Interview With Negative Gemini
Lindsey French is an American artist who concocts electronic musical experiences from the future as Negative Gemini. Her music is multidimensional denoted by a mélange of euphonious breakbeats, sincere lyrics, and a sonic particularity characteristic of French. We spent a sunny Friday afternoon in LA with the East Coast transplant to chat about her music video for “You Weren’t There Anymore,” brief dissertation on Sagittarian astrology, her latest single, and much more in the following interview. Catch Negative Gemini and her “Different Color Hair” as she embarks on tour this summer supporting the LA-based band TV Girl in cities across the U.S.
Your music has been featured on our “Future” music playlist. There is an idea of a “future sound.” What does having this kind of sound mean to you?
I think that’s an interesting question. When I’m making music, I guess I like to hope that it sounds like the future. Just because I always wanna be doing something kind of innovative. Like, with all of these influences that I have, I feel like it’s impossible to be an artist and not be influenced by the past, and work of the past. I hope that in my work that I can take those past things and just kind of put a twist on them that I never heard before or something like that.
In the era that we are living in now, technology is already so advanced to an extent but of course there is room for growth. There is still this idea of “the future” and decades ago, “the future” would be now. When do you think society’s idea of “the future” will coincide with reality we live in?
Oh I don’t know! I feel like it’s just kind of like something you chase on a hamster wheel and you never get to because, you know, now we are living in a crazy time. I never thought we could just text each other photos or talk to each other while looking at videos of one another. So to me, it’s already pretty crazy! It already seems like we are living in the future. But yea, it’s gonna keep going and keep getting crazier. Like pornography is gonna be normal family TV [laughs], you never even know what’s gonna happen!
Your music is heavily technologically based, using synths and various software. What do you think are the implications of technology on the music-making process from this point in time forward? In 20 or 30 years?
Oh man, I don’t know because it already seems so involved with technology. Almost everything I do comes from a computer, even if it’s a flute or a cello. I’m not getting actual musicians to come in and record those things live. Depending on what kind of software you can get ahold of, the sounds available are pretty, pretty advanced these days. I can’t imagine what’s it going to be like 20, 30 years from now. I have no idea. But music definitely seems like it’s getting less melodic and more just like- simple. To me, music is kind of, even pop music, going more towards noise. I’m afraid for the future! [laughter]
Now just focusing on your own musical process, what are the most important elements when it comes to creating your music? What’s your angle?
I think I usually start off with a baseline, but I think that maybe the most important thing is just fiddling around and finding a sound that I like. Whether it’s a synthesizer or I don’t know, just anything, a wash, a keyboard. I have access to like, thousands of different sounds within Logic, which is what I use to record. So I think just finding a sound that I’m like “man this sounds different, like I haven’t heard this before.” I just get inspired by that. The baseline comes really early and then once I have a song, I’ll just listen to it over and over and over again. Eventually a vocal melody will kind of pop into my head or slowly be created in my head. After I listen to it a million times, I can listen to it in my head without hearing it, you know, just play it in my head over and over and over again… and just think up vocal melodies over days and weeks just while I’m sitting around or doing whatever!
Diving into the meanings behind your music, are there any themes that recur or central themes to your songs that you want to tell us about?
I don’t do it on purpose or mean to, really… but I find that a lot of my songs tend to be of heartbreak or unrequited love or abandonment. I feel like it’s kind of hard for me to be motivated to write about things that make me happy because they don’t bother me. I feel like I only really write when I’m sad or dealing with something. (I) kind of just feel the need to express discontent or sadness more than I feel the need to express happiness or you know, something like that. So yea, definitely sad girl theme happening. But sometimes, I think this new song that I wrote was kind of fun because it was really lighthearted and I’m also really interested in exploring that side of songwriting. Things don’t have to be always so meaningful and heavy all the time.
Talking about your new song “Different Color Hair,” it deviates from your usual sound heard in Body Work. Listening to it, there is a lighthearted and whimsical feeling to it, with dreamy island guitar. What was the process behind creating this new sound?
