Indie pop with a purpose: an interview with Brussels-based duo RIVE

RIVE‘s debut album Narcose is out on Art-I.

A few months ago, we fell in love with RIVE, a Brussels-based French duo comprising Juliette Bossé and Kévin Mahé. Indeeed, the great pair totally bewitched us with their impressive debut EP Vermillon in which they were intermingling dreamy electro pop arrangements and a poetic melancholy. Impassioned by literature and dedicated to the feminist cause, RIVE burst on the alternative pop scene with a peaceful yet powerful force.

It is therefore quite naturally that the announcement of their debut album Narcose got us all hyped up. As expected, the details, contrasts and references abound in the 10 songs of this full-length record, a project which reveals brand new aspects at every play. We had the chance to reach out to the duo for a track-by-track interview in order to understand a bit more their music and visual universe as well as their incredible journey. Stream Narcose and read our chat with Rive below.

HighClouds: Hello there. Thank you for taking the time to answer these questions. I’ve just received your debut album NARCOSE, I pressed play, and surprise… It’s “Vogue”, your debut single which was released 3 years ago already. So many things have happened since the beginning of this adventure, right? You won several awards, performed in different continents and your debut album is now out; how do you feel?

Kevin: What an adventure it has been during the last 3 years. Since we won the Franc’off and more than a dozen of awards at the F. dans le texte competition we did a lot of concerts, festivals and travels (Canada, China). We met other bands, music professionals and, of course, the audience… During these crazy years, we never stopped composing. This debut album is the outcome of all of that.

Juliette: Today, we’re very happy to unveil Narcose. We have treasured each song. Each track has its own history and inspirations. They all resonate with us because they’re linked to particular moments we’ve lived as a band.

In “Fauve”, you depict a love story trying to survive the apocalypse. On the cover art, there’s this humanoid character whose body is dismembered on an arid planet. Even if the tableau is pretty dark, you also give us glimmers of hope. How would you describe the album? Is it an alarmist whistleblower or the promise of a better future?

Juliette: It’s little bit of both. We are 2019 citizens, conscious of the current issues of the world: the environment of course, the increasing social inequalities, sexism, racism, human migrations issues, capitalism… Our generation is in the midst of a pivotal era where the end of humanity is not an utopia anymore. It’s very harrowing.

So indeed, the lyrics and soundscapes of the album evoke this critical moment. The key message in each song however, is that there is a lot of hope. Denouncing is important as it enables people to build their beliefs, to change their behaviour to reconstruct something viable and perennial for human race and our planet. History taught us that collective actions have changed the world, women’s rights is one of the best examples. If I can answer to this interview today, it’s only because women have fought for a long time – especially for one century – so I can express myself about my art. There certainly is a dark edge to our music, but it is optimism and life’s impulse that deeply move us.

Like most of the album, “Soleil” showcases a strong taste for literary references and poetic lyrics. Who are your sources of inspiration (music, books, and others) and what is your writing process to come up with such deep songs?

Juliette: Thanks lot, saying that our music is deep touches us. “Soleil” is a song that we particularly love as it was written and composed in the middle of our tour in Québec where whales would come say hi when we stayed in Petite-Vallée, a remote village on the banks of the Saint-Laurent en Gaspésie. This song is born in a single evening, inspired by the atmosphere of Guadagnico’s movie “Call Me By Your Name” that we had just seen. The Italian gardens, the radiating sun, the summer, budding love but also the doubts and the ambivalence of young love… The verse reflects this teeming life while the chorus leads us into night-time wandering. After they heard the song, some friends also made a link with the uprooting some migrants stuck in no man’s land can suffer from.

Talking about what we feel is what guides us at the moment. Even if the album is poetic so everybody can relate to the songs, it is also very personal.

Otherwise, we watch a lot of French movies, we read a lot. My bedside books are feminist works from Benoite Groult or Simone de Beauvoir. But most of all, we are inspired by the independent comic universe as our closest friends are cartoonists. That is probably why we value the visual aspect of our videos so much.

Listeners who are familiar with your music know that you are conscious and feminist artists. Your latest single “Filles” celebrate all the women who recently spoke out to denounce sexual abuses and point out toxic patriarchy. Is each song a way to raise an issue? What do RIVE fight for?

Juliette: Feminism has been an important part of my identity since my adolescence. This was actually the topic of my master’s thesis in sociology. Still today, I keep on studying the topic and write articles for an association.

