On Wednesday, April 23, Nick Stumpf of the band French Kicks will join us for an online chat. The band plays at the Rock and Roll Hotel April 24, and the show is a homecoming of sorts for Stumpf and his brother and bassist Lawrence, who are originally from the area. Responsible for vocals, keyboards and drums, Stumpf is somewhat of a de facto spokesman for the French Kicks, and he’ll answer any questions you have about the band, its unique experimental pop sound, its latest album, and more.
Since moving to New York City, the band has become a fixture of the music scene there and has picked up serious buzz, which has steadily increased with the release of every new record. Its latest, Swimming, is already a favorite among bloggers and Internet radio stations. Guitarist/vocalist Josh Wise describes the record as “bolder, and at the same time more intimate, than anything we’ve done.” Speaking of Wise, he might be stopping by and joining Stumpf for the chat, so stay tuned!
Submit your questions and make sure to check out the French Kicks live at the Rock and Roll Hotel.
Listen to tracks from Swimming here, and purchase your tickets for the show here.
Have you played the Rock and Roll Hotel before? Last time I saw you guys you were at the Black Cat. Opinions on the venues? Got a favorite DC spot to play?
We played the Rock and Roll hotel somewhat recently and it was great. Good size, great back stage room, nice folks. The Black Cat is great too though, always love playing there. Those two and 9:30 are all among the better places to play in the country actually, so D.C. wins.
Nick, where exactly in the DC area are you and your brother from? Interviews constantly mention you're from the "DC area" but never give a specific town or neighborhood.
We're from NW, off Reno Rd, not that far from Chevy Chase circle. cred.
Why did you move to New YOrk? No love for DC! Why didn't you stay here?
To get into something new, you know, all those adolescent reasons. Always love for D.C. though. I will say that when we get home from a long tour, and it usually happens that we end up in D.C. for some reason, I feel much more relief and gratitude getting out of the van in D.C. than I ever do getting out into New York. I may end up there yet…
silver spring MD
I heard you don't like people calling your sound indie rock. So what kind of music do the French Kicks make according to you?
I think it's pop music. We like to let ourselves believe that the pop song is just as viable an art form as painting or anything else. (Is that pretentious enough?)
What's the process of putting a song together like for you guys?
We like to write by a sort of improvised recording process. It generally starts with a very simple idea on one instrument, like a beat or a line, and then very quickly parts for other instruments are improvised on top of it. Like you start with the original idea, which could also be a vocal melody line, and then you record the very first thing that comes into your head on any other instruments you have right there, and also the very first ideas you have about where else it could go. That first stage is usually one person. Whoever that is will take it as far as they can and then if it's not done they'll show it to someone else. (Usually this is me and Josh.)
How do you and Josh decide who sings which song? And what about the writing of the songs. Does Josh only sing songs written by him?
Of the songs Josh sings, three were written completely by him, and one (With the Fishes) we worked on together. The other three were done and they were great so there was no reason to change them. That's basically how it goes. But of the songs I sing, many were things we worked on together, as has always been the case.
What's with the title of the album? Why "swimming"?
The word has pleasure and struggle at the same time, among other things, and so does the record. It can mean a number of things depending on the light you read it in, also, I hope, like the record.
How is Swimming different from your other albums, would you say? What was the recording process like?
We produced this one all ourselves, so that's one thing. We did it in this new studio that was cheap enough that we didn't have to worry about time nearly as much as we had before, and that coupled with the fact that we were running our own show made it a lot of fun and much more relaxed than it has been in the past, when we were constantly aware of the clock and the money running out. We did a lot of the basic tracks live, with me on drums, lawrence on bass, and josh on guitar, which gives the record a great, loose and live vibe, and then piled stuff on top of that as necessary. We did a fair amount of switching around, I think the three of us each play every instrument
on at least something. We had a great deal of it figured out before we went in, but the way we executed it was very free. It was great, the way we've always wanted to do it.
My friends and I try to find an "album of the summer" every year and I think Swimming, from what I've heard, might be it. What would you select as your album of the summer? (It's gotta be catchy, summery, you know…good outdoorsy sunny music!)
I have a summer song: the Donovan one about 'first there is a mountain,' its called There is a Mountain.
I believe I've read you guys are friends with the Walkmen. How'd you get to know them? Any plans to tour with them?
I met them when I was in tenth grade. We were all part of a big gang of friends in high school. We have toured with them before and it was tremendous fun, I'm sure we will again, no specific plans at the moment..
Since you mention you guys consider your sound to be pop. What's your take on the pop scene right now? What pop bands, other than Phoenix, are worth checking out?
I read somewhere that before committing to the band, you tried some writing and also film. Are you still pursuing any of those interests in your free time?
Right now it's pretty much all this. I spent the weekend in the studio working on someone else's record, a friend called Mac St. Michael, which I was invited to get involved with by Walter from the Walkmen, another D.C. man, and which was great fun and will be a really cool record. But that's not so far from the tree. Film music is something I very much plan to do at some point not so long from now, maybe also trying to write a movie with some friends.
If you and the guys could cover one song, which one would it be?
We actually just recorded a whole bunch of them, but I don't want to give away the surprises. they'll start popping up pretty soon I think. Our practices usually start and end with endless cover jams and we put one or two into the shows now and again. we may do a few in D.C. now come to think of it, but you'll have to come to the show to find out…
You guys have been buzzed about for a while. I remember hearing about you just as The Strokes were also blowing up in the NYC scene. Since then those guys have kinda of fizzled out–perhaps victims of the overhype. I'm curious: Are you happy you've managed to avoid the glaring spotlight of mainstream success?
I think the longer we do this the more it's clear to anyone who's interested that we're doing this because we love to do it and that we have only ever been interested in trying to make good music that holds some lasting interest for us and for the people who listen to it. I think we're seeing, finally, a movement towards the music really being the only thing that people are talking about when they talk about bands, and all the bullshit about a look or where they fit into someone's idea of where we're at in rock history or whatever is finally going away. It's either good or it isn't, and I think that's how people listen to music now, more and more. That has always been the way we thought about it, so I'm very glad to see it finally going in that direction.
new york city new york
Guys, what is playing is your van when you are on tour ?
Usually NPR. Or all of us with headphones on. There are, not uncommonly, periods of many hours spent in complete silence.
Can we expect more of Josh's artwork in t-shirts or posters of the band? I really liked the cover artwork from the last album.
Yes. He does good work, our josh. he did the cover for the new record too, with a little input from me and Lawrence. Don't sleep on Lawrence though, there are some fascinating new t shirt designs he did, and some new classics by Josh as well.
Do you have a favorite record store in the city?
Kemp Mill Records.
So…Vagrant Records. How did you guys end up there?
It was the last time we'll ever play poker that drunk. No, they absorbed our label a few records ago and then it was working out so we stayed on.
Nick, How tall are you ? And what are you wearing right now?
6'6". Jeans, no bra.
Any solo project in the horizon?
I'm going to LA to become an actor.
New York, NY
Do you know that Donovan song "Fat Angel"? It's bad ass.
What is your secret for lasting? If I count well you have been around for almost ten years.