Interview with “Pop Moderniste” Band French Boutik

French Boutik are a vibrant mixture of 60s pop, new wave and soul oozing with elegance and what can only be described as cool. They describe their sound as “Pop Moderniste” appealing to an international and worldwide audience. A band with its finger firmly on the pulse when it comes to producing catchy, memorable songs with French and English lyrics.

I have been a fan for many years and had the privilege of meeting them and catching their performance at Claptrap The Venue in Stourbridge a few months back. Despite featuring the band various times on older versions of our website/blog we thought it would be a great to catch up with them in an updated interview.

Introduce the band, the instruments you play and a bit about yourself?

We’re a “pop moderniste” band based in Paris. We’ve released 3 EPs, 2 albums and 1 split single so far, all original music apart from a few rewritten and very re-worked covers (Madness, The Jam, Slade etc), and have played shows both locally and as far away as Montreal and Moscow. We love to record and play live so take the opportunity to travel often.

The current line-up

Gabriela Giacoman : Lead vocals (Franco-American)
Serge Hoffman : Guitar, vocals (French)
Jean-Marc Joannès : Bass (French)
Gilles François : Drums, backing vocals (French)
Toby Kinder : Organ and keyboards (UK)

The band is heavily influenced by Mod Culture. How did this come about?

Serge and I have both been part of the mod scene for a while, so it was pretty natural. We don’t make a particular effort to make “mod music” or copy anyone but, as it’s the type of music we listen to mostly, that comes across in our tunes.

How and when did the band form?

Serge and original drummer Zelda started the band around 11 years ago, they met at a club night he was DJing at in Paris. Gabriela joined shortly after the original singer Flora left, before any recordings, and Jean-Marc about 6 years ago. Gilles joined us just over 2 years ago when Zelda left and Toby around the same time.

What was the inspiration behind the name French Boutik?

Serge was trying to think of a name that would convey the mix of French (by nationality and personality) and English (lots of music and culture influences) influences, so “français” written in English and “boutique” which is a word used in English that comes from French seemed perfect … with a K for The Kinks!

What’s the difference between performing in England and France?

The UK has a lot more of a pop music culture in general, more events on, lots of great groups to play with, people are more enthusiastic … in France very few people go to live shows, and when they do they tend to judge bands on a more academic technical level. There actually are lots of great bands here but they all struggle to find places to play and people to come. On the other hand, it takes a lot more effort and money to get to the UK so we’ve been happy recently finding more shows locally.

You have performed a variety of venues and almost every major city across the UK. Which gigs or performances stand out the most in your mind?

For the UK, I’d have to say the most recent sticks in my mind. That was March of the Mods Birmingham, at a great place the Night Owl with really fun bands and a really nice audience. And of course playing the 100 club a couple of times was a huge thrill.

March Of The Mods Birmingham- The Night Owl – Photo © Pete Flatwound

Pick two songs from your collective and give us an insight into the inspiration and meaning behind the music and lyrics?

I’ll go with the two audience favourites which are “Je Regarde les Tigres” and “Mieux comme ça” : Les Tigres is basically about social media: First going crazy arguing politics and then escaping by watching cat videos, starting off with Serge fooling around doing a more “rock” type riff and our deciding to actually do a song a little bit in that vein. I came up with the lyrics for this one, it’s something I had noticed in my own behaviour and friends too.

Mieux comme ça is a Serge composition for music (like almost all of our songs), powerpop and fun, the lyrics were by Serge, Zelda and myself so our first real group effort actually. It’s about silly French people who try to use English words to be cool but it doesn’t actually mean anything and no one understands them.

Describe the bands sound and if you could put yourself into a music category what would it be?

Ah hard to do, someone tried with “Booker T and the MGs meets Stereolab” which was fun, another was “Burt Bacharach meets The Jam” – we have some songs that are more powerpop (strong beat, guitars, and backing vocals) and others that are more dreamy melodic pop, and even a bit psyche sometimes. That’s why we say “pop moderniste” to sort of convey the idea, and also so people aren’t confused that most of our songs are in French. If we have to pick one that other people use and we can’t just say Pop, we usually go for indie-pop so people know to expect something a bit different.

Gabriela you recently worked alongside our Mutual Friends from the band Flying Ant Day. Tell us about that?

Ah it was our 3rd gig with those guys, it’s always a great pleasure, they are one of the best bands in the UK right now, great music and lyrics, fantastic records and live too. I had the honour of doing a bit of backing for a song on their last record “The Birds in the Garden”. They live near a great club in Stourbridge called The Claptrap so we’ve played with them only there so far, but we’re trying to turn on some more people to them.

Claptrap The Venue 2022 – Photo © Claptrap The Venue – Stourbridge

Your French vocals/songs go down well with English speaking fans but do you have any plans of releasing English spoken songs? (So we know what you’re singing about!!)

We always have at least one song in English on the record, I promise we will have again ! I’m not sure if the English songs are that representative of our lyrics though as they tend to be less political, since we talk a lot about current events here in Paris and France (Strasbourg St. Dénis, l’Ame de Paris, Le Mac, etc) and that doesn’t make much sense to do in English.

Alan may from The glory boy mod radio has championed your band since the beginning. How important are such radio stations like his vital to the band?

Yes Alan was one of the first (if not the actual first, I can’t remember) to play us in the UK, it was such a great boost for us and I know lots of people found out about us thanks to that. He’s premiered a few of our records too, his audience knows our songs pretty well so it’s great to hear what they think. Honestly without his show and a few others in the UK, I don’t know if we’d still be around. We’ve gotten some BBC play but very little.

Oliver Popincourt & Toby Kinder have joined the band on several occasions. Are they now permanent features moving forward?

Actually Olivier guested with us a lot on organ in the past, but recently he’s been way too busy with his own band (Popincourt). So while we still share stages here a lot, and are close friends (I guest with him regularly and sang a song for his last record, Serge is currently working on the design for his new one !), we have had Toby Kinder (Tiny Flaws, The Gene Drayton Unit) with us for the past couple of years. Toby’s a legendary keyboard player and has been great, especially impressive as he manages to play with us regularly despite lack of rehearsal time together since he lives in London.

Since new members have joined the band on keys and drums. Do you feel the bands sound has evolved to another level?

It’s definitely evolved and changed. I’m not sure if I can say that it’s a higher level as Zelda was and is an excellent musician, but Gilles does have a slightly different sound on drums and, like Zelda, can not only play but write lyrics and sing. Toby is not only a fantastic keyboard player with his own sound but composes also.

So our new songs are slightly different and it’s really fun and interesting for us, and hopefully the audience!

What’s the future hold for French Boutik and do you have anything exciting in the pipeline we can look forward to?

We’ve actually just finished recording at Indie Ear Studio and are in the middle of mixing a new album ! We were thrilled to finally do it after a few Covid postponed efforts. We managed to get Andy Lewis back with us (he also produced l’âme de Paris and did an incredible job on our Slade cover for Specialized), everything is sounding great and it’s almost done … After this of course there will be the long wait for the vinyl to be pressed so we have no idea when it will be out. And we still have to launch the crowdfunding, luckily for us people were okay to work on credit.

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