Men of the Moment

French Horn Rebellion

Every month, a small crop of stylish guys light up the cultural calendar with their contributions to the musical, cinematic, artistic or gastronomic canons. For the first installment in a series highlighting those men and their work, we catch up with the eclectic musical duo French Horn Rebellion to talk about touring, Canadian Football and their debut album, out today.
Photo: Henry Fellows

French Horn Rebellion

Equal parts seventies funk, eighties New Wave, and nineties electronica, French Horn Rebellion was founded by Milwaukeean brothers David and Robert Perlick-Molinari in the summer of 2007. At the time, David was a pioneering producer who had helmed MGMT’s breakthrough EP Time To Pretend, while Robert, five years his junior, was a disgruntled French horn student. “The name comes from a song I made when I was a performance major doing an internship at a studio where David was working in New York,” says Robert, now 24. “I was putting in extra practice hours before and after work so I could be prepared when I went back to school. But the whole summer at the studio they didn’t use a live musician once, so I basically felt like I was wasting my time.”

Like any self-respecting artist, Robert decided to channel all that existential angst into his oeuvre—namely, a narrative song about a French horn player in the midst of scoring a film who’s fired by his producer and contemplates how to feed his kids after being replaced by technology. “It was supposed to tell horn players to rise up and take back the music,” says Robert, who proceeded to take his own advice. He and his brother have since spent the past three years touring with bands like Hot Chip, Cut Copy, and Yelle, and today marks the release of their debut album, The Infinite Music of French Horn Rebellion. On their way to a gig in Tucson, the brothers phoned in to explain the origins of their “modern psychedelic electro-opera,” the proper way to listen to the album, and how their mother saved them from potentially becoming CFL linebackers. No, really.

How did both of you end up in the music biz?
David: We’ve been playing music since we were four or five years old, learning piano. Our mom always thought it was a good idea for us to have those kind of influences. Meanwhile our dad was a tight end for the University of Virginia who went on to play in the Canadian Football League in Toronto before going to business school, where he met our mom. She thought her three sons—we have an older brother, too—would all turn out to be jocks.

It’s probably safe to say you wouldn’t be producing MGMT albums in the CFL. How did that project come about?
David: I went to school for music composition at NYU, and I just dived into whatever scene was there. I eventually got into music technology, tried my hand at producing, and ended up producing the work of hundreds of other students. When one of my friends who had been going to parties at Wesleyan met the guys in MGMT—they were called Management at the time—he suggested that I collaborate with them. He thought I might be able to help them out. It was really exciting because we were all so jazzed about that project, and we were blown away when it really took off.

Let’s talk about the new album. It features a lot of disparate sounds—funk, electro, drum and bass, orchestral stuff, symphonic stuff. How would you define the French Horn Rebellion style?
David: I would describe us as nerdy music-composition theorists.

Robert: I think the album we just made is like a modern psychedelic electro-opera where we’re using different compositional techniques to tell a story. Our use of all those genres comes directly from our own experiences—people we’ve met, bands we’ve played with, different production techniques we’ve been working with over time. We’re throwing them all into one thing, and when they come together, it’s really hard to see the origins of each separate element. Ultimately the heart of the creative process is a mystery, and I want to leave it a mystery.

What can you tell me about the narrative of the album?
David: It’s loose and a bit ambiguous, but at the same time it influenced our decision-making in terms of track order, composition and mood. It was all motivated by this story we created of the hero French-horn player.

Robert: It’s exactly the experience he sees through his eyes. The story begins at “The Void and Fancy Free,” which is like wading through the ethereal waters of the universe before you were born into human form. From there you go through all these incredible experiences to arrive at the farthest reaches of the universe, trans-dimensionally: You meet and talk with an alien, and you have some kind of breakthrough at the end when you decide to come home. “What I Want” is the I’m-coming-home song. You’re bringing back the golden fleece or whatever, and you derive something from it by sharing it with other people.

David: The album is basically a loop, and we actually started the loop in different places for different releases. In the US we began with “Up All Night” because it’s like Episode IV of Star Wars.

That’s funny. It does seem very American to begin with a forceful dance track right off the bat.
David: It’s also like James Bond, where you see a lot of action up front.

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