What does it take to make it in America? Pierre Leroux and Victor Le Masne are figuring that out. Based in Paris, the duo form Housse de Racket, synth-rockers extraordinaires. The veteran performers arrived on the scene in 2008 with their debut album Forty Love, having previously served as backing musicians for Phoenix and Air. Signed to the ever-reliable electro label Kitsuné, Housse de Racket released their lush, sophisticated second album Alésia last year at home and last month in the US.
After coming to America for the first time last year, opening for Yelle, the band has headlined a tour of the US and Canada that began at SXSW and is ending with Coachella. We spoke with Pierre (vocals/guitar/synths) about breaking out of the French scene and touring internationally.
When you first came over with Housse de Racket, were you worried about how American audiences would receive you?
Of course, but the Yelle crowd was really nice, as Yelle herself is. Yelle is a really good friend of ours, and a lovely person, so I guess her audience looks like her. We weren't that scared at all.
The French culture ministry’s music initiative, Bureau Export, has helped you put on this tour. What’s it like being chosen to represent your country?
Things are changing a bit, but for a French band, [you’re] always very grateful to play outside France. France is a very specific market, and maybe if you are big in France you cannot play in good places outside France, because we are not in the indie scene. Like our label, Kitsuné, it is very small in France, but we are smaller everywhere else.
It's been explained to me that in France, the music scenes are very splintered.
With Victor, we always wondered about that split thing, between the mainstream thing and the more indie thing, and the two of these things are very separated, which is a shame. Recently in England, in the world, Adele won everything, and Adele is signed on a really indie but really, really cool label (XL Recordings), and there's no difference between indie or mainstream. It's just good music.
In France, [it’s] more like old school French singers. It’s called chansons françaises, which is really important here in France but it's not really modern. We don't really belong to that scene. Maybe one day, once we judge that mainstream music in France is becoming more modern, it's going to be less splintered, but for now, we feel like the music scene in France is a bit focused on the past.
So it's a dichotomy between young people and the aging population?
It's a very old school particularity of French, and maybe the French listeners are more focused on the lyrics, and it's first lyrics and then the music. I just [went to] this Bob Dylan exhibition in Paris, and of course Dylan has great lyrics. We recently had these prizes, called the Victoires de la Musique. We don't want to be snobs, but there was something wrong with it. It was really mainstream.
Where else have you toured outside of France, besides the US?
We've toured a lot in the UK, England. It's really difficult to be there as well, because we feel like English people and English bands are so good that they don't need anyone apart from their own bands. Plus, it's an island, so it's a very particular country. We tour as well in Asia a lot, like Japan, China, Korea. When I'm on the plane with Victor, who is my best friend, and we're going to play very far from France, we just look at each other, and we're like, "Wow, we are playing our own music on the other side of the planet." It's a great opportunity to travel, thanks to music, so it's a dream for us.
Where are your favorite places that you've been?
One time we played in London in a crappy club for Halloween night. We were all very drunk. I shouldn't say that. We were very drunk, and we were in disguise, because we never [dress up] in France for Halloween, and we did that show and it was amazing. We were a bit crazy that night, I guess. Last December, we went to Tokyo for a Kitsuné party and it was amazing, at one of the most famous clubs in Tokyo called the Womb. It was great. Otherwise, in the US, with Yelle, we had a really good time in Brooklyn, in Williamsburg, it was very good. And Philadelphia as well, surprisingly. The audience was really great with us. But we'd love to play everywhere.
When I was a kid, if someone had told me, "You're going to travel the whole world to play your music," I wouldn't have believed it. Even this tour, we've never done something like that before. It's like six weeks long and I’m traveling the whole country in a van with my best friend and a few other friends, it's amazing.
What are you most excited about for this tour?
Coachella is amazing. A year ago, same thing. If someone had told me, "Yeah, in one year, you are going to play Coachella," I would not believe it. It's amazing. We love California. California is like a myth in a way, it's a fantasy for two suburban guys from Paris to go to California and play some shows. The whole trip is going to be exciting. Coachella is going to be one of the high points, but Seattle as well. We were teenagers in the ‘90s, so the grunge era in Seattle means a lot to us. [I met] Victor thanks to a Pearl Jam t-shirt, in '93 or '94. Seattle sounds particular to us.