We’ve talked with the French duo neumodel of their latest EP “Elisa”, an electronic music fairytale that casts a light on Elisa’s transition
A few electro-house sounds, guitar lines that act as a chorus… neumodel’s music differs from that of its peers as it is found halfway between dark and luminous types of electronic music. With their latest release, their music takes on a much more personal turn, not to say an intimate one : it indeed is used as a pretext to convey the story of a particular person called Elisa, who is none other than one of the duo’s members. Elisa is the name, to use her own words, of a “trans princess locked inside a man’s body” ; “Elisa” is also the name of neumodel’s latest EP released a few days ago, a musical fairy tale that tells her story through kicks and guitar solos. In order to know more about the EP itself as well as the history of the duo, we have ask them a few questions !
1. Hello Julien, hello Elisa, and thank you for accepting to answer our questions today ! First of all, could you introduce yourself to those who don’t know you yet ?
Julien : My name is Julien, I’m from the Parisian suburbs. I started making music as a fan of Marilyn Manson, I absolutely wanted to play the riff of “Sweet Dreams” with my guitar. Then I was in several rock bands in which I was a singer with my childhood brother. We did a lot of concerts. The band broke up, then I took some alone time before partnering up with Elisa, and now I’m half of neumodel. That’s how it went, basically.
Elisa : I’m Elisa, I’ve just been released from Dysphoriland 🙂 I am a guitarist. Music is just a means for me, not my end goal. It talks to me, I hear it (I have a perfect musical ear, the police alarm in France is D-A / firemen alarm : B-A). Music is the wavelength that allows me to live.
2. You have been on the electronic music scene for almost 6 years, and your career officially started with an EP called “Alphabet”. How did you first meet, and how did you start making music together ?
J : We met in school, we were both studying advertisement. We were in the same class but we weren’t friends. In any case, I couldn’t stand her. Once, in English class, we had to write the name of someone on the board for the class to guess who it was. Elisa had written Mark Maggiori, and I was the only one who knew that he was the lead singer of Pleymo, a band that is a huge reference for both of us. The same evening, we started talking about music and making some together. 3 years later, “Alphabet” was born.
3. In this EP, there’s one track that particularly stands out : it is “DiCaprio On Acid”, on which is featured a French rapper called Sirius Trema. It is the track that allowed you to attract your fanbase, basically. How did it feel to see this track and your popularity blow up ?
J: Even before the EP came out and got its first stream, we had already won everything in a sense that this is the track that got us signed on Word Up Records, The Supermen Lovers’ record label. He was the one who told us, “This track is so good ! I’ll sign you two for 2 EPs and 2 albums ”. It’s the kind of sentences we used to hear in Elie Semoun’s “Petites Annonces” (a popular French comedy show, editor’s note) where you could hear Franck Dubosc saying “I’m a star manager, I’m signing you for 2 albums” ; it was already a success in itself.
E : As a kid, I used to watch the music video for “Starlight” on M6 (a French TV channel, editor’s note) with my brother every morning before going to school. I met Guillaume in 2012 and I got to work with him before he signed us, at that time reality had already surpassed my wildest dreams and expectations !
4. You have been releasing the tracks of your last EP one by one for several weeks. It’s a meaningful EP, called “Elisa”, that tells your own story, Elisa. First of all, here’s a question for both of you : what made you want to talk about your transition in your music, especially since it is such a personal story and – unfortunately – one that is not always easy to talk about publicly ? And how did you take that decision ?
E : I didn’t choose to be who I am, and I believe that in life you don’t do as you want but you instead do as you can. I thought of my parents first, and imagining myself standing in front of them to say “mum, daddy, I have something to tell you” terrified me, it didn’t make sense to me. So I did what I usually do, I took my guitar, and I tried to say it with my music. I didn’t tell them my name is Elisa, I turned it into a princess fairytale, through music !
J : When Elisa told me about her transition, she had this need to turn it into music anyway. We make music together, so neumodel had to tell this story. The idea to tell it like a fairy tale came up later on though. I remember that day, I was getting a tattoo, Elisa calls me, I pick up the phone while the needle is in my arm and straight up, I hear “man we’re going to make a Disney !”
5. Elisa (although Julien you can also react), why did it seem necessary for you to talk about it ?
E : I didn’t have a choice, one day I laughed and I said “stop”. You have to do things for yourself, not to please others. Without that realization, I would have died slowly. Instead, a raging need to live took me over. Where I’m from, you don’t talk about your life, you don’t complain, you don’t talk about yourself. It’s a “mistake” for me, speaking out is not just a right that you have, it’s also a duty. It’s a duty to honor all of those who are different, and who force themselves to cover up what makes them who they are. I hate injustice, and I could take advantage of the position that I have to make this announcement. Art is a nice way to do it…
6. Before diving into the tracks themselves, I wanted to focus on the visual aesthetics of the project first. The covers of the singles either represent a blue and pink silhouette locked in a cage, or a castle submerged in pastel and ethereal colors ; the cover of the EP is however inspired by baroque portraits. What inspired these visual choices ?
J : The whole visual universe stems from fairy tales, so the first inspirations were Disney tales, etc. We then worked with a friend of ours who’s a painter (Rémy Wyart), and with whom we had already made art covers for neumodel. We introduced him to the whole project, to the story, to the different chapters of Elisa’s transition and therefore the fairytale. This is how we ended up with the whole aesthetics of the EP.
