By Dominique Vidalon
PARIS (Reuters) - Since their underground hit "ToyBoy" in 2006, Stuck In The Sound has been the one to watch on the French indie rock scene.
The Parisian act has built a reputation at home for manic live performances, intoxicating guitar riffs, and a hard-hitting but lyrical sound that is rarely heard in French rock.
The band, which sings in English and cites Nirvana, The Pixies, Smashing Pumpkins, and Sonic Youth as key influences, will release its much-anticipated third album "Pursuit" January 30.
This could be the band's chance to finally go global and join fellow rockers Phoenix or electronic acts Justice and Air on the select list of Gallic artists who made it big overseas.
The album cover featuring the vast horizon of a psychedelic red and pink sea sets the stage for the band's new ambitions.
"It reflects our desire to take this album really far. It's the dream of four kids who want to conquer the world with their songs," lead singer and guitarist Jose Reis Fontao, 29, told Reuters.
The band, which also includes guitarist Emmanuel Barichasse, 29, bassist Arno Bordas, 31, and drummer Francois Ernie, 30, was formed in 2002.
It was a time when 14-year olds all over France were forming guitar bands, inspired by international acts such as The Strokes and The Libertines.
The members of Stuck In The Sound were older than these "Bebes Rockers" (Baby Rockers)and they had a different agenda.
"We wanted to shake up the French rock landscape. We were fed up with these people who were saying that the French could not play indie-rock," Fontao said.
Initially the band, who met when Jose and Arno were in film school, set out to create and play the U.S. indie rock of the 1990s they had loved so much when they were teenagers.
The recreational pastime quickly evolved into what Jose describes as an "obsessive, quasi-neurotic" quest to forge a unique sound and the discovery that band members would dedicate their lives to making music.
The Internet, intense touring in France and forays abroad including opening for The Rapture in Nashville won them a devoted fan base and a solid reputation for playing vibrant gigs, where a raucous audience often invades the stage.
"On stage we give out all we've got. We play each gig as if it was our last night and our last breath," Ernie said.
Fontao, the charismatic elf-like singer, who can hold delirious crowds under his spell, credits the trademark black hood that hides his face while on stage with magical powers.
"That's what gives me the strength to jump really high on songs like 'OUAIS'. It makes me feel like a super-hero. It was the hood or being on drugs," he joked.
Their first album "Never mind the Living Dead" in 2006 and its cover shot of a blond toddler with her face smeared in chocolate was an explosion which showcased the band's technical skills and raw energy, winning them a popular and critical following.
The single "ToyBoy" with its memorable intro "Shake, shake, shake, shake! Do you want me now ?" eventually ended up on the tracklist of the Guitar Hero World Tour videogame.
With their second album release in 2009, "Shoegazing Kids," the band confirmed they were serious players on the French rock scene as they learned to channel energy and polish their sound, exploring the melancholic road of teen angst.
The 13 tracks of the new album take the listener on a dizzying rollercoaster ride to the core of what makes the band's musical identity, a powerful sound entwined with vulnerability.
"While on the second album we were retreating within ourselves, with this one we are truly opening up to the outside world with a large variety of songs," Barichasse said.
The band will tour France, Switzerland and Belgium from February, with its eyes on the U.S. and its festivals later this year. "Pursuit" will be released on January 30 on the Discograph label.
(Reporting by Dominique Vidalon, editing by Paul Casciato)