Chez Raymond, an EP of six disparate but complimentary songs crafted by Matthew Embree (RX Bandits) and Lisa Papineau (Big Sir), is a sentimental homage to the joys of collaboration and musical experimentation. The styles veer from lilting flamenco on the EP opener Quatro to rolling country-folk on EP closer – a tune Embree calls “a joke” (it’s not) – Right On Down the Line with some pseudo Afro-pop and indie balladeering in between. Understand, there are no false notes to be found anywhere on this EP. This is owed in part to Lisa Papineau’s vast body of work traversing many genres and her obvious skill at creating compelling vocal instrumentations. Add to the mix the soulful voice of Matt Embree and you have a satisfying first beginning to what I hope is a long-term project.
I sat down with Matt Embree for a brief Q&A when RX Bandits played in Sacramento on their farewell tour. I had no idea who he was or that he is very much loved and his band is popular with the kids. But I had listened to Chez Raymond at least 100 times by then so this interview is about that project.
FLABmag: I heard you met Lisa at an art opening and immediately knew you had to collaborate with her, but what was the context? Did you hear her sing or did you shake hands and it was an immediate connection?
Matthew Embree: No, I heard her sing first in the band Big Sir with Juan (Aldrete) from The Mars Volta and I thought she was just amazing and is obviously incredibly talented. Her voice just struck me, you know?
FLABmag: Have you heard her solo album, Red Trees?
ME: Yes! I listen to it all the time to this day. But, yeah, she came over to my house once and we recorded. And what was really weird was that I had just set up a bunch of stuff and she started fiddling with some pedals on her vocals and I like to fiddle with stuff too, so we just kinda made a bunch of different stuff. I made a guitar loop pedal, but for a lot of it I used my mouth. Actually on almost all of the songs I used my mouth or me tapping on something, just layering over and over and over.
FLABmag: It does have a very organic sound.
ME: Yeah it does. But, anyway, we did that show, Sonny’s art show, and it was all fucking L.A. “hip scene,” with Devendra Barnhardt, and all those heads were there, and it was just kind of intimidating, I guess, a little bit, in a way, but I don’t really let them intimidate me. I guess it’s the way people act around them, you know?
FLABmag: So you and Lisa performed together for the first time that night?
ME: Yeah. She was bummed, I was bummed but we (together) were having a great time, but it was just this weird hipster strange scene, but it was cool for us because she and I just retreated into our little shell and made music. After that I made it clear to her that I really loved jamming with her. Actually the first time we jammed together was really ridiculous! It’s the last song on the record.
FLABmag: It’s so cute – very folky/country.
ME: Thank you. It’s kind of a joke, but she’s such a great singer that she kinda made it happen. Then she was like, “Now you gotta sing!” She was pointing to me off mic, and I started laughing. I was like “Ahh shit…” So I just made up some silly country lyrics. But, anyway, I made it clear to here that I wanted to work with her some more and she made it clear to me that she was down. But she mostly lives in Paris and went back there not long after that art show and that was the only time we had performed together.
Then RX was doing a European tour and on most of these tours I usually stay after and the band goes home. I go wandering with my backpack, my little high school Jansport. I’ve been through South America, Central America, and Europe multiple times. I like to wander. But anyway, I figure the band’s paying my ticket to go here so I may as well. So this time I asked her if she was going to be over there and she was so I got my ticket to return a few months after the band’s. Our last show was in Amsterdam and I took a train down and met her in Paris. There we recorded one song, Truth be Told, in her apartment, which sounds amazing. It was really cool sleeping in there…they had this spare room above a sports bar, which is not the same as an American sports bar, except for when they get drunk and rowdy. But, to me French is so soothing; I can easily fall asleep even if they’re yelling. We’d also walk around for hours everyday. She really loves to walk.
FLABmag: So you guys would take long city hikes, huh?
ME: Oh yeah, all the time. We’d walk all over and she’d show me parts of the city I’d never been to and we’d go wandering around and listen to these musicians jammin’. We’d usually end up at some cool little bar and sit outside and talk about stuff. Actually I was going through a pretty rough time in my life at that point and she’s a great listener.
FLABmag: Oh? Were the songs based off these discussions?
