Remember that glorious weekend in December that we spoke about 12/12/14: The Weekend Gift That Keeps On Giving? Well, it seems like we’re still channelling its aftermath in some sort of strange time warp this Feb, with an unrelenting stream of top-notch artists taking the long flight over to show us a good time. After the Bristol-based My Nu Leng tour last weekend, we have coming to Indian shores this weekend French Kiwi Juice with his potpourri of funky basslines, vivid synth sounds, groovy french house and hip hop rhythms; he’ll have you crawling the walls with the soul in his music. Hard to categorise is perhaps assuming the position of a genre in itself, and we’re definitely not complaining.
Known as Vincent Fenton to his friends, the artist took out a minute to speak to Homegrown from the Indian Embassy in Paris as he wrapped up travel formalities ahead of his Asia tour, and as strains of Indian classical echo in the background, he tells us a little bit about his story.
“Well, I’ve been playing music since I was 12, but I didn’t really plan on being a musician,” he says nonchalantly easing into memory lane. “I had a different plan actually, I was going to be a sound engineer for the cinema; when I graduated when I was 18, I asked myself what I liked in life. Music was the obvious answer, so I first started looking for music-related subjects to study. Private schools are really expensive, though, so I decided to delve into the science of sound – I wanted to learn about the science of mixing and mastering, something I was completely unfamiliar with. I finished my studies thinking that I was going to be a sound engineer, but music appeared quite suddenly as a real option when I started putting up some of my music on the internet, and everything just changed after that.”
FKJ’s first EP ‘The Twins’ was released by Roche Musique (whose roster includes the likes of Darius, Cherokee, Kartell and Karma Kid) followed by the single ‘Lying Together’ that made serious waves, leaving the signature ‘Oh, oh baby!’ firmly stuck in listeners’ heads. His second EP ‘Time For A Change’ blew it out of the park turning the heads of music critics’ in recognition of the young multi-instrumentalist with the uncanny ear for a sweet tune.
“I started playing the guitar when I was 12; it was my sister’s guitar actually,” Vincent tells us. “I started composing by the time I was 14, I’d be buying software and a soundcard to record music at home. Being a sound engineer just wasn’t for me, and I wasn’t really happy with it. Doing the things you like the most in life is important, and it’s what everyone should focus on. That’s what I’ve been doing for the past two years and I’m really, really happy with my life right now. Forget about the money, are you happy the rest of the year besides for weekends or when you’re on vacation? It’s really important to ask these questions sometimes.”
“When I released my music on the internet in October 2012 was the beginning of FKJ,” he recalls fondly. “My mum is French and dad is a Kiwi – he’s from New Zealand; half my family is there. I’m really happy with this double nationality, it helps me a lot and brings me a lot of good things. It’s a fun name that tells my story.”
A self-taught musician, Vincent plays several instruments such as the sax, guitar and bass. When asked to elaborate a little bit about his creative process and how goes about composing and producing his tracks, he says, “I don’t have one creative process – I have many; I have a different creative process every time. You can create a song while you’re jamming with your instruments, or you’re cooking or in the shower... sometimes it just clicks and those spontaneous moments contain the best ideas. My favourite one is when the melody forms in your head without any instruments around you, as though the melody was born inside you.”
When it comes to samples, he remarks that he doesn’t generally use them although he has made remixes. “On my first EP I sampled the vocals, because I don’t really know how to sing and I didn’t really know singers at the time, either. I believe the voice is the most beautiful musical instrument – I’ve sampled vocals like motown acapellas and r&b acapellas, taken a really small part of it and created something out of that. With instruments, though,I love playing them so much that I don’t sample them.”
Having worked with Madelyn Grant, Damon Trueitt and Jordan Rakei on his latest ‘Take Off’ EP, he confides that he absolutely loves the collaborating process. When it comes to finding the singers who synergise with his music, he says it’s a pretty natural process and they either get in touch with him with a request or he finds them and asks them if they’ll do the vocals to his music.
