Today’s Featured Artist is Nicolas Murer. I met him around 2007-2008. He is originally from France and now is back in France but for a few years he was living in Columbus, Ohio. Those were great years in Columbus. There were a lot of people interested in improvisational music and lots of cool rock n roll happening. Nicolas seemed to be primarily interested in keyboards/synths and drum machines back in those days but he also played drums. He had a lot of solo projects and appears on most of the Swamp Leather catalog. I remember his band with Kevin Gaier called Ultra Detersivo was amazing. They put out a cassette that is fantastic. He an I also had a few other bands together. Outlet was a creation of ours where we didn’t use any instruments, only effects pedals and instrument cables and Nicolas did some amazing vocals. We played a total of two shows ever. One show at Used Kids Records in Columbus and one show at Matchless in Brooklyn, NY a few years later. The recording of the Used Kids show is still one of my all-time favorites! We also had a really cool rock n roll band called 2050. It was a great band with few of our other very good friends. We played quite a few shows and eventually made some nice sounding studio recordings with Will Foster. However, none of the music we recorded has ever been released (…except a live show recording split cassette w/ Cheater Slicks). Nicolas started a record label in those days (mid-2000’s) called Stochastic Releases and has released a ton of amazing cassettes, zines and beautiful vinyl editions. He now lives with his girlfriend, Lili Reynaud-Dewar, and operates his record label out of Grenoble, France.
LT: All across the world, we have all been in various levels of lockdown due to the current coronavirus. From what I heard, France was completely locked down for awhile. How have things been going for you and how have you been managing to get through all of this?
NM: Hi Tom, it has been weird but OK. I’ve been staying with my girlfriend and at first we were relieved somehow, less noise, nobody in the streets, we would drink and party almost every other day and it was nice to have time to have a retrospective view on past activity, digging up old files, catching up with people you don’t really know why you lost touch. So yeah life got thicker somehow. My girlfriend and I love to spend time inside, working on various different stuff, in a way we are already confined. Now that lockdown is over, it is actually tougher: people and cars are back on the street and you need to queue to get into almost any shop etc. At least now we can take the car and go hike. I cannot complain really we are only two persons living in a 90 m² flat so we are really OK compared to so many, so so many…
LT: You were one of those people who is always doing some type of music activity. Do you have any certain favorite projects or recordings that stand out in your mind?
NM: Well, it is almost gone now but after returning to France, thinking about my time in the USA and in Columbus (Feb. 2008- Feb. 2011) was driving me in a deep state of melancholia and longing. I still think these years were the most fun and the most productive I have ever had (which is actually not so true). Growing up as a teenager, I was almost only listening to american music and was immersed and in love with american culture : basketball, football, hockey etc. like many other teenagers I guess. So being in the USA, being able to see basketball games in almost every bar you would walk in, being able to find and buy all the CDs that, as a teenager in the french moutain countryside (Jura, close to Geneva and Geneva Lake) I was not able to even dream about finding, was like being just in the right place, being home somehow. So really, everything I did in the USA have a very special flavour to me, especially the music I did with my friends there : you Tom of course with Outlet and the 2050’s (I think we could have gotten really good) that were including Ryan McAuley, Fred Pfening, Dave Fricke, the 2049’s which was the band we did after you moved to New York, and Kevin Gaier with Ultra Detersivo. We released two tapes by the way not one. We played 3 or 4 shows. I should not forget Swamp Leather with mastermind Adam Fleischer, Ryan Jewell or Ben Bennett on drums, Kevin Gaier as well, Fred Pfening as well and Ryan McAuley again. I should also not forget DROSOFILE a band Will Foster and I made. So much fun!!! Only one show and what a weird show !!! We made one tape and some songs were re-released on Vinyl by SDZ records. I did not stop making music after coming to France, but I followed the path that was opened by Ultra Detersivo and tried to get more and more into electronic music, also because, this is what seems to be the most interesting thing to do here in Grenoble where I live. I spat the hate and anger I had in me one last time and recorded a « punk » album in December 2011 in Montreal with my good friend Régis Victor under the name Gueule Ouverte after the Maurice Pialat movie…. Raw, primal, we recorded, mixed and mastered ourselves 8 songs in two or three days… Then it became electronic music and drugs. It still is… Of course all the music I did for my girlfriend have a special place as well… but I will talk about that later. And then there is the music I released: Anna Ranger, Tan, Binary Digit, Denis Morin etc…
LT: Are there any differences between operating as a musician and/or record label in the USA vs. France?
