Americans think they are mocking the French, the French think they are mocking Americans and in Detroit they think Les Sans Culottes is a Canadian band.
The truth of the matter is that with the exception of singer Celine Dijon, none of the band members are actually French. Nor are they particularly well-versed in the language either. In fact, the band met at the Rhode Island School of Design, and currently calls South Brooklyn their home.
Maybe it's their wildly over-the-top live performances, an exceptional French accent, or the catchy ye-ye, 60s styled pop music, but audiences have had trouble discerning Faux from French.
"We just played in New Orleans and afterwards this French chef came up to me and spoke to me in French, assuming I was much more conversant than I am." says singer and self-proclaimed "Culture Commandant" Clermont Ferrand. "He insisted that I meet his wife who couldn't believe that I wasn't an actual French person."
The septet's flamboyant stage theatrics are more than just an excuse to wear ruffled blouses. As serious as they are about their music, a certain Je ne sais quoi is necessary to pull it off. "We don't want to lose the essence of French pop" says Ferrand. "It's fun, it's sexy, it's romantic and those are also essential parts of our project." Hence, the mandatory feather boas and silk scarves.
Just don't label Les Sans Culottes as a gimmick band. For starters, they've got the talent to back up the live spectacle. In October of 2000, Search City.com named them Best Local Unsigned Band. Their competition included alternative buzz-bands like Interpol and Mooney Suzuki.
Secondly, though it is often lost on English-speaking audiences, Les Sans Culottes' lyrics are wry, witty and playfully raunchy. And while some people might worry about not being understood; Ferrand doesn't.
"When I was growing up…listening to Joe Strummer or Robert Plant singing, I couldn't even understand what they were saying and they were singing in English."
Besides, as Ferrand points out, having a group of Brooklyn-ites presenting themselves as French isn't all that gimmicky. "It seems like part of a long and sometimes controversial tradition in American music which includes such figures as Al Jolson, Elvis Presley, and most famously today Eminem."
The reference is of course to three very popular, very white artists who have appropriated elements of Black culture into their work and made it their own. And whereas Elvis may have obscured the 'borrowed' elements of his artistry, Les Sans Culottes aren't at all interested in convincing their audiences of their 'French' heritage. "To us, a somewhat transparent minstrelsy seemed more authentic than the "authentic" poses taken by so many wannabe rock star bands occupying New York City these days," says Ferrand.
Lofty ideas for a band who as of yet have no major label clout to back them up. But their philosophy is sound. In a world dominated by American culture, Les Sans Culottes take a certain amount of joy from flipping the audiences' perspective of what good music should be. "The bands that are presented to people though the mass media are usually not the more interesting or creative bands. They're manufactured pop stars." says Ferrand.
Indeed, Les Sans Culottes' do not take their influences from the same pool of artists as what today's Billboard chart-toppers do. Jacques Dutronc and Serge Gainsbourg replace The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. The result is a hip-shaking, bright, bouncy, sexy, vibrant ode to classic ye-ye (French go-go for the uninitiated).
Their most recent release, Faux Realism, (read the Soul Shine review here: http://www.soulshine.ca/reviews/albumReview.php?arid=12
) is saucy and sultry as only the left-bank can be. Add a fuzzy garage sound, some positively snobby French accents and a healthy dose of hipster organs and you're left to digest a truly innovative new music. The only thing missing are the berets and cigarette holders.
Touring isn't a top priority for Les Sans Culottes at the moment, but a new album has been recorded with producer Mike Andrews, set to release in February 2004. Given their journey from a sold-out debut album consisting mostly of cover songs to their 2002 release Faux Realism which, according to their online bio, "climbed to # 48 on the CMJ charts before bowing to anti-French bias," the upcoming release just might propel these "Fran-kees" into the day-glo spotlight.