INTO THE FORBIDDEN FOREST WE GLADLY GO, ORACLE SISTERS

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Escapism gets a bad rap. Not to insist on avoiding the nitty gritty altogether but we’ve earned a couple hall passes from the coil of it all. Just when we needed it most, the Oracle Sisters provide a well groomed package of escape, with music and imagery that facilitate third-eye transcendence internationally and even inter-dimensionally.

“The Dandelion is a gliding jazz hymn ballad with elements of funk and soul.” 

Says the band of its recent single. Indeed “Dandelion” is a casual stroll through cobblestone streets, where “the statues and masks of stone are sounding boards echoing [ideas and memories]”—“where the gargoyles are [always] watching.” 

And then we have “High Moon”more of a sonic and visual exploration into the chimera of childlike daydreams. Acoustic guitar gently plucks its way through the forests that surround the Fountainebleau Chateau as Julia Johansen sings us deeper into dream—hers and our own. The video, shot on 16mm by director and frequent collaborator Jade de Britto, follows the firey-haired songstress through the chaparral of lush green woodlands and algae bloomed ponds—a primary color dream drenched in 16mm haze.

Both releases come with a series of EP’s labeled Paris I and Paris II in which the band imagine the city in two parallels—one serene and evergreen and the other a more sardonic, dystopian result of exasperating tumult.

“Paris can be anywhere.” —muses the band of its home.

Be forewarned, indulging in this content can breed jealousy toward the three musicians for having such an extravagant place to be contained. But it’s worth the time and travel as we learn the charm of Oracle Sisters is its chatoyant textures. A song like “Dandelion” can sound like a jazz bar at the end of a long night, hints of blues and soul in the remnants of unfinished drinks—while “High Moon” rests with the mystics in storybook adventures, remnants of Gilberto’s acoustic guitar laid to rest in the leaves of an elvish sanctuary.

We spoke with Oracle Sisters about their process, their music and of course, their beloved city…

Hey Oracle Sisters, can you tell us about your new single, The Dandelion.

The Dandelion is a gliding jazz hymn ballad with elements of funk and soul mixed in. The verse vocals are inspired by Chet Baker and those kinds of singers… Sinatra and Marvin Gaye. The chorus is inspired by “baba black sheep, have you any wool”. I like how one chord Is harmonically off. When we were recording it with bassist Jerome Goldet he kept insisting that the chord was wrong but that’s what was right about it.

It came about as a challenge by our friend Armand Penicaut (Papooz) to write a song that started with a riff and took off from there. Written mainly by Chris, the arrangement was worked out at La Folie Barbizon (a small artist retreat outside of Paris) with Lewis on the piano looking out over the forests of Fontainebleau (where the “High Moon” video was shot).

Is it difficult to release music in 2020 when so much of what we do is in response to what the world is going through? It feels like all art has suddenly been characterized as an ‘escape’. Does that resonate with you?

Like Abraham Lincoln allegedly said : ‘Do you think we choose the times in to which we are born? Or do we fit the times we are born in to?’ I think everyone one must be asking themselves that question and the answer would be the latter. We’ve had to do a lot of fitting this year into absurd circumstances between the plague, despotic would-be kings and bumbling fools clothed in tattered rags of power holding scepters that weigh more than they can carry. Most legitimate systems of governance have undermined themselves by incompetence. Democracy is skating on thin ice. The town criers of fake news are the fake news. Everything is on its head, upside down. For those young enough to remember, during World War II the most popular songs were love ballads that soldiers passing through France would have heard. Perhaps they needed the voice of Edith Piaf as they faced the impossible… not as an escape but as an antidote. Music shows us around the corner, or a reality beyond the one we’re living, yet to come or possible. I see all music and so on as an exercise of the imagination which of course is the origin of all things we call reality: Nations, laws, architecture, food, engineering.. all require imagination and so all can be invented and reinvented. The only difference, I think most easily forgotten, is integrity, honesty and keeping in mind the well-being of others as equal to ourselves. These principles, today, have been skewered like a shish-kebab.

