Photo: Tom Joye

It’s an early Thursday morning from within the middle of Europe where Francois Merry is found keeping himself appropriately occupied, deep in rehearsals with his group, Francois & The Atlas Mountains. Merry seems unfazed by the busy start to the day afforded to him – as they all prepare to head out on the road for their first shows in the UK and Europe in over a year and a half, the well-travelled musician is quick to express his excitement in heading back out on tour – especially with new record Solide Mirage ready for its live introduction.

“We’re really looking forward to playing live, because although I really enjoy recording albums obviously for me the reality of playing music is playing it live, and I often feel a bit constrained by the restrictions of pop music,” he explains. “We extend the songs a lot when we play and it’s just a much more honest approach to music I think. It’s like the concrete connection, the real one.” This truthful relationship Merry holds with music comes across simply as attentive intuition, an understanding of creative expression and a determination to convey his art in its most genuine and authentic form.

Solide Mirage, the group’s fifth record and first since 2014’s wistful Piano Ombre, emanates with great cause, a wondrous full-length that’s evidently determined and resolute, yet hard to define. It partially stems from Merry’s time within his now home of Brussels, a surprisingly modest capital that doesn’t try too hard to impress, but has without question its own appeal.

“Bristol is a youthful city… Young people don’t care about money too much because they just want to have fun”

“I’ve been living in Brussels for the past three years now, it’s at the heart of Europe but at the same time there are people from all over the world coming from here. There are traditional Belgian aspects to it, but it’s so multicultural that you would often forget that it’s part of Belgium, it’s a place out of nowhere.” The record’s oxymoronic title unveils a fitting focus on theme and place, a conflicting balance of stability and disorientation of importance that is channelled through Solide Mirage’s evocative rhythms and personally-inflicted wordplay.

“It’s strange to be in a mellow city which at the same time is at the heart of the pressure of the whole continent,” says Merry. Brussels’ position as the home of the European Union has a notable influence on the character of the capital, and on this record he was able to suitably define how this personally affects him and perhaps his fellow citizens: “I think sometimes it’s an easy option for some artists and musicians to be inspired by their own little cultural bubble, but I was just trying to find a way to connect with the world of the news, the issues in the world – trying to find a poetic way to touch on it and put that in my music.”

Merry is a conscious member of society, and through his creative expression is able to add to such discussion and analysis of what is going on around us on a daily basis. “I don’t think I can really explain what’s going on in the world. It’s just part of the world we live in so it does make sense that it finds a way into my songs, and I think it’s nice to approach those terms in a musical way”. It’s a modest approach to a serious topic that he achieves, a composed form of exploration that is simply prompted by elements and environments.

When discussing Bristol, his former home of several years, he remembers it fondly: “I think it’s a youthful city, maybe because I was young when I was living there, but it always seemed to renew itself and felt unpretentious. Like how young people don’t care about money too much because they just want to have fun. I like that aspect of it. I remember when I arrived there it felt like home straight away, really inspiring.” Having spent many years between different places, Francois Merry has been able to collect an impression of the world from within his own bubble, and across his releases has been able to eloquently evaluate how it has shaped him and his music.

Solide Mirage is available from 3rd March through Domino Recordings. Francois & The Atlas Mountains play Thekla on 28th March. Check out ‘Tendre Est l’Âme’ below.