Mélanie Isaac and Arty Leiso: winners off Franc’Off 2019

September 6 2019

As a partner of the Franc’Off initiative, PlayRight met with the first two winners of the competition that took place this summer as part of the Francofolies de Spa festival. Both artists and authors, Mélanie Isaac and Arty Leiso tell us more about their career, their influences and sources of inspiration, as well as their future projects.

How did your career go so far? Can you tell something more about your first concert, or how you started as an artist?

Mélanie Isaac: My first concert? I must have been about ten years old. I had just learnt my first chords on the guitar. One evening, I went to a party with my parents. There was a group of cool granddaddies who played some kind of blues rock to cheer up the night, as far as I can remember. But what I do remember clearly is that I had my gaze fixed on the microphone all night long. Once the dessert was digested, I gathered all my courage and asked the singer whether he could lend me his guitar for a song. With shaking hands, I commenced with a G Major, intoning a song by Françoise Hardy “Tous les garçons et les filles”, and those were my first steps towards a public performance. Just like la chanson française which has this “romantic-melancholic” tendency, performing is like a hard drug: you take it once and you’re addicted all your life (laughs). After that, things went quite naturally. I managed to delve deeper, to meet musicians, to form cover groups in different genres, all while secretly writing my own songs. I only dared to publish these songs much later, after I had obtained a non-artistic college degree, which I really hoped I would never need. Of course, it became clear quite quickly that I still needed and need a job to fill my fridge and finance my productions. Fortunately, amazing music encounters and collaborations came my way, and I was able to enrich my palette. The memories of this give me an instant warm feeling but listing all the phases I have gone through would be a bit boring. There is a sentence in one of the songs I want to record soon, however, which perhaps summarizes my idea of a creative life: “Mise au hazard d’une exigence, laisse le repos pour les prudentes”. If I look back on the path I have followed, my megalo dream and I, I think we haven’t done such a bad job!

Arty Leiso: I started making music very early on by going to the classical academy when I was little, while I was getting a ‘Jazz bath’ at home, as well. At a certain point, however, I was fed up with the classical guitar and I quit the academy. What I wanted was Nirvana, something noisy, spicy (laughs). My father showed me the major chords, and I started playing with friends and taught myself a lot by listening to The Beatles, amongst others. After completing a formation in Human Sciences, I attended Jazz Studio in Antwerp and, consequently, went to the Conservatory of Brussels, department Jazz, without actually wanting to start a career in jazz. But if you want to study music, there are, with a few exceptions, very little options other than jazz and classical on the French-speaking side. Very soon, I had projects with Alice Spa (acoustic pop-folk) and my group Purpleized (reggae-rock).

Both of you are authors and performers at the same time. Wat are important influences and sources of inspiration for you? And how would you describe your musical projects?

Mélanie Isaac: It’s a real job. Of course, our work involves certain skills, methods… but I’m not a fan of the term ‘musical project’. It is probably somewhat naïve, but I would like to continue to believe that, at the time of the act, being an author, musician or singer is primarily a state. I believe that there is some sort of self-examination or even self-precision at the core of my work. A song lasts barely three minutes, which is short. It’s a matter of choosing the right angle, making your vision more or les clear to yourself and your public, while leaving enough room for the listener to project his own vision, his own ‘state’ against it. Unintentionally, I think I’m trying to produce small, timeless musical bubbles that convey more or less primary feelings. I love poetry and Electro-pop. Life, all of my life, influences me. Every encounter, experience, journey, musical whim ends, I suppose, by a complete ‘purge’ somewhere at the time of the composition.

Arty Leiso: I love composing. I also started to love singing more and more, so I compose, write and perform. In fact, I have been doing everything from A to Z for years, whether it concerns composition, music, videos or edits. For ten years, I have been saving money to be able to assemble my own studio in my house, and since seven months ago, I now have my own base at home, and I look for arrangers and record in larger studios where people help me make my beats and songs cleaner. I cannot do everything at the same time: I am a musician, I compose, I record, I mix, I make my clips, I assemble them, I calibrate, I do my own communication about my projects, … In short, it’s time to focus on fewer things and to outsource certain tasks, especially with regard to videos and arranging my recordings. I always used to want to do everything by myself, but that is just impossible. Four or five years ago, I started making music to go on holidays with friends. Gradually, I started to sing more and more, and now one year ago I launched Arty Leiso. It is a full-fledged show with mini sketches, mise-en-scene and music. I have created an entire world around Arty Leiso: music, clips, etc. For the show, I called on a friend and we are on stage with the two of us, he is there for the stage work. For the entire production part, I’m alone on the stage, and then he comes along on stage, as well.