The Dandelion video gives a credit to Paris at the end. What is it that you love about the city? Is there an era of its history that you especially relate to?

Paris as referenced in our work is an exercise of the imagination as much as Paris of the Iliad dares the dream of stealing Helen. All true art leads to war, if not bringing clarity by drawing the battle lines. It begins with thieving something of true beauty, which in one’s possession and through another’s loss, makes it apparently clear what’s worth fighting for to both sides. That heretic act elevates the object of beauty to an impossible symbol. Paris is the thief, because he believes in the idea that he can possess beauty, which no one can forever. 

For the video the idea was to personify the city as a character responding to the words and feelings of someone expressing themselves within it. The statues and masks of stone are sounding boards echoing each person’s idea or memory. The gargoyles are all there watching over the daily tumult. Not much has changed since the days of the Hunchback of Notre-Dame. 

Paris was the stage of certain heroes of yesteryear passing through…Rimbaud, Picasso, Chopin, Van Gogh, Gauguin ..all made their entrances and exits and it’s tempting to romanticize those eras and their worlds as they appear. That being said…circling back to the start, is this idea of Paris as an idea and symbol. The World Fair of 1900, where from sprung the Eiffel Tower, created the idea for me of building a city imagined in its ideal form, that’s what our EPs Paris I and II were to mean. Imagining two alternate futures in the same place. So Paris represents a place where from you can imagine, which ultimately is not a location on a map but more from where you’re standing. Paris can be anywhere. 

The recent video for High Moon is beautiful. A perfect home for the song. How did the idea come together for this?

We wanted to present Julia with her song, to tell her story. She’s quite mystical and always in search of spiritual knowledge and journeys…disappearing from time to time, we don’t know where and then she reappears as if by magic. So the video, in the spirit of the times, is based on real life events, yet dramatized and then goes from there…Alice in Wonderland as reflected in the song, that’s Julia with High Moon. We call her the Queen of the Elves.

It feels from another place and time, was it shot in France? How did you choose the locations and what do they symbolize?

It was shot outside of Paris in the forests of Fontainebleau on 16mm. The locations were the aquarium (in Paris), the enchanted forest and then the lakes and caves on a darker day. I guess the aquarium represents the dream world, the unconscious. The enchanted forest is where Julia begins her searching out of innocence before she is initiated to her own darker side and wilder self and that is played out with her dancing around under the influence (or perhaps not) of a magic potion handed to her by a fellow elf who is savvy to the ways of the underworld. We made it on a shoestring budget, otherwise we would have had acrobatic fairies and headless knights in armor passing through.

Have you worked with the director Jade de Brito before? Their style fits wondrously with your music. Do you think you’ll work together more?

We had worked with Jade as she does color grading and assistant direction/director of photography type stuff, she had recently acquired a 16mm camera and it started as an experiment together to try out this idea and see what we could come up with with no pressure or expectations. She did a great job realizing our idea, as well as editing and color grading. We reshot some scenes to bring in the darker elements which delayed the release but we’re happy with how it ended up as an independent project with a small production. We’re very proud of it. We would definitely work with her again.

The Dandelion is from the upcoming EP, Paris II while High Moon is from Paris I – What are the narrative and sonic links between the records for you?

Narratively Paris I and Paris II were supposed to present two imagined futures: one utopia and one more realist, dystopia-type thing as illustrated with the covers by Ugo Bienvenu (French comic book artist). On Paris I we reflected that sonically by trying to reach certain ideals with our sound. Paris II is maybe more down to earth sound-wise, more intimate and personal. It was recorded a lot quicker, mostly live, more spontaneous and felt more vital and honest rather than seeking any grand narrative. It’s more speaking from our corner of the room, swiveling and conniving in the thunder clap of it all.

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photos / courtesy of artist

story / Chris Hess

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