Frenchie from Agvirre: An Interview

Frenchie is a musician from Manchester, UK.

In this conversation we explore Agvirre's approach to sound, performance, recording, and ideas about music and thematics. The band's Silence EP is a great introduction to their music.

: I love your attention to detail in the noise and rhythms and the depth of it all and the timing. There is a moment around the 7 minute mark of 'Muzzle and Mask' where it's almost like the music needs to stop, compose itself, and ready itself to continue on. Talk to me about how you approach capturing or presenting the sort of sonic palette. Are you approaching things from the point of view of capturing a sound or creating a sound? And I guess what I mean by that is are you trying to reflect the sound of the world in your recordings or are you more in the work of creating the sound of new worlds?

Frenchie: Thank you for the kind words. People who have listened to our music have noted in a positive way that we embody the sound of anxiety. And we've taken ownership of that. Not only do I often need time to catch my breath between bouts of screaming my brains out, but I think our music sometimes needs time to catch its breath too. 

There are some bands whose version of extreme music is to be as heavy and gnarly sounding as possible with super low tunings and discordant noise — which is fine and we love bands like that. But our approach has always been to challenge the listeners in other ways. We love soaring melodies and our guitars are tuned to standard to give more brightness to our sound.

Weirding: As a guitarist who strictly plays in standard tuning, that was one of the first things I noticed about your sound. You get to the extremities of sound in a different way than a lot of contemporary heavy bands.

Frenchie: Yeah, I'd played in a band or two that used super low tunings before and it actually made me miss standard tuning. Our extremities come from challenging the listener's senses — throwing a dense wall of sound at them and non-linear song structures that can weave through different subgenres entirely. We also aren't afraid to go to uncomfortable places with our music and lyrics — whether that be through our spoken word samples, a sudden blast of shrieking violin or industrial noise, or dealing with very personal lyrical themes. When we are actually writing our music we don't think too much about these things. We like to just go with the flow. But one thing we are often very conscious of is making sure our music has a strong sense of dynamics and an ebb and flow to it. We want the moments of restraint to speak just as much as the heaviest and most intense parts of our music. 

Weirding: I'm not going to ask you about the "meaning" of your lyrics, because I get that one sometimes in talking with people myself and frankly I hate that question. But what I am interested in is your lyric writing process. Can you describe that?

Frenchie: I write most of the lyrics and I also handpick the spoken word samples in our music. I live with various mental health afflictions and from the start I knew that I wanted to write about these feelings as it's something I have to think about every day — so it came so naturally. The lyrics usually come last. So once the song has been written instrumentally, we will scream and sing unintelligibly in the places in our songs where vocals feel appropriate and then form lyrics into those moments later. 

Weirding: JF and I are more than familiar with that way of working. It’s like where you just need to understand the right phrasing and maybe the degree of intensity and then you’ve got an outline to start writing against.

Frenchie: Yeah absolutely; the Silence EP definitely had certain themes and motifs that we wanted to express in mind from the very start. Lyrics come to me in different forms; the title "Silence" itself was a word that had stuck in my head way before Agvirre even started — back when I was performing in a previous band. I was doing a lot of reading into mental health awareness and it's a word I kept seeing in every article and story I read. 

Some of the lyrics on the EP come from very personal experiences that I have been able to implement into the songs. And some of them are inspired by mental health awareness from a larger social context. I also have a lust for word puns and sometimes I'll even wake up in the middle of the night with a great phrase or lyric that I just have to write down on my phone before I forget about it. 

One thing Agvirre feel incredibly strongly and passionate about is mental health awareness. It's not just enough for us to write about how it feels to live with mental health struggles — we are always looking for more ways to spread the message beyond music and are always open to ideas and projects to get involved with. The spoken words samples you sometimes hear across the Silence EP are taken from recorded conversations I had with friends who I talked to over video calls prior to the studio sessions of the EP. We felt it was very important to also hear and implement other people's insights into living with mental illness and so I put a shout out online for anyone who would be willing to chat. We were very up front that snippets of these conversations would be used as samples in our EP — they were used with permission and the names were kept anonymous. But some of these chats went on for hours and it was so inspiring and cathartic for me to talk so openly with other people about a difficult subject I hold incredibly dear.

Weirding: I'm always intrigued in how musicians are influenced by their surroundings. Manchester, or musicians and bands from Manchester, have had a rather considerable or even outsized presence within the music of the last 40 years. I don't know if you are originally from Manchester, but how does the city and the history of the city's music affect you as musicians?

Frenchie: Out of the main core of Agvirre, only our drummer Badger and bassist Dave are actually originally from the Manchester area. I was born in London. Our guitarist Ricardo is Portuguese. And our violinist Robin is from New Jersey. But obviously we have all converged in Manchester. 

Manchester is famous for its non-stop rain, love of football, and its industrial working class background. And most importantly it's a big music city. All the members of Agvirre have other music projects, some of which are in completely different genres and there are so many incredibly talented bands in Manchester that the competition is fierce. Not only does Manchester have so much homegrown talent, but every touring band will come through here as well. Before pandemic life, all of us were gig addicts. Not only did we attend many shows week in and week out, but Badger and Robin had experience of putting on shows — Badger runs a successful heavy music festival called Badgerfest. So if living in Manchester has taught us anything as a band, it's that it's important to stand out — to do something different and be as passionate and hardworking as possible. 

It's always a fight to try and get on gig and festival bills here because there are just so many talented bands to pick from. So if you aren't completely on it with every aspect of the band, you're gonna get left out in the rain. We're very fortunate that we've had some extra support from three fantastic labels — Surviving Sounds, Trepanation Recordings and Do It Thissen. But a lot of what we do is DIY.

