An Interview with Open Space & Stars

Pas Un Autre contributor Annabel Graham spent a fascinating afternoon in Asnières–sur-Seine with the curious band of misfits that make up Open Space & Stars and MAD Agency.  Read the full interview after the jump and check out the full story and more photos in first issue of Autre Quarterly–out next week.....

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ANNABEL: So, tell me about how Open Space and Stars started, and when?

NINA: This is so exciting.

PAUL: You wanna go first?

NINA: Yeah, we met at a party when I was sixteen years old, I was playing guitar and I didn’t know how really, but we hung out, and we started kind of dating, sort of, but then he wrote “Hey Little Girl” to me, and then…voilà, and then we went to the studio, one of his friend’s studios, to record…

PAUL: We went to a room and we started playing together, and then we went to Baron a couple days later…

NINA: And I was playing, like, the first song I’ve ever played on guitar, ever learned to play… it was really exciting.

PAUL: Yeah, and like two weeks later, we were recording “Hey Little Girl.”

NINA: Yeah. It was all about music from the start.

ANNABEL: And you wrote “Hey Little Girl” about her.

PAUL: Yeah. I wrote it, and it was the first song I ever actually wrote, so it was my first song as well, pretty much… and, uh, that’s where it started. And it didn’t move very fast right away, that was like our first song and we didn’t write another one for a long time, but we would both write on our sides.

ANNABEL: So, at first it was just the two of you, and Anatole, are you a member of Open Space and Stars?

NINA: He’s just the president. Of everything.

NINA: Yeah. I mean on stage, there’s like three other musicians, but…

PAUL: When we wrote this song, we weren’t Open Space and Stars… Open Space and Stars came later, it’s like a collection of songs. The way it happened was that I wrote a lot of the songs in San Francisco, and… when I came back to Paris I got this opportunity with 17 Juin, the label that signed us, and I decided I wanted to be on stage with Nina, and it would be an amazing project, and I had this one song that was their favorite, “Hey Little Girl,” so we rewrote a lot of the tracks together with Nina, the ones that she was into, and she wrote some lyrics and I wrote some lyrics, we went back and forth, and then we recorded the album. And only after that did we find the other members that play the album onstage.

ANNABEL: So when did you get signed with 17 Juin?

PAUL: I think I wrote “Hey Little Girl” in 2004, maybe, or 2005, and I got back from San Francisco in 2007, maybe 2008… and that’s when it was signed, and that’s when we started recording with Alexandre.

ANNABEL: And what is the sensibility behind your music? Do you identify with a genre of music, or do you have certain influences that you call upon?

PAUL: Yeah, I think there are a lot of different influences, the songs were all written at different periods of time, and the album is… the collection wasn’t written all in one streak, so there are a lot of influences that come out there, but um… just like, a lot of 60’s bands, like The Velvet Underground… Serge Gainsbourg is a big inspiration… Air, and more modern stuff… Pink Floyd… um, David Bowie… just a lot of good music that we have on records and like to listen to. I don’t know, Nina, how do you see Open Space and Stars?

NINA: It’s, um, how do you say, éclectique?

ANNABEL: Eclectic.

"And I was playing, like, the first song

I’ve ever played on guitar, ever

learned to play… it was really exciting."

NINA: Yeah, you have many songs… I don’t know, I think it’s pop.

PAUL: There’s some psychedelic songs, there’s some sweet songs, there’s some soundtrack songs.

NINA: It’s about joy, this album.

ANNABEL: I was listening to you guys on iTunes and I noticed that a lot of the songs have very different feelings behind them… some of them are electro, some of them are more poppy, some are more folky…

PAUL: Yeah. And we didn’t get a very strong artistic direction, it wasn’t really completely planned together.

NINA: Yeah, it was a first album so it felt very easy, and we didn’t even think of a concept…

PAUL: Still searching for something…

NINA: Young friends, young musicians…

PAUL: It’s not even very well marketed, I mean it could have been good to get more artistic direction, but we love the songs the way they are.

NINA: Yeah, and it’s just important to transform a friendship and musical rencontre into something concrete—even though it’s not perfect, we can go forward with this thing that we’ll always have and then we can do many other things—we will always have those songs.

