ZeN (Vocals, Keyboards, Programming) Soe V (Vocals, Keyboards) and Peter Rainman (Keyboards, Programming and Backing vocals) from Waiting for Words
Celebrating their 25th anniversary, the French Synth Pop kings of WAITING FOR WORDS come back “en forme” with an outstanding cover album, ‘The Best Years Of Our Lives’, and some exciting plans for the future. The opportunity to spend another nice moment with ZeN, SoE and their long-time collaborator and friend, Peter Rainman, from PEOPLE THEATRE.
Reflections Of Darkness [RoD]: How did this cover album project came up?
ZeN: It makes years I want to do it, but it was never the good timing and we had always prioritize our original work first. During the tour, we tried a lot of different covers to bring surprises in the setlists, and then, there was this French Radio Show (“Scrogneugneu” on Radio Pulsar) that invited us every two months or so with other artists from Poitiers, to cover different artists. By the autumn, we had 14 covers, plus some others I started aside for fun. As we are still in the writing and composition of new material, but with no clear direction, we all thought, especially as it's the first time we're working with Peter on a full studio album, that working on covers would be the best way to try out things, sounds, instruments... and also, calibrate or methods, inspirations, productions. But in the end... We just really wanted to do it, and it has to be now or never
RoD: You must expect some people criticizing or reactions from fans of artists covered?
ZeN: As usual, especially with a cover project... But to be fair, I came to a point where I don't really care about critics anymore. Let's be realistic a second. The band is 25, I'm 44... Dreams of international success are far behind and I don't even think we'll be able to make a living of our music any day. We just hardly manage not losing any money and having a tour financing the next album that will finance the next tour and so on. If we can carry on for ten more years, I'll be happy with it. If it stops in five years, fine. So... critics? I couldn’t care less. But this is not a Karaoke album (laughs). Of course anyone is entitled to find them awful and saying we did a bad job... but we worked this out as any album.
As per fans of artists covered, for the moment we mainly had excellent feedbacks, especially from the INXS fans community. I think that the fact we picked songs that are not that often covered gives us a kind of “sympathy credit”. Of course, some don't like it, but they never liked Waiting For Words anyway by the past. We are not only covering bands we love like INXS, Cure or Bowie, but we also cover songs we found amazing (‘New Dawn Fades’, ‘Dear Prudence’, ‘Iron Lion Zion’, ‘All Apologies’) without being ultimate fans of them. We haven't made this album to gain new fans... we did it to thank our fans and those artists. If it allows us to increase our fan base, we'll be more than honoured but we don’t really ask the ones who hate the band to give their opinion about it (laughs).
RoD: It's rare for a new wave band not being fan of Joy Division (laughs).
ZeN: I ain't going to lie to get street cred'. I've always hated Joy Division. I've tried a thousand times to listen to them. To me? Bad production, awful mix, I just hate it. Even Barney Sumner recently said he hardly listen to Joy Division albums mostly because of the sound! BUT when you listen to ‘Dead Souls’ by Nine Inch Nails, ‘New Dawn Fades’ by MOBY, you realize how talented the guy was in songwriting. And this is the all point of this album. Paying tribute to songs that somehow build us as human beings and maybe artists... not a fan thing to the artists we adore.
RoD: No Depeche Mode cover?
Soe: Every Synth Pop band feels obliged covering Depeche Mode on this kind of project. We've covered enough of them over the last decades.
RoD: How did you come to this selection?
ZeN: Heart-breaking sometimes. There were some songs we knew since day one they would appear on the album: ‘Alice Dans La Lune’, ‘Someone Somewhere in Summertime’ and ‘Let Me Go’. There were no questions about it. They became part of our repertoire during the tour. Then, there were artists we wanted to cover like INXS, The Cure, New Order, Niagara... but didn't really knew which ones to pick. And there were the last minute surprises we hadn't really ever thought of like Joy Division or The Beatles that were dictated by the themes of the Radio Show mentioned above. It's really this Radio Show that drove more than half of the project. We voluntarily had a very “last minute” approach to this. When Philippe Freicha (our local John Peel!) was telling us “OK, next theme will be Joy Division” we waited something like five days before the show to work on it. Taking the chords, switching on the synths, and go. Trying sometimes four or five songs from an artist and go for the one working best. The recording was generally made the day prior to the show, live conditions, no more than three takes, mix and send. One the latest show in February, we were invited to come and present previews of the album... We did five or six tracks in a week and finished the mix two hours before the show!