NM: Oh yes. These differences were so hard when I returned to France. First of all, France is not a « rock » country. It is very difficult to be loud. It is too small and the cities are too dense to feel this specific energy that open lands and helplessness breath in you and that fortunately you are able to express with loudness. French people especially in provincial towns are snobbish or shy, or you need to be somehow part of a scene or a community to have access to cheap practice spaces. You have this horrific institutionalized music system in France, that is supposed to help musicians live from their music. If you create what is called an « association » with a specific legal status, you can apply for funds to support your « project ». A lot of concert halls get money from the government or cities or region and so on. If you are well inserted you can get gigs and after a certain amount of gigs and work hours, you have an « intermittent » status, which means that government will pay every month so that you get a steady salary even if you do not have gigs. This social system is creating a particularly flat, annoying, socially acceptable musical environment. On the other hand, at least in Grenoble, you have an alternative musical environment, related to an underground punk/vegan/squats scene, which is also a closed system somehow, with specific aesthetics, dogs smell, shitty rock bands, cheap beers etc. This is all OK but there was no place for me to fit in. The weirdest, interesting, open and generous people I found were more related to the electronic scene. Since I returned I played shows only by myself, and I have never been in a band again. Also as a record label, when I started Stochastic Releases in Columbus in 2008, I was only releasing tapes and CDRs. I would walk to Used Kids on High Street, next to Penn Station where I was sometimes having lunch with my colleagues, and they would buy my shit !!! And even ask me where I wanted this shit to be displayed. I will always remember John Witzky for that. Also they had Pizza Mondays where you would play records for two hours and you would get pizza and 20 % off. A fucking dream. The summer of the year I moved back to France, a record shop opened up a couple of blocks from my place. A couple of shops had closed before that… So there was only this shop. I started to release vinyls. The guy was so snobbish, he first refused to take my records and finally accepted to take consignment. Only one record. He did not have a « local » section. Everything became very cold and stupid, both as a musician and a label. Then I started a deal with a distributor, but they would tell me at which price I should sell them the records and it was priced according to the price fixed by Juno. These guys were distributors selling to other distributors with an imposed end price. Everybody was taking their normal margin so who had to take the cost of these multiple middlemen or go-betweens ? Me. After three records with them for which they only sold 40 copies of each, I decided to stop working with them. The idea for a distributor came when I was in Tokyo and trying to sell my records to Technique, in Shibuya in 2014 or 2015 I think. The clerk asked me if I had a distributor because they were only buying from distributors. I said I had none. I returned to Tokyo and Technique one year after or so, with roughly the same records to sell and proudly announced I had a distributor. The clerk then said they would buy from the distributor and that they did not want to by-pass the distributor, which meant that the problem now was that I had a distributor, haha. I said we had an agreement with the distributor, so he listened to a few records and finally and reluctantly bought some. The money I got was obviously entirely spent in records. I was really light years away from my small tapes being sold at Used Kids without questions asked… My experience ever since with record stores is absolutely horrid. I could make a book with all the situations, all the things that records shop managers say as an excuse to not buy or take your records as consignement… how most of them are snobbish and greedy, how they made feel like so much shit that when a record store would decide to carry my records, I was considering the guy as a total loser…
LT: What inspired you to start playing music?
NM: I started being active in music in 2005. Like many of us I guess, my big brother introduced me to « alternative » music. He was a « keupon » which is verlan for punk. Verlan is this word gimmick in french when you revert the syllables of a word to say it. For example to say « Mother » you would say « Thermo ». My big brother was listening to french punk bands, turned me into that and then hardcore bands, second generation NY hardcore (Madball, Sick Of It All, H2O…), L.A. Suicidal Tendencies… He was in a band himself and I would write lyrics for him, these were good times. I was studying quite hard but this was not the part of my life I liked the most. Life was always somewhere else. I liked the week end, going to shows, smoking joints and being totally mute and paranoid for several hours in sad apartments etc. At the end of my teenage years, after I left high school, I started to get depressed and depressive, I was mostly working but I always felt a tremendous void in me. I thought that it was what was characterizing me: emptiness. I was a romantic and the only times I felt good was when I was with my girlfriend (not my current one…). I had a year of depression in 2003-2004 after I graduated from university and broke up with my girlfriend. This year of depression ended with a cancer. I then started a Ph.D. in Dijon. I had a bit of money, freedom, and was terribly lonely in a new town, which has one 500 year old church on each block… I started to have a radio show and to know some musicians. My friend Jérémie lent me or gave me a clipper organ. I started making songs. Very sad songs to fill the void. To ease my soul. I had finally found something to rely on, that was not somebody else, or an idea of love, I knew what I had to do to avoid depression and, finally death ! Music saved my life. All my friends since I started music are musicians. Music solved all my problems : what to do with your free time, who to know in a new town, what to do when you are depressed.
