Les Chauds Lapins come from Brooklyn but sing in French with a dash of banjo and ukulele.The world upside-down.
By Xavier K. Richard
Their delivery is inspired by ghosts of Charles Trenet and Edith Piaf, such a love affair of Americans for Paris... New York Francophilia -- has it come to the point of offering the world a musical group who interprets the greats of the French chanson?
What might seem an exercise in style is revealed to be a passionate love story: Les Chauds Lapins, lovers of Trenet, Piaf, and of French chanson of 1920 through 1940, all with the pretty accent of Shakespeare.
For the band, it's not a question of nostalgia, but really of discovery. "From the point of view of a Francophone, it's probably difficult to imagine never having heard the songs of Charles Trenet," says Kurt Hoffman, leader of the group alongside Meg Reichardt. "For me, that was like discovering a treasure chest. Moreover, we were inevitably interested in the American influences on France: jazz and swing."
The peculiarity of the group is therefore pleasing two different audiences: for Francophones we appreciate the American accent of singer Meg Reichardt; in Brooklyn it is the French songs themselves which charm. But for the Americans to understand French music, it's necessary at each concert to put it in context and explain a lot of things about the songs.
" You have to understand that when New Yorkers thing of French chanson, they think of Edith Piaf, Serge Gainsbourg, and maybe the yé-yé groups of the sixties. That's about it. The first time I performed a Charles Trenet song in public, a guy came up to me to ask if the song was by Gainsbourg. What's important is that French chanson still generally seems cool here, which might not be the case, I imagine, for Korean song, or Czech song."
Which is to say, the glamor of France always has a place in intellectual milieus in the Big Apple. But the reverse is also true. Les Chauds Lapins have played but once in Paris, to a packed room. Which moved one spectator to say that Les Chauds Lapins should really be the American ambassadors to the U.N.!
Has this experience sufficiently seduced them into moving to France eventually? "I'd love to return to France, but I know I couldn't live there. Paris is great, but New York is home..." Which hasn't stopped them from coming to Quebec now for a few days, with an album -- Parlez-moi d'amour -- which came out a little earlier this year. A first for the group which, ever since its formation, has hoped to come here. And now it will come to pass.
With a typically English black humor, the group looks forward to finding the audience of their dreams here. When we asked Kurt Hoffman what kind of an audience he hopes to see at their concerts on Quebec soil, he responded: "They'll be half-naked and buying each other lots of cocktails. A lively crowd without inhibitions, cultivated but irresistable. Oh yes, and they'll drive sports cars."
What would honor Les Chauds Lapins: lots
of little rabbits in heat who dance to swing...