By Poppy Tohill
The exceptionally talented Paris-based New Zealand singer- songwriter Flip Grater has been busy recording her fourth studio album, ‘Pigalle' over the last few years and now returns to her homeland to tour the beautiful piece of work.
I had the absolute pleasure of catching up with Flip for a coffee and a chat while she was in Auckland for a few days, prior to the release of ‘Pigalle', which has just been released today, and her tour which got underway yesterday (April 3rd) in Wellington.
Releasing her third studio album, ‘While I'm Awake I'm At War' in 2010, it's been four years since Grater's exquisite soft and melodic vocals have warmed both our hearts and ears. Flip fills us in on what she's been up to over the last few years, learning French, the new album and upcoming tour and mushrooms...
What have you been up to since the release of your last album four years ago?
I basically decided for this new album, that I really wanted to write it in lots of countries. So instead of being broke in Auckland, I decided to be broke around the world. I basically spent just over a year housesitting in various places in Italy and Paris, visiting people and looking after apartments and I wrote the album during that period of time. Then I spent the last two years recording and finishing the album. I found a producer and a studio and we went in and recorded the bulk of the record in just under two weeks, then we spent almost a year just going backwards and forwards trying to get the mixes right. So that was quite frustrating cause it felt like a long time, so it's really good to have it finished and finally be able to get it out there!
Talking about Europe, you've been based in Paris for a while now... how did that come about?
My manager was from Paris, and I wanted to be in the same city as her, but I'd also always fantasised about living in Paris at some point in my life. So I decided to move to Paris, and then just as I moved there my manager moved to San Francisco, so I was left there thinking ‘what am I actually doing here? I don't know anyone and I don't actually speak French...'.
But I just made it work and now I am loving it. It took me a while but I'm just finding my feet now and am starting to love it. So now I'm trying to do this half here and half there thing, between Paris and New Zealand at the moment.
Do you still consider yourself a New Zealander though?
Oh yeah, yeah, yeah of course. Absolutely!
Can you speak fluent French?
I'm learning...My boyfriend & I probably speak about 30% French, 20% Fringlish and 50% English, so it's a big mixture. It's harder than I expected it to be actually, but I'm really enjoying learning. I wish I had studied it in school, so then now when learning it would be so much easier to pick up, because at least it would be there somewhere in my brain at the back of my mind. But right now it's just learning from scratch, by ear. I'm not even studying in Paris, but I'm getting there. All you learn being amongst it though is slang words and then you just put them in the wrong way and make these whack sentences, but it's a fun challenge (laughs).
You're CV features quite the collection of jobs, (from an author, radio host, film producer & production manager) how did you decide to take the path of being a musician?
I sort of never chose it, really. I was actually going to be an outdoor's instructor when I left school- that's what I studied. I was just totally an adrenaline junkie and wanted to be outdoors. But then I started writing songs and I liked it and people seemed to like them, so I just kept doing it. I played guitar from the time I was ten, but I never really studied it. Just like the French I kind of just picked it up and tried some stuff out. So that's been an ongoing thing. Then I just ended up falling into making music I guess. After a while of performing I decided to make an album and that turned into four albums, but I guess getting on stage is just an extension of that adrenaline junkie thing I was into before.
So, you recorded the new album with a new band... how did that go?
It had its challenges. I recorded it in Paris and I didn't know any of the musicians before they came in - they were all friends of the producers' so I was getting to know them and their subtleties and rhythms as we were going, and of course everyone smokes in the studio too, which I found very intense. You know some of the subtleties get lost in translation, but music is the combining factor. That's the thing everyone speaks, I mean we were all speaking different languages but at the end of the day the one thing we all understood was music. So they understood the project and what my sound was, so it seemed to work somehow.
Due to those difficulties, was the recording process for this album quite different to your previous albums?
I think it's quite different. I think the production is a bit more full. I think that it's a bit grittier over all. It's got some rockier tunes, not just all the sweet folky stuff. So yeah I think it's different. I think it's got a nice combination of the French style and the NZ style somewhere in between.