PAUL: Yeah, there are a lot of songs that could have been on the album that aren’t on it, they decided we had the budget for 10 songs… 8 actually, we got 2 extra, so that was good… but there were 16 in the original project, and there have been a lot of tracks that have been written since that could be formatted for Open Space and Stars, and it’s a matter of really managing to work together… Right now, Open Space and Stars is…let’s say, we really need to…

NINA: Taking a break!

PAUL: We need to be really working together, you know, I can’t just write songs… and Nina is writing her album so what’s happened right now is that we know we need new songs and we don’t have the time or energy to write them correctly together, so we’re kind of breaking apart for a bit.

ANNABEL: Okay, yeah, that’s what I was going to ask you about next. So, you’re going to break apart, and then are you both going to go do solo projects, or what’s the plan?

NINA: Well, the way I see it is, right now I see all of us here with this place, and Polo… as a big family, so there’s absolutely zero clash, but it’s just… in terms of music… I’m still really young and we need to both take our paths… and I really need to do my thing, but then absolutely in the future, I want to be working with this fellow right here. And with, you know, people that I admire as humans and artists, so there’s absolutely no ending here.

PAUL: Yeah. We’ve got to tell you about Anatole, he’s really a part of the band, although he doesn’t play music.

ANNABEL: Yeah, I actually thought you were a part of the band.

NINA: That’s what everyone says! ‘Cause he’s taking pictures, and he’s the official photographer of Open Space and Stars.

PAUL: He also produced our first show, and paid for everything for us to get our first show, and did all the artistic direction. You know, we had these visuals on the wall, and the lighting was there…

ANNABEL: So you’re the manager, sort of?

PAUL: It’s really a part of the band that… most bands don’t really have a person to do that, but it’s so important, it makes the band so much better, that when we’re onstage there’s peacock feathers, and we have little visuals, and…

ANNABEL: And you design the costumes too?

ANATOLE: Yeah. I design them, and Clémence [de Lafosse] makes them.

PAUL: He kind of pushes us towards more creativity, trying to make really something interesting with the scenery, not only the music but trying to do different visual stuff. I think we could do a lot more in that sense,but he’s given us a vision.

ANNABEL: So Nina, what is your plan for your solo project? What kind of music are you going to be making?

NINA: I’m doing the whole thing. I mean, I’m writing and composing the whole thing. My influences, I’d say it’s pop, but there’s a lot of 80’s santé, and sounds… Kate Bush, and Bowie is like my idol… Florence and the Machine… but I want to do something really different, ‘cause you know, we’re about the same age, we have a similar style… I love her, I love her band, you know, but I don’t want to have the same kind of instruments, it’s not the style I want to do, so I’ve been writing and composing whenever I felt like it, not forcing myself into it, so I guess in a couple of months when I’m ready, when I have a couple of good songs, I’m going to be in the studio with the same guy that produced OSS’s first record, Alexandre Geindre, at Flash Studios, to produce those songs that I wrote. Hopefully with him.

PAUL: Yeah, he’s a really good producer.

NINA: I met him through Louis.

PAUL: Louis is another member of the family.

NINA: Yeah, it’s all about Polo [Paul], it’s all thanks to Polo, because he introduced me to Louis, when he went to San Francisco I was playing music with Louis in his studio, so that was great as well. And then I was introduced to Alexandre, and Alexandre and I didn’t even talk about music at that time, he’s a producer for commercials, music in commercials… and then, I don’t know, then one day he just called me to record voices for commercials. So I’m working for him sometimes for those commercials, but… and I was growing up on my side with my music, and… take me two years ago, it was like shit… I mean, you grow up fast. And so then he started listening to my stuff, and he’s like, Yeah, that’s really good, and then we… we talked about my project.

ANNABEL: So when did you first become interested in music as a career?

