Juniore’s sophomore record, Magnifique, builds a soundscape you can’t quite put your finger on. It’s a stroll in the Père Lachaise Cemetery. It’s a glass of whiskey in the Ritz’ smokey Hemingway bar. It’s the soundtrack to a classic hammer horror. Moving between these narrative points with the deftness of a classic filmmaker, the French trio manoeuvre a hazy narrative drive.
Since 2013, the group have been putting out records that effortlessly blend styles, from yé-yé to electronic, surf to psychedelia and beyond. Distilling these elements into their own sonic language, there’s a transient sense of time that hypnotises with the click of a finger – or an eerie chord echo. So when you hear that frontwoman Anna Jean splits her time between the band and working as a translator, it all makes sense: that clever wordplay, that lyrical beat and that canny knack for forming atmosphere and setting through language and sound.
Robyn Sian Cusworth: Hi Anna, how are you this evening?
Anna Jean: Yes, all is well now, I’ve just about recovered from a pretty freezing Germany. We were just in Munich, Berlin and Dusseldorf, it’s so wintery there right now.
RSC: I read that Alex Turner listed you in his top 10 songs with À La Plage – how did you react?
AJ: It’s weird, we found out by people telling us. We were in complete disbelief and kind of thought people were messing around. We did end up reading it too and of course found it very flattering. As fans of The Last Shadow Puppets and Arctic Monkeys, it’s gratifying to find out that musicians you admire, admire your music too. Alex is a really sweet and earthed guy, we met when we played with Miles [Kane] at La Cigale in Paris, which is a beautiful old theatre.
RSC: So where is home?
AJ: Home is in Paris, I live pretty close to Gare Du Nord.
RSC: I’ve just been reading a novella by a French author Violette Leduc set in 1967 Paris, so my head is very much there right now. Could you describe your Paris to me?
AJ: Totally. I live in Strasbourg St. Denis. It’s a diverse area with a lot of Turkish and North African people living there. There’s certainly a buzz: plenty of bars, clubs, nice places to get coffee. It’s quite historic too, there’s a long road that leads down to the Basilica of Saint-Denis where the Kings procession used to be. It’s the best place in Paris, I’d say.
RSC: So how did Juniore all meet?
AJ: Well, Sammy and I have been friends since school but fate brought Swanny and me together. Juniore were booked to go to Japan three years ago, but we didn’t have a drummer. I put an ad online with lots of responses from men but only two from women. Swanny was one of them, and she sent a video showing her technique. I told Sammy that I loved her, for him to turn around and tell me that she was too good for Juniore [laughs]. So I went to call the other girl (who was great too) but I mixed up the numbers… the rest is history.
RSC: What’s Swanny short for?
AJ: Her full name is Swanny, just like a little swan, her parents were hippies [laughs]. Her second name is Elzingre. She actually started playing fairly late and learned a lot by herself.
RSC: You’ve had a lot of band members come and go in Juniore, did each leave their stamp?
AJ: Juniore began with friends from school mostly. Some members left for love, some left for babies and some for work. Just life really. As for the emotional side, when you spend so much time together, whether rehearsing, eating chips, drinking coffee – it’s impossible not to have a deep emotional impact. That becomes part of the songs too.
RSC: Through your music you pin down such a narrative style without people actually having to understand the words. Is there a story you would share for people who don’t speak French?
AJ: It’s funny you mention this as, when we were touring with Miles Kane, his keyboardist brought this up. He said that before he knew what À La Plage meant, he did feel like it was about the seaside. He found it so so wonderful when I told him he was right [laughs]. This song is about spending the day with somebody you know that you may not have a long story with, but regardless, wanting to be with them, by the sea, at that very moment.
RSC: A lot of the songs in Magnifique have a cinematic old horror movie feel. Are movies a direct influence for you?
AJ: Yes, I think I was trying to do that. I really love pop songs despite loving experimental too – pop music is a great communicator. And yes I find horror films wonderful, but the old gimmicky ones rather than the new ones. I especially love how they have the ability to turn serious issues into something almost comedic.
RSC: Any particular directors that embody this?
AJ: I’m a big fan of Roman Polanski in terms of his artistry, though I’m aware of his strange relationship with women. I like how he found a way to talk about situations that remind you of trauma, war for instance. Instead of directly portraying it, he uses the metaphor of monster creatures so it becomes ridiculous.
RSC: How would you put it? Like, Comédie Noire?
AJ: Absolutely. Though it may not be haha funny, I want the audience to feel a lightness when they watch us play. For instance, Sammy being silly in the costume was a good way to remind me to have fun and that making music is serious but ultimately it is not the most serious thing.
RSC: On that note, do you have any other jobs alongside music?
AJ: Yes, I work as a translator too.
RSC: What kind of translation? It must be nice to work with words so much?
AJ: I do subtitles for TV shows. It is super interesting finding answers for phrases and words that don’t quite fit. You have to become a poet in yourself to find creative solutions for things that don’t have a direct translation. Sometimes you have to sacrifice what people are saying and listen to conversations and make it fit.
RSC: There’s been such a resurgence of French identity in music, which musicians in this shift do you admire?
AJ: There really has. People are really starting to embrace their own language and identity. For a long time, young French people felt the urge to write in English and it wasn’t always the greatest. Though we are all influenced by British and American music, we don’t have to make it sound the same. As for musicians, I love La Femme obviously. The Limiñanas too. There’s a kinship there too – we’re all big fans of the 60s.
RSC: If you could ask somebody from the 60s to sit down with you alongside a big star from today, who would you go for?
AJ: Why thank you! Oh, that’s tough. I don’t know. Anybody really, even somebody on the street. Hmm, maybe Lou Reed or the whole of the Velvet Underground. As for today? A big pop star… Britney Spears?
RSC: Perhaps you could do a Yé-yé version of Britney’s Toxic?
AJ: [laughs] That would be good! I can’t promise anything, but I’ll try!