As I entered the lobby of the Redbury Hotel and ducked into a bathroom to salvage what I could of my sweaty complexion and heat-drenched shirt, I ran over in my head, everything I knew about Air Bag One. I had seen them at the Echoplex in Los Angeles just 2 weeks prior, and been invited to do an interview with them after writing an overwhelmingly positive review of the show. I was pleasantly surprised, having gone to see the other two acts perform, that the opening act was equally, if not more, talented. However, even in my deepest delves of research I could find almost no information about the band, save that they were from France and Cameroon, and were doing a small tour of sorts in California and New York.
I walked up the stairs to the top level of the hotel and met Cako, the “band-mom” from their label Ruben Nation, who I had been in contact with. I introduced myself and tried to shake his hand, and he promptly said, “No, here’s how we greet people in French,” and we exchanged kisses on the cheek. We walked outside onto the roof of the hotel and as we entered a room to the side, he explained that I would actually only be talking to Loris, as they were experiencing some problems with the drum set that Wendy was tending to.
“We’re used to dealing with shit,” was all he said.
As I glanced around the cluttered room for a place to sit beneath the slew of clothes, hats, and sunglasses, Loris walked in. We were introduced, and Cako started uncorking a bottle of wine.
“Do you like Bordeaux? It’s from Trader Joe’s.” I laughed on the inside because I knew what was going to happen next. We ‘cheers-ed’ (out of some sort of green, studded goblets) and took a sip of the wine. Loris’s face immediately crinkled, “It’s just OK.” It was from Trader Joe’s.
After I admitted to really not minding the mediocre wine, and my voice recorder had been tested, deemed unreliable, and then backed-up with an iPhone, we began talking about Air Bag One.
The two staple members of the group are Loris, 25, and Wendy, 23. They’re from Paris, and started playing together about 4 years ago. When I ask where Douala, Cameroon comes from, Loris laughs a little.
“We have a third ‘hidden’ member of the band who’s from Cameroon. When blogs started writing about us being from Cameroon, we thought it was funny. We’re keeping it.”
My interest in the group dynamics was piqued even further when I asked about the origin of the name, Air Bag One, and instead of joking, Loris’s face gets a little bit serious. He explains that one night, Wendy was driving through the rain at something like 2AM, and he lost control of the car and hit a wall. The car was totaled, and the name Air Bag One was to honor the air bag that possibly saved him.
In a desperate attempt to lighten the mood again, I asked about rumors that they were filming a music video for their song 1992 while here in Los Angeles. He says they’re shooting with Blake Little, who is also responsible for the honey-covered figures on the cover of their singles. Little is a Los Angeles-based photographer, and his latest work is a book called “The Preservation Book,” which showcases over 60 photos of figures drenched and dripping in honey. Kenneth Lapatin, from the Getty, wrote of Little’s photography that “…today we are also well aware that photography can be far from objective; that it can be manipulated; that it can create something entirely new, original, and surprising. Blake Little’s series of photographs presented here combine the old and the new in a bold way,” and when Loris begins to talk about their music, it’s wildly evident why they’d partner up with an artist like Little.
“When we’re composing, and someone is finding an idea, there’s always someone to say, ‘This is good, but I can make it more special.’ That’s it, we’re trying not to make easy stuff— things you’ve already heard— or, it’s not interesting if you sound like someone else,” and that musicality, that commitment to being original, is easily heard in their music. He lists his influences as anything from rap, to Blink 182, to French music his parents listened to growing up.
“Sometimes when we’re in the van, we just play this French music really loud. Our van driver, he’s from New York, he has no idea.”
He notes that our generation is especially keen on crossing musical genres. With so much music so readily available to everyone, people tend to avoid committing to just one type, which is why they try in their music to mix it up, utilizing elements of electronic, hip-hop, and rock guitar, with their own twists. Their live performance set-up is a sort of tribute to that. Between the four members on stage during a live show, there are far more than four instruments and most everyone plays at least two of them during any given song throughout a show.
However, the madness of the set-up isn’t enough to distract you as a live viewer, and if anything, it adds to the show. The recorded music is good, but live, the band emits a level of maturity you’d expect from groups who have been performing for years. This maturity was not granted, but earned, as Loris explains their early creative process.
“We were, for 2 or 3 years, in the studio, just composing, like, never going out, never going to parties, never. Just always working on music, and we made, I don’t know, like 300 songs, and we kept 12.”
And it seems like this commitment and determination is beginning to pay off. Having played alongside groups like Imagine Dragons, HAIM, and Kodaline, they were invited to SXSW, for what was meant to be 2 shows, but turned into 6 or 7. Loris laughs when he talks about how there was music everywhere down there and how it didn’t really matter if it was on a grand stage, or in the back of a Chinese restaurant, it was always good.
“There’s a certain level in the U.S. Everywhere, music is good, it’s always professional,” and this is one of the reasons why Air Bag One enjoys playing stateside so much, “People are just different, we fit more here, we feel more enthusiasm here.”
As we wrapped up the interview, amidst their guitarist, Brice, ironing his shirt (and then dropping the iron on the floor), I asked what he wanted people to know about Air Bag One. He paused and said, “I just want people to recognize the quality of the music, the good songs, and want to dance… We’re trying to make music for everyone, make some good songs,” and his final words were, “It’s simple.”
The following week I caught Air Bag One’s last Los Angeles show at Bardot in Hollywood. As I was watching, there was dancing in the crowd restricted by the small space in front of the stage, Wendy knocked a MicroKorg off the stage and tossed a drumstick halfway across the room, and Loris struggled to dance through the complex navigation of the stage setup. I smiled to myself as I realized that these were far from being signs of a struggle, and more likely, they were signs of a band destined to play on bigger stages.