A passion for music and story, a WWII French resistance fighter, and a beloved local venue brought together a group of West Footscray musicians who are forging their own creative path.
It was a cold wintery night when West Art Now first saw Madame Sainson, now The Festival of the Beautiful Encounter, play.
Fronted by Rebecca Spalding whose rich voice has a soulful beauty, the band played a variety of genres grounded in blues, roots and gypsy jazz, but reimagined in their own unique style, Spalding calls 'New Roots Music'.
West Art Now spoke to Rebecca and guitarist Martin Elepans, the creative forces behind the band.
How and when was the band formed?
r: At the end of 2015 I was introduced to local guitarist Martin Elepans, who was looking for a singer to join him for a gig at the POD cafe at Post Industrial Design in West Footscray.
Martin roped in his old friend Rob Mahoney on double bass and Adrien Gautriaud on drums and we performed for the first time under the name of Madame Sainson, a French resistance fighter who successfully smuggled many allied airman to safety during the Second World War. She was gutsy and defiant, which we liked!
We started off playing a variety of genres but slowly a more rootsy, gritty, sound started to emerge.
A year down the track, we have developed a diverse original repertoire and a distinct style of our own.
m: Being a songwriter naturally I’m always on the lookout for singers.
Rebecca put her hand up to sing some songs for a gig at the POD cafe. When we got together, I thought she was going to do a few blues tunes whatever - then when I heard her voice, I thought, what?!
What is your collaborative process?
r: An important part of the process, has been establishing the trust to work together creatively and to understand each other's different communication styles.
Practically, that meant testing our musical ideas and finding inspiration in the rich storytelling language of mythology, history and archetypal folk stories.
We also focussed on defining what we loved about music and what we wanted our own experience to be.
All that polishing of ideas through rehearsal and conversation led to an exciting creative world that keeps tossing out gems and is such a pleasure to be in.
Creatively, who brings what to the table?
r: It often begins with stories that either one of us might be absorbed with - ancient Egypt, the Crusades, dream symbolism, Greek mythology, fairytales, etc.
That in turn stimulates discussions that can generate a fantastic visual vocabulary or start the imagination heading off in a certain direction that leads to new material. It helps that we are both big talkers!
Martin is a prolific songwriter so he often comes up with new songs or the beginnings of one that we then workshop to varying degrees.
Once my voice is added to the mix the song may get slightly adapted or completely change shape.
Everything is possible but we are looking for real beauty in a piece - for the vein of gold.
How would you describe your style of music?
r: We are calling it New Roots Music - it reflects and embraces our own musical roots which are strongly influenced by the sounds of bands and songwriters from the 70's in particular, blues and culturally diverse roots music from around the world.
We are aiming to create a particular sound and depth of lyric that reflects our own experience of what matters in life, the fragility and preciousness of it all - the light, the dark, the energy and the humour as well.
It’s great to be playing music that feels authentic and alive.
It’s important to me to show up as an older musician/artist and to be seen and heard and really claim that space.
Martin and I are both in our 50's and I hope our music ignites something in listeners that takes them in deeper and inspires people to go for whatever it is they're passionate about. That's what we're doing!
Have you ever had a transformative musical experience?
r: I’ve been fortunate to have had many but the experience of co-creating and performing with Martin feels the richest by far because it flows organically and the possibilities feel limitless.
m: Meeting Rebecca.
What’s been one of your most memorable gigs?
r: I’d have to say our last gig at Littlefoot in Footscray a few weeks ago.
I realised then that I was singing the songs I’d always dreamed of singing with musicians that I love playing with and you can’t wish for more.
What is it like living your life as a musician?
r: It’s a privilege; I can't imagine life any other way!
words jessica dean + pictures marc eiden