I mean, I took this guitar pedal from George (Clanton). It’s really old and it makes a lot of cool delays. And so, I was just playing around with that and recorded a bunch of guitar tracks with that and was like “this is so cool!” Basically it was just me playing with that pedal and having fun with the sounds that I could make. And the vocals are really just kind of like a stream of consciousness. I don’t put a ton of thought into vocals because it’s just so burdensome to me. Sometimes I’ll stress over the lyrics for weeks and to me, that’s just not fun. [laughs] Sometimes for me, it’s more about the rhythm of the word and the syllables of the words than the word itself. Also, I’ve been lately fascinated by jingles or songs that sound like they’re the theme song for somebody. And when I heard those types of songs, I’ve been like “man that is so funny, I wanna write a song that can be a theme song for somebody.” So this was kind of me doing that as well.
What is the story being told in “Different Color Hair”?
I guess it’s a theme song for myself. But it’s basically just about feeling like you’re not cool or feel like you don’t fit in anywhere… you want to be different but you can’t think of how to be different so, it’s like that funny thing where somebody dumps you and you dye your hair a different color to feel better. And I think that’s such a funny concept and I’ve done it before. So I thought it would be funny to make a song about, you know, trying to change yourself by changing your outward appearance and questioning/discussing whether that can help one or not.
The music video for “You Weren’t There Anymore” seems like a teenage daydream of sorts so we want to know what went into the vision behind the themes seen in the video?
My friend Cory Nixon was the director; he came up with the concept for the video. I just followed directions. I thought it was a cool idea and that’s why I did it. But he was really inspired by David Lynch and Twin Peaks for the concept of this… just being kind of like a typical teen kind of movie or whatever but something’s a little weird, something’s off. The cheerleader is doing coke, the guy is creepy on the bleachers. It was really fun. I made the costumes; I put the “NEGATIVE” on all the cheerleading costumes. Pretty much other than that, I just followed the shots.
Was there a connection with the lyrics of the song to the conceptualization of the video?
Yea I think that the idea was for the meaning of the song to be adapted to this scenario where I, as the cheerleader, was feeling kind of betrayed or abandoned by my best friend, who is the blonde cheerleader. We left the video really open to a bit of interpretation but we’re kind of feuding over this boy that we both like. And she has the coke addiction so the idea is that it’s related to the song like, with these feelings of betrayal and abandonment. The girl is kind of stealing my boyfriend, kind of losing herself and losing her friendship with me with this drug addiction. But I like that it ends with us hugging ‘cause, I guess it’s kind of a different direction than the song in that there’s a resolution and there’s, you know, hope for a resolution. In the song, there’s no hope for resolution. The song is really about me being cheated on and dumped. But we turned it into like a friendship falling apart for the video.
If you had to make up a story for the neck brace girl in the music video, what would it be?
She’s like hot but she has a neck brace on, she’s funny. She was really the underdog of that video, she’s actually going to be in my next music video. Maybe a neck brace. I don’t know what her story is, I don’t know what happened to her neck. Probably got hurt in a dancing catastrophe, getting thrown doing a flip in a cheer. I don’t know but she’s hilarious.
From of your entire discography, what song has been the hardest for you to create?
Oh man, I think “You Never Knew” is probably the hardest for me to finish. I actually had several different versions of that song over the course of 2 years. It went on that long with me toying with different versions of it. I can’t even remember what the song used to be called but I had it on my SoundCloud a long time ago. It’s kind of like if you’re overkneading dough or something, I don’t know if that’s a word… overkneading. I don’t like to stress over one song for so long, it’s more fun when it pops out. That’s the way “You Weren’t There Anymore” was, I just kind of made that song in a couple days. But I think there is something to be said for songs like “You Never Knew” where I stress over it for a really long time. I mean, that’s one of my favorite songs now that I made so you know, I think there’s something to be said for that really- thinking carefully about the lyrics and the melody and all that.
So what song was the easiest?
The easiest… well actually, “Different Color Hair” was pretty easy too. That might be the easiest song I ever made. Or “You Weren’t There Anymore,” a lot of those vocal recordings were just the first thing I came up with. It was an improvisational recording, it doesn’t get any easier than that! I think those are super fun and in a way I think they’re the most genuine because they’re not contrived at all, they’re not thought over, mulled over at all.