LT: Do you and your girlfriend, Lili Reynaud-Dewar, ever collaborate on any projects together?
NM: Oh yes!!! She’s a visual artist, so since we started being together I made music for her or I gave my music for her to play in her shows. We have a record together called Live Through That !? These house/techno tracks I made, which I think are not very good because I was just starting to record electronic music, were played in speakers inserted in beds that Lili would show in various galleries. Each show would play a different song. Then I did an opera for her about bareback and AIDS and an argument between two important gay figures of the 90’s in France. The opera was for an installation shown at the Venice Biennial in 2015. I did another opera for a show in Brussels. This was really rushed so I don’t think this is any good either, maybe I am over critical. Finally I did the sound track for two of her movies. One is about Memphis and grills and cyborgs. The other is a parodic horror movie taking place in Marfa, TX. I think that we will still try to do things together in the next future.
LT: Do you have any upcoming events/ releases or anything online that you would like to tell our readers to keep an eye out for?
NM: Well yes, we want to release the soundtrack I made for her horror movie. It will be an LP with an eight page booklet inside. I would like to release my latest Mulan Serrico album as a CD. I am a little jaded with my label because I lost quite a bit of money and I still think that, like your label, we are totally overlooked. I know it is childish and a bit vain to think like that, but let us say I am giving myself a little time to think about what would be the most relevant thing to do next. I want definitely to make more music, better tracks, smarter and weirder offbeat pop songs and so on. These things take time. Also Tan aka Nathan Snell, whom I met in Columbus and now lives in Nashville, is making the best synth-pop music out there. Last year when I visited him we listened to some covers of country songs he had made. I would totally like to release that. Tan is the most overlooked pop genius of the world. I guess it is fine and quite logic to be overlooked because we are THE LOST TREASURES OF THE UNDERWORLD!!!
Bought my first tape at a supermarket in the Paris suburbs : The Clash – London Calling.
Got my first organ and recorded my first songs. I played my first show at a small Dijon record store whose name I don’t remember. The first song was a cappella and I was wearing some panties and dressing up during the first song. Like an inverted strip-tease. An unstrip-tease. The name of my project was called « Ton Ami » («Your Friend »)…
First shows in Paris etc. I was also organizing shows in Dijon, met a lot of new people from the French weird punk scene
Moved to Columbus, OH. On the first week, thanks to a website I don’t remember the name of, I knew there was a show at Skylab : White Mice, Biff Boff Barf, Face Place or was it Sword Heaven ? I Started Stochastic Releases first to release tapes that would be the sound of metal corrosion. I could not make the instrument to amplify the noise of the metal corroding so I decided to make a normal label, without restriction on the genre. The first release was an improv recording of Romaric Sobac, Jérémie Belkaïd and me playing keys, objects etc. it was called New French Gay Jazz vol. 1. We did a small tour playing at Bourbon Street, in Detroit at the Eagle (impromptu show) and at the Voice of the Valley festival in West Virginia. It was no fun but still fun. I met you Tom I think in the early summer days of 2008. I went to your place to buy some records off you. I think we did some recordings the same day or the day after. I was really surprised by your diet : lots of soda and mostly fast food…
I played in various bands in Columbus as mentioned above. I met Dan Olsen, Nathan Snell, Kevin Gaier etc… Then most people I loved went away : you went to New York, Dan Olsen went to San Francisco, it seemed it was the end of an era that started long before I arrived in Columbus… I could not find a job so I had to move as well. 2011 : I released the first vinyl on Stochastic Releases : Gueule Ouverte
I met my present girlfriend, Lili Reynaud-Dewar. I get a total of 4 monikers : Mulan Serrico (songs), MACON (techno/electro), Spor Tranquil (downtempo, ambient), Maurer (noise)…
More music and releases, only people I personally know and like. I am moving away from the noise/rock/punk scene. I am more interested in electronic music and dance clubs, although as always in the margin. I still like to make songs, because that what is closer to me and keeps me satisfied somehow. Check the discogs link for more info or the Stochastic Releases bandcamp.