PAUL: I moved to Paris [from Normandy] at 18, and that was when I smoked my first spliff and listened to Moon Safari, and I was like, “Wow, this is amazing, I want to do this for my whole life!” And so then I bought a computer… and I played a bit of guitar, I was taking lessons… but then I started really playing music and writing songs when I was about 24, 25… it was meeting Nina, it was that year, that moment, that told me that I wanted to write songs, and yeah, there’s been a lot of movement. But my career is not all about music, I’m also a little more corporate. Right now in terms of projects as well, this place is so exciting, living at La SIRA. So I’m preparing a lot of sound designs, what I’m recording right now will be playing 24/7, we have a lot of recordings that are going to be playing with an interactive sound design with movement detectors, so I’m working with a guy to provide the technical solution for that… and I’m writing songs in French as well, and I’m producing a lot of songs and collaborating with some guys from Ed Banger… just trying to work on a lot of projects. We just got a proposition today for a concert for Open Space and Stars on June 24th at Maxim’s, so that’s… people are booking us, so maybe we can prepare it.

NINA: Yeah, we should do something.

PAUL: The sound there is much better than at Carmen, so we should do a 3-person configuration, maybe have a little…

NINA: Yeah! Let’s talk about it afterwards. [LAUGHS] But sure, yeah, let’s do it!

ANNABEL: So Paul, you moved to San Francisco when?

PAUL: In 2006, to work for this company MixVibes, for DJ software. They sent me there on my own, it was a 5 person company, I had my own office and my own life, and I was really well-paid by the French government

ANNABEL: Doesn’t the French government subsidize artists?

PAUL: This was a kind of project, they were helping young technology companies go abroad, so we got a lot of subsidies. But anyways, I was really well paid, and I had my own place, I didn’t work much, so I just had a lot of after parties, and I started playing concerts in little bars, stand-up shows.

ANNABEL: Is that when you started DJing?

PAUL: I was already DJing. I started DJing right when I was 18, spinning records, but I started making money DJing right when I got back from San Francisco, actually working as a professional DJ at clubs, and trying to get residencies. I was DJing a bit in San Francisco, but it wasn’t very serious.

ANNABEL: Where do you DJ now in Paris?

PAUL: Now I’m with the agency Tête d’Affiche, it takes care of Le Baron and a lot of other clubs, and I play at Carmen a lot…

ANNABEL: Yeah, I saw you there!

PAUL: That was a fun night. I was in Cannes, I was just playing for Chopard, and that was a lot of fun.

ANNABEL: How would you compare Paris to San Francisco?

PAUL: I feel like in San Francisco, a lot of the people I was hanging out anyways are eternal teenagers, they’re all 35, they’re still roommates, they don’t want to get married, they don’t think about the future, they have this day job and they’ll party every night and they don’t… it’s just the way they live. I feel like in Paris everyone is more bourgeois and they’ll organize their life, everybody’s a bobo and concerned about trying to be on par with the lifestyle everyone else, it’s a bit more… San Francisco is a bit fresher, but then the food was bad…more like globally in the U.S., the food was just… [LAUGHS] and at some point I just got tired of it, because I wanted to connect with people and build things, and a lot of people there, they didn’t believe…the scene in San Francisco is dead, there are no real artists except for maybe the “hyphy” electro scene, which is like the black, crazy kind of… anyways… you know what hyphy is?

ANNABEL: Yep, we’re from LA, we know.

PAUL: That was the only thing that was really happening there, there were no real producers, or people really doing fun stuff… whereas in Paris, there’s a real electro scene. They work with Australians and Americans, and there’s a lot of good music in Paris. Although it’s a city that… it’s interesting in the way that… we filter so many artists, like we’re really conventional, and then every 10 years, some artist is just going to blow up the scene, and everybody is completely reverent to that.

ANNABEL: Who do you think that person is right now?

PAUL: Well, it was Daft Punk, and then it was Justice, and now… who’s gonna be the next one? It’s really hard for other… there’s not much life for other artists, except for the ones who are really massive. It’s a bit still like a…monarchie musicale, en fait. On est complètement reverent du Dieu musicale (translation: “a musical monarchy, in fact. We’re completely reverent to the musical God.”)… But I love Paris. And I love Asnières. Asnières is… this city is happening.