Would you say that you’re a perfectionist?
Yes, which is really surprising here since I just also said that I have an improvisational recording!
Did the improvisational aspect of those songs irk the perfectionist in you?
Yeah. Well, usually it’s kind of intuitive if I’ve done something that I know that I like- I just know it. You know, I certainly did work for months on that song, despite its spontaneity. Mixing and mastering, just had to get it exactly right. So even when there’s looseness, I still struggle with that perfectionism, just really particular. I just don’t like to put out anything that I’m not 100% about.
There are different dimensions to your sound but at its core, it has elements of trance/electronic/techno that mingle with vocalizations heard in your lyrics. What drew you to make music in this particular way?
Before this when I was younger, I was in a rap group. I really enjoyed that but I ended up doing something where I’m singing and it’s more sing-songy because I felt like I’m a really emotional person. Just singing- it jived with me more being able to sing and I felt like I could better express myself that way. I’m making the music, the type of music, that I like. Or making music that I wish existed but it doesn’t so I’m making it. [laughs] I don’t know that sounds really stupid or egotistical!
When you have people listen to your music, what kind of reaction do you hope to incite within them?
I feel like I know my music is not for the masses, it’s not for everyone and I take that as a compliment because I think that a lot of mainstream music is trash… just manufactured trash. I guess I hope that people will hear it and think, “I’ve never really heard something quite like this.”
What is your favorite part of making your music?
I think making a song is kind of like solving a puzzle and when you’re putting it together, there’s often little problems that you have to solve – “well the baseline has to be different for the verse than it is for the chorus,” “this is all sounding the same, gotta switch it up somehow.” And when you solve those little problems, it’s those little a-ha moments that are really nice because you just feel victorious, you figured it out.
Specifically when it comes to writing, is there a formula you go by when it comes to songwriting?
Even though I just trashed on pop music, I love pop music. I think some pop music is great so when I’m writing a song, of course, I’m always thinking about the rules like – verse, chorus, verse, bridge, chorus. I went to summer camp a few years in a row for songwriting so we learned a little bit about traditional songwriting and music theory so I just always think back to what I learned there. Know the rules but know that the rules are meant to be broken so a little bit of both.
Is there a way you approach each song?
I feel like that answer might be obvious to an outsider looking in but maybe not so obvious to me since I’m just in the middle of it. But yeah, I think melody is central to my songwriting so if I don’t have a good baseline or good melody, then I have nothing as far as I’m concerned.
Your sound feels nostalgic, daydreamy and the beats are reminiscent of 80s/90s club beats. We want to know what your experiences have been in these different tones?
Yea, that’s definitely true – I’m super into those sounds and definitely incorporate them. I found a huge folder of breakbeat samples so I will insert those sometimes. I have a fair amount of samples in my music, it’s really illegal but I haven’t been sued for it yet so knock on wood [knocks on wood]. Or other times I kind of listen to a sample of a breakbeat and remake it myself just a little differently if I’m super worried about it. But yea, I was a kid in the 90s so I’ll always have that kind of nostalgia for that time period because life was good and the music was amazing – it’s not the same anymore and everybody says that when they get older! There’s still music coming out today, literally just now on my computer, brand new that I love. But I’ll always have that admiration for older music so I can’t help but kind of have that be part of my music. I grew up all over the south and the East Coast, but you know, I was never going to clubs or anything. You know, I was just a kid hearing the Smashing Pumpkins on the radio or something. I don’t know how I got into all this underground 90s minimal techno, it’s not like I was never there in real life for that, you know? But I just go looking for it on the Internet and yea, I guess when I was a kid I really liked the Prodigy so that was kind of the starting point of all the techno stuff.
With the clear evolution of club music, Serenity Rave was an event you DJ’d that was characteristically electronic/techno. Clubs overseas like in Paris and Berlin are playing this kind of music more predominantly as compared to clubs in LA where this is not the case. What is your take on the electronic scene here in LA?
