Tahiti 80 take me back to my high school days when I was just discovering the world of European pop music. The late 90s was a goldmine for Euro-poppers to win over US notoriety (and not just the likes of Robyn and The Cardigans). For French bands, there seems to be a continuous dividing line between entering the Anglo world or staying in France to make it. Tahiti 80 made the grand gesture, taking the latter and abandoning their Gallic mother tongue. Frontman Xavier Boyer was more than happy to gush about his love for New York (where their first two albums were produced) on the last leg of their brief jaunt to the States promoting their latest effort, Activity Center. Playing to a sold-out Mercury Lounge crowd, it’s clear that I am not the only one who has a soft spot for the Frenchies who have been going strong for 16 years,  four albums and eight EPs later. Their infectious brand of optimistic, soulful, synth-friendly Euro pop will clearly never get old.

Tahiti 80 formed in Rouen. Do you all still live there?
I live in Paris, but the other guys live in Rouen. I am not originally from there, but we all met studying there. We were a bunch of guys wearing t-shirts of bands we like. We got together promoting indie nights on campus, started bands, our bands would play on the nights, and it got more serious. We got signed very quickly after that.

So how does it feel to be in New York? You guys have been here quite a lot, right?
We’ve played New York for every album we released, and actually, our first two albums were recorded here. We’ve got a very special relationship with the city. This is the first part of America that we know, so it’s always good to be back. We’ve got a lot of friends that we met on the sessions and such.

What do you think about your fan base here? I know you have a big following in Japan, but how do you perceive the American audience?
In every country we have fans who are usually dedicated to our music and are into what we are doing, and what they like is the fact that we care about our music and are friendly guys when we’re onstage. Something I hate about bands is when you have an impression that bands are looking down on you. We always want to share something with the audience.

What about France - what is your following like?
We are still building up a following in France. It was hard in the beginning to be a French band singing in English. It’s changing a bit now, but now we are kind of seen as pioneers and get much more respect. It is still hard for us to get airplay on the radio as there is that law about 60% of French music being played, and we are French but we are not considered ‘French music’ since we sing in English. So we are in the other 40% and are in competition with everyone else. It’s not a good law for us! But, with this album, Activity Center, it’s been easier for us than the others. This album is easier to understand because it’s more or less straight-forward music. In a way it just sounds like a band playing together while with our former releases, they might have been too sophisticated for French tastes. We cared about instrumentation and arrangements. Activity Center is more what you would expect from an indie-pop rock band, and I think people received it very well in France. Every album is different, and with every release we gain and lose fans, and that is all part of the artistic challenge.

It’s funny because bands like Phoenix, you would not know they’re French, and the same applies to Tahiti 80.
In a way, I think Phoenix are much more American than we are, from what I hear. They still have a base in France, but they have always been more American than we are. If I should ‘define’ them, they became a bit of a French version of The Strokes, a bit more sophisticated in what The Strokes were about. I don’t think we were like that. We have been a band whose sound is hard to track. One album was very soulful, and I think for them, they were always more familiar in their sound than us. Our sound is more of a hybrid. I think it can be a good thing for music fans, but hard for mainstream fans as we go in many directions. I like all kinds of music- so it shows. Sorry if I talk too much [laughs]!

How does Activity Center differ from Fosbury?
It’s a reaction to Fosbury. That album was the four of us jamming in the room of a studio with computers and almost no guitars. We had no songs written beforehand; we were just jamming. In the end that was the best thing about Fosbury. The songs were written on an acoustic guitar and then changed; not written the traditional way. This time we wanted to make an album that would sound like the band we are on stage; a bit more rock. I wanted to give the listener an image, picturing the band in a room, and every guy is playing something. If the keyboard stops and the tambourine is still playing, you can picture it. I wanted this to be something we’ve never done before, changing the reality of our music. It’s easy to play these songs live since they were recorded like that.

I think Tahiti 80 is good at deconstructing a song. I’ve heard a few versions of “Heartbeat” and that represents your ability to break music down.
I found that by listening to other bands I love, that if you have a song, you can arrange it anyway you like. But the rule is that the song should sound good, whether it’s just piano or piano and vocal. The song can go in so many different directions. I think that’s why people like the live version as well as the album version, because it’s a different way of playing but at the same time you take in the music and performance. That’s what it’s all about.

What is the plan when you get back to France?
Well, I wish we could get some rest because we’ve been on the road for a year and a half. But we will go back and finish producing the album of our friend, Fugu. Then right after that, we have a bunch of demos and are going to record a new album shortly. You know, we’ve been on the road for quite a while and we’ve got songs. What’s been hard for record companies is that it’s been hard to follow us; we always wanted to move so quickly. –Andrea D’Alessandro, Photo by Andrew Wolff