Have you ever thought about writing a song in French later on down the line?
I'd love to but it's one of those things where I'm not even sure anyone should write lyrics in another language even if they become really excellent at it. It's almost always a bit cheesy. It's pretty hard. It's even hard to write non-cheesy lyrics in your own language. But don't get me wrong, some people are excellent at it. You have to have such a clear understanding of a language to be able to use it in a poetic way and French is a very poetic language. It's complex. I would love to one day, but it's not on the cards anytime soon, however in the meantime I'm learning a few covers.
Before the interview I sneakily tried to Google the title of your album (‘Pigalle') in case it had a French meaning, but I found out it is actually a place in Paris- is that correct?
Yeah. It's a suburb of Paris in the north, just below Montmartre. It's famously the area that had all the music shops and prostitutes in the same area. It's where Edith Piaf used to sing on the streets- that was her original busking ground and it's where all of the old brothel's and Moulin Rouge and all of the artists like Picasso and Dali lived in the area. It's a really wonderful area and it's pretty inspiring.
Does the suburb have any significance to you or is there any particular reasoning as to why you named the album after it?
I actually recorded the album in that area at a studio called ‘Studio Pigalle.' So going there everyday to record was really inspiring and the whole place is just infused with so much history, I loved it. Then at the end of the recording I was like well you know actually ‘Pigalle' has been a big inspiration for this album, and a lot of the themes that are rich in Pigalle and Paris are rich in this album. It is a product of the experience I had there, so it seemed like an appropriate name for the album.
How would you describe the new album in 3 words?
Honest, nostalgic or maybe reflective is better than nostalgic and intimate.
Without giving too much away, what can we expect from the upcoming album? -Would you say it is quite different from your previous releases?
It's got some kind of rockier tunes than my last couple of albums. So there could be the odd person that listens expecting a really soft album and then they hear those slightly rockier ones. I'm not talking rock band, just electric guitars and what not. Not everyone's going to love those tracks, but I think it's quite an eclectic album and it's got a theme running right through which is story telling. There was a lot of moments when I was writing the lyrics where I was feeling super nostalgic and reflective and I wanted to tell some of the stories from my life, some of the stories from my teenage life and some of the stories that I was experiencing at the time. There is a lot of story telling in there. There's stories about other people too as well as myself which is unusual for me because I'm usually quite personal with my albums.
Was there a song on the album that was particularly hard to write or is the most difficult to perform live?
‘Digging For The Devil' is quite hard for me to play live. Because it's the only song I didn't write the guitar part for. It was written by a friend of mine in Italy who is in a pop punk band. So he wrote it with a slightly different style than what I usually play, so that one's a bit hard to do solo, I've got to find rhythm for me to be able to do it myself.
You've toured around some pretty incredible places, what is your favourite aspect of touring?
Totally travelling. I love meeting new people, I love visiting new places, I love being able to taste the food and wine in a new place and see what the coffee costs and I love checking out weird, different venues around the place. I love the fact that when you travel through music you get this insight and bizarre little view into the world which is not a tourist view at all, its some weird other view. It's not the local view either, it's the musician's view. You get to see accommodation, but it's often in a personal kind of way. If you're not staying in a hotel you're often staying in the attic of the promoter and things like that. You get really amazing hospitality everywhere you go because people are wanting to give you yummy food, new wine, and they want to show off the area to you so it's like having local knowledge everywhere you go. It's wonderful. It's really a wonderful lifestyle touring and I've gotten to go to places like Portugal and Italy and play in 300 year old churches and stables and underground restaurants and cafes in caves and it's just so cool to see and be in those places and to be hosted in those places as well.
Where's your favourite country/venue to perform or go on tour?
