It’s been seven years that we waited, the second album of Woodkid. And seven years later The Golden Age, an album that will have marked the 21st century by its way of reinventing pop with its lyrical flights, its percussive rhythms, its conquering brass and its melancholy strings, S16 lives up to the expectations raised by the French musician and videographer. When he appears on our computer screen, since videoconference interviews are now a preferred alternative to meetings in the lounges of large hotels, he first laughs at our question about this long wait.
“I needed time, because I needed to rebuild myself in order to have new things to say,” said Lyonnais Yoann Lemoine, alias Woodkid. I would have been unhappy if I had started quickly on a new album, because I would have paraphrased myself. I also think time is a very political issue, especially in this industry where we are being asked to go faster and faster. There have been recent releases, notably from the CEO of Spotify, which are quite aggressive around the idea that music should be mass produced. Taking your time is a risky gesture, which requires explanations. The proof, you start this interview by telling me about it. “
“Le Temps”: There is still this tenacious legend which says that the stage of the second album is the most difficult to cross. Did you somehow feel this pressure?
Woodkid: This second album was indeed difficult to make, because my mental health has wandered up and down, but also because, after the discovery of a first album, there is a form of responsibility and expectation due to fans and media exposure. But this pressure is necessary, at least in my case, because it pushed me to question my identity as an artist and as a person. The last few years have allowed me to question myself, it has been like an apprenticeship.
This is what says “Pale Yellow”, which is perhaps the most personal song of this second album …
Pale Yellow speak of a form of addiction, but I leave the territory open. Because there are addictions to love, to work, to antidepressants… In any case, there is in this song the idea that there is always a possibility of light, of resilience, of reconstruction.
Musically, compared to the very powerful and percussive side of “The Golden Age”, “S16” seems more complex, and in a certain way more peaceful, less fit …
I learned about silence, and not just from the media. I have learned that great dynamic moments only work if there is, by contrast, silence. S16 is therefore an album which is more contrasted, more fragmented, more deconstructed; it’s an album of the fragment, which is full of collisions, accidents. It’s like a car wreck, with parts still intact and parts that have exploded into a thousand pieces or seem to have merged. So necessarily, compared to The Golden Age, there are moments of fullness.
Woodkid, don’t leave any wood
We have the impression that each piece is the result of a long maturation process …
First there was the global universe, this idea of an industrial world of the order of science fiction. I wanted to talk about toxicity, infection and epidemic. These are things that were in the air and are bound to be even more so today. After this general idea, I had the need, for each song, to contradict myself, never to rely on something acquired. The melody, for example, never comes from a rhythm machine that turns from start to finish, there is always a moment when there is a collision, a deformation. As soon as I enter a comfort zone, I create a rupture. I have studied a lot the music of Karlheinz Stockhausen, whose approach I love, which consists of writing scores with rules and constraints.
Your clips are real short films. Do you have in mind from the composition of the visual universe of your pieces?
We can often reproach musicians for pushing the image too far, as if it were a way of compensating or camouflaging something. In my case, I never ask myself this question, in the sense that directing is my core business. I like that the images and the sounds communicate. A few years ago, following a conference we gave together, Philip Glass told me something that struck me: between image and sound there is a physiological phenomenon which means that sound is ‘always imposes. A sad image may change depending on the music that accompanies it, while sad or happy music will always stay in that tone. I noticed that the hard core of my work was there, in the search for this friction, for the new emotions that can arise from these two art forms.
The clip that accompanies “Goliath”, with this worker facing huge machines, has something dizzying about it …
I wanted huge machines that tell the story of the world and our feelings, those great forces with which we collide. When we talk about the great demons to fight, like global warming, populism, capitalism or covid, there is a disorder, there is something both repulsive and fascinating. Show creepy machines that eat dirt at breakneck speed, like I do in Goliath, at the same time awakens the child in me, the one who played with small tractors and sees in it a marvel of engineering. If Trump is where he is, it’s because he fascinates as much as he repels. If we have the honesty to admit this, we understand that the world is complex.
And indeed scary: your character is a David advancing towards a Goliath who, in the end, evokes both Dante’s “Hell” and Armageddon…
If we look closely at the staging of the film, we realize that this character does nothing, he remains in contemplation and observation. He is neither guilty nor victim, and at the same time he is guilty and victim. What to do then? It is a state that I know well, whether it is in relation to sentimental addictions, environmental issues or even the emergence of my political consciousness. I sometimes had a feeling of tetany, of inability to express an opinion or to take action to make a difference.
But in the Bible, David ends up slaying Goliath. So there is hope …
If it weren’t for hope and light, making this album wouldn’t have made sense. The hope, in the record, comes from the idea of admitting our weaknesses and asking for help, which happened to me a few years ago. Sometimes, to be stronger, we need help, to rely on others. You have to accept your weaknesses, your inconsistencies, your sufferings. There is a superior beauty in relying on people who are stronger than you.
Woodkid, “S16” (Island Records / Universal Music). In concert on October 20, 2021 in Zurich (Halle 662).
Woodkid is the guest of honor at the 26th edition of the Geneva International Film Festival, which will take place from November 6 to 15. On this occasion, he will participate on November 12 in a public conversation (Auditorium Arditi, 7 p.m.).
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