What feeds your work? Where do you draw inspiration for the stories you tell in your music?
First, just life in general. The basis of the process is what happens to me: creativity is the expression of a feeling, a sensation, a dream; it’s an emotional polaroid, like freezing a moment you’d like to keep and then stretching it like fabric, to make a song. I’m also hugely inspired by nature and I really believe in walking: moving physically keeps your mind moving too. In the end, a song is a way of writing a landscape.
Who are the people or artists you turn to most often?
Some people are fundamental. I was brought up with the poetry of Walt Whitman and his writing became my bible. Then there’s Tomas Tranströmer for the heartfelt nature of his writing, and Don Blanding for his luminous insights and relationship to the elements. Nina Simone, because she’s so resolutely connected to what seems to be her soul, as if her voice were stitched to her piano. In the same way, Bill Viola has this ability to shed light on his inner thoughts, to “narrate” and “film” his anxieties and pleasures in a way that’s completely fluid. There’s a real feeling of life that comes out in his work. Basquiat, of course: I have this fantasy of writing songs in the same way he painted his canvases – he managed to spill his guts out in hollow spaces and thin lines but at the same time, he was frighteningly precise. Patty Smith also inspires me enormously because, however successful she has been over the years, she is still a real person, who has managed to communicate her message in her writing, her photos, her attitude and her singing. It’s all perfectly consistent with the person she was when she was very young. I’m convinced that what we are is set in stone when we’re 15 or 16 years old: that’s when something immutable sets in and then we decide to draw or force the traits that makes us who we are, or we try to erase them. Patty Smith managed to remain intact: there’s nothing artificial about her; her sincerity is fresh and direct, even though she became a monumental star. For me, her concerts are a religious experience. I’d like to get to that state of sharing, to embody an emotion to the point of disappearing as you deliver it; in the end an artist is only a vector – that’s the point.
What sort of compliments move you the most?
I’d say it’s the sincerity of the message that matters more than anything else; it’s important not to try to be part of a movement or style just to be in the swim. I’d also like people to tell me that our music makes up the listener’s mind to go out and look for some other expression of creativity, a movement, perhaps a journey. Art has a responsibility for making something shift inside the other person. Creativity is a blank page: I was saying that for me, creating a song is like drawing a landscape – the voice is a river, the words the soil, the instruments add warmth and coldness, the light carries and envelops the general shared feeling, etc. In fact, I’ve always associated images and music. I grew up surrounded by people who supported that idea, whether it was in fine art or day-to-day life, people often pushed me to “find” my freedom, accept the unconventional, embark on that inner “journey”. The result was often musical. I like the idea that a sensation expressed in music leads the listener to look for something else.
Which city inspires or resembles you? Not including Paris!
I’m very inspired by Greece at the moment; in fact it inspired some of the tracks on the last album, “We Cut the Night”. Something keeps pulling me back there, more and more often. I’m fascinated by the architecture, the open tombs full of souvenirs and memories, visible to everyone. Greece is the cradle of democracy and the philosophical reflection of our current society. It’s interesting to see that almost everything we do today started over there. Athens is inspiring for its chaos, at the confluence of its sea of building and the Aegean Sea, a creative chaos that I find very exciting and stimulating, as New York was at one time. There’s an atmosphere that gives you the feeling of being at the end or beginning of something, as you see in the young people of Athens, who are both shambolic and utterly inspired. It’s a city I like also for its secret side, like a maze that reminds me of Los Angeles, perhaps, and a country that has this really radical energy, which is both an explosion of light and at the same time, shrouded in mystery.
How would you define your lifestyle?
There’s been a sentence in my head forever: “Remember that you are free, that what’s real is the surf, and that you will always have to go to sea”: I read that one day on a wall in Montreal and I think that’s the path I take.
