WL//WH Interview   Erica Nockalls & Jean-Charles Versari

A few months ago, I talked with Jean-Charles Versari regarding an interview together with Erica Nockalls. At that time, Jean-Charles and Erica were preparing for their tour and soon after, they hit the road. Recently, I received that interview completed in my mailbox and it is always a pleasure for WL//WH to chat with artists whose music we admire and would love to see live if they happen to perform in our areas. Normally, I have to write more words in the preface, but the answers they gave us don’t need any preface, as they are both well-known in our ears with their acts; Versari, Les Hurleurs, The Wonder Stuff,  The Proclaimers, Dutch Head. The interview is a comprehensive discussion of their art, including an in-depth look at their collaborative work in the studio. Lay back, press play…

  • Hello Erica, hello Jean-Charles, welcome to WL//WH. Let’s go straight to the hot news; a brand new video for “Build Me a Ship” and as I read in the EPK “It is a video conceived as a short movie black and white film with a Lynchian modernity; a glimpse into the last moments of an icon”. Can you tell us, please, all about this peculiar video and the details around it?

Jean-Charles: We shot on location in Croatia. The light and the ocean were absolutely amazing. We started shooting at night, and when I saw Erica lying face down on the beach, I immediately saw a reference to Jean Cocteau’s Orphée series of films, and it gave me a direction for everything that was going to be shot from then. From that point, I knew the video had to be in B&W. We shot all ocean images in one night, and some day images too, on the ship that took us back to Dubrovnik. We started editing together, and something started to appear from the images: I saw a Marylin Monroe’s last hours connection, which also pushed me in the David Lynch direction.

As the lyrics talk about the ritual of wrapping dead sailors in a white shroud, sewing it through the nose, and tipping the body into the ocean, we tried to refer to this by wrapping Erica’s head in white linen, pouring water on it and having her sing the lyrics. We integrated this in the video but it didn’t really work as. Erica had the idea of speeding it up and that made the whole difference and gave another angle to the video, like a dying drowning scream. But we still missed some elements, it felt unfinished. About a year after the first images, we went to Ibiza and shot the last images there. And then a last-minute idea came in: Erica spat out a compass and we reversed and sped it up, thinking of loss of sense of time and direction. Editing took a bit more time, but we got there in the end.

Erica: That sense of loss of time-reversed is a thread throughout the video: A lot of the images are reversed, sped up, or slowed down. And like a lot of previous music videos, I appear naked or semi-naked. I made this choice for the sake of era neutrality – not wishing to bind myself to fashion or genre.

  • The second track of this release is a cover of Roxy Music’s “In Every Dream Home A Heartache” featuring Jean-Charles Versari, who is a renowned musician, producer, and Post-punk persona from Paris, France. How come you two collaborate so easily (again), and what pushed you to choose this specific song to cover?

Erica: We were in Jean-Charles Versari’s studio late one rainy night in Paris, working on a mix of one of my latest singles, and I took a comfort break. We’d been lightly drinking as we collaborated, something I’m rather partial to doing, as working with Jean-Charles into the small hours is one of my favourite activities – it’s my idea of a perfect night out – creating, and having fun whilst you’re at it. In the loo at the studio, there’s a hand dryer. Nothing unusual in that fact, but in my personally preferred loo, the acoustics are fabulous.

The hand dryer gave me a curious couple of drone tones as a harmonic bed, and for some reason unbeknown to me, it had conjured up the memory of my love for this song, ‘In Every Dream Home A Heartache’ by Roxy Music. Sitting atop the porcelain goddess, I started singing it, with this beautiful, stark, small tiled natural room reverb, that in my semi-sober state felt was really rather flattering to my vocal musings… although I appreciate this image is anything but flattering. I purposefully marched (wobbled) back to Jean-Charles and declared my passion for the idea of covering said track.

Fast-forward to being back at the house that night, I stayed up and demoed it, because I’m greedy like that when I have an idea – everything all at once, and obsessive. I persuaded Jean-Charles to lay down a scratch vocal as a duet at around 5 am… which I remember he was slightly reluctant to do, mainly, I feel, because the desired vocal I wanted to coax from him was quite far removed from his more familiar territory as noise-rock frontman in his exceptional band, Versari.

It quickly became vividly apparent once our voices married tonally, that this notion had legs, and drunk me was indeed right, and that my idea was indeed brilliant (hoffs nails). You see, as well, there’s a freedom that comes with reworking someone else’s music and was one I’d personally not known about before this point. I found it to be absolutely liberating to do what you like with any of the ingredients you’ve been given, a bit like an invention test on Masterchef, and I do love to cook.

The only rule is, for me, to successfully cover someone else’s song is – there has to be a point. This in itself is a point I feel many people blindly (either knowingly or not) miss. Change the key, change the tempo, maybe just use the lyrics, TWIST the lyrics, but for fuck’s sake, CHANGE something. Otherwise, it’s like turning up to a party with cheap cider and drinking the host’s champagne. Oh, and my other only rule is, you can’t cover Bowie. No one can, or should. It simply doesn’t need doing, and you’ll just embarrass yourself. We collaborate so easily because we love and know each other.

  • I also see news regarding a tour supporting Echo and The Bunnymen. It is a very important project and we would like details about this particular venture as well as some info and details about your band on the stage.

Jean-Charles: Erica recorded all the strings for their forthcoming album, and Ian McCulloch, the singer of The Bunnymen, and he and Erica have a special artistic connection. He invited her to open for the “Ocean Rain” tour last September, and we are currently opening for all the “Songs to Learn and Sing 2024” tour in the UK and Europe. It is an amazing opportunity for us!

