It's high summer in Fountainstown, a beach village 20 minutes from Cork city, and July is proving to be something less than a swelter: sheets of apocalyptic rain fall from the blackened skies, a nasty southwesterly is rippin' up from the Azores and there is somehow an icy bite in the seaside air. But inside a small quaint house overlooking the beach, something discordantly lush and humidly tropical is pungently a-brew.
Surrounded by banks of space age recording equipment, hemmed in on all sides by swanky keyboards, sophisticatedly humming computer gizmos and assorted techie playthings, a man called Skully is fiddling merrily with samplers and sequencers and gazing good-naturedly at the deluge outside. ""Well, there's a lot of wetness that runs right through our story"" he says. ""A lot of water and a lot of rain"".
Skully is a tall, gangly, looming sort of character, mid-30's, kind of weather beaten. You see him as the sort of fellow who might have only recently crawled down from the side of a mountain in West Cork. You wouldn't be so far out, as he hails from the town of Bantry, a windswept ( and yes, very watery ) place on the verge of the Beara peninsula.
Aïda, Skully's partner and collaborator, is somewhere around her late 20's, born in the Ivory Coast and brought up in France, all poise and composure and small elegant gestures. She's very gorgeous. Together, they make up Métisse, which means 'mixture' in French and it's probably as good a coverall de_scription of their music as you'll come up with. It's a kind of organic electronica, a blend of pastoral idyllic shades and smoothly sauntering melody lines, all of it moulded with a shrewd technological nous. When it began to seep through about three years ago, it proved the kind of music that would quickly ignite that terrible inferno of music biz lust that is generally referred to as an A&R frenzy. A small and tasteful Parisian label you've never heard of was first off the mark, tabling a small deal, but they were shunted back down the queue ( merde! ) when Trevor Horn got to hear a Métisse tape, and sent his label, the legendary ZTT, in with an offer. According to various industry guesstimates, anywhere between six and thirteen other labels became involved in the catfight.
Eventually, Métisse signed a deal with Sony Publishing and hammered out a recording contract with Wildstar, an offshoot of Telstar. This pincer movement of a development project has to date seen a figure in the high, high six figures invested in the act. They're getting the best of everything: the best studio in the best recording house in London, the niftiest engineers, the tastiest video-makers, personal security people, and for the photo sessions, Rankin, the man who shoots Madonna. It's a quare size of a leap from just a couple of years ago, when the pair were living in Bantry. "" We were in the grocery shop one day,"" recalls Skully "" and there were actual tears when we found that we didn't have the price of bread."" But the ink dried on the contracts and the bucks started to roll in.
Métisse relocated from Bantry to Fountainstown because it was handier for Cork Airport, facilitating the relay of agents and publishers and assorted industry gurus who now arrive from London on an almost daily basis. The house got kitted out with state-of-the-art recording equipment (""a happy day"" - Skully) and work continued at pace. The act's first single, 'Sousoundé', has just been released in Ireland to test the waters and, next month, their debut album gets an international launch. Sitting back in Fountainstown as the pair play back tracks from the record, you can understand why. The music is very polished, baroque and orchestral, very lush and velvety, with Aïda's stunning voice colouring the tunes in a many-hued wash. You could be cruel and say it's coffee-table-ambient-dance -music-for-adults, songs for swinging mortgage holders. It's very radio friendly, and it's just a little different, what with Aida singing in French and English and a couple of African dialects - Dioula, her mother's and Agni, her father's. It's all pretty catchy, and kind of cute. It certainly sounds as if it could sell a million.
And so, as the rain gossips viciously on the windowpane, and the clouds thicken and squat on the deserted beach, we talk about the way it all panned out. ""I was about 14,"" says Skully, ""and I set up this band called Real Mayonnaize, with me on keyboards. We were megastars around the northside of Cork city and it was great fun, but we were kind of ropey. This was the heyday of Microdisney and Burning Embers and all that and we all hung out around Elm Tree Studios. That was just its own little world. ""The first band split and I put together Chapterhouse and that got a little further. We were the best new band of '86 in Hot Press, there was airplay and TV and we met a guy from Virgin but he signed Something Happens instead and I gave up. I followed my heart and went to Toulouse."" Music was by now off the agenda. ""I gave it up completely. I started teaching English and enjoying the sun. France was very different from Ireland then, it wasn't in recession and I was living it up. I avoided music completely, I didn't even listen to it. In the end, I didn't touch a keyboard for nine years."" So there was joy, there was fun, there were seasons in the sun. But it couldn't last. ""I hit a low point in my life,"" says Skully, ""I was down and a friend came to me in Toulouse and said go back to the music, give it a try. So I hauled the keyboard out from under the bed, an old DX7, and I started doodling onto a cassette machine and instantly, I was in love. That was it. It wasn't going to be put away again.""