ANNABEL: Really! I’ve never been here, so you’ll have to tell me. Tell me about MAD Agency, all of you.

NINA: So I don’t have to talk!

ANNABEL: Are you not a part of MAD?

NINA: I’m just the president!

ANNABEL: You’re the muse.

PAUL: Yeah, you’re definitely one of the muses of MAD Agency.

NINA: I hope so. You guys have to talk about your project!

PAUL: I’ve been waiting for this explanation for a while, so... Anatole, go.

ANATOLE: So, MAD Agency is a company which deals with our artistic production as artists, and underneath MAD Agency, there are three founders: Paul, his brother Hugues, and myself. That’s why it’s called MAD Agency, because my second name is Maggiar and their second name is Armand-Delille.

NINA: It’s just perfect!

ANATOLE: It just seemed pretty perfect. So yeah, we got pretty lucky, and we found this amazing 40,000 square foot space just outside of Paris, so we decided to regroup all the talent we had within our network of friends, and we’re starting to work in every single direction and artistic medium, including music, video, photo, design, sculpture… anything you can imagine, conceptual art… and we’re working on big projects that happen within the loft or outside the loft, and right now we’re preparing to stage a reality TV show inside the place, but we’re also working on many different projects, and at the same time we have to carry on working on our own project, we have a show in September, we organized a party two weeks ago with 2300 people, we had a MAD Agency within the party… and yeah, we’re trying to be active within Paris and internationally, and I mean generally, artistically, we’re tryingto represent the new global artists, and to explore the French pop-art themes that haven’t been exploited yet, staying very true to blue, white and red, and quite childish as well,trying to stay very childish while running a big business. Our inspirations are… we’re very inspired by Warhol and stuff, it’s kind of like if Warhol was maybe French… there’s an element of the Factory, there’s an element of We Live in Public, The Truman Show… it’s really a parallel world here, so…

NINA: So right now you’re not in reality. When you go back to your life it’ll be exactly the same time as when you left.

ANATOLE: Yeah, there’s a really cool dynamic in this place, and we’re just trying to exploit it with all the artists, and trying to work together as a kind of collective, and in the next few years we’re going to try to absorb as much talent as we can into the agency… so it’s kind of like a music label, but for art; it’s an art label,in a way, for every different kind of art, and we try to get people within our agency to work together and to work on certain themes, you know, to build up our creative power and stuff, and right now we’ve just set up, so…

ANNABEL: And you’ve been living here since December, you said? So the agency was born in December?

ANATOLE: Yeah, December. I think there’s a lot of different things going on, there’s no model that could just be easily followed, the place is so big and complicated that we had to kind of improvise a lot… we love the 60’s and stuff, but I think as we’ve grown up and as we’ve become more independent…

NINA: Responsible, boring adults…

ANATOLE: We kind of like that 70’s vibe, that mix between when the society was really bipolar and stuff, and we’re thinking especially in the U.S., like Studio 54, but in Paris there was a very cool rock ‘n’ roll and punk scene around Le Palace, and clubs like Le Montbleu and stuff, Le Seven… just places like that, and we’re trying to reconnect with this really cool time. One of our big inspirations as well is a French TV presenter and producer called Thierry Ardisson, he was very active during that period, and his programs like Lunettes noir pour nuit blanche, Double jeu, Faubourg 93, all these TV programs that really inspired us.

ANNABEL: And what were those TV programs about?

ANATOLE: Well, I mean, for example, Ardisson has done a lot of programs where he does talk shows, but you know, French TV is still on public service, it’s not privately owned, so on public service channels he was able to talk openly about sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll, and culture, and so it was an intellectual hype 70’s talk show in really interesting, beautiful places, he was in Le Bain, he was at Le Palace, so he was in the middle of a night club and he’d have live music from all over the world and stuff… so that’s a cool aesthetic we look up to.

PAUL: Jacques Tati.

ANATOLE: Yeah, Jacques Tati definitely.

PAUL: Every time he sees something he’s like, “Oh, this is so Tati.”

