Many might listen to Angelo Spencer without realizing he’s French. Listening to World Garage, one could easily assume the accent on his vocals are a byproduct of the auto-tune. Lo and behold, Spencer was born in Brittany and raised in the French Alps. There have been a good number of French musicians who have made their way to the northwest of our country in recent years.
A few weeks ago, I spoke with French-born and K-Records label-mate Melanie Valera of Tender Forever. She indicated that the Pacific Northwest, especially Portland, OR, has a strong draw for artists and musicians from across the pond. Could it be that the same draw is what pulled Angelo?
“The whole story is…” Angelo trails off and laughs, “I followed a girl to the United States. But then it was nice to play music in the States. There’s no money, but you can play a lot.”
As any musician will tell you, America can be a hard place to earn a buck if you expect to work on your music full time. In France they have a system in place to ensure that musicians and artists get paid for their work. “I used to be in a band like that. It was really into doing paperwork but we never really played. We had all this money. It’s really strange sometimes. You can play for like ten people and get a thousand dollars. It’s weird.”
The work Angelo has produced since leaving France doesn’t sound like music written by a Frenchman or an American. “When I started playing music in France I was looking to American rock-and-roll. Then when I moved to the States I was kind of done with it. I turned around and looked at Africa and India.”
World Garage—available on July 19th—is a bundle of wide-ranging influence from Bollywood, a trip to Morocco, and Serge Gainsbourg. The guitars have a plucked, sitar vibe and the percussion is a collage laid down using out-of-tune drums and “weird bowls” giving the record a foreign, travelogue feel. Distorted guitar lines flare up unexpectedly as the dynamics of our imagined landscape change. It’s the kind of music that accompanies a train-ride through unfamiliar territory.
“I started to sing again. The previous album was instrumental. There are a few songs in French, English, and my friend Rebecca sang in Farsi. We also used auto-tune to get that creepy effect. We used it the way they do in North Africa.”
It’s not Angelo’s first time working outside of the frame of Western pop music. The inspiration for his last full-length album came from the soundtrack to Sergio Leone’s spaghetti-western The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. Devoid of vocals, Angelo Spencer et Les Hauts Sommets (which translates to ‘the high summits’) is a guitar and percussion soundscape that moves along the way a horse would carry you over a mountain pass—in some moments carefully choosing each of its steps, then racing downhill to escape pursuit in others.
“I’m really obsessed with mountains and mountain ranges. I can’t live in a flat country. I need something to see.” Those of you who know our region well can see how Washington State may be the perfect place to live with such an obsession.
We talked about traveling and the places worth visiting. “I would love to spend some time in Monaco or Portugal or somewhere in South France. I like to travel and tour and not work shitty jobs. If I had to do something else…I don’t know. I don’t want to think about it.”
*Opening for Earth
7/13 Portland, OR Doug Fir*
7/14 Olympia, WA Northern*
7/16 Anacortes, WA What the Heck Fest
7/21 Santa Cruz, CA Catalyst Atrium*
7/22 San Francisco Slim’s San Francisco*
7/23 Los Angele, CA Echoplex*
7/24 San Diego, CA Casbah*
8/02 Seattle, WA Tractor Tavern*
8/19 Rochester, WA Helsing Junction Sleepover