Funk And Fear: Hologram Teen Talks
Between the Funk and the Fear is one of the best debut albums I've heard all year. Out now on Polytechnic Youth, it's the product of Hologram Teen aka Morgane Lhote, who was the keyboard player in Stereolab during their "imperial phase" between 1995-2001 when they released classics such as Emperor Tomato Ketchup and Dots and Loops. Since leaving the group, Lhote has played in The Projects and Garden, but Hologram Teen is her very first project as a solo artist.
With track titles like 'Post-Apocalypteacakes', 'Lesbian Death Drums' and 'Tracksuit Minotaur', you should get a fairly good idea of the album's tongue in cheek tone – inspired by eveything from disco and horror movie soundtracks to Brazilian psych rock, it's a trip that's well worth taking. We caught up with Hologram Teen to talk synths, obscure French comics, and the liberation of having complete freedom over the creative process…
Hi Morgane! Thanks for chatting to us today.
Hi there! Nice to virtually meet you!
How long has the Hologram Teen project been in the works?
I started Hologram Teen about four years ago in NYC. It really started picking up steam when I bought Ableton Live 9 and suddenly had my own studio at my fingertips. I could program the drums, bass, and all other instruments and became pretty much self-reliant. I released a first single on Deep Distance in 2015 and was working on Between the Funk and the Fear for the last two years.
Tell us about the influences that went into the album. It certainly feels like an electronic horror film soundtrack, and I can also hear Giorgio Moroder, Can, M83, DJ Shadow…
Yes, it was definitely conceived as a horror film soundtrack in the vein of Goblin and John Carpenter. Fabio Frizzi was also a big influence as even his darker, most disturbing tunes are also strangely uplifting. I tried to channel that vibe by remaining playful and always trying to sprinkle a dose of absurdity in the songs. I also was influenced by French disco from the 1980s, and 1970s Brazilian psychedelic rock records such as Som by Persona. I also always get really inspired by African music, especially for grooves and beats, and was listening to artists like Joseph Mutero and Zvishavane Sounds during the making of the album.
What was the first electronic record you heard and how did it make you feel?
It was Tubular Bells by Mike Oldfield when I was around 13. At the time I was mostly into New-Wave or more rock oriented stuff but there was something really fascinating about that album. I think it first made me realize you could use mostly synths to create soundscapes and entire songs. I guess I was already attracted to horror movie soundtracks since the introduction to 'Part One' was used in The Exorcist.
How do you approach making a track, which elements come first?
I mostly start from three places: the drums, bass, or some audio sample that I will manipulate, pitch up or down or speed up or slow down. It’s pretty messy at the beginning until I start to refine the structure and arrangement. It’s almost like throwing splashes of color at a wall and seeing what sticks…
How does your brain work when it’s making music? How does it work when it’s not?
I’m 100% focused when I work on music, I literally have to tear myself away from the computer. I need to learn to be better about taking breaks… Otherwise, I would say my brain is more relaxed, I like to joke around and laugh a lot when not in a creative thought process.
What’s your recording setup like, and what’s your favourite piece of studio gear?
It’s pretty basic at the moment but I’m hoping to buy a Prophet 12 and Focal Solo 6 Be studio speakers next year. At the moment, I just have my computer, Ableton Live 9, a MIDI keyboard, and Event speakers. I program all the drums and synths within Ableton.
How do you find recording solo and having full creative control as opposed to being a band member?
It’s bloody amazing! I adore not having to argue or compromise with other band members. My mistakes and my successes are mine and I can do whatever the hell I want. I have a very precise idea of how my creative process should go and it has been very liberating to have complete freedom on that level.
Could you tell us how the artwork came together?
My mate Alex Smith in London is an amazing graphic designer and he has made all of my singles and album covers so far. We are the same age and are big fans of obscure French comics, loud graphic design, and random Japanese cartoons. He came up with the concept of Disco Démon, the devil in the pink bikini with four eyes on his chest. I basically sent him a bunch of 1970s comics from Jean-Claude Forest, who created Barbarella, and told him to get the same vibe whilst being as loud and weird as possible. I’m really happy with the final result!
How did you connect with Polytechnic Youth?
My producer and mixer Richard Bennett contacted Dom about releasing the single in 2015 and he really liked the music. My first Hologram Teen release was on Deep Distance, another of Dom’s labels. He’s a great guy to work with and has such a varied and prolific output!
You’re in L.A. now but you first moved to London in the early ‘90s, what was the music scene like then?
I moved to London when I was 20 because the musical scene in Paris was so bad. I instantly felt more at home in England than I ever did in France. I really consider the UK like my real home. The music scene at the time was magical… it sounds super cheesy but it really was. There was such an air of excitement and creativity about everything. I used to live round the corner from the Laurel Tree in Camden Town and I saw so many bands there like Prolapse and Kenickie.
Tell us the story about how you came to join Stereolab.
I was 19 and just finished high school and my parents had left Paris for the summer. Of course, I had a party and invited a bunch of people. Some of my friends were musicians and since the music scene in Paris was so small, the guys from Daft Punk and Tim and Laetitia showed up. One year later, I moved to London and bumped into Tim in the street and told him I was starting up a band (I was playing guitar at the time). I first started jamming with Laetitia for her project that was to become Monade when she told me Tim was interested in me joining Stereolab. They gave me two months to learn the keyboards and 40 songs and that was that!! I think my third gig with them was in Central Park in NYC! It was all very surreal and so exciting!
Out of the Stereolab albums you worked on, which was your favourite to record?
It was Emperor Tomato Ketchup. It was a crazy time!! I was 21, had barely any experience of being in a band and two weeks after joining Stereolab we flew to Chicago to record half of the album with John McEntire. Needless to say, I learnt a lot very quickly.
How does your work in the entertainment industry influence your music? What are your favourite film and video game soundtracks of all time?
Well, my work is mostly related to films and video games which is perfect since I love music related to both those media. I could go on forever but Francois de Roubaix’s film scores move me to tears everytime as his strings arrangements are so beautiful. I really recommend listening to La Scoumoune, La Grande Lessive, and L’homme Orchestre. I also really love the soundtracks to Dawn of the Dead, Zombi 2, and Les Demoiselles de Rochefort. Jean-Claude Vannier also released a beautiful album two years ago: Microbe & Gasoline, the score to the Michel Gondry movie of the same name. Video games wise, I have two favorites: Final Fantasy X by Nobuo Uematsu and Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean by Motoi Sakuraba. They are such lovingly crafted and complex soundtracks with super lush arrangements.
What are you obsessed with at the moment?
Well, music always has been and always will be my main obsession. Coffee and films are always a close second and third. I also really like to discover new artists like D*Face and Julian Montague. My music has a really strong filmic, visual side to it so those people are always a great source of inspiration for cover art to come. I think about future designs a lot!
What’s next for Hologram Teen? Are there any live shows in the pipeline?
I’m already currently working on a second album and have a few songs written already. No live shows are planned yet but hopefully in the not so distant future.
Anything else we need to discuss?
I’m not one to include political statements when talking about music but the world is in a really dire place right now. The state of politics and human rights in America is increasingly shameful… I guess I’m lucky enough to live in a super liberal, artistic city and the one glimmer of hope right now is seeing the sheer amount of irreverent media and music that is being produced. I guess being creative and giving the finger to authorities has never felt so vital as right now. Oh and also your magazine is rad, I’m really happy to have discovered it!
Between the Funk and the Fear is out now on Polytechnic Youth.