I want a life that’s larger than life. So I live a life of extremes: extreme contemplation, extreme nature. I look for beauty everywhere, I want to find beauty in the moment, in the instant. Beauty is the result of perception, and the lines change frequently. So many things interest me, so I try to be curious. To be inspired, you need to be really alert, change your surroundings, change what you’re reading... I have the good fortune to be surrounded by creative, intense people who also nourish me because they manage not to live within the rules imposed on them; they never do anything bland. But looking for beauty isn’t just about novelty at any price! It’s often in the past, through works produced before the “internet” era[MDB1] , that I’m able to construct my future, from writing, paintings and photographs produced at a time when people had a different perception of time, when perhaps life ran a little more slowly, instead of the constant hustle today. Even among the most famous. In general we only know the surface of an artist, the tip of their iceberg.
What are your favourite themes?
It’s not so much about themes but impulses. I don’t believe in happy things or unhappy things but in what makes your heart beat, the things that mean you “feel” the world, whether that’s humanity or nature.
What music and films do you fall back on?
The noise of the night, I find that very musical, loaded with silence and solitude, it allows me to travel outside of myself, the noise of the world is very inspiring. The Grande Belleza by Sorrentino, for the power of its ideas: it’s a film that gives the impression that it’s a kind of guide to humanity: everything is laid out for the viewer. And then Where the Wild Things Are by Spike Jonze, the freedom, the taste for the absolute that emerges from it, for its extreme and utterly clear vision of childhood: I can really see the colour of those days when everything is grand and possible. It’s all there in childhood and then you try to remember it and let it resonate somewhere in our adult lives. Finally, I’ll go for Only Lovers Left Alive by Jim Jarmusch, for what it says, which is what’s left of life and love once you think you know how everything works. I found that fascinating.
Your preferred musical form?
It’s a work in progress. Olivier (Coursier, the other member of AaRON) is going through the same process: we’re both, increasingly going down the same “less is more” path. That’s how I prefer to write, too: I try to find the right word to take the listener immediately to somewhere private and personal. A word that could resonate by itself in silence through the echo it makes in the listener.
What’s the greatest challenge you’ve faced or will face as an actor and a singer?
The biggest challenge is being understood, making yourself understood, making things comprehensible. Even so, people always talk about starting out with a blank page. You need to be able to communicate your own night in a way that’s insightful and brings the other person in. Cocteau articulated that very clearly when he said “I trace the invisible”.
What rituals do you have when you work?
When I’m playing a character, for example, I practise the gestures that go with the character. For Cocteau, whom I’m playing at the moment, it’s about how he moves his fingers, so I repeat that systematically, several times. When I’m singing, it’s a different kind of vocal preparation, which I do in a particular order.
What kind of music annoys you?
Music that isn’t sincere but is simply designed to be successful or make money. Music that’s just intended to stop people thinking. I hate the idea of pure entertainment: to me that’s like a lobotomy. I can’t bear the expression “it’s a nice way of passing the time”. People should never just pass the time, they should be living.
You started out wanting to be an illustrator and in the end you became a singer and actor. What other job would you have liked to do?
I would have loved to be a sculptor: I can imagine myself fat and bald, with a beard and dogs. More seriously, I think it’s amazing to be able to use your hands to create something. Being able to turn a thought into something tangible and give it substance through a material. I envy that and it moves me all the more because I have the feeling I’d be completely incapable of doing it.
A favourite place where you’ll often be found?
A café in Paris, in the morning.
Your favourite object? How much does it weigh?
A pole star: it’s a 21 gram jewel I wear all the time.
What carries weight in your life?
What is/are your LE GRAMME objects? How do you wear/use them?
I wear two rings, one on each little finger. The 3g and the 7g in Silver 925.
If LE GRAMME were a song or musical genre, what would it be?
Something very pared down, Spiegel Im Spiegel by Arvo Pärt. The piece has just three notes, with all the fluidity of LE GRAMME. It stands alone and doesn’t need anything else around it. It’s essential.
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