ME: Oh no. They were just random. Well here’s what happened, one of her collaborators, who also play on her album Red Trees, Matthieu Lesenechal, his uncle Raymond passed away, and initially we weren’t going to go out to his house – because he had just passed away, but they asked us if we would go out there and house sit. And it is the place where she recorded Red Trees, actually it’s where she records a lot of her stuff. So she asked me if I wanted to go because all we had to do was watch the dogs and cats. It’s a really beautiful place, and you know, cats basically watch themselves, so…we had a pack of dogs too. She brought hers as well. So there were six dogs altogether running around this old ranch house that’s six hundred years old in the middle of this old Roman zone, and, it was…it was just a really beautiful experience where we recorded in this old room in the middle of fields of rye and grape seed and wheat – just fields as far as the eye could see, and the only thing I could equate it to is the ocean because when the wind blew it looked like waves undulating. It was just beautiful. But anyway it was this little room that was made by Mathieu’s grandfather, who was also named Raymond like his uncle. He was a professional jazz piano player – the most famous in France. He had Miles Davis, John Coltrane, all these cats over in this little room where his piano is still in the same spot! I actually play it on the record. But, basically, we had no ideas for songs. I had some loops but we ended up throwing them all out. She wrote most of the lyrics. Well on the songs that she sings, she wrote the lyrics and of the two that I sing on, I wrote them.
FLABmag: Your voices are very complimentary and possess a beautiful symmetry. Was this something you both realized right away which encouraged you to work together?
ME: Thank you but no it wasn’t that so much. Just that I had to work with her again. You know the whole thing was very under produced. We recorded with one mic and she’d play engineer while I was recording and vice versa. She’s so hyper sensitive…so…critical of herself.
FLABmag: She’s a perfectionist?
ME: Yeah, she’d get so angry with herself if she felt she did something wrong or that wasn’t working and I’d tell her not to worry about it so much. But, yeah, we did the majority of recoding there in France and then did some finishing vocals back in the states at her home in Highland Park. We finished the vocals for Bonnie Says – No Shitty Ride…
FLABmag: …which is the most pop influenced song on the record. Can you tell us how that song was developed?
ME: That beat was done with just my mouth and a microphone. I was beat boxing and then ran it through pedals later. I also used a shaker. Then I recorded the other instruments and ran them through the loop – lots of percussion on that tune.
FLABmag: Altogether it’s a surprisingly sweet and phenomenally beautiful little EP. I was trying to come come with some comparison to other styles or musicians but couldn’t really come up with anything and really don’t want to either. To my ears it’s unique and filled with unexpected twists and style changes, and again, you are so complimentary to each other.
ME: You know, everything is derivative, everything is, nothing is entirely unique but there are some (musicians) who set out to make a particular style of music, to emulate it, but we never did that. Well, maybe the closest thing was when I made that beat for No Shitty Ride I was thinking of Fela Kuti in a way but it didn’t turn out anything like Afro Beat! (laughs)
FLABmag: No, it’s definitely got a hip-hop vibe.
ME: You know that song was a lot longer but we cut it down. There was this extended part with Mathieu jamming on the organ and me on drums but it just got too long so we cut it. Actually Lisa says that we’re “Demo Chasers.” (laughs) We always like the first version – the rawness of it, even if the vocals aren’t right! But thankfully she’s an accomplished musician, and older and wiser than I, so she was able to structure it in a way that worked. She always said we had to commit to making it “better than good” if we were going to release it to the world.
FLABmag: It’s good you found each other then…for my last question I wanted to talk about the video for Belle Tocade, and rather than giving you my impressions…
ME: Wait, why don’t you?
FLABmag: Because I don’t want to influence your answer…what was the inspiration behind it?
ME: Inspiration?! We didn’t have one! We had no budget and our friend Joe, who’s this skate photographer, shot the video. So we did it in a day and a half. Lisa knows this lady who has a bunch of costumes so we got some and decided to just be weird. We got weird with costumes.
FLABmag: Hmm o.k. because some of the scenes seem rather deliberate homages to certain foreign films…especially the one of the beach. The lighting and…
ME: Which films?
FLABmag: Well I was reminded of the ending scene of Fellini’s 8 1/2 - have you seen it?
ME: I have no idea who that is…is that good or bad?
FLABmag: (Laughing) No it’s good! Well I guess it definitely was not homage to Fellini!
ME: Nope, sorry.
Download ME & LP HERE.
See images from the RX Bandits show in Sacramento.0