When we worked on “Dark Music from a Warm Place”, Erica’s last album, She didn’t want to tour it, nor did she see how to give a good live rendition of the tracks. As we worked together more and more, on other projects as well – Erica co-produced with me all the covers Versari did for Unknown Pleasure Records – she asked me if I would play guitar and sing with her on stage. We then started working on sampler tracks of electronic drums/bass synths and synths and started practicing.

Live, we are a two-piece band: Erica sings and plays the violin, and I play the guitar and sing too. A Roland sampler plays Drum machines and bass synth, and synths.

  • Erica, to write this interview I listened to all your music on Bandcamp and I was impressed not only by the range of music you write but also by how dedicated you are to the wider New Wave in its most alternative form. So my question is how do you perceive yourself as a singer, as a musician, where does everything we hear on your music come from, and where are you headed as an artist?

Erica: I would never consider myself as a crossover artist but what I do consider myself to be is in a fluid position between a few of my favorite genres. This in itself has led to journalistic confusion/discrepancy over how to pigeonhole my music, but in my mind, it is for the audience to decide, and I am quite happy with that. My next direction is starting to form as a background task in my mind’s ear, but currently, I am enjoying the more minimalist and brutalist aspect of my material on this Bunnymen tour, performing it with Jean-Charles.

  • …what are the future plans regarding your artistic career?

Erica: I am currently booking for UK and European festival slots. As I am also a visual artist and I want to spend more time painting, and that often leads on to developing new musical content. In the past, my painting pieces have gone hand in hand as a creative dive board.

  • I always ask my guests about their lyrics or the stories they sing, can you tell our readers about the words in your songs and what may inspire you to write them down?

Erica: Every song I have ever written has been about loss – of love, of hope, life, friendships, relationships. It is always about loss. Very rarely a track such as “Eiffel’s Eye” (from the album “Dark Music from a Warm Place”) has hopeful ambition, but to counter that cheeriness, the song is essentially about hedonism and the desire to self-destruct… it just sounds happy because it’s in a major key. Like for anyone else I guess, writing is a cathartic process, and if my lyrics are translatable to anyone else’s state, then all the better. I also like to word-paint, and I rarely repeat myself or revisit the same specific themes.

  • Being both of you involved in music in the internet era and during and post-Covid times what are the most difficult issues you have to handle when it comes to addressing audiences and how cool or not is to be a musician, performer, artist, or studio owner, in our times?

Jean-Charles: Gosh… Where to start? I’ll go straight to streaming. This is the worst rip-off creative artists have had to deal with, and I do think COVID made it worse: people go out less, and they buy even less records than they did before. And because all streaming platforms are absolute crooks, we get absolutely nothing from streaming. The people should realize that 95% of the amount they pay for their service goes to the platform, not to the artists.

Unfortunately, I think it is still cool to be a musician or a performer in our times, but because we live in a world of social media, altered images, and false pretence, it usually stops right there. The best you get is being checked out on social, eventually being followed on Spotifuck… but now you know how I feel about these horrendous streaming sites. And as a studio owner, it’s a bit different. I don’t come across as cool, which is nice. People come to see me because I have knowledge and a working tool. COVID did hit me hard, especially because I mainly work with independent artists and they, we are all skint.

Erica: As a touring musician, the sale of merch’ on the road is vital. What I dislike is having to disrupt my creative flow in a performance to mention the availability of my merchandise for sale, but this has to be done. Next time anyone goes to see a live music performance, support the artist by buying their music directly… and unsubscribe to streaming platforms. The worst thing that anyone can say to me after a show is that they enjoyed my performance and they’ll follow me on Spotify. It’s a slap in the face and they don’t even realize how offensive that is.

  • Jean-Charles, you noted on FB a few very interesting things about the new works of Versari. Can you share with our readers some sure things about the band and its direction?

Jean-Charles: Yes, we are currently working on a new album. And we are very excited about the direction. I am still struggling with lyrics as I feel I have pushed everything to its limit with “Sous la Peau” LP. I was quite lyrics worn out after it… But embryonic ideas and melodies are starting to pop up.

A lot of music has been written though: Versari is truly a three-headed beast, we work a lot from free improvisation. We usually get to our working space, set our things up and just start to play. Free improv is not improv as in the rock/blues or the jazz world: it doesn’t have to abide by scales and harmonic rules. Our spark to a new track could be a feedback that I loop, a bass line, or a drum pattern, and the three of us just start reacting to what is happening and interacting with each other. Since “Sous la Peau” we have gathered quite a few instrumentals in that way, and we have started recording them properly. We now have a lot of material which I will start recording final guitars and vocal lines when I get back from this tour.

  • I’d like you to recommend one book that remains forever in your hearts, one record, and one movie, please.

Jean-Charles: “The Idiot” by Dostoevsky, “Unknown Pleasures” by Joy Division and “Wings of Desire” by Wim Wenders – I am very excited to play the Berlin Metropol, as it is where the live scenes with Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds were shot !!!

Erica: “Attention all Shipping” by Charlie Connelly, “Antichrist Superstar” by Marilyn Manson, and “Dazed and Confused” by Richard Linklater.

  • Is art, and more specifically music, the shelter or the lab for our hopes and dreams, or is it just the medium for our entertainment?

Jean-Charles: I certainly hope it is the first option and not the second! As a creator, it seems obvious it should be, but I need art on a regular basis in my life. A shelter and lab for our hopes and dreams is a very good way to say it!

Erica: Art for me is a platform, but more like a podium, where creatives get naked and expose themselves.

  • Erica, and Jean-Charles, thank you very much for your time. Last words on you!

Thanks for this and good work on your site !!!

Keep up with Erica Nockalls and Versari:

ERICA NOCKALLSWebsite Facebook | Bandcamp | YouTube | Instagram |

VERSARI WebsiteFacebookBandcamp | Instagram |

Interview by Loud Cities’ Mike