ETIENNE DE ROCHER CD
01. Meditation # C.O.B.
02. Juniper Rose
03. The Lizard Song
05. Six Feet
06. Big Black Wall
07. There's Real and There's Moonshine
08. Bama Bino Goodbye
09. You Became a Knife
10. Come Twilight
11. Everybody Thinks You're a Smash
Recorded in studios, basements, and ostrich farms with some of the best musicians in the Bay Area - including Todd Roper (Cake) and Todd Sickafoose (Ani DiFranco) - this is, at long last, the album that Etienne turned down a major label deal for, to make it his way and in his own good time. The story starts in Tuscaloosa, pitstops at the Physics lab at UC Berkeley, and now continues with the release of his debut on Fog City.
‘‘ Few new artists get the luxury of spending years making their first record. Perhaps more would if they could come out with an album as good as this one. It is a poised, confident CD, the work of someone who has already mastered his craft, not someone just starting out. Every tiny sound on the exquisite 12-song album is perfectly embedded in the carefully crafted music. It's a sound that is spare and open, yet dense and intricate at the same time. Think Nick Drake produced by Peter Gabriel.
"I walk the line between complete abstraction, dreaminess and stark reality," de Rocher says in the living room of the tidy West Berkeley duplex he shares with his wife and 2-month old son. A vinyl copy of Led Zeppelin's Houses of the Holy sits on his turntable -- the large collection of old albums belongs to his wife, he says -- and a bouquet of lilies on the coffee table scents the room.
De Rocher grew up in Tuscaloosa, Ala., where his parents were both French professors. His mother was French and his father a Michigan-raised Francophile, which is where he came by the name. He resents people suggesting it might be something he made up for the stage; he suffered too much grief over the name growing up in the South. He came to UC Berkeley in 1987 as a Physics honors student.
"Berkeley blew my mind," he says, "all the cool music, all the freaky culture. I lasted three semesters. I changed majors from physics to philosophy to art. I rolled downhill from the hard sciences."
A four-track demo he recorded in the basement of the Oakland apartment building where he worked as custodian wound up in the hands of producer Glen Ballard, a record-industry heavyweight responsible for, among other successes, the multiplatinum debut of Alanis Morrisette. De Rocher almost signed with Capitol Records, but backed out at the last minute. "I got creeped out by the whole thing," he says. "They gave me an offer and I just didn't jump at it. I wanted to produce my own records, do my own thing."
He started back in the basement. This time he was joined by producer Dan Prothero, founder of San Francisco-based Fog City Records. "I'd been approached by several producers," de Rocher says. "I worked very hard on what my stuff sounded like, the vibe. They all wanted to do their thing on my music. Dan liked what I'd done and wanted to work with that."
Says Prothero, "We wanted to scratch at something different. At the same time, we wanted something very honest and those two things can be very difficult to reconcile. We needed to hone in on something that was unique and yet be true to the person."
Having lived through the golden era of hip-hop and watched independent rock turn all "cute and niched out," de Rocher wonders what the world will make of his record. "My music is nostalgic, sentimental and sort of baroque," he says. "It's not a clean, modern sound that's increasingly empty to me. I hear a lot of empty new music. Indie rock exists for what it's not. What people like about it is what it's not. It's not this, it's not that."
"Everything I care about and wanted to do is in that record. Any sound we've been chasing down is there. I know that's what you fall in love with -- the record. It speaks for itself. A record can be sexy, loud, dangerous, weird. It's all that you need to know. You don't need to see the video. You don't need to read the book. You don't need to become an expert in the band. That's what I love about records -- it's so visceral. All this beauty and terror in the air. How can you beat something like that?"
- Joel Selvin, San Francisco Chronicle
‘‘ Every now and then an album comes unassumingly across my desk, and it makes the Earth move. This is what happened with the self-titled debut album by Etienne de Rocher. I'm actually embarrassed to say that it has taken me this long to discover this treasure that has been right here under my nose.
His debut release is dripping with romance and melancholy, but there is also a whimsical thread that weaves it all together. He seems to be the kind of artist that uses his songwriting to express his emotions so that he doesn't have to take "real life" too seriously. His musical ability on acoustic guitar and piano is infallible and confident, but it's his vocal range that is most remarkable, reaching the outer realms of the male voice with ease and beauty.
Fans of Beck, Jack Johnson, Xavier Rudd, and Ben Harper will be primed to love this album, but there is a mysterious depth that will reach those who prefer to stand in the shadows. The album, produced by Etienne and Dan Prothero of Fog City Records, is polished yet authentic and carefully crafted. There are some really amazing songs, including the heart-aching You Became a Knife and the Beck-esque The Lizard Song. The real gem on this album is There's Real and There's Moonshine, which has the perfect combination of meaningful lyrics and its matching powerful melodic swell, especially as he sings, I know sometimes that you want to feel dangerous/ but danger is a temporary drug/ can make you feel so bad sometimes/ when you really don't know/ what you're doing things for.
You all usually only hear from me when something has struck a major chord in my being, and this album has done it. Upon further investigation after this discovery of new love, I was thrilled to find out that Etienne was performing a special Valentine's Day show at the intimate Cafe Du Nord in San Francisco. Valentine's Day can be awkward, especially when it seems to only exist to create a bump in the economy. Nonetheless, Etienne on voice and grand piano - joined by a drummer, violinist, and cellist with whom he has shared the stage many times in the past - filled the room with warm melodies and gentle wit to ease our "brave" souls.
