Like we mentioned at the open of our last mixtape, one of our favorite things about putting those together is having to push past what we already know and are exposed to in terms of music and seeking out the very new, things we’d almost certainly miss or never hear otherwise. Doing so results in some beautiful discoveries more often than not. With this most recent foray into the unknown, our big take-away was New Orleans band, People Museum, an experimental pop duo comprising producer/trombonist Jeremy Phipps + composer/singer Claire Givens. As we’d mentioned last month, we’d hoped to interview the band to find out more about them and were lucky enough to do so recently, talking about the band origins, the music scene in New Orleans, and more.
raven + crow: Alright, first thing’s first—how’d you two meet and how did the band develop? Were you both in bands previously and already on the hunt for a new project or did this just naturally develop from an existing mutual friendship?
Claire Givens: We met at a spot in the French Quarter in New Orleans called Marigny Brasserie after a mutual friend suggested we would be good collaborators. Jeremy had just gotten back from living in Los Angeles for a few months pursuing a solo project and I had just come off of a music project that broke up pretty dramatically after 3 or 4 shows. I was definitely itching for a new musical partner. We went to our buddy’s house in the Treme the same day and started writing songs. We finished two complete songs and realized it was a perfect match. The music basically developed our friendship.
Are you both originally from New Orleans?
Claire: I am from North Louisiana, Monroe, which is basically the polar opposite of New Orleans culturally. Jeremy is from Uptown in New Orleans.
What’s the music scene like in and around New Orleans? I know a band from Baton Rouge (thought they’re here now—Moon Honey, do y’all know them? Nicest people in the world), but I can’t off the top of my head think of many bands from NO that don’t live very precisely in the jazz or swamp rock worlds.
Claire: I LOVE Moon Honey! They seem to be killing it in LA. The New Orleans music scene is really difficult to describe. Parts of it are the exactly the same way they’ve been for 50 years (Frenchmen street jazz/funk scene), but if you go downtown or to the Bywater, some pretty radical things are going on. We love what the Pink Room Project and people connected with them are doing. It’s a mix of house, hip-hop, and punk that is what New Orleans is to us in this moment. Nondi is also a very interesting performer who mixes meditation with R&B vocals. It’s a shame that a lot of great music and musicians here don’t get the credit they should because it isn’t what people expect or are trying to take away from New Orleans. They want a Disneyland experience.
Right, no, I can’t imagine a ton of people coming to New Orleans from the outside are looking for anything beyond the traditional or even cliché—New Orleans playing New Orleans. But I’d read that you all view the band as a kind of means to explore the sounds of future New Orleans—can you explain that a bit? What do you see as the future of New Orleans sound and music and even the arts there?
Jeremy Phipps: When I said future New Orleans I meant we’re taking elements involved in traditional New Orleans music like my primary instrument, trombone, but filtering it through effects.
It wasn’t a concept I created in the beginning. It was a practical way of trying to fit inside the soundscape I created with synthesizers and other futuristic instruments.
I think the future of New Orleans art is building a bridge between tradition and progression. It’s inspiring some amazing art.
If your music is any indication, then definitely. How do you two break up song-writing tasks? Or is it different song to song? I know you’re primarily the singer, Claire, and, Jeremy, you play trombone, but there’s a lot more going on there song-to-song.
Jeremy: I usually make a full instrumental track and send it to Claire. She spends some time with it, writes the lyrics and melody, then when she tells me she’s ready I’d go to her house and record a demo. That was the process for the 9 songs on the album and all the other songs that didn’t make IDYTC.
There’s not much debate between us, she gave me the freedom to express myself and I gave her the freedom to express herself. We trust each other a lot.
That’s great. And I feel like that freedom plays out in the creativity shown in the songs too.
I don’t generally like to play the comparison game, but I did find it interesting to discover you toured with Rubblebucket, Jeremy—that’s honestly one of the only sonic parallels that I can think of for your particular sound. I feel like there is this shared approach to the song structure—layered, hyper-melodic, vocal-forward, beat-driven and even a little dance-y at times. All aspects of sound that draws me to both of your bands. Do you feel like that very general musical umbrella is some of what you’re exploring in terms of the future of pop music?
Jeremy: I’m a huge fan of Rubblebucket, so when I got the opportunity to tour with them I soaked in as much as I could. Alex Toth, their leader/trumpet player and Adam Dotson, their old trombonist, are big influences my horn playing. I don’t listen to many horn players so they are definitely the exception.
The album cover immediately brings to mind modern dance and movement to me—does anything like that enter your live shows ever?
Jeremy: I’m constantly dancing on stage. Our weird drum beats inspires the atypical movements.
And is it just you two on-stage for those or do you build out the band for live performances?
Jeremy: It’s a 3 piece live band at the moment. We have an amazing drummer and producer Aaron Boudreaux playing with us.
Any plans to tour out west? We’d love to see y’all live.
Jeremy: I lived in LA, Koreatown for awhile, so I’m dying to play a show in LA. We’re definitely wanting to go west early next year.
Oh, excellent. Finally, we love talking names—can you explain yours?
Jeremy: This is a funny story actually. When I lived in LA, way before People Museum started, a friend of mine brought me to stand outside the arena the VMAs was held in. Along with a couple thousand people you could watch the stars walk back and forth to their dressing rooms through a huge glass.
It’s a surreal and a bit invasive experience. Most of the stars would just ignore us but every now and then one would wave and everyone would cheer.
I felt pretty jaded from it until I saw Willow Smith wave at us! Hah! I love Willow Smith. After that I could see the appeal in it.
Anyway, I said to myself “this feels like a People Museum.” I wrote that name down and held on to it until I started this project with Claire a year later.
Yeah, I’ve never done that. Maybe I should. That place is right down the street, I think. What about the album title, I Dreamt You in Technicolor?
Claire : This came from one of our first songs we ever wrote together that we never released called “Technicolor Dream”. We decided to not include that song on the album, but we felt like “I Dreamt You in Technicolor” perfectly summed up this soundscape we made. It’s all this crazy dream, full of our memories and color and life.
Nice. Well thank you both for taking the time to talk and we’ll keep an eye out for a live show in 2019.