer that. As a band playing a brand new style of music, what was the audience reaction like during your first performances?
Very good. I think people were ready for it because a lot of artists before us prepared it. When we first played, especially in France, it was a very energetic reaction always, even when we didn’t have an album, because we toured one year and a half before the album was released. It was always sold out and everyone wanted to get up front. It was kind of crazy for us. … Everywhere in Europe, because our producer then was quite crazy—he was right but crazy—he decided to make us play everywhere in Europe. It was risky because French bands don’t do that for their 10th concert. We played in Spain, England, Germany, Belgium. Sometimes we played very big festivals, but we were nothing. We were really nothing. But everywhere, the reaction was the same. It was really good reaction. A lot of sparkling eyes. It was very good to see.

How quickly did you learn that there was an artist in Austria [Parov Stelar] doing something very similar around the same time?
Very soon because, on Myspace—can you believe it? Myspace in 2005—he contacted us via Myspace to propose us to be on his label, Etage Noir Recordings. But at the moment, our producer wanted us to do something with somebody else, so we decided to decline. But we stayed in touch, of course. We’ve stayed in touch the whole time. But we’ve played only twice together—500 concerts and only twice together.

So Myspace was influential to your rise in fame?
At the time, it was very important, in Europe at least. It was the fastest way to make your band famous. Things have changed.

Obviously France and Austria are big hubs for electro-swing. Where else is the genre big right now?
There are a lot of English bands and Italian bands. There are a lot of countries. Electro-swing is a real world-wide phenomenon. It’s interesting to see. Sometimes we hear somebody from Japan, and sometimes they are crazier than us. The range of electronic music production—it’s interesting.

Photo courtesy of Jeremie Bouillon.

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