“We choose the way we’ll be remembered.” The first song Simon Carpentier and Victor Solf wrote as French electronic duo Her opens their self-titled debut album with those words. Both of them were afraid of the future at the time and needed to make a song about how they should be the ones to decide how they are remembered. No one else could decide.
“We Choose” was released after Carpentier’s death from cancer, aged 27, in August 2017. He and Solf had met over a decade ago at their school in the medieval town of Rennes, north France, forming Her in 2015 after their first band, electro-pop band The Popopopops, split two years earlier.
Knowing their time was limited, they mapped out how they wanted their debut album to sound, and how the entire project would be presented to the world. You’d be hard-pushed to find a record or another band to compare it to, and it’s not what you might expect from a French electronic act.
“Making this album was a very intense part of our life,” Solf says. He’s sat, in an orange roll-neck sweater and black trousers – handsome in a particularly French way, with a strong jaw and dark, close-cropped hair – at a venue in Paris where the first part of a documentary about Her will be shown, along with a live performance by him and his band members.
“It was really important for us to be able to produce our songs, to be really focused on the whole project,” he continues. “But it was also important to trust people and bring them in; we’d been working with our sound engineer for five years, even before Her, and he really helped us a lot on the production and the mixing.
“Sometimes you can’t see anymore what’s wrong with a song, so someone a little bit outside can help. It was the same with the musicians, Simon could play the guitar and the bass and I could play the keyboard and some drums, so we could have recorded it ourselves if we’d really wanted, but it’s not how we think about music. We started to work with three other musicians – without computers – in the studio, and it was really nice to have different opinions.”
The live versions of the songs on Her are quite different; there’s more of a rock atmosphere to the show, and since everything is live the music doesn’t sound so electronic. But it still loops, and is minimal, like live sampling. On the documentary you see glimpses of those performances, the band together. It’s incredibly moving.
“It’s kind of a big, therapeutic documentary for us, because it really tells the story of how I’ve been able to finish the album and tour, and how I will play at Olympia at the end of April. For me it’s very, very strange to see it,” Solf says. “It reminds me of a time when I was under a lot of pressure. For me to finish the 2017 tour without Simon, finish the album without him… I couldn’t do anything else.”
Before going back on tour he had a very strong feeling that the album wasn’t quite finished. Working on it with Carpentier, he saw how his friend reacted to his illness: “We never talked about death, or feeling hopeless. All the time he was the opposite. We were always talking about hope and life and love, even when we came back from the US.”
They had a tour during the presidential elections when Donald Trump won, he explains. “It was very strange, especially because everyone in DC was sure Clinton would win.”
For a while they wondered about writing a song from a negative perspective, as a lot of artists were at the time. But because of the mood and themes on the rest of the album, they decided to create something with a positive message. Not to talk about Trump, but to try to talk to all the Americans who still have hope, who would continue to fight. And that’s how they ended up with “Swim”.