Peter: The funny thing is we made the track listing before ending the production, and sometimes the cover came even bigger than expected... and it “only” became a B- side! ‘All Apologies’ is the typical good accident you'll get in the first EP.
RoD: For the first time there's a lot of collaborations with other vocalists (Darrin from PSYCHE, Aube L, Ys Atlov), musicians and of course, Peter that co produces and mix the all album. How did it all come?
ZeN: Some came in a very logical sense. PSYCHE and WAITING FOR WORDS toured together for a string of seven shows during our last tour and we performed ‘Bring Your Love Down’ as a common encore on every set. It was the first to be recorded a year ago and intended to be a one off release before the all cover album project came up. So, when the project started, and as we already had the PSYCHE duet, I realized I met so many incredibly talented people other the last years, and celebrating our anniversary with them on board was a natural thing to do. There are some other friends that couldn't make it on to the album because of scheduling constraints but as we still have some tracks to records for next EP's, who knows what other collaborations there will be.
We're very proud of every collaboration on this album from the lesser known to the biggest name to be honest. They are all true friends and great human beings. As per Peter, he produced his first remix for us eleven years ago. I think he remixed six of our tracks over the years, but it became more and more some productions rather than remixes. ‘The Curve’ and ‘Follow My Voice’ are perfect example. Then we toured together and develop a real and sincere friendship. It was a natural move. He's a great producer. Listening a lot to the artist he works with. We have some very long discussions over the phone to talk about those songs, what it meant to us, what was the direction we wanted... He is also part of the line-up as he performs a lot of keyboards, backing vocals and drum programming.
Peter: I don't produce people I couldn't respect, and every time I’m trying to know them more. This time, we already knew each other very well, so I focused on the songs, the secret link between Soe, ZeN and the list they made. It's what I call the “twilight zone”, the thing that brings a new dimension to the production. And I have to say I’ve never heard one third of the songs before! So I much more try to catch the sincere intention instead of trying to find the original sound.
RoD: Soe, what impressed me the most is the work on vocals. You explore new directions and deliver some really strong performances on ‘Pendant Que Les Champs Brulent’ and ‘A Forest’, as well as on the duets like ‘Don't Change’, ‘Someone’ or ‘Don't Change’. How did you approach it?
Soe: Hum… May be because I didn’t work on it? First I sing the song as I sing it when it’s played on the radio… Then I close my eyes and I sing it with my heart… Or I play with it, it depends on the mood and the moment. Usually the first one is the good one… Then, I hear other voices in my head, like choirs… and I try to add it to what I just sang. Sometimes it works, sometimes don’t. With this album, I think we all played… it was a game. We explored so many different universes. It was pretty cool to understand where we feel home and where we don’t want to go… ‘Pendant que les champs brûlent’ and ‘A Forest’ are songs I really, really like… And I wanted to sing them… I am sure they will, like a good wine, be better in few years. Come back later and see… see into the music… listen to the girl while you can.
RoD: Soe, you're now singing on almost all songs, wherever leading, duetting or backing. How do you choose which song you're going to lead?
Soe: In fact I do not choose! If I want to sing one, there is no negotiation! I sing it. If it fits, so be it. I was supposed to sing ‘Alice dans la Lune’ but finally it suits better to ZeN’s voice. The opposite never happened.
ZeN: Sometimes I had to convince her. On ‘Vanishing Point’, I sung the all song first... but when coming to the last part, it was Soe's voice I could hear in my mind. I knew it has to be her singing this bit. She was not that convinced of it but gave it a try... and here it is. And sometimes she bumps into a song, like ‘Duel’ I originally planned to song and she wanted to tested it also. Basically there are no rules. We're not ego people. We want what works best for the music. If it has to be me, fine, if it has to be Soe, fine also. Who knows? Maybe she will sing the all next album!
