Nouvelle Vague: Records that changed my life

Olivier Libaux of Nouvelle Vague reveals the records that shaped his life and the band's unique style and sound 

Nouvelle Vague by Nouvelle Vague

This record changed my life as a professional musician. It was our debut album and it was an experiment in trying to cover new wave music. It was actually the first time in my life I was involved in a record that became such a full and modern success: it was recognised and understood—its message was transmitted. It changed everything for me: before it, life was difficult but after, I could tour outside of France: UK, US, Asia, which was fantastic. I was also finally earning enough money to pay my rent—this record changed my life.

We decided to cover new wave because that was the music I grew up with. I worked in the north of France, Boulogne-sur-Mer, which is right across from Dover in England and my taste in music was far more influenced by what was going on in England. Fortunately, because of where my parents lived, we could get English TV. There were ten channels, five French and five English. And I was always watching the English ones, you know, Top of the Pops, The Tube, all these TV shows that were popular in the late 1970s. That means every Saturday, I could see and discover new wave because it was really big at the time. The funny thing with Nouvelle Vague was that two years later I could celebrate this deep soulful love for new wave by playing it my way, meaning in a more Latin way, in our own style.

I don’t pretend to be as familiar with bossa nova as I am with new wave. But when I started Nouvelle Vague with Marc Collin and we were looking for an idea, Marc suggested that we could cover a Joy Division song but in bossa nova style. I thought that was the right direction because punk and new wave were related to the North, industrialism, European, grey weather, rain, difficult economics, unemployment—and bossa nova was the exact opposite. Bossa nova meant South America, sun, the far more relaxed tempo of living.

We also discovered that bossa nova in the Fifties was pretty much the equivalent of the punk movement. The musicians in 1950s Brazil were also against the government, but the difference was that they were protesting by singing softly—bossa nova was influenced by jazz. But it was the same rebellion that happened with punk in England 20 years later, it was just far more aggressive and fast. It was interesting to find this connection, it changed my vision.

 

Rattus Norvegicus by The Stranglers

I grew up listening to standard rock music my older brother was playing at the time, such as The Rolling Stones, The Who and Led Zeppelin, so when I was six I was already playing these records, and because of that I still love them.

And then, when I was older, I stayed with a family in Plymouth as part of a student exchange programme. It was fantastic because I loved these English houses, fish and chips, hearing the language—I was very comfortable with that. But there was also a record store there that I would go to—they had all these latest records and I always looked at the covers.

There was Queen's A Night at the Opera, Motorhead’s first album with this scary monster on it, there were Sex Pistols... and among them, there was The Stranglers’ first record. I probably bought it because I had read an article about them somewhere in the French press. There’s a big rat on the cover and when I first saw it, I was like, “Ew!” [Laughs]

I’m a great fan of The Stranglers, even though they were never fashionable, but they always had this great energy and some of their records are just incredible. It’s a very unusual kind of music; it’s super powerful but there’s no way of describing it because they’re not really new wave, they’re out of this world, they're subversive. But this first album was important because I liked the sound and I could play the guitar parts on my classic Spanish guitar at home. The chords were simple so I could play along with the record. I was a complete fan.

 

Illinois by Sufjan Stevens

This record is about the state of Illinois. The thing is, I love Sufjan Stevens because, as a musician, I much prefer sensitive and subtle music. Mainstream music, the kind they play on the big radio stations is a bit unsubtle and obvious, all these big hits and everything. What I love about Sufjan is that he has a fragile and beautiful voice, the songs are usually played on an acoustic guitar. Even though there are a lot of orchestra bits on this album, you can still hear very charming and talented song-writing, singing and playing.

It’s hard not to fall in love with Sufjan Stevens’ music because it’s fragile—but not too fragile—it stays with you and leaves you amazed.

I’ve got all his records. There’s a beautiful one called Carrie and Lowell where he talks about his family background. It’s quite hard to find the right words to promote him because his songs are simple and soulful, it’s very moving music.

Nouvelle Vague will be performing across the UK with their 15th-anniversary tour throughout April. Tickets are available now from SEE Tickets