Kham Meslien’s debut solo album shows us the narrative dimension of the double bass

Kham Meslien (Copyright © Marine Brehin)

An interview with Kham Meslien about his new project “Fantômes​.​.​. Futurs” that is coming out today. His double bass vibrates deeply into the soul! Real and Honest music, a fine mix of power and gravity. A superb release by Heavenly Sweetness, including a featuring with Anthony Joseph.

Is this your first solo project?

Yes, this is really my first one. It started two years and a half ago at a Poetry festival. I was invited to play and I accompanied, in music, poetry lectures and then the organiser asked me to play a solo. I had never done this before, even though I had tracks and compositions that I was working on, so I played a solo and it was very successful. After that, I had propositions for concerts while at the same time I was working on my stage performance. Then I met a booking agent and a label, and today we have this record which is coming out today the 23rd of September.

Were you born in France? Which is your influence?

Yes, I was born and grew up in the west of France, in a city called Angers, my father was from the West Indies, the island of Martinique and my mother from Spain. In Angers, there was a lot of musicians, we were used to met each other. That’s how I had my musical education being introduced with many different styles, French songs, rap, hip-hop, jazz. Bit by bit, I picked up things, at first I was a self taught musician. Actually, I only took lessons only ten years ago, because I wanted to fix certain things and above all, I watched and followed double bass players who I appreciated and they helped me to be on the right track, to improve my project.

I am 50 years old, I was born in the ’70s, so my first group was in ’87-’88, the period of fusion, of world music, a mix of hip-hop and heavy metal was very popular back then, we were listening to a lot of records of different genres. Eventually I was influenced by friends who were playing in different groups, jazz, rock, minimal, new wave… many different things. But I was heavily influenced by the music of the West Indies. I loved Eugene Mona, who played flute, a flute we call “La flute des Mornes”, these were records of my father. And obviously Spanish music influenced me, I was listening to Camarón, fusion of flamenco…

When did you join Lo’Jo?

Well, the group Lo’Jo existed already, I joined the group because at that time they did not have a bass player. We cross paths a lot, they were my neighbours. My adventure with Lo’Jo lasted almost twenty years. In these twenty years of music with them, I had the chance to tour all over the world, we went many times in USA, in Africa as well, in Mali, Algeria, Morocco, we played in Benin, Togo, South Africa. We played a lot at the WOMAD festival.

Did you find interesting things in African that influenced your music?

Of course! The polyrhythm, the pentatonic scale, the frequencies in their music, the energy, the griot who declaim, when they sing, it’s very mystical, very powerful. I said to myself that when I play the double bass, I have to “talk” like this, to say something to touch people emotionally, I am trying to “talk” through my bass. I was really influenced by the griots.

When did you start playing the double bass?

I started playing the electric bass with Lo’Jo. Years ago, we were invited in the south of France in Grenoble, where we spent one week in a theatre. In that theatre, they had a double bass and I started playing with it every day. I liked it and so I thought I should buy one. I did and I slowly started playing 1-2 tracks with Lo’Jo, then I started really working on it and it became my instrument for life. And for the rest of my life, I will discover things with this instrument.

I left Lo’Jo in 2016. I thought of my solo career a long time ago but I was a little bit afraid, maybe I was not confident. By leaving Lo’Jo, I concentrated on this, I worked really hard, discovered new experiences. I didn’t want to get attached with only one group, I worked with different people, made small tours. At the same time I was focused on my solo project, on the narrative dimension of the double bass, its expression, I was feeling that I could do something. So when the programmer of the Poetry festival asked me to do a solo, it was the chance to start.

When did you decide to record this album?

I recorded the album in December 2021. The sound engineer Nicolas Houssin lives twenty minutes away, he works a lot with jazz artists, he has the experience of recording jazz music. We recorded the album in a small room, Nicolas knows very well how to install the microphones, he loves the sound of my double bass, so we worked really hard for the recording. We did this in four days. Normally I record live, but we decided to extend the time of recording to create a bit of movement and different dynamics, so we took two days for the small loops and two other days to work on the themes, the solos, the percussion and other things.

When did you record the track with Anthony Joseph?

The voice of Anthony Joseph was added later. Thanks to Franck Descollonges (Heavenly Sweetness). When he proposed me to sign with the label, he told me that he would like “the bigger to help the smaller”, and if I wanted somebody from the label to make a featuring on my record, I just had to ask. So I thought that it would be nice if Anthony Joseph could say something on a track, a narration. We sent the track to Anthony, he recorded his voice, and sent it to us. And together with Nicolas, we mixed and edited the track.

Did you integrate in your album, elements of African or Antilles music that influenced you?

Yes! For example the track “Gnawen” is a mix of two tempos from North Africa, Morocco. On the track “F Comme”, we can hear a small instrument which sounds like mandolin, this is a charango and it comes from Central America, but I play north African scales on it. You can listen to the Shekere, at the end of the track “The Alarm”. There are these influences but I didn’t want to try to copy African musicians, I wanted to use the sound in an appropriate way for my music. It is difficult to play the music of another continent if you do not know very well the blood of this music.

The setlist on the album is exceptional, who did it?

I did it. It is a bit like the playlist of my live show. I noticed that I had to work and add things to keep the audience concentrated through the whole live show. I’ve listened to many double bass players solos in concerts and on records at home, players like Larry Grenadier and his album “The Gleaners”, Dave Holland, Marc Johnson, I adore them but often when I listen to them at one moment I find myself in a tunnel. It is difficult with a double bass to vary, to make different things. So I thought I should not base everything on the performance, there should be a narration as well, something that “speaks”. There must be some small instruments that draws attention, small percussions, high-pitched sounds and also some tracks that are almost pop, with a verse-chorus format. Other tracks are more jazzy, with different chords like standard music, minor blues and things like that. And of course some tracks must be free, like little sketches, like a quick drawing. And this is how the new tracks are coming out. We recorded 16 tracks but we kept 10 for the album, because some of the tracks were a bit long, they didn’t match… so we made it sound like this.

I had the chance to record the album after one year full of concerts. The live shows gave me the opportunity to understand this moment when and why sometimes I was loosing the audience’s attention. Because they needed an “accident”, something that was going to wake them up, to make them wonder, how did he do this. It is amazing. I thought of the album as a very well recorded concert.

Did you think of making a whole album like the track you did with Anthony Joseph?

I would love, that would be super! I should look for different poets, I think, or maybe only with Anthony. I don’t know. I am going to meet him on the 13th of October at New Morning (Paris), we are going to play the track together live in front of the audience and if it goes well, if he is satisfied, maybe I will propose him, I don’t know.

A project like this would be wonderful.

This is your debut album as a solo artist. What is your plan, your ambition for the future?

What is happening now is like a dream. I never thought it would come that fast. Having finished the recording last December, followed by Franck Descollonges contacting me in January, signing a deal a week later, pressing a record which is coming out today the 23rd of September. It went very fast, I found a booking agent, a PR office, all these people around me. In nine months, from the end of last September until now that the album is coming, is like having a baby. I am very satisfied, so I will see how it will go, but I would like to write music for a quartet or a quintet. Thanks to this solo project I met many musicians on the way, that gives me the possibility to choose and work with different people and projects. It is interesting what you said, to record a whole album of poetry, because I would like to organise an event like this in Angers. To stage a poet with a musician who meet each other for the first time and perform for an hour, one and a half. Something free that comes up like this.

Are you travelling alone for the concerts?

I have created a light installation for the shows, but mostly I travel alone, I only need a good double bass for the show.