French neo-soul group HER have had a bumpier ride than most. Formed back in 2015 by childhood friends Victor Solf and Simon Carpentier, the group’s attention-grabbing early single ‘Five Minutes’ got them a co-sign on an Apple ad, solidifying their sky-high ambition. Further EPs, mixtapes, and singles followed, with the group eschewing laptops and digitised music for a warm, entirely live stage show, and pulling revelrous crowds across the continent in the process. Through it all, though, Simon was enduring a silent, semi-secret battle with cancer.
Tragedy caught up with them last year, when Simon succumbed to the disease, passing away in August and leaving Victor as the sole member of HER. It’s a heartbreaking tale that imbues their self-titled debut with a sense of bittersweet emotion. Despite all the anguish and difficulty of the past few years, though, ‘HER’ feels buoyed by hope – a slinky, sultry, seductive celebration of life’s finer joys. Victor told us how Simon’s sunny-side-up mentality inspired the record, and his plans to honour Simon’s legacy.
Your album is ready to go. How are you feeling?
I’m definitely excited. It’s a very intense and intimate album. I feel very relieved to be able to put this album out. I’ve been releasing a lot of songs since Simon passed away last August, and now it’s kind of a relief to be able to show the album to the world, and to the public. I’m very proud now the album is finally finished and out.
How did Simon’s illness affect your experiences of writing the record? When did you find out that he had cancer?
I actually found out a long time ago – even when we wrote ‘We Choose’ like three years ago, it was the first song that we did together for HER. It was, of course, very difficult to live that. We never wanted to talk about death or being hopeless – the whole album has a very, very strong, positive attitude, and a positive point-of-view. There’s a lot of songs talking about love. I think it’s because Simon was sick that we decided to be like that. There’s a song called ‘Swim’ that we wrote just after a U.S. tour, just as Donald Trump became president. It was very intense, especially in the cities, because everyone truly believed that Clinton would win. For a while, we wanted to write a song against Trump, but in the end – and it’s the same with the whole album – we decided to write a song, not against someone, but for the American people who were trying to fight Trump. A song about hope, and swimming against the tide.
Was it quite important to you both, given everything that was going on both personally and politically, to be able to inspire positivity like that?
Yeah, and it also really helped Simon. Especially on tour. In London, in fact. A few years ago, we went to London together, and to be able to perform there and share our vision, it gave him a lot of strength.
Was it difficult to remain positive and hopeful, given everything that was going on? It’s a very intense thing to go through.
I think that it’s always difficult, to choose love instead of hate. It’s easy to hate someone, or to punch someone in the face, but it’s difficult to hug someone or be able not to criticise or judge someone. Simon tried to be like that so much. I just want to follow his path, and try to be the same?
Does it almost feel like you’re carrying the band on to honour him?
Yeah, that’s exactly how I feel.
How does it work, now that you’re the sole member of HER?
We still play everything live. There’s no computers on stage, and what we really want to achieve is to communicate with the crowd, and to have a dialogue. I’ve never played or composed anything for myself, or to be alone in my studio. HER is to share. That’s very important to us.
What is a HER show like? Is it very freeing – do you feel a lot of happiness and hope in the room?
Yes, exactly. That’s what I aim to do – to be able to enjoy a good night, and spend a good time together. It sounds simple, I know, but it’s actually very hard to share these things. I don’t like to talk between songs – it’s always about the music, and the feelings in the songs. It’s not about me!
And you’re back in the studio and working on new material already?
There’s certainly a lot of things to do! I’ll be back on tour soon for at least 70 gigs, all around Europe and the U.S. But every time I have two hours to work, I try to focus on the studio. The only thing that I want is not to repeat myself – it’s so easy to do the same thing again. But I’d also love to have the same sound. If I’m going to do another album with HER, I think it will be difficult. The second album is always difficult, for all artists, because you need to do something different, but you can’t change it completely, or people won’t recognise you. I don’t want to think about all that – I’m just trying to compose songs, and I hope that the music will show me the way again.
It must be a very different experience, writing on your own.
Yes, it’s very different, and it’s a lot of pressure. I’ve been working with Simon my whole life, since I was 17. Everything is very new, and different. The first song I wrote since September is called ‘Are You Still Here?’, and it was for him. It was a relief for me to know that I was able to write a song alone – I never did that.
HER’s self-titled debut album is out now. Tonight they play The Jazz Cafe in London (April 10)