It was 1995 when the band the Little Rabbits, from Nantes, France, first came to Tucson to record with local record producer Jim Waters in his Waterworks studio. Excited by his work with the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and other bands, the Little Rabbits came to Tucson looking for some magic--and found it, big-time.
Several more trips to Tucson to record several more records followed, eventually resulting in five releases and friendships with numerous local musicians. Tucson bands started making their way to Nantes to play shows and tour around France. Doo Rag, Jeff Grubic's Ad Nauseam Project, Bebe and Serge, Bob Log III, Coin and the Pork Torta were all booked and promoted by Little Rabbits drummer Eric Pifeteau.
Flash forward to November 2005, when things really heated up with the epic "We Got Cactus" tour. "We Got Cactus" took eight Tucson-based acts, flew them to Nantes and moved them around for 11 shows in 13 days in France and Switzerland. Local acts Al Perry, the Pork Torta, Al Foul, Electroshockbox, Coin, the Solace Bros., Bob Log III and Bebe and Serge brought their genre-bending, desert-drenched music to European crowds. The Nantes crew hosted them, drove them around, ran sound, DJ'd between sets and generally helped keep the Tucson horde on track.
With Nantes and Tucson having become something like musical sister cities, the next logical step was to have French artists visit Tucson en masse. Pifeteau, who now plays in the band French Cowboy with other ex-members of the Little Rabbits (they broke up in 2005), and several others had formed Havalina Records to release records by French Cowboy and other acts. Pifeteau and Havalina Records label co-manager Laurent Mareschal have become the principal organizers of what has been dubbed Some French Friends, subtitled "From Ouest to West, Nantes in Tucson" ("Ouest" being French for "West," and Nantes being in the west of France, which spreads out over several local venues in Tucson Aug. 20-27.
Some French Friends promises to be one of the most vital cultural events of the year in Tucson. The scope of it is ambitious, to say the least. In addition to French Cowboy, music acts include Katerine, who has achieved stardom in France in the last couple of years; Françoiz Breut, who has played and recorded with Calexico; jazz player and composer François Ripoche, who worked with Tucson saxophone player Jeff "Mr Tidypaws" Grubic on a live soundtrack for the 1955 Mexican horror film El Vampiro in Nantes, in 2005; Dominique A, who has played with everyone listed above; DJ The French Tourist; and rockers Papier Tigre, from a younger collective of musicians in Nantes called Effervescence. Local acts Golden Boots, Al Foul, the Solace Bros. and Grubic are also included in the week-long party.
But the music is just part of the story, and Some French Friends is bringing much more with it to Tucson, with visual art, film and theater all figuring into the equation.
Video artist Pierrick Sorin; plasticians, video artists and musicians Florian and Michael Quistrebert; and Block, a collective of three architects and land artists, will also be coming. Filmmaker Didier Poiraud will screen his film Atomik Circus, starring Vanessa Paradis and featuring music by the Little Rabbits and several Tucson musicians, including Danny Walker (aka "Serge"), Naim Amor, the Jons and Jeff Grubic; Grubic and several of the Nantes musicians will provide a live soundtrack and dialogue for a screening of El Vampiro.
Finally, theater director Hervé Guilloteau will present a monologue about immigration, Untitled, that will feature a live soundtrack by Federico Pellegrini of the French Cowboy/Little Rabbits axis. Local venues include Club Congress, Plush, Che's Lounge, the Loft Cinema, the Temple of Music and Art, and the Rocket Gallery (part of Dinnerware).
The mythology of the American West seems to play well in the European imagination. Europeans often make pilgrimages to the American West in search of wide-open spaces and a feel for the Wild West, as anyone who has spent time in a National Park can attest. Did this play into the Little Rabbits coming to Tucson initially, or in the whole "From Ouest to West" thing in any way? The band is, after all, called French Cowboy.
"The Little Rabbits first (came) to Tucson to record with Jim Waters," says Pifeteau. "At that time, we thought he lived in New York City (previous home to Waterworks). When he told us to come to Tucson, we had to look at a map to see where it was situated. It was Sept. 1, 1995, and when the airport doors opened, we took a big breath of the hottest wind we'd ever took. On our way to downtown, our eyes were wide open; nobody said a word. We couldn't believe we were here to record."
And the characters they found here?
"Bloat Records (home to Bebe and Serge, Pork Torta and several other acts in this orbit) is a big farm with so many cowboys on it. These guys are Western characters, even if they're not all from the Southwest. ... Al Foul is a teller of stories; you could imagine Al in the desert around a fire singing his songs to other cowboys. Bob Log is more of a Mad Max cowboy. Serge, Japanese immigrant, is wise with so many secrets, like there always are in the Western movies."
And French Cowboy?
"We call it French Cowboy, because one day, Federico came back from a thrift store with a big cowboy hat, and Jim Waters called him French Cowboy. First, it became a song on the Atomik Circus soundtrack, and after that, the name of our new band."