I spoke to Isabelle Antena via email in June of 2008. Here is the unpublished interview.
I first heard Antena's "Achilles" several years ago on (the now defunct) Tigersushi radio. It had such a strange and alluring sound, and I remember thinking "how is this song lush and minimal at the same time?". I immediately sought out more music and more information as to who Antena was. I found that Numero Group had re-issued the album Camino Del Sol with additional music, and I also managed to acquire the used vinyl for the original 5 song release of Camino, as well as a 7" of the song "Be Pop" (those were fruitful digging times). I was fascinated by the way it all sounded, playing upon many contradictions but working perfectly to my ears. It embraced extremes of cold and warm, at times thematically dark but presented in a joyous and sensual manner ... beautiful but dissonant, disconnected but intimate, romantic but chilly, etc ...... In much the same way I feel when I listen to the Raincoats, Antena's music is perfect in its imperfections, and there is a vein of youthful vitality and wonky innocence, and a genuine spirit of independence that runs through it.
Jaime Sin: I would like to ask you a little bit about what was going on at the time Antena got its start. It was the early 80's, it was Belgium, you were 3 kids making music. Can you tell me a little bit about what was happening around you at the time? Who were your inspirations and did you feel you had any contemporaries?
Isabelle Antena: We were from Paris Actually and I was playing guitar on the underground.
I had no connections with the music business but I had been putting bands together with friends as early as 8 years old:)
So, it was natural to ask my best friend and my boy friend if they wanted to help me be a band and record some songs.
With a very basic tape recorder, we recorded 8 songs and then decided to send them to record companies that had put their contact on the back of the LPs we had.
That's how we sent our "demo" tape to Crepuscule, Ralf records and ZE records.
We were listening to John Foxx 's Metamatic, Tuxedo Moon, The Residents, B 52's, as well as the old jazz records coming from my parents, Miles, Dizzy, Coltrane and of course my old time favourite Getz/Gilberto that my mother used to sing to me at bed time.
I have always been writing songs and so at that time, we never thought about the style we were going to have or if we were going to be part of a movement.
We had no drummer but a TR808, so that was the sound of our drummer.
We had no piano but a little electric pianotone, which gave also a particular sound.
When John Foxx said he wanted to produced 2 titles, in his studio The Garden, it was the first time we were going to a recording studio. This was with Gareth Jones and he teached me a lot about recording, production and sounds. I will thank him eternally for that.
Our contemporaries were young people like us, musically inexperimented but who wanted to express themself through the music. This was Cabaret Voltaire, 23 Skidoo, Durriti Column, Paul Haig and Tuxedo Moon.
We toured with those guys and had a great time, although doing a different style of music, we were accepted by them. We were French so it was natural that we would do "Chanson".
But Blaine Reininger played strings on our songs and I did vocals for Winston Tong or Paul Haig.It was a nice time of exchange. While recording in London, we even stayed at Genesis Porridge 's house (Throbbing Gristle) .... It was like a family business ....
JS: Can you tell me about where your lyrical inspirations came from? As I mentioned, "Achilles" was the first song I had heard by you, and I was intrigued by the one very simple lyric, "Achilles is an only child" repeated numerous times. To me, it suggested an interest in another side of the myth.
I also find "On the Boat" really interesting. It's such an upbeat song, yet the lyrics seem to be about alienation and a certain disconnection from your surroundings.
My French isn't great but there are a few songs pertaining to the tropics, holidays, as well as the cover of "Les Demoiselles de Rochefort" which is from a Jacques Demy film ... please feel free to talk about any of these songs as well as anything else you'd like to mention.
IA: The correct lyrics for Achilles are: Achilles is an unwanted child. Achilles is your son , recognize it...
I was so young , and so influenced by the New Yorkers like Lou Reed, Nico, Television where culture was to be spread (even the few we had) as jam on the bread. This was probably the "Warhol syndrom" :)
Actually you understood what was to understand in Achilles, the son of a goddess and a mortal man but the woman sight of it. (you know, woman's lib :)
The funny thing about that, is that, when I got first pregnant and that the "father" wasn't going to help me with the child, I called my son Achilles ...he's now a strong young man of 21 years old :)
There's always something desperate in Antena's lyrics
like Achilles is an unwanted child
On the boat is about taking drugs and see the boat sicking
Seaside weekend is a (pretty weird) love triangle
Camino del sol : is an enumeration of a holiday catalogue, but again, for desperate vacation
"Camino del sol, Hotel, Palm Beach, Air Florida
Station balneaire, Climat tropical etc ..."
