April March Talks New Album With French Duo Staplin

Music Features
April March Talks New Album With French Duo Staplin

photo by Michael Levine

If you have any interest in pop culture, there’s a good chance you’ve run across the work of Elinor Blake and her musical alter ego April March whether you realize it or not. It’s her voice that’s heard over the closing credits of Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof, singing her English language cover of Serge Gainsbourg’s “Laisse tomber les filles,” and on songs by Brian Wilson, Laetitia Sadier, Jonathan Richman and LL Cool J. Her illustrations adorn Third Man Books’ We’re Going to Be Friends, the children’s read adapted from the White Stripes song of the same name. As an animator, Blake worked on Ren & Stimpy, Pee-Wee’s Playhouse and even the opening credits for the Madonna film Who’s That Girl?

It reads like a chameleonic artistic life, but the truth is that no matter what project Blake is involved in, her work is instantly recognizable. She has one of those voices and visions that fits well in nearly any context you’d care to place it in. That’s how she’s been able to sing sleazy garage rock and sleek electro pop and beyond through her career. And it is why her friend Thomas Janois, the man behind Tricatel, the label that released two April March albums (1996’s Chrominance Decoder and 2002’s Triggers) in France, asked Blake to contribute some vocals to a project by the French pop duo Staplin.

That one-off gig went so well that Blake and the men behind Staplin, Norman Langolff and Arno Van Colen, decided to keep working together and produce a full length. Recorded in Rouen, April March Meets Staplin (released on May 5), cuts that fine line between retro and modern, touching on psychedelic rock, French yé-yé, folktronica and club-ready pop. Blake rides each musical wave with poise and precision and impeccable style.

Paste: Though you worked with the gents from Staplin before, this was your first full album with the duo. What was the songwriting process like for this project?

April March: For me, I only collaborate with people that I don’t really need to discuss too much. We’re so aligned that I like to be surprised. I don’t like to tell someone, “Okay, do this” because it’s not really collaborating. You do what is right for the piece of music. It’s not trying to twist it into some other shape, but letting it organically evolve. For this, the music was made first. Norman and Arno made the demos and sent them to me. Sometimes the demos were pretty finished, and sometimes they weren’t. I just wrote the lyrics that I thought worked well with what I was hearing. Then we invited my friend Toby Dammit who’s been a longtime drummer / collaborator. I’ve done a couple of tours with him and a couple of albums. He joined after they worked up a couple of tracks.

Paste: As with most of your solo albums, you sing in both English and French on this album. How do you decide which language works best for each song?

April March: It’s in that same spirit of collaboration. I hear it and I hear something. I don’t take an idea to a demo. An idea comes from a demo. They’re two very different feelings to those languages. I’ll just hear it. It will just sound like something that should be done in English as opposed to something that feels more French.

This might be the first album where I threw the whole thing out the window. There are a few songs where I might start in English and then it turns into French. I think that just comes with more experience. I don’t need to be so rigidly staying in one direction or the other. You know… it might have been a suggestion early on when I didn’t know Norman and Anro that well. I heard something and said, “I kind of hear this in English, but I also kind of hear it in French.” It might have been Arno who said, “Well, why not do both?” I can’t remember. It’s funny to me because those songs actually work really well that way. It’s not strange to have both of those feelings in the song.

Paste: Most of the work you’ve released as April March has been credited to you and other artists — the Makers, Los Cincos, etc. Is that how you feel you work best, in collaboration with others?

April March: I think so. It’s the most fun for me. Also, from a very practical standpoint, I’m not a great musician. I can’t… I mean I could but it might be more like a Shaggs album or something. That’s a terrible thing to say because I think they were great musicians. But if I did, the sound and the production would not come out like any of these albums that I have collaborated on. I don’t have the capacity for that. I mean, I have done it for soundtrack work. For instance, when I was working with the Dust Brothers, Trey Parker, from South Park and Book of Mormon, wanted me to write a song for a movie he made called Orgazmo, about a Mormon superhero. He wanted me to write a Mormon love song. I wrote it and hummed everything to the musicians, which is something that I do anyways if I have an idea. I did that in my previous band, the Pussywillows. It kind of drives people a little bit crazy. Now I know how to do it better, but there have been instances where I do that. I think I really like the whole surprise and building thing of collaboration. It’s more fun for me.

