L’Épée: An Introspective

By Nina Klaff

L’Épée is emblematic of the abundance to be found in the in-between. Boasting French model and movie star Emmanuelle Seigner (Ultra Orange), husband and wife duo Lionel and Marie Limiñana (The Limiñanas), and the American Anton Newcombe (The Brian Jonestown Massacre), it is a compelling bilingual collaboration of all-star creatives. 

L’Épée exudes the transience and the decadence that only nostalgia can afford. This may appear effortless, but is the result of a real commitment to honouring the musical history that has impacted them so greatly. They make no secret of this, either. In an interview with Piccadilly Records, Newcombe boasts “I’ve got way more ‘60’s gear than The Beatles and The Stones had, I’m mad for that stuff.” The influences in their first album, Diabolique, released in 2019, are palpable: with drums that put the nostalgia in rock ‘n roll, visuals that hail from times gone by, and Seigner’s breathy bilingual vocals, you can almost hear the echoes of musical heroes of eras past. In the elegiac ‘Lou,’ from their 2019 EP Ghost Rider, lead vocalist Seigner laments: “Je perds espoir Lou” [I’m losing hope, Lou], calling to none other than Lou Reed of The Velvet Underground – a band Seigner credits as one of her biggest inspirations.

Everything from their shimmering instrumentals, lyrical nods to the 60s with yé-yé inflexions, to their distinctively grainy visuals, has a retro feel. According to an interview with The Guardian, Lionel Limiñana intended the lyrics on the album as musical short stories inspired by Italian film director Dino Risi. They are experimental in their abstract poetry: at times whimsical, deliberately doused in emotion, they are consistently concise. Seigner undeniably does them justice. The visualiser for the eponymous Dreams, of their 2019 album, is composed of vintage archival footage of Paris. It is an ode to the French capital, indeed where Seigner was born. The very first shot is of the iconic Moulin Rouge. We are then guided along streets lined with cafes and squares dappled with portrait painters smoking cigarettes, smack-bang in the middle of the artistic centre of Montmartre. The Limiñanas’ outspoken wistfulness for the past permeates these references to the French cultural ancestry they share with Seigner, and now with us. 

Despite their vintage aesthetic, the band is unmistakably current. While Newcombe and Seigner both rose to prominence in their respective fields in the eighties, Lionel and Marie are candid about their recent success. Lionel states plainly that when he first started, ‘in the 90s, it was impossible to live off making this kind of music’, and proudly asserts his wife, Marie, is smarter than him: she managed to find work in the medical sector. It’s perhaps the newness of it all for them that gives L’Épée its electric rose-tinted glasses. 

This band is by no means Seigner’s first taste of success. She, too, has had other lives. A model by age fourteen, two César nominations in a film career spanning over three decades, she maintains that music has always been her lifelong dream, before modelling took the foreground. In a world of immediacy, agism and 30 under 30 lists, there is power and beauty in the fact she first accomplished this at almost fifty years of age with Ultra Orange, and again now with L’Épée. 

It was in fact her husband of 32 years, Polish-French filmmaker Roman Polanski, who gave Seigner her first big break in Frantic (1988). It would be remiss not to mention that Polanski has been shrouded in controversy. A fugitive of the US legal system, he was convicted of child sexual abuse in 1977 – twelve years before they married. Seigner is known to speak out in his defence, arguably at odds with her self-proclaimed feminism. He remained a director whose films were received with Hollywood acclaim until the #MeToo movement saw him ousted from the Academy. Seigner’s response? An open letter rejecting her membership, stating subversively: ‘This is one woman you won’t have.’

So how did a husband and wife duo from Perpignan, an international movie star and an American multi-instrumentalist end up in a studio in Cabestany, France (population: 10,000), only to emerge with a ten-track album? 
Legend has it, Seigner was watching Gossip Girl with her daughter, Morgane. She heard The Limiñanas’ ‘Down Underground’ featured on the soundtrack and thought it was so good, she promptly hopped on a plane to meet them. They recorded a couple of songs with Newcombe and thought they were so good that they formed a band. The rest, as they say, is L’Épée.