French-fried cover versions
The history of Nouvelle Vague is the stuff of indie-rock legend: French band evolves from kitschy farce to established cult phenoms by peddling songs that are almost exclusively bossa nova-style covers of New Wave chestnuts, all thanks to the imaginations of Nouvelle Vague’s co-founders, Marc Collin and Olivier Libaux. Their knack for picking nostalgic favourites, coupled with the wise decision to have a variety of velvet-voiced French chanteuses helm each interpretation, has seemingly filled a pop-culture void. The band’s new album, 3, is another cheeky collection featuring classics like Violent Femmes’ “Blister in the Sun” and a bevy of duets with famous names, like Echo & the Bunnymen’s Ian McCulloch and Martin Gore of Depeche Mode.
Collin spoke (in a charmingly thick French accent) with WE from the band’s tour bus about choosing covers, commercial success, and cashing in.
How do you choose which songs to cover?
Marc Collin: It’s quite easy. We were really already big fans of New Wave, so we were just trying to remember which songs we were really into. Sometimes songs are completely unknown in some countries. For example, “I Melt With You” is completely unknown in France, and we just knew this song because we were completely into this movement, but it was a huge hit in America. But we don’t really think about that, because we don’t really know what’s a huge hit in America. [Laughs] We just try to choose what we like.
As a composer and producer, do you feel there are certain requirements a song has to have for you to want to cover it?
It’s difficult to answer. [Sighs] I can say there has to be a strong melody, but how? I think we did something good on “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” from Bauhaus, or “Human Fly” from the Cramps, which obviously are not great melodies, so it’s also mood or something in the lyrics. Something that just inspires some ideas to create something different.
Your reinventions are getting a lot of commercial attention, such as the TV show Glee, which used your cover of “Dancing with Myself.” Does it feel strange for you?
[Laughs] It’s what we want. Yeah, for sure. The idea at the beginning was just to please us, but as soon as it can have a commercial success, for sure. Actually, there’s a lot of people who come to the show who don’t know the originals; they are just discovering the songs like this, so it’s a good way to make people discover these singers and this musical movement. And the money that comes from this, it’s good for sure.
Do the collaborations on 3 signal that you have more credibility and are legitimized as a band?
I hope so, yeah. What we have created is really unique, in a way, because we are — and were at the beginning — only a cover band, but somehow we have this credibility that any indie band might get. We get a lot of press, we’re appreciated by the original bands, and we are playing in these big rock festivals like Glastonbury!