This was the effect of the "Cold wave" associate to our willing to do samba, Bossa Nova type of music, which is usually associated with dance, sun and happiness.
(images via The Crepuscule and Factory Pages)
JS: "SEX IS HARD, ROMANCE IS HARDER"
I noticed this in the runout groove of the 1982 pressing of Camino Del Sol. Still true?
IA: whoooaaa you noticed this when I forgot about it.
It was just to have fun to print "secret" messages on vinyl.
Never thought I would have to speak about it 28 years after ...
Today is my 48th birthday and really, sex is pleasure and I perfectly managed to keep the romance going with the same man for the past 16 years. So things that can be hard when you're 20 actually get better with experiences :))
JS: You talk about how young you were when Antena was formed ... and it really shows! You managed to capture a feeling on those records that is so vital and uncontrived. To me, that sort of effervescence and honesty makes the music timeless. I'm curious to know how your music was received at the time. What are your impressions of the recurring interest in your early music over the past several years? Also please tell us what followed Antena, and what you've been working on recently!
IA: Now that there's new attention on Camino del sol , some people think we were overlooked but we didn't feel that way. We were part of a big indie family and had no idea of what the music business was like.
After recording Camino del sol , we were asked by Paul Haig to sing on Running away , by Winston Tong to sing on the 12 days of christmas ( for Crepuscule 's comp « The ghost of the Xmas past »). We were the little sisters of Cabaret Voltaire , Tuxedomoon or Throbbing Gristle but even to those people our bossa nova sound was extra terrestrial :).
Still we were accepted because of our indie (almost punk) minds and also cause we were cute and fresh:)
We did a video clip and toured a lot (including The danceteria in New York where we met Sonic Youth)...The end of the band really came when Chris Blackwell signed us on Island Records. By the time we recorded Be Pop , Pascale was gone and then , when Mercury rebought our contract from Island (they released a couple of singles) , Sylvain was still on the picture but not in the studio.When the recoding of En Cavale was completed , Mercury dropped me(as we were signed as a band but I was then on my own).
This is how I went back to Crepuscule records with the stolen tapes , and published them as Isabelle Antena (En Cavale means On the run)...but this is another story or the answer to your question : « What followed Antena ».
Seaside Weekend first appeared on En Cavale and hit the European charts for several weeks.But I was already recoding another album (Hoping For Love) with some old Belgian jazzmen (Johnny Dover , Johnny Hot) and it is Hoping for love and especially « Le Poisson Des Mers Du Sud « that led me to Japan , where during all the 90's I released almost an album a year , selling around 100 000 copies each time. So , I had no reason to try to sell my music elsewhere.
Then in 1999 , Eighteen Street Lounge released their first compilation and it opened with my song « Antena ».
This brought attention from dj's all over the world and I started to work with Buscemi in Belgium , while Yukihiro Fukutomi would cover my song « Playback »...
In 2006 Permanent Vacation came to me with the idea of Camino del sol 's remixes and I thought it was a good idea.The original tapes being lost , I had to re do most of the vocal tracks and re program the machines :)
So , this is what I think of the « recurring interest in my early music ».I've always try to work with a timeless spirit.
And free from the music business obligations (I'm the owner of all my rights recording or publishing).So , I am proud to be re discovered but not that surprised.Those re issues have been only possible because I had the rights to my songs. If it had stayed with Island or Mercury , it would probably still be stored in a box :)
My most recent work , apart from Versions Speciales (2007) , is French Riviera , a production by Yukihiro Fukutomi that made me work with Kyoto Jazz Massive , Jazztronik , Tatsuo Sunaga , Hajime Yoshizawa ... the cream of Japanese nu jazz scene.
I've also been lucky enough to write 2 tracks for the Boondocks (season 1 and 2) and this gave the desire to write more on images (anybody needs original music for their movie ?? ).In 2006 , I recorded a follow up to CDS named "Toujours Du Soleil" and the track Le Spinner was featured in Samsonite
I'm now (today:) recording an album with a big band and lots of horns , arranged 'a la Gil Evans 'to be released by the end of the year.( more infos on this in myspace. com/isabelleantena.)