Once you put your ‘gender’ glasses on, you don’t see the world the same way. You start to perceive the inequalities between men and women, the ones you could not see before even if you could feel them: to be cut off when you speak, receiving comments on your body, or heavier acts like sexual violence. There are way too many examples…

Several of our songs deal with this topic: “Filles” is about the most recent feminist wave, “Nuit” is about women’s position in public spaces, and “Soldat” deals with rape and the necessity to punish sexual crimes, which is not the case today.

Otherwise, we also sing about desire and love in “Vogue”, “Fauve” and “Infini” with a question that haunts me: is the paradigm of a longlife couple viable? Can the individual really blossom?

Lastly, our track “Justice” takes a global look on a society that perpetually sends back some injunctions.

“Justice” was already present on your excellent debut EP Vermillon. With its storm of synths, it sounds really tormented and depicts a beautiful contrast with Juliette’s caressing vocals. This duality is actually present on most of your songs but I wonder how you build it. In your duo, who is the fire and who is the water?

Kévin: It’s true that Juliette and I are bringing two different energies in this project, for the composition but also on stage. Juliette is in charge of the melodies and lyrics, she plays the piano and the guitar, often in arpeggios and her voice is very sensitive.

I take care of the arrangements and rhythmic sections which I play with drums and machines on stage. People are often telling us that the contrast is surprising and particularly strong on stage. Our music relies on this fragile balance, so we can both find our own space. I would say Juliette is the Water, it’s moving and evanescent and I am the Fire, raw and violent. Yet, do not forget that Water extinguishes Fire.

Then comes “Narcose”, the song that gives the name to the album. Why?

Juliette: Narcose is the raptures of the deep. A reversible alteration in consciousness that occurs while diving at depth. This mirrors the transition from reality to dreams, madness. The song is about letting go, the pleasure of forgetting the world. It’s a different song from the others as it doesn’t profess to improve yourself and change the world but rather to let loose without asking any questions. It’s like breathing under water.

We chose this title for the album because this subtle transition feeds into the rest of the album too. Indeed, in each song, we start from a critical situation and evolve towards something more beautiful.

When I read the title “Croisades”, I thought this song was going to be a tempestuous one but it was actually a very nostalgic ballad about the effects of time on relationships. You know each other for many years now and there’s this obvious alchemy between the two of you. So it’s time for some confessions (yes we are too curious): tell us a bit more about the little quirks and flaws of your music partner?

Juliette: We know each other very well indeed, we’re like brothers and sisters… and there are too many things to say about each other. Kévin, for instance, can seem to be quiet and shy, but if you know him very well, he is super funny! On stage, he can appear as tough but he is actually super sweet.

Kévin: Juliette is always late, works under pressure and is very messy. For instance, she loses her credit card every two months, forgets laptops stores and has some chewing gum on her passport (we almost could not go to China because of that), but she always falls back on her feet and hits the ground running.

Rive narcose album artwork

On “Soldat”, there’s this lost soldier wandering through what looks like a desert. You seem to announce the depletion of the earth’s most precious resource : water. Are we going to finish on another planet like on the artwork? Why did you chose these evocative visuals to illustrate “Narcose”?

Kévin: Water, in all its forms, is indeed very present on the album. Our name RIVE actually evokes this as well. Water represents life of course. The richest people will end up on another planet, the others…

Juliette: This artwork is another story of contrasts between this character, his flaws and this woman who maybe is a victim of patriarchy, laying down on a dry floor… And in the background, the sun, rising or setting, that is here to remind us that life is worth living and that there are still many things to discover.

To appreciate this album, you really need to use your imagination and own interpretation. Fun fact: I played your song “Infini” several times and each time I understood something different. Is there always a meaning, an underlying issue in your song or do you allow yourself to be purely conceptual and elusive at times?

Juliette: Both. We know the meaning behind each song but we want the listeners to be able give the lyrics their own meaning. There are sometimes only a few sentences but what matters for us is that these words resonate with people, regardless of the initial meaning.

Kévin: Even for us, when we listen to the lyrics again, we discover another hidden meaning (especially with “Infini”) we did not even think about before.

Lastly, you close the project with one of my favourite tracks, “Nuit”, which sounds both like the story of two lovers on the run and the dawn of a revolution. There’s a lot of different feelings going on here : empowerment, pleasure, fear and passion. But there’s definitely this idea of daring to take a leap in the future and the unknown. So are you already thinking about what’s coming next?

Kévin: Yes. We are going to Brazil at the end of the month to play at several festivals. We want to make the crowd discover our songs and we hope they will be touched. Furthermore, we are already writing new songs that we will record very soon.

Juliette: Otherwise, as citizens, on a bigger scale, we are going to attend some incredible collective movements. What we are going to live in the coming years will be particularly striking.

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