By Noah Hubbell
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"You know the rose girl that goes around selling roses in bars and restaurants?" asks French-born, Arizona-based songwriter Marianne Dissard. "That's what I used to do in downtown Tucson. Tucson is not like Paris. There aren't a lot of people on the sidewalk. You're isolated. So that job was a really good way to get a dose of social life. Drunk people would try to be romantic; men would hold roses like they were weapons or extensions of their dick. I just loved to watch it. It's my documentary-filmmaker streak, I suppose."
That same streak led to Drunken Bees, a movie that Dissard directed in 1994 about the celebrated Arizona group Giant Sand. But the creative collusion didn't stop there. Dissard, also a longtime poet, lent her warm yet haunting vocals to "Ballad of Cable Hogue," by Calexico, the main project of Giant Sand's Joey Burns -- and Burns is also co-writing and producing Dissard's upcoming, as-yet-unnamed solo debut, a disc as informed by Nico and Nick Drake as it is by the sophisticated French pop of her youth.
"Growing up," she recalls, "the classic singer-songwriters were always around: Jacques Brel, Brigitte Fontaine. That's why the words, the lyrics, have always been important to me. That's the French tradition."
Burns, however, isn't her only collaborator. Paris native Naim Amor met Dissard while the latter was working on Drunken Bees, and they later married and began making music together. Amor played in punk bands in France before moving to the U.S., even though his current output veers from jazzy to folky to sublimely atmospheric.
"Back then, punk rock meant listening to all kinds of stuff," he remembers. "I was a big fan of free jazz and also '50s rock and roll and rockabilly. To me, the punk-rock attitude was about being creative, not about the look and the package."
Sanguine, the full-length he just finished recording, also features Burns and his Calexico compadre, John Convertino. But Denver folks will recognize his voice from "Viens Avec Moi," a track from DeVotchKa's 2004 masterpiece, How It Ends.
"A couple years ago," Amor explains, "I was working at a bar in Tucson where DeVotchKa was playing. I was washing dishes or something, and Nick was sitting at the bar, and I told him, 'Hey, that sounded really, really good. My name is Naim.' And he said, 'Naim? Naim Amor? This is amazing. You're the reason we recorded our first album in Tucson.' And then they ended up asking me to sing on their album."
Despite all the close friendships they've made in the States, the two songsmiths have remained committed to each other -- their current tour features Amor as both a solo performer and Dissard's backing musician -- and to their own cultural heritage. "It's all about blending the French tradition with the American," Dissard notes. "But it's not about becoming American. I never want to forget where I came from."