FKJ’s reputation for his quality choice of tracks while DJing, is second only to brilliant improvisations that characterise his live sets. Luckily for us, it’s the latter we’re going to be seeing in his shows in India.
“The live set up in India is basically going to be me alone on stage with my keyboard and guitar, and I’m going to be working with my software and controllers. There’s a part that constitutes of songs I know I’m going to play that night, and then there’s a part that includes the live show that has a lot to do with improvising. I’m always excited about playing live because I never end up doing the same set twice, ever. There’s always an element that involves not knowing what’s coming, and that makes it a fresh experience.”
“I don’t do a lot of DJ sets anymore; I started off doing them because I’m in the electronic music scene and for promoters, every electronic music producer is a DJ, but that’s not true. Now I’m making a lot more live sets because they’re slowly realising that I’m a musician.”
Having grown up listening to a lot of jazz and funk, we enquired about how easy it was to blend those influences with the element of the far more recently discovered electronic music.
“I don’t think about it too much. I love electronic music and I love old music like soul, jazz and funk - I though it’d be fun to mix the genres, and it just came completely naturally to me. I made it how I experienced it and I think all artists should make music without second-guessing themselves too much - which is difficult. There are always going to be trends - the artist should just go with the flow and make his own music without paying attention to any of this.”
His fans are always something that he does pay attention to though. “I always interact extensively with my fans, at every show. I don’t really like to stay backstage, I’d rather go out into the crowd and party or whatever. I really like meeting fans, speaking to them and hanging out with them.”
“People have told me I make a lot of happy music,” Vincent reflects. “I don’t really know why, I just love that atmospheres that it creates, and I feel good while making it. I make a lot of sad songs too, but I don’t really release them. Sometimes I try to make bangers, but I’m really bad at it. I just cannot make house music or something, it’s not my thing. But I might release one of these songs one day… I’m working on an album right now, and I might just put in a secret song that might be a sad song at the end of the album. Five minutes of silence… and then, a secret song.”
Our ears already perked up at the mention of the secret song, we ask him a little bit about some of his older stuff and the story behind it.
“Oh, every song has a story to it,” he shares. “For example, ‘So much to me’ was a song that I made after breaking up with my ex-girlfriend. The name of the EP is called ‘Time for a Change’, which is also in line with what I was thinking at the time. ‘Instant Need’ is also a part of this EP. Every title means something – and yes, there’s definitely a story behind every song.”
With FKJ’s label Roche Musique having set up a studio in Paris, making it much easier for collaborations to take place, it seems like we can expect much more of these stories in the coming future.
“The owner of the label, Jean Janin, is one of my best friends whom I’ve known since I was fifteen,” Vincent elaborates on his association with the label. “He created the label and when I began to make music, he gave it a listen and proposed that we release it on Roche Musique. It was quite an obvious decision for me. I’ve recently collaborated with Darius, that should be coming out in June, and I’ve also worked with Jordan Lee – we have a studio now in Paris so we can make as much noise as we want.”
”I’ve mostly been working with virtual collaborations in the past, so I’m looking forward to making a few collabs in person soon. Just building a song is the best feeling for me, the best thing about what I do - much better than being on stage. I really love being onstage, and I know a lot of people would prefer that, but as much as I love playing in front of people, nothing compares to the state you’re in when you’re making a song.”
When it comes to a dream venue he’d like to play at, he names Le Trianon in Paris, explaining that playing in the city is always incredible, probably because that’s where people know his music the most.
”It’s all about the crowd, I can play absolutely anywhere as long as the people are feeling the music,” he confesses. “I’ve played in a cake shop in Seoul in South Korea, and it was really great, there was great energy. Even if there’s 30 people who’re really into the music, that’s much better than a hundred people not even bobbing their heads.”
As for the upcoming Asia tour, Vincent shares that he is really excited about it and tells us about his passion for travelling.
