For your weekly dose of inspiration, I’m talking to Lucas Bernard (lead) and his band mates, Sam Artigau and Arthur Marechal (drums), about their music and craft; starting out as young boys from southern France and earning a growing fan base. Jela’s music is garnering lots of attention from all over Europe even despite the shroud of mystery in their aura and their craft.
“JELA is the initial of the first members of the band Jason, Elric, Lucas, and Arthur,” Lucas says, “However it has a second meaning as it’s also the initials of a French saying that is “Jambes En L’Air” (“Legs in the Air”). Understand it the way you want but we like to think it stands for something more spiritual than it seems; the harmony of juxtaposition, merging what’s above with what’s below, sky walking maybe. It all starts with ‘legs in the air’! We’re the ploughmen of the sky,”
You started playing together at quite a young age, what was that like?
We all got into music in different ways…funny enough, my first instrument was the drums while Arthur used to play guitar! We’ve always considered music in its entirety and have been interested in different instruments. When Arthur first contacted me, he was looking for a guitarist and I really wanted to sing as well. We started playing covers and there was this spark. It was too early to say where that would lead but we would eventually make sure it led somewhere. We definitely weren’t great but we were really enthusiastic and really dedicated from the very beginning.
We were playing covers at first, it was only when we met Dave one year later that we started trusting our own imagination and our ambition became “serious”. We’re lucky to have supportive families but we proved our dedication throughout the energy we were putting into the music.
What do you do when you’re not performing?
We practise and enjoy life! We have an intense rhythm at the moment. We wake up in the morning and do what we’ve got to do personally as everybody does I suppose: housework, emails, etc. Then our first practise of the day is at 11am until 1pm. Second practise starts at 3pm until it’s finished. It’s a well-oiled machine! This discipline pays off every single week-end when we’re gigging. The progress is constant and it’s encouraging. We’re building up a strong set and living together is making the band tight and organic which wasn’t always the case when we first arrived. I guess you can call this maturity.
Who composes the music and lyrics etc.?
Creating music as a band has started when we met Dave Roberts back in France. Dave was writing lyrics and poems and was willing to write for us. I started going over to his place with my guitar and we would write loads of songs. Songs are often written around a riff or melody on the guitar. If the process is pretty similar now, we have broadened our influences and approaches to songwriting. Now I also write the words and the rhythm section is getting really strong. It’s an entity we couldn’t really rely on before, Sam has brought a lot to the band and we started to use the power of bass/drums more and more. Most of our latest songs have been written after jamming.
What was the move to Manchester like? Was it very tough on you as individuals and as a band?
I wouldn’t say it was “tough”… even though it was. Moving to Manchester was a symbol in so many different ways. We were moving from our family cocoon, leaving schooling, the country we’ve known since our birth and coming from a rural place, we were now in one of the biggest European cities. I guess it’s exactly what we were looking for: getting out of our comfort zone and confronting something bigger and challenging. We wanted to get out there and infuse our body and souls with something a little bit dirtier and a lot edgier than the sunny South of France and of course it had to be reflected in our music. It’s not only about leaving one place to another, it’s also about leaving childhood and growing up, with all the responsibilities it involves.
This city has taught me more than a thousand books, about who I am, as much as who I’m not. As one famous local band said “You can have it all but how badly do you want it?”. Now it’s a matter of “no thanks, yes please”, the city has much to offer but you’ve got to be precise towards what you (really) want and dream. As a band, I suppose it reflects what we are as individuals. When we arrived, the band was only Arthur and I with Dave helping us, and we went through a lot of down-to-earth difficulties (searching for the right band members, a home, transport, money). When I look back at it I can’t help but smile at the progress we’ve made on every front, starting with Sam joining us in September 2014 on the bass.
Moving to Manchester involved a kind of awareness and through some kind of personal difficulties, led us to a more spiritual approach to life I suppose. ‘No Longer Blind’ has a really simple, nearly childish message that anybody can relate to: accepting to see what is, beyond what’s good and what’s bad. The song just reflects the first contact that an individual can have with something higher than him. Any attempt to talk about it usually sounds naïve. It made me feel a bit uncomfortable with it for some time. It’s only recently than I see it for what it is – and was – in that context. I now sing it with a zest of ambiguity and a different energy and I love it!
I Can Breathe is a bit more abstract and is based on the experience of duality once unity has fallen, wandering in the abyss, finding the way out of the bubble… The song starts with the line: “We’ve lost everything because we wanted it all” then the rest of the song is about clumsy quest for integrity and fulfilment and concludes with another simple statement which sounds like a key to the answer: “I can breathe”
Do you get nervous during and before performances? If yes, how do you deal with it?
Not really, not anymore. Let’s call it adrenaline. As I said the machine is well-oiled. We know we’re ready for the job and that the foundations are solid. According to the kind of crowd we obviously respond differently emotionally and it therefore influences the performance. But anxiety never gets in the way. Our only concern is everything around the performance: getting there on time, wait around for hours sometimes, etc
On your Facebook page in the genre field you say ‘You’ll tell us’. Could you elaborate on that?
It’s a difficult exercise to talk about our music as our main objective is to go beyond words and formal description! We can only talk in terms of vision, metaphors, and atmospheres. We like to throw out what we do and leave the description to the audience. We like to hear how the music echoes within people.
What would you say is the main element that makes your music unique?
In all subjectivity, what I miss in today’s pop music is a sense of variety, diversity but also a lack of vision and integrity. There’s a music we’re craving to hear and it’s not there so we’ve got to make it ourselves. Our music is born out of frustration, creative frustration. One of our strengths is the different influences each of us has got. We’re listening to absolutely all genres of music: from chain-gang music and blues to classical and folk and trip-hop. Our inspirations are boundless, we actually had trouble creating a real musical identity when we started playing as we wanted to cover all genres! Now all those scattered pieces of inspiration are gathered up around a simple and efficient kind of production: drum, bass, guitar and vocals. All those influences are blended together within the quirky, industrial tradition of Manchester, this cavernous sound, which is what we were looking for when we moved here, maybe not as consciously as now though.
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