Arty Leiso at the Francofolie de Spa (2019)

You won, respectively, the first and second prize at the Franc’Off festival 2019. How did you experience the Francofolies de Spa?

Mélanie Isaac: When it comes to a competition, you can never really guess where it will lead you, because competition is often enormous. In this case here, I did not believe in it at all. The musicians who usually accompany me on stage and I were unable to synchronize our agendas, so I had to defend my songs on my own on stage, with my guitar and my piano, something I hadn’t done for years. Since most of the artists who perform on stage on their own rely on computers and pre-recorded tapes, it was a huge surprise that my proposal was received with so much enthusiasm. In addition to the prize I received and the opportunity to meet a new audience, I retain from this experience especially an invaluable sense of freedom, and the desire to go travel with my guitar under my arm, take trains, to come back with a travel diary full of songs, to call musicians and prepare amazing concerts in group for the next edition of the Francofolies. It remains to be seen whether my planning permits that, of course (laughs).

Arty Leiso: I played for the first time at the Francofolies two years ago, together with Alice Spa, and I was very excited to be able to perform there again. As far as the competition is concerned, I have never experienced anything like this one: we were welcomed in an incredible way, we played at the heart of the festival, amongst the other artists, the stage conditions were ideal… It was, for example, the first time that I performed with wireless microphones; an enormous feeling of freedom! We also got similar visibility as the other artists on the festival’s line-up, no distinction was made. It was the first time that I experienced a festival in which the musicians of a competition were treated in the same way as the other artists. We even received a compensation, which may seem normal, but cannot be taken for granted. And to top it off, I had the chance to perform three times: once with Alice spa and twice as Arty Leiso.

You have been working as artists for several years now. How do you manage your professional career?

Mélanie Isaac: So far, I am my own agent, my own label, my own manager. Of course, sometimes I would like to rely on a professional team so that I can fully concentrate on my music. Perhaps that will be the case some day, but at the moment, I am thinking more of self-management and I consider that a form of creation, too. I interpret it in a playful way. During the rare dead moments, I take a break for a while and start dreaming. Then I wonder: “What is the craziest thing you can do? Which artist do you admire most and with whom would you like to work? What would be the best concert?”… Whenever I have a few answers, all I have to do is dare to take the risk and organize myself carefully. But I don’t always dare to do so. Sometimes, I crash, or it leads me somewhere completely away from where I had imagined, and luckily, because otherwise the game would be way less fun. When it comes to paperwork, I rely on Smart. Moreover, I had the opportunity to follow some training courses about law and contracts. I am learning by doing and, luckily, Art-I, a booker, is always there when I have questions that I cannot solve on my own. That is indispensable!

Arty Leiso: That scares me a bit. I am self-employed, and as I musician I have no steady income, so I opened an Ice cream saloon with my mother. I invoice as a self-employed person, but I often encounter many questions. Sometimes I’m a bit lost, I don’t know what to ask to whom. I also followed a few courses, such as Management at the Conseil de la Musique and that really helped me. In addition, I followed a few courses from Ça Balance. Now I still have many questions, and I don’t know who to turn to. I think strongly about these thinks, and also about the whole time behind it: who gets paid what, how, etc.

What are your future projects?

Mélanie Isaac: Both in my head as on the screensaver of my computer I’ve got the title of an album written. Most of the songs have already been written and composed, some à quatre mains. The pre-production work with one of the people I often work with started a few days after the Franc’Off. As I am increasingly fascinated by the creation of audiovisual objects, I have also written a number of declarations of intent and I’ve collected images for two video clips. But I am not going to throw everything on the table right now because I’m scared to talk about things before they are finished. It causes me sleepless nights.

Arty Leiso: Since the Franco’Off festival, I have pondered over a lot of things: what do I want to do with my project, what is the essence, which direction do I want to take… My manager supports me and guides me, which gives me a real boost. We were recently approached by a booker who offered us an annual contract. So I am trying to figure out how that works, who gets what, what the legislation says, etc. There are several concerts planned in the near future, all of it is on my Facebook page. In addition, I am working hard on my album that I hope to release in early November. I’ve been working on it for a long time and want to organize a big party for the release of the album!

Follow Mélanie Isaac on Facebook

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