– artwork of the “Princess Trans” single by neumodel
7. And when you unveiled the tracklist of the EP on your Instagram, I see that you made a strong announcement, which says there is no “trans coming out”, that it is actually only but an evolution. Elisa, can you give us further details regarding the meaning of this post ?
E : Clearly, I had an “announcement” to make. I love punchlines : I came out at the same time I said I didn’t… which is not a lie since I told it through my music. I don’t need to come out to say I am a man or a woman. I have dark or blonde hair. Why would I have had to make a special announcement for it ? I didn’t wait to be a “trans woman” to be marginalized. So for me I just made an “adjustment”. I have always been Elisa. I didn’t leave a previous label aside to choose another one. I’m just me, and I said it with music.
– screenshot of neumodel’s Instagram account
8. The EP starts with a track called “Once Upon A Time”, indicating clearly to the audience that you are telling Elisa’s story like a fairytale. What came first : the urge to tell this transition in music, or did you start to compose and the pieces of the puzzle were put together afterwards ?
J : Very good question. In fact, the tracks were naturally written during Elisa’s transition. At the time, there were no plans to make this EP at all. It was only after we had decided to tell this story that we realized that the soundtrack of Elisa’s transition was already done. Each of the six chapters already had its matching track.
E: Precisely ! There is a certain mise en abyme when you know that I was born from the music and that at the same time, I am its progenitor. This is why our EP is so interesting to me, it’s an actual puzzle.
9. “Once Upon A Time” is also a very contrasted track : the melody is dark and fast-paced, but the vocals are luminous and soothing all at once ; later on, guitar chords allow for an impromptu break which somewhat seemed necessary. Why such contrast in the same track ?
J : We rarely think the same way about the music we make together. For me, this track is a big gap between two very distinct things: a children’s story and a techno club. This contrast perfectly describes the music of neumodel, it is an association of several elements that have nothing to do together. As for the classical guitar-style bridge, it is the rawest work of Elisa who comes from the conservatory with a classical training. And that’s exactly what was needed in this EP : Elisa’s touch.
10. I then move on directly to “Princess Trans”, a track with both light and upbeat tropical house vibes. I want to see the airiness of this track as a form of appeasement, but I would like to know what it means exactly for you two, for you Elisa as for you Julien ?
J : Without looking for explanations, when this guitar riff arrived, we listened to it on a loop in an addictive way, we absolutely had to make a track out of it.
E: The track seems powerful and intense to me. The lightness and efficiency of this riff sticks to the track. It is the sublimation of Elisa, who’s finally far from her inner darkness. It is pure good vibes (which doesn’t really suit me in real life, but it was fun to incorporate that lightness in that track), I’m not “Princess Trans” ! (laughs)
11. Moving on to “The Dress”, an energetic house track that is both grandiose and anxiety-inducing at the same time. It is noticeably darker than what you have accustomed your audience to throughout the years. How can the energy of this track be interpreted ?
J : What you feel in this song is something that we’ve always wanted to express in our music. We come from the metal music scene, since the beginning of neumodel we have always tried to reproduce the sensations this culture brings to the table. We were able to explore them in “Midnight in Paris” or “713705” (two tracks from our first album “Rock”) but with “The Dress”, it is the first time that we have expressed so much violence in our electronic style. It’s a very special track that describes a violent moment in Elisa’s life. Once again, she had to express it.
E : This is the last song that we composed, and to be completely transparent with you, it was written in June this year, right after the first single was released. It is the only track I have written as “Elisa”. It is much more intense, and yet simpler at the same time. It’s darker.
12. Finally, the EP ends on a track called “Outside”, which seems to bring together all the variety of sounds that we got to hear in the previous tracks of the EP. “Outside” is a word that seems to have a double meaning here, a word that one could interpret literally (in the sense of being outside, outdoors) as well as metaphorically, as being born, for example. What did you have in mind while composing this track ?
J : It is by listening to it that we actually had this image of freedom ; “to be outside”. And it is exactly this metaphorical meaning of giving birth that is there, the princess is being set free. All of this was made in order to express quite literally that Elisa has been set free.
E : You said it all !
13. I know you’ve just released this EP, but what’s next ? Should we expect live performances anytime soon ? Remixes maybe ? Or collaborations with other artists ?
J: Right now we are fully experiencing “Elisa”’s release without thinking yet of what may happen next. But one thing is sure, we want to offer even more electronic music, we want to record guitars on it and defend it all on stage.
14. Finally, there is a question that I like to ask when my interviews come to an end and that I want to ask you two separately : is there an artist that you are keeping an eye on lately, and if so, why ?
J: I went back and listened to quite a bit of Prodigy lately. Otherwise, more recently, I’ve loved Lil Nas X’s MONTERO album. I think they’ve done a tremendous job of combining genres and sounds while making it pop. Huge respect for this guy.
E: I keep an eye on myself haha. I’ve just starting my solo project, now that I’m free I have things to talk about ! (laughs)
As a music web writer for several years, I have developed a particularly devoted passion for electronic and alternative musics. From the ethereal melodies of Max Cooper to the introspective music and lyrics of Banks, my radar has me listening to the wide French and international independent music scene... all of this between communication plans for independent labels and artists !