Weirding: You mentioned that everyone in the band came from different places. How did you all meet and come to form the band?

Frenchie: We kind of all came together through luck, fate, and circumstance. I was going through a very scary bout of depression a couple of years ago and felt so numb and uncreative. I remember distinctly being sat on my couch one day zoning out into the void, and I glanced over at my electric guitar all neglected and dusty in the corner. I'd barely played it in a couple of years as I'd been composing and performing electronic music. But something compelled me to pick it up, give it a quick wipe down, tune it up, and play. To my astonishment, all these riffs just poured out of me and within a couple of days I'd written the first incarnations of the Silence EP tracks — and a couple more songs to boot. 

Weirding: Is that when you got the notion that you had something?

Frenchie: It was very surprising and strange to me because I've never written music that fast ever before — and I felt like I might be onto something. So I went to see our now guitarist Ricardo who I'd already been great friends with for years — we are work colleagues at a record store and fellow vinyl nerds. He was making electronic music too at the time so we'd already collaborated together and had talked about doing something together one day anyway. Well, Ricardo liked my riffs, could see some potential in it, and added some of his own ideas and improvements. We decided to go a song at a time and record some demos. 

Ricardo is very, very good at home recording as well as conceptualizing and building many layers of instruments. As a result, for the first time in ages I felt good again. I had something creative and exciting to look forward to and I started feeling better. 

Weirding: So did the two of you figure you’d put out a record that was more of a studio project, or did you have designs on creating a live band?

Frenchie: We originally decided that whatever we were making here would be a studio-only project under the name ‘Aguirre, the Wrath Of God’. But once we'd finished our first demo song, ‘Oppressive Majesty’, we kind of felt that these tunes had something more to them. 

We could imagine them being performed with a full band and in front of a crowd. 

My first choice to play live drums was local legend Badger. He is one of the most sought after drummers, knowledgeable promoters, and all around good guy who I'd already befriended during attending and performing at lots of shows. But he was playing in a few bands already and putting on his first festival. So we just assumed he would be too busy for another band and we tried to look elsewhere — to no avail. Fortunately word on the street caught up with Badger and he ended up hearing some teasers that we put out online. He approached us to see if he could hear some of our demos and learn the songs — which he nailed in an instant, of course. 

So that was a huge moment and things moved pretty fast after that. We had soon finished making the first demo versions of the Silence EP and had even booked studio time to get it recorded.

These demo versions had a lot of synths and electronics recorded. Me and Ricardo wanted to bring some of our electronic music past into this project. But we also messed around with guide midi-strings — and I wanted to fulfill a lifelong dream of mine of having a heavy band that implemented non-rock instrumentation such as strings, woodwind, and brass. This had been a particular music obsession of mine since my teen years, being a huge fan of bands like King Crimson, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Maudlin of the Well, and Kayo Dot. So I put out some vague feelers online and somehow stumbled across Robin — an extraordinary violinist, singer, guitarist, and folk musician who had performed all over the world. She was living in Germany at the time but was already planning to move to Manchester. Me and Ricardo met up with Robin to help ease her into British living and we got on super well. We even went to a Deafheaven show together on the evening we met. 

So very quickly we were jamming with Robin — who is now a total beloved superstar in Manchester in her own right and one of the most amazing, funny, and cheerful people you'll ever meet. We then recorded the Silence EP together. Our bassist Dave is the newest addition to the Agvirre collective who we were lucky to find from an online shout out and he's a chill and hilarious dude.

Weirding: I love the new single on the split with Dead Cosmonauts. When you are recording, what's the ambiance like? I know some people find it boring, others are completely involved in every single thing. Describe for me how it plays out for you all.

Frenchie: Thank you so much, ‘The Letting Go’ was quite a challenge for us because we did something out of our comfort zone by writing a song with a fairly linear structure. And it’s a rare time where we've written a relatively short tune. So Chris Taylor who runs Noiseboy Studios in the Salford side of Manchester recorded, produced, and mixed our Silence EP and we had such a good time with him that we went back a year later to record this new single. 

So recording the Silence EP was a strange experience because we weren't really a functional band at that point and hadn't performed live yet. The guitars, bass, and synths had already been recorded at home, so we went to Chris to record vocals, violin, and drums mainly — and we did some re-amping too. 

For ‘The Letting Go’ we recorded everything from scratch with Chris — and it was even more fun. He did a wonderful job at making us sound huge — organizing all the chaos and the dense wall of sound. Chris is super chill to work with and in general one of the loveliest and liveliest people. He is always living in the moment — definitely a local hero. He knows exactly when to step in and make his own suggestions, and he works very fast and he totally understood the sound we were going for. 

With our music coming from a very personal and emotionally vulnerable place, it was really special to work with someone who made us feel comfortable so that we could let the sadness loose. So yeah, we can't say enough great things about Chris. 

Also a shout out to Dead Cosmonauts. I'd already been a fan of theirs and picked up their debut EP. We both happened to be looking for partners to put out a split release with at the same time and luckily the stars aligned for us. It's such a great match because we all have very similar music influences. And both bands started around the same time and have put out one EP each before this.

Weirding: So it sounds like the studio experience has really helped to bring things together.

Frenchie: The studio experience is one of my very personal favorite parts of being in a band. It's where the magic comes to life. And I recommend that every musician and band spends some quality time in the studio because it's such an exciting experience. As for ‘The Letting Go’, this was an important stepping stone for Agvirre in our transition from being a studio project to becoming a live band. 







Recent release: Eye of Mirrors (Split single with Dead Cosmonauts. All digital proceeds go to Mind mental health charity. 8" vinyl will be available to pre-order in April.) 

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