year(s) zero

by Cédric Rassat

« For those who think that rock is dead and the ones who know that it’s not true. »

The two-volume-Rock’n’roll, year(s) zero is a wide-ranging essay on the american rock of the years 2000. The whole project is based on 27 portraits (14 in the first book, 13 in the second) telling the stories of some of the best indie rock artists of the era. Each chapter focuses on some of these musicians’ major recordings, telling their story, revealing what makes them stand out and highlighting what marks their work as modern. All the chapters center on the wealth of interviews of the artists made over the years by the author, Cédric Rassat. This focus on the musicians’ words and narratives gives the whole project the aura of a choral story.

Despite being partly inspired by books such as Mystery Train by Greil Marcus or Our Band Could Be Your Life by Michael Azerrad, Rock’n’roll, year(s) zero is more than a mere collection of portraits and introduces a more complex and original formula. Each book is supplemented by three discographies and focuses on the main independent labels concerned by these stories, putting together the vast jig-saw puzzle of the broad american indie rock scene and not only within the context of its era, but also, on a broader scale, within the histories of rock and popular music. Seventy pages of annexes, three indexes (names, albums and american cities and States) complete this work.

The whole project is also organised geographically, each artist being located in a specific city, underlining the importance and influence of the local history and music scenes. Each of the two books offers a cross-section of the country from coast to coast, drawing the invisible lines of an imaginary road trip. The first volume starts in Los Angeles and takes us to New York through the southern States, visiting cities such as San Diego, Tucson, Austin, Denton, Memphis, Nashville, etc. The second crosses the northern States from New York to San Francisco, visiting cities such as Chicago, Bloomington, Seattle, Portland, etc.

All the artists portrayed here come from the alternate music scenes. Some of them, such as Elliott Smith, Bill Callahan, Kurt Vile, The Strokes or Wilco, have attained a high level of popularity, but most of them, musicians such as The Baptist Generals, Jay Reatard, Damien Jurado, Comets On Fire, Josephine Foster, Papa M or The Hunches, for instance, remain unsung (or cult) heroes of the era, confidential musicians who were never the subject of any in depth articles in the music press. Therefore, Rock’n’roll, year(s) zero can thus also be seen as an important source of discoveries or rediscoveries for the non-specialist reader.

The artists covered in the first volume are Elliott Smith, The Strokes, Bill Callahan, Kurt Vile, Pinback, Howe Gelb, Jim O’Rourke, Reigning Sound, Papa M, Jay Reatard, Archie Bronson Outfit, The Black Angels, Crystal Antlers and The Baptist Generals. The second one, which will be out in 2023, will include chapters on Wilco, Moon Duo, Magnolia Electric Co., Steve Gunn, Damien Jurado, Josephine Foster, Comets On Fire, Amen Dunes and The Hunches, among others.

Among many other stories, the first book tells the chaotic making of the great Chore of Enchantment by Giant Sand, it follows the slow transformation of Bill Callahan from A River Ain’t Too Much to Love to Sometimes I Wish We Were an Eagle, as the singer finally accepts himself as one of the great american songwriters of today. It explores the mysteries of the penetrating beauty of Papa M’s folk masterpiece Whatever, Mortal. It highlights the greatness and complexity of the new sound invented by Kurt Vile, Jeff Zeigler and Adam Granduciel on Vile’s post-psychedelic Childish Prodigy and The War On Drugs’ Wagonwheel Blues. It describes the making of the DIY killer album that is Jay Reatard’s Blood Visions and it attempts to understand the strange magic of the first Pinback album and to see how Elliott Smith’s Figure 8 could be seen as a point of no return in the context of the singer’s pop ascension, etc.

Since it’s also the work of a French man looking at American music, the book has two introductions, one by Sylvie Simmons (the introduction « seen from America »), the acclaimed Mojo journalist and americana specialist, and a second by Vincent Théval (the introduction « seen from France »), French journalist (Magic, France Musique, RFI, Eldorado, etc).

This project really has no equivalent in the world of publishing. Not only does it address a subject that is largely uncovered (there are only a few books on Elliott Smith, Jason Molina or Wilco, some long articles on The Strokes, Bill Callahan, Kurt Vile or Howe Gelb in music magazines and almost nothing on the others), but also because its geographical approach is unprecedented. The historical approach, which endeavours to reinterpret the legacy in terms of its influence on recent recordings, is also wholly original, making it a kind of rock history in reverse, or a rock history of a new kind, not written by a Baby-boomer and leaving a broad space for the cult heroes of the indie rock scene from the 80’s to the years 2000. Finally, it’s quite rare for such an ambitious project to be built on the words and testimonies of the musicians. These two books really achieve a genuinely original vision and achievement.

Cédric Rassat, the author, covering music since 1998, has worked with Rock & Folk, Magic and the website Section 26. He also created Eldorado magazine, and was its editor-in-chief for the first two years. Since his first interview (Jeff Buckley in 1995 for a student radio in Lyon), he has interviewed many artists such as Brian Wilson, Van Dyke Parks, Iggy Pop, Dan Penn, Candi Staton, Bo Diddley, Pavement, The High Llamas, Slash, Steve Cropper, The Black Crowes, Michael Rother, Will Oldham, Supergrass, Beck, Mercury Rev, Radiohead, Little Richard, etc. He is also the author, as scriptwriter, of a dozen comic books, the last of them being a 140 page graphic novel on the life of the folk singer Karen Dalton in the Sixties. Born in 1971, he lives in Paris.

Last but not least, the Rock’n’roll, year(s) zero project is also built on the great work of four artists, namely Raphaël Gauthey, Jean-Luc Navette, Emre Orhun ou Ludivine Stock. Each chapter is accompained by a special black and white illustration by one of them. These illustrations bring a poetic dimension and a strong esthetic coherence to the project and its storytelling. Their work is an integral part of the project’s identity.

From Los Angeles to New York, the first of these two volumes, was published in France in December 2022. The second one, From New York to San Francisco, will be released before the end of the year, probably in September or October.

This project is not only a massive and consistent work on an almost uncovered territory and a group of great unsung heroes of our time, it also reveals, thanks to its geographical organisation and to its way of re-reading the rock and american popular music history through the prism of the contemporary recordings, of focusing on the recent times to enlighten the past, a truly original change in the approach of the idea of a book on rock music. It aims to reach specialists and non-specialists and is meant for readers with curiosity and a will to think differently on the history of rock’n’roll.

Artists featured in this volume 1 :

  • PAPA M

Press reviews

« Fed with long interviews, the book provides a valuable panorama of two decades of American indie rock and seeks to establish a legacy (both that of Bob Dylan and of the Velvet Underground) while making its own mark. »

(Le Monde) 

« A first class book for those who like the America of the edges and its unsung heroes with guitars. »


« It may be a bit early to write that it’s the work of a lifetime, but Cédric Rassat already spent the quarter of his life (twelve years) working on this assessment of American rock music from 2000 to present and on a scene which revives a trend for which the new century seemed unprepared. (…) A brilliant essay which embraces a crucial but rarely explored subject: the walls that classic rock and indie rock have digged between themselves. »


« Cédric Rassat maps the territory of an America of the musical margins. Precisely that which help rock survive. (…) Essential reading which should go down in history for anyone who likes indie rock and who is curious about music. »

(Le Petit Bulletin)

11 cities & 14 bands / artists

Rock’n’roll, année(s) zéro