Q&A: Caravan Palace’s Zoe Colotis Discusses the New Album, Performing in the U.S., and Mixing Genres

Posted on Wednesday June 1st in

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Inspired by the likes of Cab Calloway, Daft Punk, and Django Reinhardt, the seven-piece Caravan Palace have been doing their own take on electro-swing since forming in Paris eight years ago. Their third full-length, Robot Face, arrived last fall. And their North American tour brings them to Brooklyn Bowl Las Vegas on Sunday. Ahead of their arrival, vocalist Zoé Colotis talked to Knockdown Alley about combining jazz and electronic music, starting a new song, and who she’s been listening to recently.

Did you approach the third album, Robot Face, differently from the last two albums? Every time you start a new song, you’re a different person. Sometimes between the beginning and the end of it, you totally change your mind. You constantly have new influences (and hopefully a bit more of savoir faire). Obviously, you approach music (as well as life) differently every time you start an album, so what I can say is that we were really excited to experiment with new ideas and that we put a lot of fun in it as we recorded it, almost like kids playing and messing around.

In what ways have you prepared for the tour, will we be seeing some new dance routines? We just added a new short one at the end of the show, but the Lindy/Charleston parts are more “happenings” — like instrumental solos — than a real “dance demonstration.” We want to keep our live shows a bit wild, with a rock and roll energy more than turning them into bad Black Swan-ish swing-y moments.

Is there a difference in playing in the Europe versus the United States? Of course, United States are so big! The main difference is the time it takes to go everywhere. This being said, we also feel that there is a very specific American enthusiasm that we appreciate a lot. The people here also have a strong connection with swing and jazz in general because it’s part of their culture, so we feel that they really appreciate when there is a chorus in a song, for instance, and that it’s easier for them to clap.

How did combing jazz and electronic music come about? The Caravan Palace project started when Arnaud (guitar, programming), Charles (bass, synthesizer, programming), and Hugues (violin, programming) got together to do a soundtrack for a silent erotic movie of the early twentieth century. They had to make a soundtrack that sounded a bit vintage but could match with the dynamic edit the channel wanted to do to modernize it. This is why and when they started to mix the gypsy jazz they were playing with their respective acoustic bands (mostly in bars) and the electronic music they where also producing through different side projects. As a lot of people seemed to appreciate this crossover, they decided to put together different tracks using the same “recipe” until a producer offered them to do an entire album. This is when I met them.

Las Vegas has a major electronic scene, have you seen a rise in electro-swing, specifically, in Las Vegas? It’s clearly getting bigger in Europe but we don’t really know how the scene in the U.S. is. I met people who organize cool electro-swing events in L.A. and some people who were going there were also part of the swing-dancing scene — and going as well to real vintage events such as Viva in Vegas. I wish I could go once!

It seems that mixing genres is becoming popular. Do you feel like you have influenced this rise? Maybe a little bit, but I feel that this has more to do with the 24-hours-a-day worldwide connections that our generation has thanks to the Internet rather than because of us or any other band. This let’s-mix-things-up culture is also hitting the fashion and food industries for instance, don’t you think?

What was the inspiration behind the title of Robot, especially choosing to use an emoji? The robot is our mascot since the very beginning so we “updated” it. Let’s say that this emoji is the 2.0 version of it. Everything started with an e-mail conversation with the band manager. I don’t remember exactly when and how but he ended by signing with this emoji to replace the name of the band, or something like that. Everyone thought it was really cool and we decided to use it as name and cover of the album as our label said it wasn’t a problem. We also liked the idea that everyone could give it its own name. But then the journalists and the promo came so we had to find a real name because when you talk about <I°_°I> on the radio it’s kind of annoying. We started to call it Robot Face.
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In one sentence, how would you describe your concerts? Recently a fan from Chapel Hill[, N.C.], who offered to take us on a city tour (he was driving an amazing classic car), said something really cool: “Your music is like Django playing in the Star Wars bar.” Damn, I wish he was right! I like the idea of being a stage Jedi by the way. Anyway, we hope people can feel the force when they listen to our music or come to our concerts.
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What are some artists you have been listening to lately? Randomly, I would say: James Blake, Nils Frahm, Jeanne Added, Mazzy Star, Frédéric Chopin, Kanye West, Ibeyi, King Krule, and the Child of Lov.

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