ANATOLE: Yeah. There’s a lot of cool stuff that went on in France that went pretty unnoticed, because maybe France isn’t as, uh… I don’t know, maybe we didn’t publicize ourselves as much, but now we’re just going to do it the American way, you know. [LAUGHS]

ANNABEL: Shameless self-prostitution…

ANATOLE: Yeah. But maybe not like Lady Gaga “Fame Monster” and stuff, but…

ANNABEL: You’re not going to implant bones on your face?

ANATOLE: Orlan, you know, Orlan did that!

ANNABEL: Yeah, Lady Gaga totally copied Orlan.

ANATOLE: Of course, of course. But we’re going to always try to keep the chic French…

NINA: Yeah, because, I mean… we love beauty, Lady Gaga…

ANATOLE: She doesn’t really represent beauty for us. We come from a European culture where history…there’s a real long-term history, you know, that’s been going on for 2,000 years and stuff, I mean there’s so much culture all around us, you know Paris is a really dead city but there’s still so much culture and so many things have happened in the buildings you walk around and stuff, so it kind of forces you to keep a certain standard of not being vulgar, of always avoiding vulgarity.

ANNABEL: So tell me about this reality TV show… how is it going to transpire? How did you guys get that idea, and what’s your plan for it?

ANATOLE: Well basically, it’s all derived from my head, and just… as soon as we walk into here, I mean…you’re not in Paris, but yet you kind of still are, and we’re in this industrial zone where it’s very Jacques Tati, you know… just big spaces, this whole kind of concept… this used to be an office and printing house, like the floor we live on used to be an office, so I mean, there’s something just not quite right… we feel like we’re in a parallel universe and I felt like in art, by doing photography, that was my main medium for three years, but after the summer we all spent together, going to Cannes and doing concerts and going to Sicily and stuff, we travel all the time together, and that’s how we get all the photos and stuff, and so after that summer, I don’t know why, I had trouble picking up my camera, every time I had my camera, I’d have a problem, like my film wouldn’t work, you know… I felt, like, signs against cameras… and I wanted to be able to record everything, there are just so many examples, like Watergate, and I thought since we’re living here, I don’t want to lose one second of what’s happening here. And I mean, we’ve had… we haven’t even had that many parties yet, but everyone’s always dressed in crazy clothes, floating around on skateboards, you know… visually, it’s just so interesting that I want to record it.

ANNABEL: So are you going to have hidden cameras?

ANATOLE: Some, some will be hidden… some will be in plain view… it’s just interesting to just be followed the whole time.

NINA: To make your life a piece of art.

PAUL: Yeah, exactly. There’s … not a commercial, but the edge on it is that we could have artists’ lofts filmed 24/7, the cameras would work on movement detectors, so you could see footage of artists working, living, eating, smoking, doing whatever they do, you could go visit the loft and see our artists, and be able to have a bio on them, and see what’s happening in their lofts.

ANATOLE: But also there’s a concept, there’s a game… because you know, it’s a reality TV show so you have to have a game show. But you know, there’s been all the Milgram experiments in the US, they were translated by some Italian producers into a reality TV show, and it gave incredible results… it’s about how humans impose pain on each other. But yeah, the basis of the reality TV show is having everything on film and on record… not losing a minute of it, you know.

NINA: Just about how fabulous we are. That’s what it’s about. Don’t lie to her, man. It’s just about showing people how fabulous we look.

ANATOLE: It’ll be 3 months in total isolation, like a real game show. We’re trying to work with Thierry Ardisson, the French producer I was telling you about… I think reality TV is an amazing concept, I remember the first time I saw the program Love Story, the first French reality TV show… it was such a shock, I was a little kid and I was like, “Wow, this is so incredible.”

NINA: I would hide to watch it on TV in my room…because it was forbidden to watch it, my dad was so... It felt so exciting!

ANNABEL: It’s interesting, because I feel like there’s a line between art and trash when you’re talking about reality TV… but you guys are conceiving of it as an art form?

ANATOLE: Yeah, definitely. We’re trying to take the opposite route of what reality TV producers have been doing up until now… they’ve been going further down into vulgarity and depravity and we want to go the opposite way, to go very artistic and intellectual.

TEXT AND IMAGES: ANNABEL GRAHAM