- Super Dee, jambase.com
‘‘ Etienne De Rocher has that unhurried, put-together artistic coherence that comes with great albums of the bell-bottomed past, specifically the early 1970s - a time when cover art was meant to be stared at while tripping out on the headphones, and each side of an LP took you on a mystic journey. In setting out to recapture that feeling, De Rocher deftly avoids traditional pop-song structures, letting choruses and verses change and disappear in an agreeably loose-footed, ramshackle style. The lovely Juniper Rose for example, features the combination of a maraca, heavy acoustic guitar lick, Morse code, and a crashing cymbal, all coming together in a "stuff that sounds this easy takes a lot of time to do right" sort of vibe. The country-bluesy Everybody Thinks You're a Smash, with its finger-picked chicken-strut acoustic guitar, splits the difference between the Mississippi Delta and the Sunset Strip and everyone comes out a suntanned winner.
A superb backing band, including string section, playing on vintage analog equipment lends everything extra 1970's soulful warmth. Rocher's unusual raps and groovy instrumental touches, like the jaw harp and funky whistling of Bama Bino Goodbye, make this the sonic equivalent of that new pair of vintage jeans that are so preworn comfortable that you have to give all of your other clothes away. It's the perfect soundtrack for long road-trips down the coast with a backseat full of friends. And if it can't play on an old 8-track, the CD player will work just fine-the jewel case scratched and faded underneath your seat, as the album sings you into a whole new phase of your vagabond life.
‘‘ Genuine genius. Crosses lines from early Dylan to a softer, more refined Elliott Smith, with a voice that melts one's cynicism and leads into a dreamy wonderland. (I think I may be falling for him.)
- Charlie Swanson, Bohemian Magazine
‘‘ de Rocher's eponymous debut album shows he belongs in a league with such nouveau pop-folksters as Devendra Banhart, Bright Eyes, Jolie Holland, Joanna Newsom, Bart Davenport, and Sean Hayes (a frequent collaborator). You won't find the overproduced, overblown sentimentality of some contemporary pop singers (Kelly Clarkson comes to mind) anywhere near de Rocher's music, so it's easy to get behind his grooves and allow yourself to enter his gently broken-in world. Rivers of emotion flow through songs, yet the torrent is 100 percent real. Wind in our ears/eyes full of tears/feel what it's like to be free, he sings in Come Twilight, his falsetto trilling amidst a bed of vaguely Southern-sounding acoustic and electric guitars, like an unpretentious Tom Petty or Gram Parsons' long-lost son (de Rocher actually resembles a young Jackson Browne somewhat, but don't hold that against him)."
- Eric K. Arnold, East Bay Express
‘‘ This singer/songwriter isn't messing around. After hearing his record, it becomes clear to any listener that de Rocher is in it for the music. One can't help but fall in love with Rocher's soothing voice and graceful rhythm.
- Michelle Gross, Marquee Magazine
‘‘ Etienne de Rocher's got one of the sweetest voices around -- a high, clear-as-a-bell croon that glides easily through a song. Inspired by artists from all over the map, Etienne crafts songs that rustle with bittersweet echoes of the past without becoming pastiches. Though his earlier work tilted toward R&B, his latest is moodier, more psychedelic, and difficult to categorize. What's most appealing is the sense of wonder that fills his songs, as if he can't believe how pretty a melody can be."
- Sylvia Chan, San Francisco Bay Guardian
‘‘ This San Francisco artist has just released the long-in-the-making debut record that delivers what fans of Jack Johnson, Beck and Ben Harper have really been waiting for, and delivers it without feeling the slightest bit derivative. This is the sound I want to hear when I turn on the radio. Modern, yet retro (in all the right ways) this is groovy, fuzzy, hip California pop at its very best. Just right for a drive up the Pacific Coastal Highway with the top down ( which is exactly how I experienced it). Perfect."
- Papa Mali (interviewed by Glide Magazine)
‘‘ If you didn't guess from this SF gent's fabulous name, Etienne De Rocher is one smooth operator. Graced with such easygoing charm and flair, his years-in-the-making debut self-titled album only confirms this. Although this is indeed his first full length cd, he's certainly no rookie. He's been honing his songcraft from a very early age. Imagine a less flamboyant Rufus Wainwright or a slightly more flamboyant Elliott Smith, Nick Drake or Buckley Jr. and Sr. (r.i.p.) and you might get a sense of Monsieur De Rocher. He saves one of his best songs for last, the sweetly romantic "Goodnight". Nice!"
- Aquarius Records
‘‘ a brilliantly crafted album of original music, almost as perfectly realized as its auteur could hope -- and strived so hard -- to make. This longtime local secret may have to endure all the comparisons with pop geniuses I dare not mention here."
- Derk Richardson, sfgate.com
‘‘ Etienne de Rocher's debut disc has arrived and it was well worth the wait. Its seems to be a blend of psychedelic-folk and california-soul, but really it defies catagories. The funky sound and the depth of the soul on this disc provide a very unique emotional journey. This is some fresh and powerful music, I highly suggest people check him out!"
- Michael Tristan
‘‘ I've been waiting for a full length Etienne De Rocher record for ages. Ever since hearing some funny stories about an ostrich farm recording studio in Cotati and golden words about the music recorded there for this album. Well the new self titled album, released on Fog City Records, has finally arrived and it fully delivers on those high expectations and extended buildup."
‘‘ Etienne de Rocher's set was notably enlivened by an old-fashioned really-into-it fan, all thrashing head and horse-kicking calves. It was especially cool because de Rocher's set was actually kind of medium-tempo and introspective, like Jeff Buckley. Highlight of the evening: at the climax of one of de Rocher's songs, this woman let out a triumphant shriek, and the entire audience involuntarily took a half-step back. She definitely brought an indulgent smile to the faces of the crowd. I used to love indie rock that much!, you could see people thinking.