Stand On The Word

“Gaspard and I loved the Larry Levan remix of the Celestial Choir’s ‘Stand on the Word’, a mid-tempo disco tune with kids singing, that inspired us to make our own song to be sung by kids. It’s always really hard for us to find people to sing our songs because we’re not fond of featuring guest vocalists. We prefer them to be anonymous, and we therefore thought that a kids’ choir would be a good solution and one that people who had heard ‘Waters of Nazareth’ wouldn’t expect.

“We wrote the music playing a guitar and piano, and for months ‘D.A.N.C.E.’ consisted of just piano and guide vocals by a friend of ours called Jessie Chaton, the singer in French band Fancy. We love the way he writes, and since Gaspard and I couldn’t come up with a chorus that we liked, we asked Jessie to visit the studio and he came up with the top line for the chorus as well as the bridge section.

“Once we had all the lines, Gaspard and I started to write the words, and that was very hard because back then we barely spoke English; it’s really difficult to write words that aren’t in your native language.”

According to de Rosnay, it was Augé’s idea to incorporate Michael Jackson references into the ‘D.A.N.C.E.’ lyrics.

“For us, writing the words is really tricky because we don’t want to make them too serious or too complicated or too pretentious, but we also don’t want to come up with stupid dance music lyrics like ‘Shake your ass, you look beautiful’,” de Rosnay explained.

“At least the music of Michael Jackson is something we believe in. So, we built the lyrics mainly around the titles of his songs, but then people made the mistake of assuming that, because our track was sung by kids, it was influenced by the Jackson 5.

“Not so. To us, the Jackson 5’s music was funkier and dirtier.”

It's really difficult to write words that aren't in your native language.

Foundation for Young Musicians

English DJ/producer Damian ‘Midfield General’ Harris – who was doing some work for Ed Banger Records in Paris – served as an executive producer on ‘D.A.N.C.E.’ by locating the London-based kids who performed as the Foundation for Young Musicians choir.

“We had them rehearse the song at the house of conductor Lynda Richardson, which meant we had to travel back and forth between London and Paris,” de Rosnay recalled. “We’d hear the kids sing the words and then make adjustments because sometimes what we’d written sounded embarrassing. We would then return to Paris to change the words and also to work on other adjustments that we realised we had to make to the music.

“Although the kids were very young, they were very good. As soon as we gave them the score, they sang it so perfectly that we had to do some rewrites and add quarter-tone variations just to make it move a little more. You see, one of the things that we loved about ‘Stand on the Word’ was that the kids were pushed to the point where they sang slightly bluesy and out of tune. That’s great, because with kids you want to have their freshness and their naïveté. The kids we used were so good that, to capture their youthfulness, we actually had to write what sounded like slight mistakes into the score. We also picked the youngest of them, Felix Zadek-Ewing, to sing the lead vocal because having the least skill meant he’d potentially have the most style.”

In all, Augé and de Rosnay made four or five trips between France and England before they were happy with the music and lyrics of ‘D.A.N.C.E.’, at which point they did a final two-hour rehearsal with the Foundation for Young Musicians choir at London’s Strongroom Studios and recorded it there.

“The song has a very basic sort of Chic/disco arrangement,” de Rosnay continued. “In addition to the piano and vocals, it consists of drums, bass, guitar and strings, and this required a lot of work.”

Justice at work in Philippe Zdar’s Motorbass studio, 2009

De Rosnay at work in Philippe Zdar’s Motorbass studio, 2009

The Parisian Chapel

Aside from the choir recordings at London’s Strongroom, the  sessions took place inside the basement studio of a rented, cavern-like Parisian chapel where Justice used GarageBand on a Mac G5 computer, Cubase SX, Genelec 8030 monitors and a Wunder Audio PEQ1 mic pre-amp, while playing a piano and guitar to write the material. There was no outboard gear.

“The place was underground and, when we worked there, we didn’t even know it had been a chapel,” Xavier de Rosnay said. “We were told that maybe one or two years after we left it. We found it because it was the unused basement of a club and the owner wanted to make some extra money. Now that space is one of the rooms in a new club called Silencio.

“Working in there was a nightmare. The depth of the basement made it really stifling and there were many times when Gaspard and I would just fall asleep due to the lack of fresh air.

“At the same time, the sound in there was terrible. The place had brick walls and a vaulted ceiling, but that didn’t really matter because we don’t need amazing acoustics for our type of music. Most of the things we do are in the box, and much of what we record is so heavily processed that you don’t get to hear the sound of the room anyway.”

Author Richard Buskin
13th December, 2012

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