French Duo Jamaica Serve Up Electronic Rock and Then Some

Treasure Island Music Festival 2010 was crazy cold. Yet no such off-the-water wind chill could stop Jamaica from serving eager fans the musical equivalent of a hot toddy: a warm baseline spiked with gritty guitar. Fueled by Frenchmen Antoine Hilaire and Flo Lyonnet, this clever duo makes a set of parallel bars out of rock music and electronic influences, and dallies between the two better than a 12-year old Romanian gymnast.

Jamaica’s recent album No Problem is an 11-track sugar cube delightfully packaged by Justice’s Xavier De Rosnay and Daft Punk’s Peter Franco. Go on, be giddy. So without further ado, and without telling you how they sound like some band you might not know anyway, let’s have a witty word or two with Antoine Hilaire of Jamaica…

What spurred the transition from Poney Poney to Jamaica?

I started Poney Poney as a solo act ages ago, on the side of my high school band, then Flo joined and Sam too, a drummer. We spent a few years playing together, then Sam left right at the time when we decided we should record an album, exactly when Xavier was available to help us with it. We thought it was time to get rid of a name that sounded a bit embarrassing for us: too many animal named bands those last few years, we wanted a more universal and timeless name.

How did Jamaica beat out all the other Caribbean countries for the band name?

Bermuda is really cool but reminds more about pants right? Guadeloupe or Martinique sound odd. Jamaica reminds more of music than the others do. We talked about it yesterday with a dreadlocked guy who was working at a festival and who tours with a lot of Jamaican acts: he knew right away we were not a reggae band because it would be the worst name ever if we played that genre and no band would be so blunt. Pun intended on “blunt.”

Thoughts on the progress of the digital music industry and its technological advances? Any effects on the creation of your music?

We started recording on computers, we almost never jammed in a studio. It allowed us to make a full album without further financial help, it’s absolutely priceless in our work. Not even to mention the direct to fans promo it allows us to do. God bless the Interwebs. The downside of course is when you think about how sales could have been in the ancient industry, even only 5 years ago. I could buy a Gibson J45 for instance, my new far too expensive fantasy. But why bother with fading things like record sales? At least we are lucky enough to tour the world and make a living. Starving musicians are more interesting most of the time anyway. If you see us, don’t feed us please.

Any dream venues or festivals Jamaica would like to play in the future?

Is Coachella still cool to play? It looks really nice from afar and we are really good live in dry weather. I dreamt about playing at the Brixton Academy in London and we are about to do it in May with DFA1979. The Olympia in Paris would be nice to pack. So would MSG. We saw Phoenix there last year and by the look on their faces during and after the show, it’s a decent place.

And on that note, what’s in the future for Jamaica? 5yrs? 10yrs?

A second album and a second big tour for sure as soon as possible but especially as good as possible. That should cover the next 2 to 3 years. At a longer extent, I just know that I’ll be writing and performing music as much as I can. Oh and in 10 years, I really hope we’ll both have our driver’s licenses.

With such widespread success, how does the U.S. market compare to the European counterpart? I just saw you at the Treasure Island Festival in San Fran in Oct. 2010 and people were in love with y’all.

I loved that show, it felt so good to play our first festival in the USA in such a great spot. I think there’s a little room for us there, some sides of our work which can sound a bit strange for French ears for instance are fundamentals for American audiences. Referring to Todd Rundgren for instance: this guy actually is still played on your nostalgia radios and is part of your DNA. In France, the mainstream is really different.

To use a limping metaphor, if Jamaica were a guy with countries as lovers I’d say Europe is already more or less our girlfriend. We already had a few dates and even made out. Japan would be our most passionate and faithful lover. North America has already given us a dirty look and looks extremely hot. Let’s see what happens when we take its clothes off during the next few months – reading that again, it makes us sound like man sluts, hahaha.

Fave show ever played? Why?

A lot come to mind: our first packed headline show in Paris, our last Lyon gig, Rotterdam’s Rotown, our first Amsterdam one, Treasure Island, CMJ at Webster, Koko in London, Liquid Room in Tokyo, Barcelona at 4 in the morning with a crazy audience, new year’s in Melbourne… A great memory happens for various reasons, whether people go nuts and invade the stage, or we play our asses off or one of our friends in the audience gets a huge wound on his arm because the ceiling falls off on him.

Top 3 go-to sources for creative inspiration?

Random humming in the street, thinking about great songwriters and wanting to belong to their club, and feeding off of everyday experiences. Watching, listening, reading can be motivating. Lately, I listen to random tracks when I’m taking showers with the running water covering most of the actual melodies and I sing nonsense on top of it and usually something cool comes out of it. I do believe Keith Richards, songs are floating and we just have to catch them. Even with soap in the eyes.

What’s the #1 thing you request on your rider?

Vodka. I wish we said “yoga teachers” or “hard drugs” but we are not that boring.

Three words to describe your sound.

Clubby grunge pop. Or slick smart rock. Or French accent dope. Or modern chromed jazz.

Check out Jamaica when they play April 14th at the Knitting Factory and the 15th at Mercury Lounge.

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