”Travelling is really a part of the tour for me,” he says animatedly. “I really want to visit Mumbai – a good friend of mine used to live there and I’ve heard a lot about it. I’d really like to explore places - not just the touristy ones - and meet people. I really love my home, but I just love being outside of it, in a completely different environment.”
About bringing his unique sound to new audiences, he says, “I love the idea of bringing my music to new audiences. I know that there are certain parts of the world where there are some people who know my music such as Seoul and Indonesia, where I’ve played before. This Asia tour, I’m going to be visiting India, Bangladesh, Shanghai – I don’t know if people know my music there, but I really can’t wait to get there to play.”
When faced with the question of picking one track of his that he feels would be emblematic of his sound, after much dithering he settles on ‘Unchained’, the second track from the ‘Time For A Change’ EP.
As for what’s in the cards next, he says, “I’m done with about half the new album and I’m thinking that I’ll just call it French Kiwi Juice right now. The coming year, I’m going to be touring a lot and doing a lot of shows. After Asia, I’m going to Europe and then the United States. New Zealand is the goal for me, though, it’d be great to play there one day. I’m doing a lot of festivals this summer as well, and as long as I manage my time and strike the right balance, this year’s going to be all about touring and making my album.”
A. Name five of your biggest influences, spanning genres.
Marvin Gaye, Pink Floyd, everything Pharrell did like N.E.R.D. and The Neptunes, Monty Alexander (the jazz pianist whose music I learnt piano listening to) and Al Green – these aren’t my five main influences, just five off the top of my head.
B. Tell us about four tracks that are currently on loop in your headphones.
‘Sunny’ by James Brown, ‘I Loves You Porgy’ by Nina Simone, ‘My Man’ by Missy Elliott, ‘You’re The One’ by Booster (ft Juan Rozoff).
C. Tell us about three things or people that have influenced you outside the music sphere?.
Alan Watts is a writer and philosopher; I agree with a lot of what he says, he’s very clever and it makes me feel good to listen to him talk. Whether he’s talking about finding yourself, or how the world was created... this guy has really influenced me, he’s a really good teacher. I often go to sleep listening to his stuff.
Travelling has always been a really big part of my life; my parents have been avid travellers since they were 20, when they did a world tour. They’re teachers and during school holidays, our entire family would go somewhere for vacation and although I didn’t have too many gifts for Christmas, I got to travel three times a year – which is way better, something I realise in hindsight. It was quite something.
I really love this movie called ‘12 Angry Men’ – it’s a movie about a lawsuit, it’s a courtroom drama about 12 guys who are about to decide the fate of a homicidal guy on trial. It’s a classic, and I love it every time I watch it. It’s about the power of words. I’m influenced by a lot of things... movies, photography, painters. Interpersonal relationships also really influence me.
D. Two things that get under your skin. (not related to the music space)
I don’t like disrespectful people – I feel a lot of empathy for them, I feel like they must be really unhappy on the inside.
How we treat/react to money is another thing I don’t like – I’m not saying I’ll invent a world where money doesn’t exist, but the way people are educated about money is something that makes me sad. Jobs centred around money are like feeding the devil – people are told that they’re only going to succeed if they make enough money and that’s not right. This makes people afraid of failure and keeps them from trying something they really love.
E. Name one alternate profession you would be interested in, if you weren’t a musician.
I’d probably have continued as a sound engineer and tried to look for something I love in that profession. Or maybe something that allows me to travel, that would be great too. I just hope that in a parallel universe too, I would try to look for a profession that was not just about the money but one that’d involve my passions such as travelling or photography. I trained in music because it was the first thing I was completely consumed by, but if music didn’t exist, maybe it’d have been photography, or movies.
Words: Aditi Dharmadhikari
19 Feb: New Delhi :: Antisocial
20 Feb: Mumbai :: Bonobo - Bar.Love.Food.
21 Feb: Bangalore :: The Warehouse Bangalore
22 Feb: Pune :: The High Spirits!!