Delphine Ciampi: “Music becomes richer when it is composed together by different people”
If you go to Paris and mingle with the music crowd, a moment will always inevitably arrive when somebody asks you “So do you know Delphine?” It is always asked in the same serious, probing manner, no matter who asks and almost feels like an initiation ritual.
When I met Delphine Ciampi the first time in the backstage of a Einstürzende Neubauten concert, I understood why. She has the aura of a queen. She could have been Napoleons sister in a former life and is always surrounded by a group of admiring musicians and fans.
In the 90ies she moved between Tokyo and LA working with her bands Flesh avec Le Baron and Pilar Stupa. In 2008 she was co-founder of Les Colettes, an all-girl-band I loved and whose music was rich with beautiful sounds, vocals and cinematographical references and images. Delphine also participated in other French alternative bands such as Les Bolinos, Lovers, Spider X et Les Wampas and has had quite a few solo projects.
She is known to play a heavy baritone guitar with an almost Western stance although she has that famous, magical, and incomparable Parisienne style which women all over the world desire to achieve. These mesmerizing characteristics and contradictions make Delphine one of the most interesting women in today’s Parisian music scene and I am delighted to speak to her here today.
Danielle de Picciotto: You have been a musician since the 90ies – what is it that you look to express in music and has this changed throughout the years or stayed in the same realm?
Delphine Ciampi: It is true since the mid 8oies I have been playing music and touring with rock, punk rock, and glam rock bands. I never really stopped except in the years years when I had my beautiful two boys and although things evolved a bit of course within my musical experiences and interests the trajectory mainly stayed the same. My urge to do music is not something I control or I think about, it is a vital necessity.
Am I trying to express something? I am not totally sure, but you know when you feel good, and you call a friend and chat about everything and nothing and spread your energy because you have too much and enjoy the feedback of your friend … it’s maybe a bit like this doing music for me: either sharing or getting out an overload of emotion or energy. Of course I have calmed down, a little bit, over the years sonically ; I enjoy acoustics and strings, space and silence in music now but it expresses the same things, for those who listen.
I really love the intense style you have. Is guitar is your main instrument? How do you create your sound? Do you use electronic plug ins? Or do you work completely analog? Pedals?
Delphine: Guitar is my main instrument and Baritone guitar has been my favorite for many years now, I love the deep sound and the vibrations. I also absolutely love playing bass, which the Baritone allows me do as well as guitar, I seem to have found my perfect instrument with it. I have three Baritones, two made by an Australian guitar maker from Torquay, absolutely fabulous sounding and light. Mick Turner from Dirty Three had one of them and gave me Jim Dyson’s contact. I also have a James Trussart metal Baritone, which is more electric and rock sounding. I am an analog girl, I use pedals and an old Revox as preamp when I record, old shitty mics and I move the mics to get the sound rather than equalizing my tracks, I use vintage tube amps too and I am very reluctant to use plugins because they offer too many choices and when I get lost in possibilities then I loose my path, if you know what i mean?
You have collaborated with many musicians and bands – what do you look for in other musicians? What is the difference for you between composing solo or with musicians and what do you prefer?
I have played with a lot of different people; when I was younger I said yes to any proposals to be honest. Some were impressive like Nina Hagen with whom I did some demos in LA in the early nineties.. I didn’t think twice about that offer! As well as David J who asked me to play bass for his solo album and I ended recording this song on bass and more little things on piano and backing vocals on Love and Rockets “F.A” album… that was great!
Nowadays I have become more choosy, I give a lot of importance to the person and check if we can connect, have a similar understanding of music and can communicate easily, for example, I can’t speak about music in terms of notes and mesures ect, instead I talk about colors , textures, images, tastes ect…
I love to compose solo but it’s always the same, after a while I get sick of myself and crave to collaborate. I need to create together with other musicians because in the end I think the music becomes richer when it is composed together by different people; of course after collaborating with others I will crave to compose alone again.
You have worked with girl bands. Is it different to working with men?
It is different working with girls. It’s like everyday life, maybe even more amplified because when you create you are more sensitive and put yourself in a more vulnerable space. When I started Les Colettes my first all women trio, I couldn’t believe the smoothness of that project, we understood each other totally, had the same pace, didn’t need to explain anything, it became almost telepathic, it was mind blowing. Of course at one point it went a little sour which made me realize that it’s all inevitable, but it is different working only with women, yes, very.
Have you experienced discrimination in the music world? What is the most effective way of counteracting this do you think?
As far as discrimination is concerned , I come from a time where we didn’t ask ourselves these questions, so frankly i’d rather say I didn’t experience it because it didn’t really affect me. Of course I heard things like: „Do you know where to plug in your guitar?” Or: “you sound great for a girl“ ect…. but i didn’t really notice … I kept going.
Today with all the actions to empower women in music i realise there is a problem and i would say first of all to counteract this would be to know within yourself why you are on stage and why you’re doing this. Create your own charte and stick to your own values, stand straight in your your boots, just do what you want to do, talk back, if necessary, as long as it doesn’t divert you from your path.
You have joined the ECSA (Europeen Composers and song writers’ alliance ). Could you describe what they do?
The ECSA is a European organisation of composers and song writers that are pro active in defending their rights: copyrights, and there is a lot to do with the streaming and the new generation of technologies. Their actions are really huge, as a lobby they pressure the Europeen parlement and all gouvernements of each countrie to respect the copyrights of composers and writers.
They are very aware of the dysfunctions in the music business (buy-out: big topic, fake streams, ect ect ) In France I involved with La Sacem and Unac (union Nationale des auteurs compositeurs) and even if my part is more about fighting for gender equity, diversity, and inclusion.
I am grateful to ECSA because it’s a network of fighting people. We are all composers, authors and musicians and this political involvement is a benevolent investment ,so you can imagine how motivated everybody is. We do it during our composing and playing time. We are passionate people, we care and want to leave a better society with relevant rules, laws and social values to the next generations.
Transmission has become so important to me.
You are also an experienced filmmusic composer. What do you like about working in the area of music/film? Is the film world different to the music world? If yes, in what way?
I have done the music for three movies and four short movies but i don’t really feel that this world is mine… I love doing soundtracks because it’s a totally different way of creating; you must serve the movie, it gives you a frame and a goal. You must satisfy the director. I really like to work with constraints.
Saying this i must add that each time I finished i soundtrack I swear to myself: “This is the last time!” It’s just too much pressure with last minutes changes ect ect – but at the end when I have recovered i just want to do another one.
I think working on movies or music are two different jobs and as a musician you work for the movie, not for yourself, it’s as simple as that, and you have to understand what they want (if they themselves know!) and navigate around all these people that usually don’t understand what you’re saying or what you are asking. I am also involved with Le Collectif Troisieme Autrice, which is an association of all french women film composers so we could talk a lot about this!
What are you working on momentarily and what are your plans for the future?
At the moment I have a musical duo project called SAD , with Anne Gouverneur (from Les Colettes) on violin and tenor guitar and me on Baritone and bass . We have recorded a 13-song album that needs to be mixed now. It’s mainly an instrumental project, very cinematographic i think, we sing a little bit, but mainly it’s an atmospheric voyage
I also have a theatre project K/C for which I composed the music. It is based on the Diary of Kurt Cobain with Charly Breton, the actor, doing a monologue, its just the two of us on stage.
I also have “Le Silence est une pute” a poetry in music (live guitar) project which is a duet with the poet and philosopher Elodie Despres. We perform this occasionally at Spoken WordEvents. I would be happy to form a power trio with drum and bass at one point but I lack time.