Uniform Motion are a duo formed by English songwriter Andy Richards and French illustrator Renaud Forestie, then joined by drummer and polistrumentist Olivier Piotte. They are quite an unusual offer in international indie music: in their live shows, Andy and Olivier give a soundtrack to Renaud's visual arts, which are projected on a screen.
Their last record, "One Frame Per Second", is a sort of minor concept album: the main character is the helpless but hard-fighting little prince on the album's cover.
We met Andy Richards and we found him open and with the right dose of idealism, but also with very clear ideas on his band's musical direction and a sharp and disenchanted vision on music business.
What is there behind the name Uniform Motion? Why did you choose it, what does it stand for?
Uniform Motion started off as a lyric in a song, which was meant to mean something like "we go through life in a continual straight line and the trajectory we are on will never change unless something, or someone, hits us."
I later found out that it means more or less the same thing in physics, but refers to objects and planets. They teach the concept in maths! Maybe I already knew what it meant but I didn't come up with it consciously.
It just seemed like to summed up the style of music I was playing at the time and I thought it sounded nice!
How/where did you two guys meet? How did the project Uniform Motion begin?
Renaud and I met at work. He was in the office next to mine. We chatted about music and realised we had similar taste. Renaud offered to do some graphic design work for the album I was working on and the partnership grew and grew until he ended up on stage, drawing illustrations for the songs and singing backing vocals.
How would you describe this project?
We describe it as an illustrated indie-folk band combining music and visual arts. Musically, I would describe it as being laid back acoustic guitar based music. Graphically, I would describe it as laid back graphical pen based drawings!
How do you combine visuals and music? What is the process that leads to their "fusion" in your songs?
Both sides influence one another to a certain degree. The first album had already been composed when we started working together so the drawings were an alternative interpretation of the songs, but from the second, I would compose the music and and lyrics with the visual element in mind and by the third, we had a main character (Little Knight) and a story to work from.
In 2010 the drummer Olivier Piotte joined the band. How did your sound change since then?
Olivier's arrival in the band injected some much needed dynamics. At the time, I was looping vocals and guitars, and basslines on stage and it was a very cerebral experience. It was like being a tap dancing shoegazer, pressing buttons and whatnot. It was sort of painful to do as well! Now that Olivier, a one-man-band who can play drums, keyboards and sing backing vocals all at the same time, is here, I can focus on the interpretation of the vocals and rhythm guitar and actually enjoy our concerts! And that's what playing music is all about.
How do you start composing your songs? Do you start from lyrics or from music? Do you compose on acoustic guitar?
The songs always start with the strumming of an acoustic guitar.
Sometimes, it might just be a short riff, which gets recorded, copied and pasted on the computer. Sometimes, I'll compose a full song over the course of several days or weeks, just playing the chords until something finite comes out of it. But the lyrics always come towards the end. Certain words or phonetics get stuck during the process and can no longer be removed from the song but I generally only make sense of it all several months after the song is recorded, sometimes, never!
Half French and half English. What are the influences of Uniform Motion?
According to last.fm:
Grizzly Bear, Fleet Foxes, TV on The Radio, Why?, Elbow, The White Birch, Bon Iver, Liars, Pinback, Midlake for me. Tom Waits, Herman Düne, Iron & Wine, The National, Why? Will Oldham, Buck 65, Johnny Cash, A Silver Mt. Zion, Belle & Sebastian for Renaud. Olivier doesn't use last.fm, but his taste is pretty similar as well.
The cover of your last record has a sort of fairy-tale mood. Do you think sometimes you have to be a child at heart to see things more truthfully?
The truth is in the eye of the beholder so if being a child at heart means seeing the world with wonder instead of seeing it with dread, I certainly prefer to believe my child-at-heart eyes!
Drawing on your song "Our Hearts Have Been Misplaced In A Secret Location", in which place do you like to keep your heart?
I like to keep it at home, which is where it belongs. (reference to a song by Hood inside)
What's the force which drives you into writing music? Do you think there is still a reason for pop music (apart from money and success)?
It's all about what makes you feel good. I feel good when I'm creating songs. If I spend too much time away from my guitar, I don't. Unless you say something really hurtful towards someone in a song, I don't think you can do any harm when you write music. But you can definitely do some good.
The right melody, accompanied by the right lyric, can provide comfort to people. It can provide strength. It can make you think. Money and success can be a part of that of course but there's nothing wrong with pop music if it makes you happy to listen to it!
Any chance to see your next record on a label? Or do you prefer to have complete control over your project and publish it on your own?
