“I may have 3 passports, all fake” jokes Francois Peglau, “but I consider myself first of all Peruvian. That is where my roots are. But don’t tell that to the French embassy!” The question “where are you from” has got to be a difficult one for Peglau, a self described “Peruvian/French/Argentinean” artist who currently resides in London. He grew up in Peru and achieved moderate fame throughout Latin America as vocalist and guitarist in Lima-based indie-rock quartet Los Fucking Sombreros, arguably the best band name ever. Upon moving to London three years ago, Peglau decided to start up a solo project. He began writing in English as an “exercise” to help himself adapt to his new environment. But like the man himself, Peglau’s music is worldly, transcending international borders and drawing inspiration from all of the many places he’s called home. Citing influences that range from Elliot Smith to the politically charged folk songs of Cuban artist Silvio Rodreguez, Peglau brings refreshing perspective to the scene.
A-side “One Minute to Midnight Dream (So Sad)” would sound a little like the Beatles if you stripped away the disco drums and bass that makes it so damn groovy. You might also have to can the syncopated guitar strokes and lo-fi vocals, which bring to mind the classic reggae recordings of Horace Andy. But I promise you, there’s a healthy dose of classic British pop-rock’n’roll buried in there somewhere, most noticeably in the melodic hook that beings, “while I was waiting,” and culminates in the refrain, “so sad,” at which point the dance party takes over again. The lyrics, along with most of the lyrics of Peglau’s self-titled album, are charmingly self-deprecating. He describes them with a critique: “I’m always bitching about the system but at the end I always play by the rules.” The production value is so spot on that it’s hard to believe Peglau recorded and produced it in his bedroom, playing nearly all the instruments (guitar, bass, ukelele, keyboard, drums, electronics) himself. He did receive a little help from Lucia Vivanco on violin, however, who’s sublimely catchy riff accentuates the groove. As you can see, there are a lot of pieces coming together in Peglau’s music.
B-side “I’ll Never Be Alain Delon” pays homage to the film star that Peglau regrets he’ll never become. It’s more than a whimsical fantasy, however, and he addresses a world in which broken dreams are the norm. Maybe that sounds a bit over the top but I pose the question, who wouldn’t like to be Alain Delon? This guy was the French James Dean, only he lived long enough to relish in the spotlight and enjoy flings with supermodels across the European continent. “People tell us the future is ours to change but I can’t change it,” Peglau sings, “and neither you nor your friends.” The question that Peglau seems to be getting at is whether we’re masters of our own destinies or whether our lives are predetermined. Heavy stuff, but it’s masked behind a groove so fat and a vocal melody so catchy that you might not notice on the first listen. It’s a common trait in Peglau’s songs, which rarely let serious subject matter get in the way of a good time. The chorus hits hard with a classic rock chord progression and crunchy guitars. The second verse is backed by an absolutely infectious synthesizer hook, while the samples from a Delon interview, in which he explains the role he so often played-_le solitaire_, the mysterious and dashingly handsome loner-spice things up later on.
While Peglau has lived in London for several years now, to say that he’s settled down would be a bit deceptive. He gigged recently in Mexico City and Lima in addition to London and a trip to Buenos Aires is already in the works for the coming year. I find that to be one of the most intriguing things about him. While pop stars can tour internationally and let their record labels foot the bill, watching the world go by from the comfortable vantage point of a private jet, the independent musician’s tour is typically constrained by the price of gasoline and the amount of time it takes the van to break down. Peglau evades this problem by playing with a different band in every city he tours. “This is a good way of solving one of the biggest problems when you tour, transportation costs,” he explains. “And it’s a great way of making friends. It’s a little bit stressful to rehearse in 3 days the whole repertoire but until now it has worked.” But it’s more than budget that constrains the majority of indie acts to a single country and quite often, a single city. These are typically bands that build grassroots followings through consistent gigging in a concentrated area. And, well, it’s pretty fucking difficult to do that if you’re spread between continents. How many times have you seen a out of town band that’s hot shit in its home city playing for a crowd of 5 or 6 on their first out of state tour? It’s not that these bands aren’t hot shit, they’ve simply yet to achieve a geographically diverse following. So how does Peglau do it? Part of the answer may lie in the fact that his shit is absolutely steaming but part of it lies in his creative use of multimedia and online distribution.
Peglau has recently begun creating low budget but highly entertaining videos to accompany his music. “The idea is to work in a single format, with a video for every song,” he explains. “We try not to be pretentious and just have fun. And we always get some help from friends. It is just a labor of love….” The love is pretty evident–just check out the videos for “One Minute to Midnight Dream (So Sad)” and “I’ll Never Be Alain Delon” and you’ll see what I mean. The former begins with a shot of Peglau taking a comically oversized pill from a bottle marked “Sweet Dreams?” Hallucinations and dance sequences ensue. The latter is a mock trailer shot in black and white to evoke Delon’s classic films. It’s chocked full of all the scenes that make a good trailer-the kisses, the slaps, the gunshots-exaggerated to hilarious extents. These videos are produced and directed the help of wife Maria Elena de Losada who incidentally sings background on several of Peglau’s songs and whom, for reasons rational or not, I imagine looking like Penelope Cruz’s character of the same name in Vicky Christina Barcelona. They share a charming home-video aesthetic but when it comes down to it, they’re a lot better than any home video I’ve seen recently, resembling more closely the work of a professional trying (and succeeding) to be cute than the work of an actual amateur.
All of Peglau’s videos are available on youtube.com and he’s made his entire album available at bandcamp.com for free. In addition to the above mentioned sites, he’s relied heavily on blogs to disseminate his music throughout the world. It seems Peglau has learned better than just about any other musician out there how to utilize the internet. Through his innovative and decidedly non-commercial approach he’s made his music available to all, and that could be a big part of the reason he can fill clubs in all corners of the world. He isn’t just making great music-he’s pioneering a new path to becoming an internationally successful musician. I supsect that in the decades to come we’ll see a lot more artists following this path. Peglau’s just a bit ahead of the times. With this review I hope to introduce him to a primarily American audience. Let’s just hope the French embassy isn’t reading. We wouldn’t want to have one of those passports revoked…
One Minute to Midnight Dream (So Sad)
https://ampeater.s3.amazonaws.com/aem107/01 One Minute to Midnight Dream (So Sad).mp3
Ill Never Be Alain Delon
https://ampeater.s3.amazonaws.com/aem107/02 Ill Never Be Alain Delon.mp3