Dying by sadness would be the most romantic death.
The latest buzz in the tragic singer-songwriter genre from France is ROVER, nom-de-plume of Timothée Régnier. Born in France, but raised around the world like a modern-day nomad, ROVER is a complete identity, a man who lives, breathes and sleeps as a heartbroken wanderer, singing about love, loss, and more loss. “Carry On”, a track from his self-titled debut, instructs you “It rains sunny songs/ honey please don’t sing along.” Picture romantic vagabond Rimbaud with a voice that hearkens back to “Ashes to Ashes” era DAVID BOWIE, mixed with late sixties era style crooning along the lines of folk singers VAN MORRISON and TIM HARDIN. ROVER incorporates synthesizers and contemporary effects fluidly with analog instruments like a harpsichord to bring symphonic music that is thoroughly modern. His singing style begins quietly and swells to an accusatory crescendo in that deep, throaty style of BILL CALLAHAN (SMOG) or RICHARD HAWLEY (PULP). His influences range from THE BEACH BOYS to INTERPOL. Think of what would happen if TOM WAITS and BONNIE PRINCE BILLY collaborated with STEREOLAB, and the whole thing was all produced by Brian Wilson, and you are approaching ROVER’s sound. NOTHING BUT HOPE AND PASSION sat down on a wintry Berlin day to talk to him before his acoustic set at the RAMONES Museum, Mitte. Topics covered include the passage of time, the human condition, and guitar maintenance.
I held your picture in the rain / Expecting you to be the same.
(ROVER – “Wedding Bells”)
You were born in France, lived in New York, and most recently Lebanon. Where do you call home and where are you from?
I am above all else, French. Wherever we lived, my family and I always had France as this ideal place, reminiscing about places and culture, and returned to it for holidays. No matter how long I am away I can go back and feel at home, old habits come back. Growing up we lived in the Philippines, Japan, New York, and I go between Paris and Brussels.
I arrived in Lebanon intending to only stay a few weeks, my brother invited me to visit and I ended up living there three years. We formed a band, The New Government, and I was part of the music and arts scene there. It’s small but dedicated; artists and musicians all know each other. I was kicked out, my visa expired and I had to leave very quickly, abandoning everything I had known or owned. I was banned from my adopted homeland.
From Beirut, I arrived in Berlin in September 2008, and my memories are of wandering around the city, taking pictures and grieving over leaving my life in Lebanon, and I started to write new songs. I felt free here, not limited by any deadlines or previous expectations. When you are liberated from expectations, there is a no frustration. Then I went to our family home in Brittany, by the sea, and isolated myself, writing and recording music the winter of 2008-2009.
Sounds like a real hermetic, monk’s life.
A German friend came to visit and find me, wondering what had happened to me. He liked the demos, encouraging me to perform my songs live. ROVER has gone from there.
Is there any endpoint to this nomadic life?
I live out of an open suitcase, I have it ready to leave, ready to pack up and go in twenty minutes if I need to. I sometimes make the goal to stay in a place, I will get a new flat and decide I want to stay there, and settle down but then a few months, a year later, I move again. The goal exists but it rarely happens. People say travelling you are either escaping or looking for something, I am not sure but I think I am escaping.
As far being a self-taught musician, what does that mean?
I lived in New York at a formative time of my life, from age seven to fifteen. To be that young and walking around the city was influential, and affected me at a key point in my childhood.
When I was seven years old,
Santa Claus brought me an
electric guitar and an amp.
When I was seven years old, Santa Claus brought me an electric guitar and an amp. I didn’t know anything about playing or maintaining a guitar, so each day the sound of it was changing, what I played on Monday sounded different the following Tuesday. At one point, I broke a string and cried because I thought it was permanently broken, until my brother told me you had to replace the strings. I had a few friends show me chords and technique, but that is why I hold the guitar with a special hold, not the standard way.
What instruments do you play?
I play guitar and keyboards and piano. Live shows I have a bass player, a guitarist and a drummer. On the album I play everything, it was recorded using a Roland Jupiter, an old eighties keyboard/synthesizer.
Your favorite analog instrument?
(laughs) That’s difficult. The Wurlitzer is beautiful, and the harpsichord of course.
And your favorite BEACH BOYS album?
Surf’s Up, and [from other albums] the songs “Good Vibrations” and “God Only Knows” are amazing songs. Things from contemporary music influence me, like INTERPOL, THE STROKES‘ first album, and JULIAN CASABLANCA’ solo album. I can listen to and appreciate pop that is clever and catchy, so I feel like I can listen to ELVIS and M.I.A. I haven’t been traumatized by these die-hard purists who think it is only worthwhile if its sounds like it is from 1968.
You mentioned that you this is your life’s work, to create something that stops the daily drudgery and reconnects with a some sensations of childhood and these moments that matter, no matter how sad or difficult. Any specific moments you are thinking of?
It is scary and also comfortable,
time is a constant scale
that does not change.
Yes, it is a positive moment, specifically that time in childhood when you are not conscious of time. You can spend the whole day playing with toy cars and all of sudden it’s evening before you even notice. Music brings me back to that state of mind; I can forget the passage of time. That is the purpose of music, to forget the human condition and explain the impact of time. It is scary and also comfortable, time is a constant scale that does not change.
I see the purpose of music as expanding time, helping define ideas like love and esoteric things.
So Percy Bysshe Shelley drowned in a storm, Cleopatra poisoned herself with snakebite and Kafka died from tuberculosis. What, in your opinion, would be the most romantic death?
Dying of sadness.
What do hope and passion mean to you?
For me…hope is always to be surprised by myself. And passion is faith.