Oh gosh I don’t know! I haven’t been overseas very much but I do get that general impression that they’re more about electronic music. But I did live in New York for 2 years and was very impressed by their interest in electronic music. That’s another thing that got me really into that. But I occasionally DJ and I’ll DJ minimal trance or house music. I’ve brought it up to a few friends here like “hey I like to DJ if you need anybody else to DJ at your party or whatever, let me know!” and they’re like “well what do you play, is it disco? Funk?” and I’m like “no – it’s minimal techno, trance.” [laughs] They just give me this weird look. So I don’t think that it is cool here, but it’s fucking cool as shit in New York! People don’t like it here.
That seems to be the impression out here! People can’t digest it here?
People are too happy here! I think that’s the thing. In New York, I feel like it’s so fitting because you’re just overstimulated in every way and all you can handle is *mimics sound of rhythmic bass beat*
That’s a good way to put it! Going to Serenity Rave, that was the first electronic/trance event I’ve ever been to in LA – it seems like it’s not as easy to find this kind of music live as opposed to other places like New York. What’s your take on this?
I think I agree with you even though I’ve only been here since September and I don’t go out a whole lot. I haven’t heard a single bar or club playing techno music [laughs]. I think I’m kind of excited to DJ more parties out here and see if anyone is receptive to that kind of vibe ‘cause it can be cool.
When you’re performing, what kind of reaction do you want to receive from the crowd?
Well I guess it’s different when I’m DJ’ing, I just want people, of course, to just dance with each other if they want to. Or just kind of look like they’re having a good time, talking to each other – carrying on. If I’m doing a Negative Gemini performance, I kind of want the same thing. I feel like there are some concerts that illicit this kind of like really quiet response where you can hear a pin drop during the performance. I think it’s really powerful and special when an act can do that to a crowd. But I definitely am not that kind of a performer, I want people to be getting a little wild out there. You know, talking – screaming at each other during the show… just having a good time. I like when people mosh, crowd surf, dance around, yeah.
Looking back on your career so far, what kind of risks have you taken or faced?
I feel like I’ve moved around a bit for my career and you know, there’s always risks/sacrifices associated with that. It’s kind of silly but where you live really can give you better opportunities. So, moving here was – it’s always a risk when you’re doing something unknown but it’s always worth it. I think I’m kind of an introverted person so it’s always a little weird having to present myself all the time or just be someone who is trying to attract attention ‘cause I just kind of like to be in the background but that’s something necessary for me so I don’t know, that’s a little weird.
What is your favorite thing about the music scene here in LA since you moved out here?
Even since before I moved, I was drawn to the idea of living here just because of all these acts that have come from here, that are still here, that I really admire. Just the general vibe I get out here, is more of anything goes. I haven’t been to a lot of small shows here so I don’t really know/understand what’s going on in the scene or whatever.
What would be your top 3 dream collaborations?
Oh man, I don’t know, I don’t like necessarily the idea of myself working with someone else because it just makes me feel nervous or something, just even thinking about it.
Nervous in what way? Like the idea of someone getting in on how you work?
Yea sort of! Or just like the difficulty of just trying to work with another person. I think I’m always open to the possibility. It’s kind of hard to think about all of them ‘cause there’s people that of course I feel like that it’ll never happen with and then there’s people where I’m like “oh that could certainly be possible.” I think I’d like to work with Weyes Blood or Ariel Pink or MGMT. Yea, I’m sure I’m leaving out someone important that I’m spacing out on. The idea of working with those people, certainly nerve-wracking.
Negative Gemini is a pseudo-identity of you being a Sagittarius. Why did you pick this name?
[laughs] Okay well, you’re right I am a Sagittarius. When I picked the name, it was many years ago and I was always really passionate about music but I never would have thought that I would be carrying this name for so many years to come when I chose it. I just wrote down 100 words and paired them up differently and was like “oh I like the sound of this” and that’s how I picked the band name, because I wasn’t drawn anywhere particular. I didn’t know what to call it so I just picked something. To me it’s one of those names that loses all meaning like Sonic Youth, what does that mean? You just kind of forget that the words have their own meaning and just become your band name.
Would you say that you subscribe to astrology?
No, not really! I couldn’t tell you very much about it. I looked up what my sign means and what my family’s signs mean and George (Clanton). But, you know, I’m not very knowledgeable about that kind of stuff. But I won’t write it off as being very significant, potentially.
