Thursday, December 13

Interview #19 : Thierry Los from VEGOMATIC

Thierry is the guitar player/ singer of Vegomatic a French band which took its name after a Jonathan song. The band started in the 90's and got more and more following through the years. I encourage you to look at their MySpace page to discover their multiple assets: they are obviously talented and inventive.

Thierry has also his own page,
we got to know each other at a Jonathan concert as it often happens.

His answers to my questions are really thoughtful, I am sure you will appreciate them as I did. In what follows I see Jonathan not so much as a spiritual guide but as some example which helps to give one's life some sense.

- Do you remember how you discovered Jonathan’s music ?

As an avid reader of rock mags towards the end of the 70’s, I used to see his name often mentioned but could not find any of his records. Sometimes in 1985, my newly found girlfriend left, in the flat I was sharing with a pal, a cassette of “Rock’n roll with the Modern Lovers”.

A total blast ! I lost track of this girl soon after. Speaking about it now brings out melancholy, I can’t even remember her name and would not recognize her in the street, when her gesture was so crucial ! Nevertheless I would have found out Jojo’s music soon or later, it is so close to myself.

- From 72 to 76, Europe was flooded in musical depression. Bands were playing endless and emollient songs. The release of the 1st Modern Lovers LP was for many of us like some perfect comeback of creative rock. One could again identify itself with real guys. Did you feel that way ?

Yes but I heard this LP a bit after the one I was mentioning before (I bought all the available material in a 6 months period). The actual musical depression was during the 80’s, the new wave and on the radio music with synthesizers and terrible reverbs. I was in my “back to the roots” period, discovering the inspirations of the 80’s bands I was liking as the Sunny Boys, the Fleshtones, the Barracudas, the Cramps, the Gun Club etc… I had then found the Remains, the whole Nuggets bands, and Chicago blues. These records were in a sense more human, as they were not performed by virtuosos only keen on technical challenge. But I know that those other bands were emollient because they were looking for some evolution in their art, which is not to be despised. It’s an artist way, some good things came out.

- At the same time, we were also listening to the fantabulous Flamin’ Groovies, you told me about an anecdote related to them ?

It is something personal but it illustrates well correspondences which fall in place intuitively during life. When I turned 40, I wished to buy eventually a real car to swap from the old Transit Ford model which I had been using to carry my bands and also as a daily car. As I did not find anything suiting my taste in the present car production I had a look at vintage models and I chose an series 3 XJ6 Jaguar.. More precisely a Daimler Double 6, top level range with a 12 cylinders engine which had an incredible musicality (it is supposed to be the musicians favourite).

Flamin' Thierry !!

Recently looking through my old vinyl records, I saw that on the “Shake some action” Lp cover is featured exactly the same car and the musicians are in front wearing slick suits. Like me when I take my car to posh parties ! But folks, don’t think I’m just another snob, because I have also just bought an orange VW Caravannette from 1973 ( Hippy Johnny’s one ?!..) to go surfing with my son.

- When Jonathan ended the original Modern Lovers and moved to a different style, he managed to do a perfect record with « Rock’n roll with the Modern Lovers ». On this record is the song “Dodge Veg-O-Matic” which you used as a name for your first band, can you tell us about it ?

Yes, it is an out of time perfect record. One which I would take on the mythical desert island, a sentence from the 80’s which cannot be used anymore nowadays when one can upload a full record collection on a nano i-pod.

- Listen HERE, how I managed to get Vegomatic to cover "Dodge Veg-O-Matic" on a French indie radio -

It was Muriel, the bass player who found this name for the band as well as our son’s name. She has very good taste ! Her only wrong chord was to leave me and go with our son 250 miles away from Paris to start a new life. I am driving my Jaguar to visit my son, feeding the vintage deck with old tapes. While crossing Normandy on the N112, I am listening again to all the albums released then when I was discovering Jonathan’s music and was eager to become a musician. I have found since the dark sides of the job and know what “having the blues” means. But Jonathan’s journey, long, free and independent, gives me guts in wilting times.

We never tried with Dodge Veg-O-Matic to mimic Jojo’s music, on the contrary. We did everything we could to go far from it and not duplicate him. We were rather looking at the FEELIES or to BOB MOULD sound in .. French.

-When did you meet Jonathan for the first time, how did it happen ?

In 1987, I was carrying out an internship in an advertising agency. I had foreseen to use “Egyptian reggae” for a TV commercial about the SAMOS cheese. As Jonathan did not have an agent, I took care to contact him to get his agreement…

I was feverish ! My absolute hero! To my total surprise he did agree, but I think he had felt he was dealing with a die-hard fan. We worked through phone calls and faxes on the draft as he had to adapt the text written for this purpose.. He was very enthusiastic and the result sounds like the Modern Lovers 88 album which he was recording at that time. I still have it in VHS format and would love to upload it to You Tube if he agrees and if someone can digitize it for me… It is a must !