Things developed a little. Skully messed around with a reggae band and then a close-harmony girl group (""great fun"") but he needed something to set his own music off. ""I heard about Aïda. She was singing with this cabaret and I tried to get along to see her a couple of times but it never worked out. Then one day I was sitting in a coffee shop looking out the window and I saw this girl loading amps and speakers into a car and I knew it had to be her. So I went up approached her and said, ""scuse me, you wouldn't by any chance be a singer?""
Eventually, she agreed to listen to some stuff and I wrote some tracks specially. After a couple of weeks of hassling her, and stalking her, basically, she agreed to come up to the house."" One thing led to another. Tapes were sent out and things started to roll at quite a clip. ""For the first time in my life, I had record companies ringing me, pestering me,"" says Skully. ""It all seemed kind of unreal.""
By this time a couple, Skully and Aïda decided that Toulouse was just a shade too far removed from the main action ( this was pre-Air, pre-Daft Punk ) and they hit the road for Bantry. ""We gave up our lives in France,"" he says. ""We packed everything into a van and took off in the middle of the night to catch a ferry. We drove right across France in lashing, pouring, awful rain, and we got on the boat and crashed and the we woke up and looked out and we were sailing past Cobh. It was just the most glorious sunshine."" The meteorology aglimmer with happy portents, they set up home and studio in Bantry and waited for a deal to be completed.
""After we turned down ZTT, there was a scarey couple of months,"" says Skully. ""We were broke and wondering if we'd done the right thing. We were a bit shaky about the whole business."" Then Sony came through. ""The guy came over from Sony and we brought him up to Sheep Head in West Cork, drove up there on the most wretched bloody awful night imaginable - pouring, lashing, pouring rain - and we got out the contract and the pencil and we signed it on the bonnet of the car.""
All the while, the pair had continued recording and with the move to the rugged splendour of County Cork, the music started to subtly change. ""It had to really, I suppose,"" says Skully. ""Looking out the window at Bantry Bay while you're recording, or down here, looking out at the beach and ships rolling into the harbour, it has to have an effect. But that doesn't mean it all went Celtic. Our music definitely isn't that sort of Afro-Celt thing. Actually, when you're away from Ireland, there's probably more of a temptation to go down that diddley-aye road.""
Much of the preliminary work for the album was recorded in Fountainstown before an intensive period in the plush environs of London's Townhous complex (""Studio A"" - Skully ). All the vocals were put down in Cork. "" It's just so much more relaxed,"" says Aïda. ""In a big studio, everyones looking at you and talking to you and moving around and because the songs are so intimate, it's very difficult for me. But here it's quiet and dark Š"" ""And it's just the two of us."" Says Skully. ""and it might be four in the morning and we're talking to each other on headphones and the ships are rolling in and out of the harbour and the gas lamp is going Š"" ""And it'll usually start with some music,"" says Aida. ""and that might give an idea for a line or a melody.""
By now, there are 37 tracks in the can, currently being whittled down to ten or a dozen for the record. Skully boffins together most of the music, Aïda most of the lyrics. "" It's all about how we live,"" she says. ""and the people who are around us. Some of it would be quite dark."" Métisse first caused a stir in the clubs, when remix icons FreqNasty, 4 Hero, and DJ Cam reworked one of their tracks. It zoomed to the top of the deejay charts and got hyped in the dance mags. The band, however, see this element of their work more as a side project. ""It's very useful,"" says Aida. ""That kind of collaboration with people you never meet can send you in all sorts of new directions, can give you so many new ideas."" But the album won't be a dancefloor thing. "" It's got more of a late night feel,"" says Skully. ""We have done some serious dance tracks but we have ballads too. The technology allows us to do so much, we sample stuff around the house. You can record the sound of a pepper-shaker and with the equipment, you can give it emotion."" Sometimes, the music needs to be opened out and for one track, a song about domestic abuse called 'My Fault', Métisse recorded with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra. ""They did a take of it and it was technically superb,"" says Skully. "" but it was kind of cold. So we went back in to them and told them what the song was about and the second time, it was unbelievable. It turned into a very emotional thing, the double bass player was crying. It was a huge day for us.""
After the album's release, Métisse will do a series of live shows and they are confident of presenting something of a spectacle. ""We just want to do it right,"" says Skully. ""We've all seen the same stuff at gigs for so long, the same flashing lights and the same two speakers in front of the stage. We want people to leave our shows saying, 'well, that was different'. The music is kind of cinematic so we'll synchronise images with each track and the way we'll work it, I'll be in the middle of the crowd with the keyboards while Aïda will be alone on stage. So I'll be able to gauge the crowd's mood and at the same time, they won't have to look at me! We'll mess around with quadrophonic sound and we've been talking with Macnas about getting involved and The Light Surgeons and it seems to be coming together.""
Right now, things are tensing up for Métisse as they await the album's release. They will stay based in Fountainstown, shuttling back and forth to th UK to take care of business. Aïda is happy with the place, though she sometimes misses French food and French sun. ""Who could want more?"" asks Skully, his eyes pinned to the sodden beach. ""We're looking out to sea . . . making music . . . getting paid for it . . . it's unreal"" I leave them to it and head back to Cork. The rain doesn't stop.
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