Interview with Pierre Vanier de Saint Aunay (Mandoo)
Seven years after their critically acclaimed first album 'Sweet Bitter Love', the French duo Mandoo, consisting of singer-bassist Pierre Vanier de Saint Aunay and pianist Esther Ben Daoud, returns this December with 'Pacific Addiction'. The new album is a wonderful love letter to the West Coast music of the late 70’s and early 80’s. LATE NIGHT DREAM talked with Pierre Vanier de Saint Aunay about their new album, the collaboration with the legendary artist and songwriter Eric Tagg, the band's history and their everlasting love for the Californian sound.
• Pierre, a decade after your first EP 'Another One' your love for the West Coast music has not yet faded. The new album carries your passion already in the title. Where does this love for this special music blend come from?
Esther and I are, above all, musicians’ lovers. We come from Jazz music and the connection to West Coast music came naturally from studio musicians who made the golden age of American productions in the 70’s and 80’s, such as Steve Gadd, Larry Carlton, Jeff Porcaro, Joe Sample, Michael Brecker and so many others. Our influences are therefore clearly geo-localised in the United States. This US sound is an indelible imprint which nourishes our imagination.
• When you listen to 'Pacific Addiction', you can literally feel the joy of playing of everyone involved. Especially the natural, warm sound of the album inspires. How long did Esther and you work on 'Pacific Addiction'?
I would say three to four years, which may seem like a long time, but we really took time to refine our work and our production chain, from writing to production, including, of course, the choice of our team. We have managed to surround ourselves with great people, enthusiastic, confident and inspiring, and we are happy that this is felt in the album sound.
• For this album you have surrounded yourself with a Franco-American team of musicians. Tell us a little bit about the recording process of the album.
Esther and I first composed and pre-produced the entire album in our studio near Paris. Then, for the realisation, we called on talented American musicians (Jason Meekins, John Fumo, Charlie Morillas, Jeff Driskill, Fred Simmons, Claude Cailliet, Mikel Urdy) and French ones (Yannick Cognet, Laurent Miqueu, Fanny Lévêque). The recording sessions took place in Austin Texas for the drums, in Los Angeles for the horn section and in our studio for the rest of the catches. We then mixed in Paris with our sound engineer Mark Haliday and the analog mastering was entrusted to Andres Mayo (two Latin Grammys) in Buenos Aires. “Pacific Addiction” is the result of a collaborative and international work. We are really very proud to have been able to lead such a project.
• Pierre, most of the songs were written in collaboration with the artist and songwriter Eric Tagg. His work with Lee Ritenour and his solo albums are legendary. How did you meet Eric? And when did you decide to work together?
There are meetings which are just magical! This is certainly the case for this collaboration. In 2017, our lyricist was less and less available and the project was no longer moving forward. At the same time, we used to listen Eric Tagg’s albums “Rendez-Vous” and “Dream Walkin'”. Not knowing him personally, I then contacted him to compliment him on these beautiful albums, and he replied very kindly that he already knew Mandoo and that he wished to devote himself to writing songs. We immediately got along very well, and the collaboration started very naturally.
• Did you give Eric a free hand with the topics of the songs or was there a close exchange of ideas?
I must admit that we were both very flattered and very intimidated by a collaboration with such a songwriter. Will our compositions going to be up to the task? Will we be able to work together? From our first exchanges, we quickly measured Eric Tagg’s expertise in songwriting as well as his spiritual dimension and perfect feeling of our music. For the topics of the songs, Eric had carte blanche on “Promise me”, “Can’t we get along” and “So much better”. It deals with, respectively, feelings of abandonment, brotherhood and hope. Regarding “When I’m calling”, an environmental ballad, and “Trail of tears”, a country-waltz dealing with depression, these are subjects which are more personal to me and which I suggested .
• Your new songs are not only about love and joie de vivre, but also about hope in difficult times. In view of current developments in the world, was this an important concern for you?
Indeed Thomas, the evolution of our planet, the growing tensions in the world, and the lack of visibility in the future for the new generations are matters which concern us. We draw our inspiration from this daily life, from which we sometimes try to escape through music.
• Did you also have the chance to meet Eric in person to work together or did the collaboration mostly take place over the internet?
We have not yet met in person, but beautiful affinities have been created. We worked assiduously for one year and a half and co-signed most of the songs of this album. Eric and his wife Linda are very positive people and they have constantly encouraged us throughout the realization. We look forward to meeting them and to continuing this collaboration.
• Let's go back to your beginnings. How did Mandoo come to be founded? How did Esther and you meet?
First of all, we are a duo on stage as in life. We met at the end of the 90’s in a school of music where we gave instrument lessons. At that time, each of us was playing on our own side in quite a few bands (Jazz, Pop, Rock or World), and naturally we felt like setting up our own band. With Mandoo we played initially standards of Soul/Jazz/Funk (EWF, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, The Crusaders…). I played the bass and Esther the Fender Rhodes, we also did the voices, we managed the band and played in many Parisian clubs. Then, we decided to go towards a much more personal way. I started to lead the songs, integrating the compositions. Today, we still play, but less than before, as writing and record projects have become a priority.
• What's the division of labour between Esther and you? How do you approach your songs?
Well, we are a real duo, very complementary. We always approach our compositions from the musical colours and groove point of view, and we compose music before lyrics. Esther is rather the arranger and I am the composer, she is rather in the construction and I am rather in the imagination. Our respective roles may seem compartmentalized, but this is not the case. We’re always debating our choices, seeking to find a balance and points of agreement. That’s probably what makes us strong.
• Over the years you have developed your very own mixture of jazz, funk, soul and West Coast pop. What was and is your greatest source of inspiration?
As I told you earlier, we are above all fans of jazz and of Afro-American music, and have always been. The iconic artist who has undoubtedly inspired us the most is Al Jarreau but also Steely Dan, Michael McDonald, Michael Franks, or Bobby Caldwell.
• Pierre, it seems that West Coast music has experienced a real renaissance in the last years. New artists have entered the scene. Do you feel like a part of this movement?
Yes, of course I do! I greatly appreciate the work of Ole Børud, State Cows or Geyster, whose West Coast vibes are clearly identifiable. We also follow the new jazz scene a lot, including guys like Jacob Collier or Snarky Puppy.
• Those who still cultivate the West Coast music heritage with enthusiasm today are often artists, websites and radio stations from France. Where do you think the French enthusiasm for the mellow sound of California and sophisticated arrangements comes from?
I think sophisticated arrangements are in our European DNA. Take for example Quincy Jones or Bernstein who learned orchestration with Nadia Boulanger in Paris... Concerning the actors of the influence of Californian music in France, it is a small family very active which undoubtedly cultivates the famous American dream of which music is an integral part. They have always supported us and we thank them for that.
• Pierre, what are your next plans? Will you be touring with the new album soon? And will Eric maybe accompany you?
Why not of course! But nothing is planned for the moment. All I can say is that today we love writing and producing. Songwriting is such a passionate art that it is especially the idea of returning to another record project that haunts us already.
• Pierre, thank you very much for the interview!
Thanks to you Thomas, it’s a pleasure!