Hailing from the French proggy, psychedelic and experimental pop scene that birthed Melody’s Echo Chamber, Moodoïd and cult label La Souterraine, Halo Maud’s ethereal songs flit between English and French language, focussing on notions of freedom and power through a wild and playful lens.
Right through the dream-pop sensibility and the swirling-synth psychedelia of Halo Maud’s debut album, something uncanny lurks. “I never did what other teenagers were doing,” she says, by way of explanation. “My father is a reverend but my mother rejected all religion, so I was always busy having a mystical crisis.” The record is rich with these contradictions, with the urge to be both precise and vague, wanting to be somewhere and wanting to run away.
The music also has a delicate balance between English and French. Maud Nadal grew up in rural Auvergne, in central France, and lives in Paris, but for years she wrote in English. “It took me a while to find my voice, to find my language even. I always listened to English music so when I started writing songs they were in English, too, and French came later. It’s difficult – everything sounds good in English, French is much harder.” That push-and-pull between the languages, where a song often contains both English and French, is another example of the stories lurking beneath the songs – “When I sing in English, the words float away from me straight away,” she explains. “When I sing in French, I feel something different, something more immediate, and I think the audience do too.”
These songs are ethereal, they seem to float above: “Sometimes I feel that the way time passes is about how you look at it. It’s about patience and perspective. I like to play with time, in the music, speed it up, slow it down, play it backwards. Sometimes things make sense when you put them in reverse.” She’s talking about her life (of course) as well as her album: “The first song and the last song are a pair, about the traces and sensations left at the end of a relationship.”
The whole record folds in the middle, in fact, the second half looking back at the first with a flinty eye. That opening track, ‘Wherever’, is a sweet tumbling love song – her voice is delicate and sweet, until you notice it’s also spooky and sinister. ‘Du Pouvoir’, the almost-jaunty second track about confidence and finding your place in the world, has an evil twin on side B of the record: ‘Je Suis Une Ile’ samples ‘Du Pouvoir’ but plays it backwards, like an apocryphal 80 metal hit, and adds an icy rage to the optimism of the earlier song. The whole flipside of the album is a wonky mirror, with playful loops and percussion and keys that are always about to slip from mischief to malevolence.
Before concentrating on her own music, Maud played with friends in Melody’s Echo Chamber and Moodoïd, getting deeper into the rich French network of proggy, psychedelic and experimental pop musicians with record label La Souterraine at its heart. Now some of those friends have worked with Maud on her debut; they include her live musicians Olivier Marguerit, Stéphane Bellity and Vincent Mougel, Benjamin Glibert from Aquaserge adding “noisy guitars”, Pablo Padovani from Moodoïd, and producer Robin Leduc, who also played many parts on the record. Maud wrote and sings all the songs, and plays keyboards, guitar, bass and some percussion. “I’m lucky,” she says. “I work with friends and musicians I really admire.”
Lead single ‘Baptism’, was inspired by Maud’s own baptism, by her father who is a reverend, when she was twelve. “I expected a big change in me, but nothing happened. I thought, what am I supposed to feel? And now, years after I first began to write it, the song is about a second birth, from being a child to being an adult – and especially a woman. It’s the idea of freedom and making your own choices.”
The video for ‘Baptism’, made with Paris filmmakers’ collective Deezooit and choreographed by Maud, reflects that idea of freedom and power. “It’s full of good friends, women, and the idea of being wild, possessed” – Pina Bausch-inspired dance moves communicate something ineffable, the friends dance and jerk and fall together in a leafy woodland landscape. “There is magic in nature,” she says. “It’s a way to feed. I need it – to go to the forests, the mountains, the lakes. Things happen in nature, whether you expect it or not, good things, bad things – it’s beyond us, it’s above us.”
And every one of these influences can be felt in her songs, absorbed into Halo Maud’s power, her playfulness, the sense of the uncanny bubbling under in our day-to-day lives. The need to float high above and to dig deep below, from that opening love song to its counterbalance in final track ‘Des Bras’, which is dark and doomy and almost prog. “It’s a goodbye song,” Maud says. “At first there was just the guitar and the voice, but I felt I wanted it to be longer, and to be at the end of the record. So the whole band jammed on it, live, and we built on that in the studio, then Robin starting looping and, almost by chance, this loop became the final part of the song. Then I started to speak – “au revoir”, “à bientôt” – and that’s the end of the album. À bientôt – see you soon. I wanted to leave the door a little bit open.”