The following Summer, he invited me to visit him and Gail near the Nevada border as I had already scheduled a trip to California. We immediately hooked together and he invited me to spend the night at his home. Gail told me it was a rare privilege, not happening often. I slept outside on the terrace under the stars where a bed had been set for Summer. Next morning, we hiked together in the nearby countryside and talked about all kinds of topics, then he taught me about guitar feeling, the emotional way to pet the strings. I came back by bus in the middle of the afternoon, ready to confront a serene death.

Thinking about it again, I realize how 87 had been intense and crucial. In April of that very year I had lost my father, killed at 45 from a brain haemorrhage. Soon afterwards I meet my teenage years hero who tells me about his artist life. His wish not to become like the people he had been seeing going to work as robots in Boston buses. To be free and without a boss, to enjoy life and not postpone most cherished desires. To become selfish in a way.. the most obvious way to be generous towards yourself and towards others.

Next year I will be 45 and I have followed the same tracks even though I have not gained Jonathan’s fame nor his genius. On the other hand, I think I am transmitting his message in everything I am doing and in every place I am playing like last week-end in Moscow where people were falling in my arms with gratefulness. I am again ready to confront a serene death.

- In 2000, your band had become Vegomatic , had changed its style and was opening for Jonathan at the Café de la danse in Paris. This was my first contact with your music and I had been disconcerted to say the least by your electrosurf pop sound. But Jonathan made a good choice, did he like your music ?

Following my initiatory journey, we stayed in contact and became friends. He slept many time at my home in Paris after his concerts. It was his wife to be, Nicole, who advised him to bill us as opening act. More than our sound, I think they had been seduced by our will not to try to reproduce things already heard so many times before, by our taste for challenge and freedom. When I am listening again to what we were doing then, it seems quite weird he might have enjoyed our music. Oh well, we were trying then to produce human robots music.

("Quelque chose" by VEGOMATIC)

- What is your favorite Jonathan song and why ?

Right now it is “Affection” because “I’m starving for…”. Each of Jonathan’s songs can be related to an important moment of my life.

- How would you rate Jonathan’s influence on rock these last thirty years ?

Essential for indie rock. Though he is far less known by people at large than say Lou Reed or Iggy Pop. But he wanted it to be that way.

- Today, Vegomatic follows up, to my mind, its perfect journey releasing a very inventive music which goes from minimalist compositions for TV commercials

(here is a commercial for Lacoste product)

to actual songs which makes you feel like dancing while smiling. Your songs are colourful and I can’t help thinking that unconsciously Jonathan has something to do with it.

Thank you but no, it is consciously !!

And I am referring to those 1987 events described above. I think we are tuned on the same sensitivity, that’s all. Vegomatic is mainly me and people whose sensitivity I like and who gather around me towards the years.

Gerard, Thierry, Macha, Eric (L-R) "Bonjour, on est Vegomatic !!"

In the next album there should be more unplugged songs where Jonathan’s influence as a guitar player will appear more obviously. I feel ready for that.

- There is a young Boston band, B for Brontosaurus, which reminds me of your first band. I have put their cover of “I’m a little dinosaur” on the JojoBlog, there are also video clips on You Tube. Have a look and tell me what you think.

Cool indeed !

- What is your feeling about Jonathan’s evolution, what he is doing nowadays ?

- His greatest talent is to last !! And here and there begins to appear more blues and melancholy. He is focused even more (if it is still possible, he has been gone so far!) on emotion and on the outlets of all the range of human feelings.

- What are Vegomatic’s future projects ?

I started Vegomatic and the Surfin’ Robots, electrosurf bands, because I was thinking it would give me access to Japan and to California where I am dreaming to play. When Muriel left, Macha Kouznetsova, a Russian native, joined the band. And now we play there on a regular basis, in the cold. But the heart of men, cold it’s not!

( a video from the band showing a mock-up for an experimental TV project)

In life, one does not usually get what one had been dreaming of but life provides us sometimes with something else, nice as well but one has to know how to truly enjoy it. Like Jonathan, I have always been interested by the musics of the world. This reminds me that I am the one who introduced him to the Gypsy Kings music which later influenced his guitar playing.

Last year I signed with Universal for a side project called Montlery in which I am doing electro disco ! This project is deliberately a commercial one, I had always in mind Jonathan covering that Bee Gees song in the middle of “Give Paris one more chance”, thinking he would understand my approach even though it had been totally orthogonal until then. The video clip where I am featured as a 3D cartoon character and where I am fighting using my Mosrite guitar puts things back in place.. “Rock’n roll will never die” as would say a die-hard fan of his.

("don't give up now" by MONTLERY, a cartoon starring Thierry and Macha characters)

-The ritual question to end, any anecdote related to Jonathan ?

As we came out of a so-so concert of his, Jean Touitou, our mutual friend –also producer of Jonathan’s Mustapha recording and manager of APC – told him about our disappointment. Jonathan not taken aback at all told us in French “le mieux est l’ennemi du bien” (the best is good’s enemy). What a philosophy !