Peter: Another good point is, I know a lot of people that could think I created and made all the sounds. The truth is... I didn't! 80% of what you hear come from the duo's talent only, I only mixed the stems and it was done! So they improved the vocals AND their technique!
RoD: Soe, over the last 10 years, your role within the band got bigger and bigger and it's clear to all that Waiting For Words is you both. How do you split responsibilities with ZeN.
Soe: Well, we try to split things. I take care of the house and the kids, and ZeN of the management of the band. It's his baby, not mine! Then, inside the band, I say most of the time that Waiting For Words is made of collaborations. I am one of them. I used to write little stories or songs. ZeN used it or not. Then I created vocals lead or backing. I like it, it is a game. Now I plan to create and compose songs It is a challenge.
RoD: Soe, on stage you only perform one or two lead tracks. Why not more?
Soe: Because I am Fée Soe DeLumière (Note: could be translated as “Ray Of Light”. French word game impossible to translate). I used to say “I stay in the dark to bring him under the spotlights”. And I feel better like this. I don't like being front stage. I like to create, I like to sing in the studio, but I don't like being on stage… I am petrified… I am afraid of humans… While answering the question I'm thinking about that stupid thing… I used to sing ‘Sweet Dreams’, ‘Pendant que les champs brûlent’, ‘See You’, ‘Mon Ami’ and I feel like being Martin Gore, only singing soft songs… the one that kills all the energy ZeN put on stage and he has to rebuilt then… Ah ah ah!
RoD: ZeN, you go much lower or higher than before in your vocal range. How did it came up?
ZeN: I had to force myself going there, sometimes pushed by Soe or Peter. But once I started, I think it was with Bowie and the Beatles, we all thought it was interesting. I often have a tendency to forget that we can sing, even whispering in studio without pushing like we do live. And as I always think about how to perform those tracks live, it sometimes limits me. We broke those boundaries. In concert, on some songs I had to adapt and sing higher or lower than the studio version
RoD: ZeN, I was also impressed by the complementarity of all those different vocal tones, wherever with Soe and Peter or with guests. How did you work on that?
ZeN: As I said, I'm more in the medium range, which gives some room for bass and treble. Soe and Peter perfectly fill those spaces. Or, like on ‘Elegantly Wasted’, having Soe on those high notes allowed me to go much lower. Peter have an impressive range and a really powerful voice. As for Darryn and Ys, I followed their lead. I voluntarily sent them instrumental basic track, with not much production as they could really express themselves without any constraints. For Aube L, it was not planned initially as we were not in contact for a long time and, to be honest, I haven't thought of a collaboration. I saw one of her recent live performance on the Facebook timeline, listened to it... and sent her straight away a message! She listened to the songs that were already pretty much advanced and picked ‘Heroes’.
RoD: Peter, you now work with Waiting For Words for ten years and are involved now like a full member... How do you look at the progression of the band over the years ?
Peter: The thing is ZeN, despite the releases and concerts, remains humble: he's always learning, or gives that impression... He's always trying to find new things to record, new sounds, ideas... He quickly understood he has a very strong personality, a Karma, especially on stage. Trying to put that down on a cd was a bit different. We used to say that the ‘Follow the signs’ era was a bit gap, and it is, because it's the first album with a very strong production, mature songs, and perfect visuals. With this new release, I see them even wiser. What I also saw was the line-up moving a lot, and now the obvious became reality: Waiting For Words this happy couple. The ideas come more easily, ZeN never mentions any internal tensions... And I'm the happy satellite!
RoD: Peter, there are some style of music or sounds on this album we're not used from you like ‘Elegantly Wasted’, ‘Secret’, ‘Come Together’ or ‘Iron Lion Zion’. We're “miles away” from your usual productions. How did you approach those?
Peter: Well it's because the pre-production ZeN made was sometimes so good I never tried to change a thing! Just mixing stuff and it was ok. Kudos to then for that! The only ones I really modified are ‘All apologies’, ‘So Hard’ or ‘Lullaby’. Some are 80% / 20% or 20% / 80% between ZeN and myself. But I say it again, ZeN did a brilliant job before I even started working on the songs! This time I tried to admit I wasn't producing minimal instrumental techno, (laughs). WFW is more a kind of pop / rock – synth pop band, so I put forward the bass lines, the pads and strings, there isn't any special gimmick really.
