It’s important to start with the title, because that’s what Cassius did. Before Philippe Zdar and Hubert Boombass began working in earnest on their latest album, they decided it would be called Ibifornia. A portmanteau of Ibiza and California, Ibifornia is an imaginary utopia which is “inside every one of us”. Once they had dreamed up a location, they could set about giving it a soundtrack.
“When you have a name everything is clear,” Zdar explains. “We wanted to invent this world where we would love to be, where the music is great and everyone is cool. The more we trust it and the more we believe it, the better.”
“It gave us a direction,” says Boombass.
“We had a lot of tracks and we could say…”“This one is not Ibifornian!” Zdar finishes.
Recorded in Paris, New York and Malibu, this panoramic extravaganza of disco, funk, house, soul, afrobeat, synth-pop, psychedelia, hip hop and gospel demonstrates that Ibifornia is a feeling rather than a specific sound: generous, optimistic, open-minded and emotional. It takes all the best qualities from Cassius’s first three albums, adds a few more, and splashes them across their biggest canvas yet. It’s the culmination of a lifetime of ideas.
“We wanted to do the same as we always did but we wanted to actually achieve it,” says Zdar. “We’ve always mixed sounds and influences. We wanted to make this long trip which shows what Ibifornia is. We did the album we always wanted to do.”
Zdar and Boombass have been making music together since they met in 1989, producing for French rapper MC Solaar. “The biggest thing that happened in my life is meeting Boombass because he’s my best friend and we do the best music together,” says Zdar.
Their first project was La Funk Mob, signed to Mo Wax in the early 90s, and they launched Cassius in 1996 with the soul-sampling house track Foxxy. (Zdar was also one half of deep house duo Motorbass.) Their debut album 1999 spawned two infectious UK Top 20 hits, 1999 and Feeling for You. On 2002’s Au Rêve and 2006’s nostalgic 15 Again they expanded their sound, working with the likes of Pharrell Williams, Ghostface Killah and Jocelyn Brown.
Apart from their 2010 EP The Rawkers (whose standout track I <3 U So was sampled by Jay Z and Kanye West), Cassius have been otherwise occupied for the past decade: Boombass with personal projects, and Zdar with production and mixing work for Phoenix, the Beastie Boys, the Rapture, Kindness, OneRepublic and Cat Power.
As 2013 dawned, however, it was time to return to Cassius. “I could not refuse doing big fantastic people who were my heroes and then we decided, OK, whatever happens, even if it’s the Rolling Stones, we will do the album,” says Zdar.
Zdar’s production work meant that the perfect vocalists for Ibifornia were close at hand. Beastie Boy Mike D romps through escapist party jam Love Parade, Cat Power (aka Chan Marshall) nails the glorious electro-gospel torch song Feel Like Me, and the two of them join forces on Action, a downtown disco epic with shades of afrobeat, almost like some freaked-out underground classic from 1981 (note the Grace Jones sample). “Action was the first track that made us go crazy in the studio,” says Boombass. “It was our first big step in the album.”
“There’s real friendship with Chan and Mike,” says Zdar. “Chan said when we finished that it’s Cassius and the family Stone. It’s really a family thing. We know so many people that never met their singers until the Grammys. Us, we go to lunch together, we sweat in the studio together, we are friends together, we are happy together.”
OneRepublic’s Ryan Tedder sings on The Missing, the jubilant blue-eyed soul romp that welcomes the listener to Ibifornia, and the giddy psych-pop of Hey You! The Rapture’s Luke Jenner lent a hand with songwriting. Jaw from French trio dOP appears on The Sound of Love’s blissed-out lover’s house while John Gourley from Alaskan rock band Portugal The Man graces Blue Jean Smile’s irresistible neon pop. Joining Cat Power on the hypnotic house anthem Go Up is Pharrell Williams. He had previously worked with Cassius on the 2006 track Eye Water but none of them felt it had fulfilled its potential and he texted them to suggest that they work together again. “He said we should do what we were supposed to do,” says Zdar.
In fact, Cassius feel that the whole album represents what they were supposed to do all along: a beautifully paced trip, three years in the making, that reminds them how they felt when they first heard tour de force albums like Sign O’ the Times or lovingly crafted compilation cassettes. The title track, a classic house odyssey decorated with tropical birdsong, sums up the record’s depth and scope. It’s an album to immerse yourself in.
“We tried to be good from the first second to the last,” says Boombass. “This album is the best thing we can do now. When we met, we had the same vision of doing music and doing life – trying always to have the best thing we can and not being satisfied.”
Philippe has recently been inspired by a book of interviews with John Coltrane, a man who was always trying to outdo himself. “Sometimes I listen to music now and think the guy said, OK, I don’t give a shit, I’m going to get paid anyway. Something is sad about it. John Coltrane and people who graced the earth trying to do their best — that’s what we’re trying to do.”
It all comes back to the paradisal idea of Ibifornia. When Cassius were making the video for Action in Milan, they felt that they were watching their fantasy become a reality. “It’s the place we invented and we believe in it now,” says Zdar. “When I left for Paris it was like, fuck, I left my new country! It’s a great place, Ibifornia. We love it. That’s why we are so happy now, because we have the album but we also have somewhere to rely on.” He grins. “I know it sounds ridiculous but sometimes it’s good to be a bit naïve.”
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