It's doubtful. We're not exactly drowning in offers from record labels. In fact, we have never received a single offer from a commercial label. I say commercial because we released our first album via Aaahh Records, a Creative Commons netlabel. I don't have anything against labels in general but I do believe that they're no longer necessary. Not being necessary doesn't mean they should not exist, or that there's no value in working with one, but until a few years ago, you couldn't self release music and gain access to fans as easily as you can today. You really needed a label to be able to release a record. I'm interested in making music and I'd prefer to spend my time composing, recording and playing concerts rather than chasing after a record label. If a label approached us, we'd discuss what they could bring to the table and decide if it makes sense to work together but pigs would probably be flying in remote controlled helicopters by then!
Therefore, doing things independently is both a choice and a constraint but it hasn't stopped Uniform Motion from existing and releasing music and until something, or someone, hits us, we're going to stay on this path.
You recently decided to show how much you earn from each platform where your album is streaming. What do you think about music industry in the digital era?
I decided to publish that information on our blog following a discussion I had with a friend. He was confused about how to best support independent musicians. I explained how much money we were making off different platforms and he suggested I publish the information to make it easier for our fans to decide how best to support us. The article ended up being reposted on quite a few websites and sparked off a few heated debates, which is a good thing, I suppose. As for the music industry, it's difficult to provide any opinions as I'm not really sure what the music industry is. As a DIY artist, I don't really feel part of it.
What I do know is that the more we play, the more music we release, the more things we do, the more people we talk to, the more fans we gain, and the more income we get so I don't think there is anything fundamentally wrong with the digital era in terms of how musicians and fans can co-exist but maybe there's a problem with all the middlemen who used to make more money connecting all those dots!
When the telecom switch was invented, human operators were made redundant but it didn't make communication redundant, far from it. What's important is the conversation. The operator was there to enable the conversation, until it was no longer necessary.
You have an active Facebook page, where you nicely interact with your (very attentive) followers. What is your relationship with your fans? What does their feedback mean to you?
This is the best part of the digital era. Interactions. A month before we released our last album, a guy on Facebook left us a message. "Are you going to release your album on vinyl?"
I replied "No, I'm sorry, but it's too expensive for us and I doubt we would sell any". Then I felt a little bad about closing the door on him and followed up with a message saying that it would cost us about 1,000 euros to press some vinyl, which was what it would cost to have the minimum order of 250 copies pressed. All he had to was help us find 66.77777 people to pre-order the record at 15 euros and that we would do it!
Two months later, the vinyls arrived (we've sold about 100 copies now) and it sounded great! :) I never thought I would ever release an album on vinyl.
We just about finished booking an eight-day tour of Germany in June this year, which was set up almost entirely with the help of fans on Facebook, who contacted venues on our behalf and did some lobbying to get us booked for a show!
It feels like being part of a team and it makes to you feel like you're providing something of value, because people are taking the time to interact with you, and help you further develop the project.
How do you live your relationship with live performances? What are your feelings when you are on stage?
Live performance rhymes with hard work rehearsing the songs to make them concert worthy, lots of driving in the car/van to get from venue to venue, lots of waiting between the soundcheck and stage time, lots of stress thinking about whether you're going to mess up the gig, sing the wrong words, sing them totally out of tune and make an utter fool of yourself. But there's nothing better than playing a song to a captive audience and having the feeling that you've made a connection somehow. So it's a love/hate relationship. Recently, I've started feeling better about playing live.
What has the audience to expect from your live performance?
As for the audience and what they can expect, it's an audio-visual experience. The visual side is entertaining in the sense that Renaud's drawings provide a lighter interpretation of the songs. It's also quite fascinating to see an artist draw a picture from scratch on the screen. It's especially important for people who don't understand English (90% of the French population!) as it helps them understand what the songs are about.
Any chance to see you in Italy for a short tour?
I would love to play in Italy again (I toured Italy with my former band and really loved it!) but we don't have any current plans as we don't really have a huge following in Italy.
And what are your future projects?
We'll be touring Germany in June, there was talk of a short tour in Spain as well. We have a few gigs lined up in France as well and we might be doing a few festivals this summer.
We'll be starting work on a new album soon. A new website is on its way too. We're just going to keep chugging on!
P.S. Do you want to help Uniform Motion's little knight in his travel around the world? All you have to do is download the pdf file containing templates of cut-out little knights form the band's web site. Then take a picture or shoot a short clip of him anywhere you like and send it to the band. It will be featured in the next Uniform Motion video. And you'll know that you helped him in the quest to find his lost princess...