I love touring in Portugal. I just love Portugal. Love the cheap coffee, the wine and the hospitality there is amazing. But the place I've toured quite a bit that I just never get enough of is Italy. I've done quite a bit of German touring and I love that as well cause the audiences are always amazing, the gigs are always really good but in terms of really enjoying the trip there's a lot of autobahn driving where as in Italy there is lots of windy roads or you take the train and people are just so friendly and so kind. In Italy I've played some pretty amazing venues too like in the South I played in some seriously old buildings and some old converted stables and things like that. I've played in a few restaurants there too where they've combined my love of food with my performance so they'll be selling a ticket for my show plus a meal, so the audience are all having a shared vegetarian meal while they watch me play and I love that combining food and music, it makes it really social.
What are you most looking forward to about being back in NZ?
This weather and good coffee. Plus always my family. I miss them so much when I'm away. That's the hard thing about being away. I mean I couldn't live in Christchurch all the time, but it seems to be a nice combination at the moment, of doing a split year between France and NZ but I do miss my family when I'm overseas.
What do you think of the current music scene in NZ?
It's always been super rich and healthy and now even more so. It just continues to grow in strength. There's so much amazing talent here. I could listen to NZ artists all day and all week and not even notice that it was a regional thing.
The NZ music scene is definitely way more DIY than the scene in Paris, it's very down to earth and very family and community oriented. It's not super competitive, except some pockets but mostly its really collaborative and kind. It's a wonderful scene to be part of because everyone is trying to help each other. I miss that when I'm overseas actually, cause it's really one of the best things about the NZ music world.
Is there any one NZ artist you would love to collaborate with some day?
I'm a massive fan of French For Rabbits and they're playing with me on my upcoming tour so that's going to be really fun. They're going to be my band, so I'm really looking forward to playing with them in that way. I also love The Bads. I've worked a lot with Dianne Swann, but we've always dreamt of having a female duo, so that's definitely going to happen some day.
You've gained a reputation as an avid foodie and vegetarian spokesperson and you've even written a couple of books about touring the world and recipes you've collected along the way, can you tell us a little bit more about that side of your life?
I love writing and I love the experience of gathering information. It seems like this treasure hunt. I was always collecting recipes on tour anyway so I thought I might as well put it into a book. It just seems like such a good talking point too, because when you're actually faced with meeting strangers a lot of the time like you do on tour, especially when you're touring alone, everyone loves food so you can just instantly strike up conversation by asking someone what their favourite recipe is. So I was always collecting recipes and I've always been obsessive about food and especially about particular foods. Right now I'm writing a book on mushrooms because I'm obsessed with them. I never used to like them when I was younger, I found them kind of too earthy and stinky. But you've got to be careful with them, they're quite a delicate thing you know. They have to be fresh and well cooked, but when they are, there's nothing better.
If you had one more day left on earth, what is the last meal you would have?
That's tricky... There are too many things that I love! It would have to be mushroom based after that rant though wouldn't it. Oh my god... five different recipes come to mind straight away. Classically as so many people would say it's got to be something super simple. I mean I love Thai food, I'm obsessed with noodle soups and fried rice. But if I was going to have a last meal it would have to be something simple like fried porcini on toast, on thick ciabatta with olive oil and parsley.
What is the next project for you?
Definitely already thinking about the next album, I'm going to start writing really soon. I just want to stay focused on this record for now, but then as soon as I've toured it in NZ I'll start writing. I've already got a couple of new songs... But I'm going to have to write a love songs album I reckon cause I'm all in love at the moment and I can't write sad songs anymore (laughs). But we'll see what happens cause it could turn out to be this cheesy pop album of love songs- blergh! (laughs).
Flip Grater NZ Tour
April 3rd: Wellington, Mighty Mighty with Mea Grenell
April 11th: Dunedin, Queens
April 12th: Christchurch, Wunderbar with French for Rabbits
April 24th: Auckland, Wine Cellar with French for Rabbits
April 25th: Banks Peninsula, Hilltop Tavern with French for Rabbits
Tickets via Under The Radar
"People should come because it's going to be really fun and I hope you all like this new album because it's taken so long to make I'm excited that it's finally coming out!" - Flip Grater.