All great things come… from Craigslist? Not long after they both responded to an ad on the site for a jazz jam session above a Manhattan noodle shop in 2007, Bandleader Evan “Bibs” Palazzo (shown here on French fries) and lead singer “Miz Elizabeth” Bougerol decided to form the Hot Sardines, a band being lauded as “New York’s hot-jazz darlings.” But before the pair swung into a whole new life on the stage, each was following a very different path, Bougerol, a London School of Economics-educated travel writer who grew up in France, Canada and the Ivory Coast and Palazzo, a New York City born and raised actor who studied theater at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. But their mutual love of Fats Waller couldn’t be denied, and the two began hitting the open mic scene, developing a sound influenced by Dinah Washington, Louis Armstrong and Billie Holiday. Before they could shuffle ball change, their self-titled debut was landing on best-of lists, and they were asked to headline Midsummer Night Swing at New York’s Lincoln Center.
Now, the swing stylists are at it again with their sophomore album, French Fries & Champagne, out June 17 on Universal Music Classics. Following the success of their first, the album consists of beautiful, playful swing-inspired covers as well as originals, sure to transport you from New York speakeasies to Parisan cabarets and New Orleans Jazz Halls, keeping your feet moving all the while.
Today, Elmore has the pleasure of debuting “French Fries & Champagne,” the album’s title track, with a sexy, swinging rhythm and oh-so catchy lyrics that will play over and over in your head all day. The sensuality of Bougerol’s voice belies a feistiness, especially in her interplay with the trumpet’s wail, fitting what she’s said of the track; “I wanted to write something that could be taken as the end of a love affair, but with a second layer that expressed what we’re all feeling,” she says. “These are uncertain times. When everything’s hopeless, throw a party.”
Miz Elizabeth took time out of her jet-setting schedule to chat with us about the group’s rocket-powered rise to international acclaim, the new record and just what it is that makes jazz so damn hot.
Elmore Magazine: Your debut record blew up, landing you on plenty of “Best Of” lists– What was it like to experience such a boost so early on in the band’s career? Did it change how you approached the creation of your sophomore album?
Elizabeth Bougerol: When we did the Hot Sardines album with UMC/Decca, we’d been playing for a while, so it was mostly about taking the material we’d been doing live and making it work for a record. With French Fries & Champagne, we were already thinking about how we’d approach the songs in the studio, so most of the arrangements were created with recording in mind, and that let us play around with elements like a string section.
EM: This summer alone, you’ll play to massive crowds at Central Park Summerstage and then play an intimate show at Joe’s Pub. You play in America, and also abroad. Can you talk a bit about your experience playing in such different formats to such different audiences? And to that end, what is it that makes a great show for you guys—where you walk off the stage and go, that was it!
EB: I love that our “stages” are everything from a dim sum hall in Chinatown to Symphony Hall with the Boston Pops to the NYC subway to the Newport Jazz Festival. We love bringing some grit to sophisticated venues as much as we love surprising a jeans-and-trucker hats crowd with a lush arrangement — when people get a bit blindsided by something they weren’t expecting to feel, that’s usually a good thing. And you just never know what’s going to make a particular show really memorable, but an audience that’s ready to go along for the ride is a great start.
EM: Alan Cumming is a guest star on the record- what was working with him like? Do you have any other dream collaborators?
EB: We had no idea he was a fan of the band when we reached out to him. His authenticity lights up everything, from the makeup chair to the camera. And he can seemingly do anything. You hear the phrase “triple threat” a lot — he’s more like an octuple threat. He works hard and he’s kind. I already had a crush on him before, so now it’s hit DEFCON 4. As for other dream collaborators, there are too many to list, but we’d love to do something with Hugh Laurie. His last record is so good.
EM: You guys have gained a lot of popularity for your covers. Can you give us a glimpse into the selection process? How do you find the right mix of old and new?
EB: We start with asking, can we bring our own sensibility to a song? If the answer is a possible yes, we dig into it. We like to mix well-known standards, like “Summertime,” with great old tunes that maybe aren’t as much in the wider consciousness, like “Your Feet’s Too Big” or “West End Blues.” Evan (Palazzo, who started the band with me) and I also write originals in older styles, and sometimes update old songs with new lyrics (on this record there are new French lyrics for “Weed-Smoker’s Dream,”) and we love a good curveball: We do “I Wanna Be Like You” from The Jungle Book in French, and on the new record we cover “Addicted to Love,” the Robert Palmer tune.
EM: Jazz has always been cool, of course, but maybe not so popular with young audiences in recent years. What would you tell younger listeners about jazz music—as a genre, and about jazz in 2016?
EB: After nearly every show, we hear some variation on, “I don’t like jazz, but I loved this! What do you call what you play?”, usually from someone under 30. I don’t think that’s about us — I think they’ve just never experienced earlier jazz live. It’s funny to me that jazz has this reputation as fuddy duddy music. Because it’s about sex! And all the vice and longing and heartbreak that go along with it! Listen to Louis Armstrong or Billie Holiday. There’s more sex in the first five seconds of Louis Armstrong’s trumpet on “La Vie en Rose” than in the entire Bieber oeuvre. I can’t speak to the whole genre, but there are more opportunities to hear earlier jazz now than ever before in my lifetime, and that’s exciting. So if you think you hate jazz, seek out this stuff live. Come to NYC and check out a few of the bands at the Hot Jazz Festival. Or go hear Preservation Hall Jazz Band or Meschiya Lake in New Orleans. Or Kansas Smitty’s in London.
Catch the Hot Sardines on tour this summer, including a free show at Central Park’s SummerStage with Butler, Bernstein & the Hot 9 on June 25th. Head to their website for more dates, preorder the album on iTunes here, and give “French Fries & Champagne” a spin below.