An evening with Le Commandant Couche-Tôt
18 April 2022-
In our very first Sondz interview, we talk to Berlin-based French musician Le Commandant Couche-Tôt. He recently released his second EP, developing a rich funk and soul-infused universe...
Le Commandant Couche-Tôt is the exciting project of Berlin-based French keyboardist and composer Anthony Malka. His work seamlessly blends together elements of funk, electro, pop, classical and rock music for our very enjoyment. Earlier this year, he released his second EP, Une Histoire d’Amour Brésilienne, on independent label BMM Records. For our very first Sondz interview, we had a chat with the man about where he comes from — and where he’s headed!
- First things first, where is it that you come from?
As a person, I hail from France, the city of Senlis [40 km north of Paris] to be exact. My family is made out of an interesting mix of Moroccan and Polish Jews, so you can say that I am a melting pot all by myself!
As a musician, my “mixed” background is all the more evident. From a very early age, I was drawn towards African-American music — of all kinds: jazz, funk, hip hop… Then, a little while later, I also discovered electronic music. Add to that classical training as a pianist from age 6.
- What would you say are your main influences?
There was not that much music being played in the house growing up, but my older brother had excellent taste and he’s the one who effectively introduced me to a lot of the music I still listen to this day.
Beside classical music, the first time I was moved happened listening to Michael Jackson: I must have been around 4 or 5. Then, as a pianist, I had a couple of revelations with the likes of Elton John and Queen. The big turning point was around 12, though: Jamiroquai released their first album. From that moment on, I knew I wanted to be a musician.
Not only playing one instrument, by the way: I want to play all parts. That is why playing with Nick [Van Gelder, Jamiroquai’s original drummer] or Omar [Lye-Fook] today is such a full circle moment for me: they were some of my biggest childhood heroes…
- What was your journey from a budding musician to a full-fledged artist?
For years, I studied piano at the conservatory. At around 13 or 14, I took part in jazz workshops in my hometown of Creil [not far from Senlis]. I veered away from classical training after that. Instead, I started experimenting, writing my first songs and recording them on Cubase with a midi keyboard.
Around the age of 16, I started my first band with other students from music school. In the meantime, I had managed to buy my first Yamaha keyboard — just like Jamiroquai’s. I loved jumping from piano to synthesizer, as I perfected my newfound jazz-funk playing style. Not much has changed since…
At around 17 or 18, I met a hip hop producer: he was living in a project in Creil, collected vinyls, performed as a DJ, had state of the art keyboards and workstations… He basically became my mentor: I would spend all my weekends working with him, laying down keyboards tracks for his hip hop projects. Hip hop then was very jazz, soul and funk-influenced, just as I liked it…
These were the first of many: I never really stopped producing new projects and/or creating bands. As a student in Reims, I started another group with 2 friends: we were heavily influenced by The Meters [American funk pioneers] and CAN [German experimental rock legends] for one.
- How did you end up settling down in Berlin?
I left France to go to Berlin for what was supposed to be a 6-month work experience: I never came back. Once there, I met with an Italian musician and we launched a new electro-funk project. We performed on stage together, I started doing my own DJ sets… From 2007 ‘til 2010, I was actually earning more from DJ’ing than gigs.
Then I randomly met 3 (other) Italians, this time from Sardinia. Together, we started The Hoo, a full-fledged electro-funk band. We recorded 2 albums, 2 or 3 EPs, performed on stage over 150 times together across Europe — Germany, Denmark, Italy, France…
In 2018, the Hoo adventure ended quite naturally: I felt like I needed to do something on my own for a change, something that was more instrumental. I went back to my keyboard, started sketching out ideas and reviving projects that had been collecting dust in my drawer for years.
- What was the impetus behind Le Commandant Couche-Tôt?
The original idea for Le Commandant was to craft a collection of lullabies for my then-newborn son: he had a hard time sleeping at night, I figured this could help. Then I met French musician Paul Audoynaud, who is also Berlin-based: we quickly started recording the first EP together, Le Commandant Couche-Tôt et son Magnifique Orchestre de Claviers. He got his brilliant violinist girlfriend Héloïse involved, as well as the great Charis Karantzas who mixed the whole thing.
The idea for the second EP, Une Histoire d’Amour Brésilienne, was to go at it alone this time. Working on the first one, I occasionally felt like I had given away the keys to certain arrangements, felt somewhat more restrained overall. This time around, I wanted to try and decide everything.
While EP #1 was almost a stylistic exercise, trying to make a record that sounded like a mix of Gainsbourg-meets-Air, I wanted the second one to sound more spontaneous, and ultimately more funk. As a consequence, arrangements on Une Histoire d’Amour Brésilienne are more bare, almost live-sounding, which is what I ultimately made the record for…
- How did you find the guest musicians that are on the record?
I just wrote to people I admired on social media, in the hopes that they would agree to be part of the adventure. I was already friends with Nick on Facebook (I don’t remember how!), same with Azymuth [pioneering Brazilian funk band] bassist Alex Malheiros. And I reached out to Omar on Instagram…
I talked to Nick about Alex, to convince both to join. Unsurprisingly, they knew of each other, which helped. Then I talked about Nick and Alex to Omar. That part was a little trickier because I had to go through his manager rather than talk to the man himself, but it worked!
- How did the recording take place?
For obvious reasons, the EP was largely recorded virtually, with all guests doing their parts separately. On my end, there was no recording studio per se, nor did I have a fancy keyboard to play on. I had been known to borrow a few vintage keyboards in the past…
My home instrument is a digital Nord keyboard. It does emulate vintage keyboards but is still digital. For the first EP, Paul wanted to use the real thing, so we found a Rhodes keyboard, then General Elektriks’ Hervé Salters [who is featured on the record] lent us his clavinet.
For Une Histoire d’Amour Brésilienne, everything was made from home using my Nord keyboard. I would spend most of my time recording ideas on my phone which I would then transcribe on the piano.
I would send the demo around, musicians sent their parts back, then I would edit the piece based on its original intent. I was very much the sole producer on this one. We had a few home sessions with the guitarist to set the mood, the bassist and drummer worked entirely remotely: that was about it. Except that I went back to Charis for mixing: I know my limits…
- When will we get to hear you perform the work?
We had a few sets planned in Paris, but the rehearsals had to be canceled because of Covid. Now, I’m preparing for the work to be played live on my own. There is a chance we will perform with the label’s own in-house band, NCY Milky Band: they have a great line-up, and they like my stuff! As to where we will perform, it will probably be in France more than any other place, since that is where we got the most media coverage so far…
- What is next for Le Commandant?
I have all sorts of projects. BMM Records asked if I would take part in a compilation project they have in the works, coming later in 2022. That one is a different beast: I’m working with a post-disco producer. It’s gonna be more club-oriented, French touch, disco-funk… Should be good.
As for the rest, I have 2 other EP’s already in the works, with most of the storylines already laid out. The third one is set to sound more like a film soundtrack, while I want the fourth one to be more hip hop-based. I’m already working on the artwork!