Paste: Would you ever consider going completely solo on a project and leading the charge on every song?

April March: I would consider it if someone else was paying for it. When I did [the Orgazmo track], that was done in the same studio that I did all my early records, “Chick Habit” and everything. It was an amazing studio with an incredible engineer. It was the same studio where I worked with Brian Wilson because he was also working there. It was really luxe. You have to have a certain amount of resources to be able to do that. I had more confidence about it because I found out that this is how Arthur Alexander made records, humming everything. Lionel Bart wrote the entire musical Oliver! humming parts to the arranger. He did not read music and he didn’t write music. That was very inspiring because that’s one of my favorite musicals. I sort of took my singing style from Oliver!

Paste: I had no idea!

April March: Yeah! And the crazy thing is — this is a total tangent — but Mark Lester who plays Oliver! in the film, I thought I was imitating his voice, a little boy’s voice. More recently, I found out it wasn’t him singing. It was actually the daughter of the arranger. They didn’t reveal that until 1988. And it wasn’t a little girl. It was a 22-year-old American woman. She was an actress. She made a couple of albums after that. It’s like, holy shit, it could have been Marianne Faithfull or something. Or Vashti [Bunyan] because that voice sounds a lot like Vashti.

Paste: Your voice is one that works so well in so many different styles of music and with so many different artists. Is that something that you have cultivated in your work as an artist or does it just come naturally?

April March: I think it goes back to the fact that, before I started my first band, I was an animator. In the business, an animator is known as an actor that uses their pencil. Along the years and years I had in the animation business and when I did the Disney program at CalArts, it’s all acting training. One of the directors I worked with said very succinctly, “When you’re drawing an expression or a figure expressing something physically, you actually have to do it. Otherwise it doesn’t get in the drawing. There’s no feeling in the drawing.” So, if you’re drawing a smile, you actually have to be smiling. When I was doing animation and music at the same time, I just carried it all over. I’m reading Vanessa Redgrave’s autobiography and she had a singing teacher who said, “You have to forget about the sound of your voice. You should only be thinking about what you’re singing while you’re singing, and how you’re feeling.” She carried all that over to her acting. So when I would get a piece of music, it’s a whole scenario for me. It’s like a little story or something. I really feel myself doing the job of an actor, stepping into the thing and doing whatever it calls for. When I collaborate with people, I choose them carefully. They’re like directors. I have had people offer to make albums with me and that would be great, but I can’t see myself stepping into their world.

Paste: According to your website, you have some acting work coming up. What can you tell us about that?

April March: I’ve been in a couple of short films by a French director named Marie Losier. She’s a documentary filmmaker. Her biggest film was The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye. She’s currently writing a fictional musical film. I’m already cast and there’s amazing actors that have been cast. It’s a road movie. It’s gonna be amazing.

Paste: Are you working on anything else these days?

April March: I’m gonna start another illustration project. I finished another book which is supposed to come out by the end of this year. It’s another children’s book. I wrote it but this time I decided not to illustrate it. I thought, “I want to get the best illustrator and see if it could be a hit.” It’s an experiment. The book is called What Do You Do Now? and it’s basically about becoming an artist. It’s very funny. It’s modeled on Maurice Sendak’s earlier books. The illustrator, Marc Boutavant, is amazing. One of the best French illustrators.

Paste: What does the rest of 2023 hold for you?

April March: I’m going to Paris next week to do promo for the album. We’re going to be performing live on Radio France. I would love to do some shows with this album. I think we’re just going to go step by step. It’s been a little funky with the whole COVID thing but it seems like now the runway is a little clearer for doing stuff. I also just started putting my back catalog on to all the streaming platforms. I’m gonna put up another four or five. One of the albums [2008’s Magic Monsters] has never been released digitally. It only came out on vinyl. I’m hoping to do shows with that, and that’s like my whole L.A. team. There’s a couple of the Radar Brothers, and Elliott Smith was on it. It’s the album I made with Steven Hanft. He’s more known as a film director. He did all the early Beck videos. And then my friend Lisa [Jenio] who is in the Pussywillows with me. I’m pretty excited to do some live shows with that whole crew in L.A.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Share Tweet Submit Pin