RoD: What was your modus operandi for this recording?
ZeN: For most of the songs, Soe and I record a first live version with key arrangements and some rough vocal takes. Then I play with them for a couple of weeks, working on sounds, arrangements and production. In fact, we use the same approach since ‘The Curve EP’ with El Lute and Mycrotonik. We work by “batches”. Once we complete four or five tracks, we send them to Peter and while he works on it, we start working on the next batch of four to five songs. Once he sends the tracks back and all agree with it, we record the final vocal parts to fit with the atmosphere. Sometimes we keep parts or the first takes like ‘Someone Somewhere’, ‘Bring Your Love Down’, ‘Lullaby’, ‘Vanishing Point’ or ‘Let Me Go’. Other times we have to re-record to fit Peter's arrangements or atmosphere like ‘So Hard’ or ‘All Apologies’. Peter works essentially on beats and basses. For synths, sometimes he keeps my work, other times I send him the Midi File of my live performance and he picks the right sound from his vast keyboards and VST collection. We often joke about the perception some people will have on this album. Some will believe Peter did everything, some won't... but to be honest, when I listen to the album, I almost forget who did what!
Peter: The big thing was having all the time we needed and BIG FUN! And we did!
Soe: In order to understand the song, to feel it, I need to sing it. I did not know some of those songs and I wanted to know if I could add something new, something different on it… So I sing it. Once, twice… and once like I was leading it. For fun. Sometimes I sing like if I was at the opera, sometimes with a funny voice, sometimes loud, sometimes whispering. Regarding the music I listen to… I am very “Frenchy”. I am sorry but I didn't know ‘Don’t Change’. I heard it. I liked the music so I tried to sing it. It was fun… I played and then ZeN and Peter keep what they like… They work a lot on what I give them, because I give a lot! Too much sometimes ! Ah ah!
RoD: You worked with Steve Prestage for three or four years and various releases, how different was it with Peter?
ZeN: The involvement of Peter was wider as he handled both some recording aspects and the mixing. But it was not that different. Steve and Peter are exactly the same: great professionals, great human beings, talented artists and only focusing on one thing: turning our ideas into reality and giving the best they could to serve the music and just the music. Peter didn't add stuffs for the pleasure of having his “stamp” on it. Sometimes he wasn't even changing anything, “just” embellishing the song with mix and equalization, telling me “Why should I change it, it's just perfect like it is”.
RoD: What's next then?
ZeN: We did some gigs in Paris and Lyon, and will go in Lille and Poitiers. But we're not really looking after a big tour this time. Of course, we always welcome gig or festivals proposals and rarely say “No”, so who knows what will happen. I will also perform keyboards with Peter whenever and wherever he'll ask me. We had a bit of holiday in August and now we work on a couple of more covers for next EP's and a tribute to the French band INDOCHINE. And most of all working on the new “original” album.
RoD: How advanced is it?
ZeN: I think we have four or five tracks pretty much advanced plus a multitude of small demos and ideas recorded here and there. With this cover album, we found some interesting directions to follow and we now have a much more precise idea on where we want to go.
RoD: Beside this album, you've released re-mastered version of your past albums on Bandcamp. Any other back catalogue releases planned?
ZeN: We've just released a low price double ‘Best Of’ and a rarities compilation, ‘The Vault’. Beside this, almost everything we did is now available. We haven't recorded a lot of demos other the years to be honest. Since the beginning, we had the debut album ‘Tranquility’ (1993) in mind and worked toward it. There has been a first EP in 1992, ‘The Game We Both Play’, but trust me when I say it's not a good idea listening to it today (laughs)
RoD: ZeN, how did you approach your keyboard player role with People Theatre or Ys Atlov? How did it feel to turn from leader at the front of stage to a musician in the back?
