Giving la vie Parisienne a whirl strikes the right note
Jazz-pop pair Carosel were doing well in Ireland but couldn't resist the City of Light, discovers Aoife Drew
'I'VE done things here that I never thought I would do," chuckles the gorgeous Kildare native and now Parisienne singer Michelle Phelan, of up-and-coming pop duo Carosel, over drinks in a brasserie on a warm spring evening in Paris.
There has been the gig in the rambling old mansion near Toulouse, where the owner fed the band and the entire audience almond tart; and the surreal festival in the Bastille quarter of Paris, where a woman created a dress in front of the audience behind glass windows while Carosel performed live. Not to mention a trip to a naturist colony for a holiday, a new experience for a girl more used to the "Irish Catholic shimmy" of undressing underneath a towel. When in France ...
Michelle and her boyfriend Pete McGrane -- Carosel's other half and originally from Rathfarnham in Dublin -- both love Paris. The feeling seems to be mutual. Since moving over last year, they've been performing their feel-good brand of jazz-pop nationwide, have been called a tendance or trend by Rolling Stone and launched their EP, Star, at the Irish Embassy.
They've also played live for millions of listeners on Radio France Culture and, most recently, were interviewed by broadsheet Le Nouvel Obs. Nos amis les Francais are very impressed. Michelle and Pete combine carefree melodies, sweet vocals and musical skill with an aim to entertain.
"Audiences are really different here," Michelle says. "The other night, we played in a rock bar. There was a heavy rock band on before us. I was sitting there thinking, 'Oh no, how are we going to get up there after this, it's a disaster.' And then, when it was our turn to go up (on stage), everybody just sat down and the room got very quiet -- they just listened and were so attentive," she says, amazed. "They really listen and I guess they respect what you are, and it was probably one of our most enjoyable gigs."
Carosel's music is upbeat, and as Pat Kenny once put it, is "a musical antidote to the times we live in". Tracks such as Take Me have a strong beat and groove along easily -- think happy Lily Allen.
Their influences are wide-ranging: Pete is a skilled flamenco guitarist, and has studied classical and folk- guitar styles. Michelle mentions Feist, Regina Spektor and Bill Withers as inspirations. She texts a friend with a "tune of the day", which helps her to listen to a variety of musicians and keep new ideas flowing.
The singer/songwriter is down to earth and easy-going. She is delighted with the unexpected journey Carosel is taking the couple on. As an ex-student of nutrition and as a daughter of a chef, she thought she would go into a career associated with food. She still maintains this passion and has a blog called Green Tea & Biscuits, where she shares her love for food and health tips, as well as the reasons behind "why sex is just so good for you".
Renowned for romance and boasting a rich culinary history, it's not hard to see why France would be attractive to Michelle. But it's less known as a mecca for musicians. Why did Carosel make the move, especially as they were doing so well in Ireland, with lots of positive mentions in the press, appearances on The Late Late Show as well as performances at festivals such as Oxegen and the Cork Jazz Festival? Seems like it was a simple twist of fate.
"We always had itchy feet, wanting to travel," says Michelle. "France is somewhere I've been obsessed with forever ... and then, one night we were at a gig in Dublin and an Irish guy based in Paris was there and he said, 'I really love what you do, why don't you come over to Paris and do a few gigs, I'll book you some.' I thought, 'Yeah, right,' but he contacted me on Facebook and he booked us five gigs in two weeks, so we came over."
They loved their initial taste of the city, and made a quick decision to find an apartment and things took off from there.
What next for the pair? First, a well-deserved break from their whirlwind touring sessions, with possibly a trip to a remote hilltop village in the middle of the Pyrenees.
Then back to work, with a focus on their second album, which they hope to release at the end of the summer. What can we expect? "Our new album is going to more personal," says Michelle. "It'll be based on all my relationships, with friends, family, my new life here, because it's quite different. It's a big change."
If the tunes are half as catchy and uplifting as those on their recent EP, it will continue to be la belle vie for Carosel.
Visit www.carosel.net for more information
Sunday Indo Living