Young French rockers out to conquer America

PARIS (Reuters Life!) - Lead singers Gricha Berekachvili and Bruno Alexandre are everything you want future rock stars to be: sharp, chic and brash.

French music band Rock&Roll (L to R) Mattias Cadeac d'Arbaud (guitar, vocals), Paul-Louis Viguier (drums), L.A.M.F. (bass) and Gricha Berekachvili (vocals, guitar), pose in Paris in this handout photo taken in 2006. Rock&Roll, who has a New York based manager, recently released a second self-produced maxi-single "Losers, Boozers and Jacuzzi Users". REUTERS/Karl Lagerfeld/Handout

In the last two years their manic live sets, catchy English lyrics, danceable guitar riffs and good looks, have turned them into figureheads of a new Parisian underground rock scene.

Now the two French bands they front - Rock&Roll and Neimo - are out to conquer America.

Neimo, who self-produced a debut album aptly named “From Scratch” in 2005 and will release a second opus “Modern Incidental” next spring, was signed this month by U.S. indie label “Artists First” backed by Hollywood producer Steve Bing.

Rock&Roll, who has a New-York-based manager, recently released a second self-produced maxi single “Losers, Boozers and Jacuzzi Users”. The band has been busy touring America, playing Sunset Strip’s mythical venue The Viper Room and shooting the Spring-Summer 2008 campaign of Italian fashion designer Roberto Cavalli in Los Angeles.

Alexandre, 30, and Berekachvili, 23, spoke to Reuters about their respective bands and why they are going overseas to boost their careers:

Q: You are both French, why do you sing in English?

A (Berekachvili): As odd as it seems because it is more natural to us. I’ve been listening to English or American music ever since I was a child. I have just one album at home from a French rock band and it’s Telephone, from the 80s. It’s hard to make French language fit with a fast tempo.

A (Alexandre): Rock is based on sweat, spontaneity and energy. Sorry, but rock and roll was born in the United States.

Q: Has singing in English hurt your chances of success in France? Is this why you are going to America?

A: (Alexandre): In France, we have these rules that radio programming must be at least 40 percent French language. French labels tend to sign bands that are given airtime. They tell us ‘you sing in English, sorry we cannot sign you’...So now we are signed on a U.S. label with a large budget, we are moving to New York for a few months and touring America.

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A: (Berekachvili): Yes these rules, that’s why we try to work as much as possible with people in the U.S. It’s a shame. There are excellent bands in France but because they sing in English, they cannot get the recognition they deserve.

Q: The last time music put France on the international map was electronic music, the French Touch in the 1990s with Daft Punk or Air. French rock never made it beyond domestic borders. Do you feel you are pioneers ?

A: (Alexandre): It’s a very good feeling to think we may be starting a trend. It has never happened to French rock before. It is very exciting to think we could be some sort of flagship for French music abroad though it’s beyond our control.

Q: What does the U.S market represent for you?

A: (Alexandre): For Neimo, signing with a U.S label is a turning point. Our first album sold 4,500 copies, now we will have the financial means to launch our second album. It’s both exciting and scary. The U.S is a huge market. We toured a lot in Britain but America is different, more exotic. It may be a cliche but we have this feeling that anything can happen there.

A: (Berekachvili): The U.S is a tough market but it’s best to take that risk now. My dream has always been to play in Madison Square Garden. There is never a dull moment when on tour in America. In Washington, somebody got shot nearby while we were doing our sound-check and in L.A. we saw a corpse on the streets as we were packing our guitars after a gig.

Q: How would you describe your music and what are your main musical influences ?

A: (Alexandre): Neimo mixes rock with New Wave and a touch of garage. Our influences are Bowie, Blondie, New Order and also the Velvet Underground. You know, Nico from the Velvet babysat our guitarist Camille when his parents lived in New York.

A: (Berekachvili): The Stones, the Clash, The Buzzcocks and The Jesus And Mary Chain. I have a passion for the New York Dolls, I also love the Ramones and the first Beach Boys albums. Our music is light, sharp, tight rock. We named our band Rock&Roll because of The Cramps’s lyrics “I dig that goddamn rock n roll”.

Q: You both have built a reputation in Paris for being charismatic and wild performers. Who are your models?

A: (Berekachvili): The Stones for the sexy attitude on stage and The Clash for the energy, the wall of sound.

A: (Alexandre): Iggy Pop for the sensual and wild edge and David Bowie for the dandy, glam touch.

Q: You have been embraced by the fashion world. Designer Karl Lagerfeld shot the cover of Rock&Roll’s first maxi single. “First Class Plane”. You did shoots for Roberto Cavalli. Is the way a band looks so important ?

A: (Berekachvili): Style is important. Rock is visual. Bands must make you dream. You must want to dress like them. At least that’s what I thought before being in a band.

A: (Alexandre): It’s part of the codes of rock. The way you look reflects your music, it also helps to pass it on.

Q: What will you be doing in 10 years ?

A: (Alexandre): I hope I will still do what I do now and live from it. I want to die onstage like (French playwright) Moliere.

A: (Berekachvili): I hope to have released at least three albums and be recording country music in Nashville just for the fun, maybe own a really big house in London and have enough money to take my girlfriend out.

NEIMO is Bruno Alexandre (vocals), Camille Troillard (guitar), Matthieu Joly (keyboards) and Alexis Hadefi (drums).

ROCK&ROLL is Gricha Berekachvili (vocals-guitar), Matthias Cadeac d’Arbaud (guitar, vocals), Paul Louis Viguier (drums), and a bassist who goes by the name of L.A.M.F

Reporting by Dominique Vidalon