ZeN: It was like long time awaited holidays! It feels so good not be the centre of attention and not having the show relying on your shoulder. Having said that, managing sequences and live keyboards is more stressful than I thought. But it's a very interesting experience and I learn a lot by working with Ys and Peter. Different ways of composing, producing, arranging... a bit like the all cover project thing. We try to get a lot of different experiences that will, hopefully, lead to the next studio album. If Peter wants it, I'll carry on his side. For Ys Atlov, it's not that simple. We may have some double bill “WFW / Ys Atlov” gigs in the future. Playing with her and then with Waiting For Words at Le Bus Palladium (Paris) was killing. We'll see
Peter: I couldn't sing live without someone behind me I could trust 100%. ZeN is the guy!
RoD: Talking about the Bus Palladium, how was this 25 years gig?
ZeN: A lot of emotions of course, but we are looking toward the future and this album. We approached it like any first gig of a tour, even if this is more a series of concerts rather than a tour. It was two years since our last gig in Paris but most of all, the first time since the “Tranquility Tour” that we didn't come with an entire new setlist. Usually, we start a tour, introducing new songs as the tour goes and record the album during the tour. This time, everything was new, including visual screenings
RoD: Usual question... what about the French scene these days?
ZeN: The French what? (laughs). There's NO French scene, end of the story. There's a multitude of talented people that really could bring something to the overall, but who are so stuck in their extremist and intolerant vision of the world, so arrogant, so selfish that nothing will ever move forward in this country. I've seen that in the late 80's with the alternative rock scene, then with the Rave scene, the Grunge, Fusion Rock, Synth Pop... it's always the same. Underground people complain about the lake of respect or interest but they don't even respect other artists playing in their own league. Some may even not respect fans that dare to love their “beautiful dark underground music” AND “mainstream stinking music” at the same time. It's a f***ing dead end street. I know some of our fans who adore our style of music and things I consider being horrible. So what? They're not searching for the same thing or the same emotions when they listen to our album or a shitty radio tune. You can eat in a Mc Donald for lunch and go in an excellent tiny restaurant at night.
You can try whatever you want; everyone will stay in their world. It's a petty but I made up my mind on it. At least I can look at myself in a mirror without blinking an eye. But it’s really a waste of talent and energy. When I see some mainstream acts pretending they are doing electro pop while they don’t have a clue on anything about this music, this culture, it makes me sad as we all, in our own way, with our own styles and achievements, fought for this music. And just because people are not smart enough to gather forces, some others come and take benefits of all the hard work we all did for decades when this music was not hype.
RoD: Isn’t it the problem with being underground and all the culture going around?
ZeN: I think this is the all misunderstanding. We are not underground. Never were and will never be. Being Indie or Alternative doesn’t mean Underground. I’ve always loved pop music and always thought good music was to be heard by the masses. Whereas most of the new wave fans in the 80’s were angry at it, I was so happy to see Depeche Mode, The Cure or OMD in the charts or filling some large arenas. Even musically. I don’t tend to listen a lot to dark and sad stuffs. I’m a fan of New Order, not Joy Division. I loved The Cure from ‘Japanese Whispers’ onward, not ‘Faith’ or ‘Pornography’. Even if I like dark and sad songs, I’m more likely to be thrilled by uplifting music. And our music is about this. We do have our dark side, but even the darkest songs we have such as ‘Out Of Control’, ‘Signs’ or ‘Another Night With You’ are based on melodies and choruses you can memorize and sing along. Our concerts are celebrations of life and people are looking for positive vibrations and energy when coming to our shows, not seeing a guy ready to hang itself at the end of the gig. I don’t even understand why some “underground” people keep spitting at us. We just don’t belong to the same planet and don’t have the same vision about music. I don’t criticize their vision. I’m just making a point about mine (laughs).
Soe: I hate the “underground” concept. The underground is where you go bury yourself and hide in the dark. I'm looking at the light above (smile)
RoD: Anything else to add?
ZeN, Soe, Peter: Apart from a massive thank to you and the all “Reflections Of Darkness” team for all the support you bring to the indie bands? Well. Thank you then…
‘The Best Years Of Our Lives’, new album available digitally worldwide and physical at Poponaut or on the band's Bandcamp: https://waitingforwords.bandcamp.com (CD or Digital)
Info: www.facebook.com/Waiting.for.Words or www.waitingforords.com
Pictures by Kevin Bertin, Mark Kultajev & Richter