Page last updated at 09:42 GMT, Tuesday, 7 July 2009 10:42 UK

Talking Shop: Nouvelle Vague

Nouvelle Vague
Nouvelle Vague are Olivier Libaux (left), Marc Collin (centre) and various guest vocalists (Melanie Pain & Naddeah Miranda pictured)

French duo Nouvelle Vague have built up a reputation as the masters of reinvention.

Their first two albums took the often angry, angular hits of punk and new wave and re-interpreted them as easy-listening Brazilian bossa nova tracks.

For their third record, NV3, they've shifted their focus from South to North America - embracing country and bluegrass on versions of The Sex Pistols' God Save the Queen and Talking Heads' Road to Nowhere.

On some of the tracks, including Depeche Mode's Master and Servant, they even manage to rope in the original vocalists to duet with their revolving cast of husky-voiced chanteuses.

One half of the group, Olivier Libaux, talked about the band's surprising success - and why the French media regard them as "Martians".

How did Nouvelle Vague come about?

Marc Collin and I were both musicians and producers in the French music industry when, in 2003, Marc called me with this very strange idea of covering Love Will Tear Us Apart in a bossa nova version.

I thought this idea was absolutely crazy but very exciting. So we decided to get into the studio and try it out as soon as possible.

Then we did Just Can't Get Enough and Guns Of Brixton. We put the album together in just eight months. And after that we called ourselves Nouvelle Vague [the phrase means new wave in French, as does bossa nova in Portuguese] - and that's the story!

Nouvelle Vague
The band have built up a cult following on the live circuit

Did you ever think back then that you'd be releasing a third album?

Absolutely not! We were thinking that maybe 500 people in the world would listen to these strange cover versions. So nowadays, as we are touring all year, every year and playing in full venues, it is really strange.

We started as fans of new wave - and now we are recording with Martin Gore or with Ian McCullough. It is just unbelievable in a way.

Did you ask the original artists to work on the album, or did they approach you?

As far as I know, nobody has ever got in touch with Nouvelle Vague! But all these people we contacted knew about our work.

What did Martin Gore think of your arrangement of Master and Servant?

After we finished it, we received an email and apparently our version made him laugh a lot! He was keen on performing on the song, so he must have been laughing in a good way.

How well known are these new wave songs in France?

They are mainly very underground. All these bands were unsuccessful, apart from The Cure and U2. But there was a strong cult following - because, in France in the 1980s, the music was completely rubbish. The French music was evil! And all these English records were fantastic.

Melanie Pain
Melanie Pain performing with Nouvelle Vague in Twickenham, 2006

For the first time on this album, you've covered a French song - Plastic Bertrand's Ca Plane Pour Moi. What made you choose that one?

Ca Plane Pour Moi was supposed to be the first French punk single. The thing is, it was sung by Plastic Bertrand - who was Belgian - and many French people think this song is a bit stupid.

But it has been covered by bands like The Damned - so it seems that, abroad, this song is very respected. We chose the song because of this paradox.

Did it take long to get the vocals right? It is a bit of a tongue-twister.

Yes! Even French people don't really understand what it's about.

On our album, it is performed by an English singer - Rebecca Dobbins [credited as LeeLou] - who had to learn the song phonetically. Can you imagine that? But she has done a fantastic job.

You must find that some of the songs you play are more popular in one country than another?

We have had some really big surprises. I don't know if you remember The Sound, with Adrien Boland? I think they were the most unsuccessful band of this period. Their music was very dark, but I was in love with this sound.

We covered a song of theirs called I Can't Escape Myself and nobody knew it. But the first time we played it live was in Greece, to about 6,000 people. As soon as the lyrics started, they all sang together. So this band was completely unknown everywhere except in Greece, where they were stars!

The writers must be grateful for the royalties.

I guess so, yes. I consider that private - so I won't say any more about it, but obviously we have made some original writers happy. If they have had a hard life and we're helping them out, that's a very good thing.

A Capella virtuoso Camille featured on the group's first album

Some of your featured vocalists, like Anais and Camille, have gone on to bigger and better things. Do you consider yourselves the French version of American Idol?

I will dedicate my answer to Marc, because I think he is the best talent scout in the world for female singers.

All the female singers we have worked with are just beginning their career. For these girls to be part of Nouvelle Vague for three years - meaning you play 200, 250 gigs - I think it's a very good way to learn about this job.

When Camille released her solo album, Music Hole, last year she got rave reviews in the UK, but in France she was practically boycotted for singing in English. Why did that happen?

I think that French people were expecting French lyrics - and they consider Camille as a traitor. It was really chauvinism.

Nouvelle Vague are very well placed to talk about that because we are a French Band and our focus is English and American music. Can you imagine the reaction of the French media to that?

Of course, we are quite successful and they have to follow us. But we are like Martians to them. We are not serving the case of France. But who cares?

Olivier Libaux was talking to BBC Entertainment news reporter Mark Savage. NV3 is out now.

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