[sic] Magazine

Interview – Scenius.

In 2020 Anglo/French synthpop/darkwave duo Scenius released their debut album Enough Fears and it became one of my most played records of that year. I placed it high in my year end review. Fast forward and the pair are back with a follow up long player entitled Life Is A Thing. With the promotional tracks thus far already sounding really good I contacted the band for the following interview. Singer Fabrice Nau (Fab) contributed to some questions here while musician/produced Steve Whitfield answered others. The mood was somewhat frivolous. I just really like these guys and their music is not to be underestimated.

Enjoy the interview. And Check out Life Is A Thing, which is out now.

What is ‘Scenius’?

Fab: We borrowed the term from a Brian Eno interview. He coined it to challenge the concept of genius in popular music where the big steps ahead are actually more often due to a whole scene (scenius) than by just one person (genius).

How did the two of you hook up?

Steve: I’d recorded Fabrice’s band in the studio a few times and we kept in touch. I’d always loved his voice but never thought we’d end up writing together!

What’s the enduring allure of synth pop? What is it that makes great synth pop?

Fab: I guess it’s the same as all genres of music, it’s great if people feel that their life is better with that song or that album in it.

Are you happy being labelled that way, even? Or are we journos overlooking something important when we lazily assign genres like synthpop?

Steve: I’m not sure we think of ourselves as Synth Pop but more of a band that just to happens to be using synths at this moment. On both albums there are pop songs but also some quite dark songs, much closer to Joy Division’s 2nd album Closer than Synth Pop. It’s the journos right to print whatever they want, it doesn’t bother us. Different writers have called us Synth Pop, Darkwave, Electronic and Post-punk.

Do you have similar music tastes to each other?

Steve: Quite similar. We do have a core of shared taste and we both agree that music should have an authenticity to it. I don’t like hearing bands do things because they think they should. It has to come from within you and be real.

My favourite band at school was OMD. They had a very varied career including some big hits and some quite strange, experimental pieces. Where would you place Scenius on the OMD spectrum? And who were your first musical loves.

Steve: I guess we have something in common with them because we also write some ‘up’ and more experimental songs that sit together on the same album. I really like their Organisation album because it does have pop and experimental/dark songs on the record. My first loves were Punk and Kraftwerk.

Yeah, part of Organisation was inspired by Ian Curtis’ untimely death. Tony Wilsons (then) wife told OMD you guys don’t know if you want to be Joy Division or ABBA. How about you Fab?

Fab: The two first records I remember playing over and over again, when I was eight or nine, are Video Killed the Radio Star by The Buggles and Don’t Answer Me by Alan Parsons Project.

Classic stuff! You have your new album out now actually. From your perspective how does the new record contrast with the debut album?

Fab: There’s a broader range of moods on the new album, arrangements tend to be more minimalist and the songs more straightforward.

Is there an Anglo/Franco aspect to Scenius music – (ie do you think your nationalities come through in your music?).

Steve: I’m not aware of it but I guess since our two cultures are slightly different, something must come through to the music from each of our countries. Musically I’ve always looked to Europe more than the USA. One of the things I loved about a lot of post-punk and synth music in the beginning, it just wasn’t ‘Blues’ based.

Fab: In the beginning we thought maybe Steve could take care of everything on the left speaker and I could run the right speaker. Turned out it was a bad idea!

Haha. Problem with ‘the channel’, maybe? Enough Fears was one of my favourite discoveries of 2020. From what I could see, other writers engaged very positively with it too. How pleasing was it for you to see almost uniformly good press for that record?

Fab: Very pleasing! First and foremost, we create these songs for ourselves and if anyone else likes them it’s a huge bonus.

Steve: We were knocked out with the response to the first album.

Scenius Live

How disruptive was the covid pandemic to Scenius?

Steve: We had to cancel a couple of gigs but other than that it didn’t really effect us. All the songs and recordings have been done remotely. We both have studios at home, so we just cracked on with writing and recording.

Once the travel restrictions were lifted you were able to collaborate together in the same location. What benefits did that bring and how did that play into the new album?

Steve: It was great to finally get together, rehearse and do some gigs. I’m not sure the influence of gigging has filtered into the writing of new songs yet. I’ve always found it interesting how gigging/touring changes bands’ writing. I’ve noticed that when bands start playing arena tours, they start writing for those big gigs. Usually that doesn’t have a good result on their song writing!

Did the live shows go down well with audiences? Are there any hitches or funny stories you can share?

Fab: They all went very well. We’ve even released a live EP taken from our very first gig, which is funny cause can you think of any other band who did that? Also on our third gig some people at the front row started to throw their children up in the air. That was quite stressful cause, well, you are never sure how deft people really are and you don’t want to witness a child crash. But parents don’t like it when you imply that they’re acting carelessly with their children. So, we had to pretend it was our equipment we were worried about to stop them.

Hmmm? Maybe…. Nirvana? (Blew) Factory, Electric Circus? Let’s ask the readers! Did playing live together affect how you write together? How does a Scenius song get written?

Steve: So far, I write the music and then send it to Fabrice. He then writes the lyrics and chops up the arrangement to fit his words. I then have to chop my arrangement to fit and await the final vocal recordings. So there’s a fair bit of back and forth via the internet.

Can each of you recommend just one song from the new album and say why you chose it.

Fab: I’d pick ‘Life Is A Thing Again’ for its groove, its minimalist arrangement and because I think it’s the song that has the richest blend of all our influences yet sounding very homogeneous.

Steve: If I could only pick one it would be ‘Chinese Room’. It captures in one song who we are, pop, dark and experimental all in one song.

If you could get any guest onto the next Scenius record who would you want?

Steve: Robert Smith (The Cure) or James Murphy (LCD Soundsystem)

Fab: Siouxsie Sioux or Lisa Gerrard.

What should I have asked you?

Fab: « What kind of ‘thing’ do you think life is ? »

Quickfire round (some fun questions with Steve):

Vince Clarke or Martin Gore?

Steve – I like Vince but he doesn’t do ‘dark’, so Martin Gore.

Agree – Crêpes sucrées or Crêpes salées?

Steve – Salées, I like savoury.

Me too – Star Wars or Star Trek?

Steve – Star Trek

1970s or 1980s?

Steve – That bit in between the two decades, ’78-’82 was great time for people experimenting.

Brilliant answer. Bowie or Eno?

Steve – Bowie WITH Eno (the Berlin period)

Yep – Beatles or Stones?

Steve – The Beatles

Cats or dogs?

Steve – I like cats but dogs just get it for me.

Macron or Sunak?

Steve – Neither

Lol – What would I find in your refrigerator?

Steve – Fresh produce

Finally – You’ve been kidnapped and the last band you saw play live is on the way. Who is coming to rescue you?

Steve – The Cure. Actually there’s lots of stories of Robert and Simon handling some physically dangerous situations in their very early years, so we should be OK.

Nice. I think my better half wouldn’t mind being ‘rescued’ by Smith and Gallup. She’s a massive, massive Cure fan. Cool choice.

[sic] wishes top thank the brilliant Steve and Fab. Photos used here with kind permission. Credit to Fred Bellanger, Keiron Brennan and Jack Life (gig photo) Scenius’ new album Life Is A Thing is out now. More info via the links provided.


Chinese Room

Enough Fears