Have you found it to be accurate in your research?
Yea mostly. I think I’m a Sagittarius, they’re very loyal and honest. And they can be blunt at times, unfortunately… And artistic. George (Clanton) is a Capricorn so he’s really money-obsessed and a numbers guy. And determined. So yea, I think for everybody I know, it’s kinda lined up – it seems true. But then they did that whole thing where they switched it up and then they were like “actually your sign is different than you thought because the alignment changed.” So now I’m not really a Sagittarius anymore, I’m like a Scorpio, if you follow the new astrological guide or whatever. I think most people have written that off like “no I’m just staying the same, I’m the same.”
Has being a Sagittarius translated into your music and in what ways?
Yea. One of those traits, being honest, sometimes to a fault – I think that my lyrics are really honest, they’re just straightforward. I’m not creating a story or anything, it’s all just real life stuff. So yea, I say it’s very true to my character.
So what’s the best thing about being a Sagittarius?
Probably just being the creative person is a Sagittarius trait. So that’s like… all I’ve got, is my creativity! [laughs]
What about the worst?
Honestly, the being blunt. And I’ve seen it with other people who are… Sagittarius? Sagittarian? I’ve seen other ones do it too, you know, even when we’re trying to say something nice but it comes off as rude or like you’re trying to be funny and it comes off rude. That’s really gotten me. If they don’t know you, especially.
What are your musical pet peeves?
OH. Well my #1 musical pet peeve is a key change. So you know, Beyoncé, that song where she’s like “baby it’s you, you’re the one I want!” And then she goes *in higher key* “BABY IT’S YOU!” and then it moves up more and more! That, oh my god, when I hear that, I just die inside. I don’t know why! I mean, it’s like a clever little tactic to switch a song up, but for some reason I can’t stand it. I think it’s so annoying, that’s my #1. I also hate when people – this new type of music that’s been around for like 10 years with the “uhh uhh uhh oh oh oh.” These ooh’s and ahh’s… what’s a good example, you know like, it’s on every commercial, which is like, ummm. George, can you hear me? […George did not hear her…] Damnit. [laughs] He would be able to give you an example! But just ooh’s and ahh’s becoming the vocal hook or the chorus… I can’t give you a good example because I just run from it. The third pet peeve, oh this fashion trend of women singing like they have an egg yolk cradled in their tongue and they’re like *mimics strange singing phenomena* I can’t – I can’t imitate it! They’re like *2nd attempt of egg yolk singing* [chuckles] I can’t do it! But maybe Lorde, I think, might’ve been one of the ones to cause this, to pioneer this weird, soft… or Halsey does it maybe.
Rifling through your tweets, you made an interesting statement that “California and everywhere else besides the East Coast has pizza confused.” Care to enlighten us on what that’s about?
So people here will be like “oh have you been to Crispy Crust? It’s so good” or like “have you been to Pizza Hut?” and like, this is not what pizza is supposed to be like! Like real pizza. Or like people eat pizza on like a cracker- crackery crust here. There’s just all sorts of wrong pizza over here. But what can I do?
If you were put in charge of refurbishing pizza out here, how would you go about it?
I mean, I have a bias, you know. I really like a classic New York slice or Neapolitan style pizza. Those are the top two excellent types of pizza. So if you ever see a place like that, well – any kind of New York slice here is always a lie. Just go to New York or go to Italy!
What artists are you currently obsessed with?
Well Weyes Blood just came out with a new album today and I saw her last night play at the Masonic Lodge so I’ve been a fan of hers for a long time, really excited about her new album. I have been listening to a lot of Connan Mockasin lately, which is really relaxed but kind of weird, creepy, cheeky thing going on with his whole personality. I think in the past year, I really enjoyed the new MGMT album “Little Dark Age.” That’s been like a pretty big influence of mine as of recently. Ariel Pink. Jessica Pratt just put out a new album, she’s from LA. It’s kind of like freak folk but it’s so beautiful, I’m really into that. George (Clanton), my boyfriend.
Send a message to your future self.
Congratulations, you’re still here. You did it.
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