Seven years after a first album with resounding worldwide success (which led him to collaborate with Rihanna and Drake and to ensure the big opening show of the Jazz Festival in 2014), Woodkid is finally releasing his second opus, S16. His orchestral electro pop always unfolds in a grandiose way, but he does not hide his vulnerability. Interview on “accepting frailty”.
Posted on October 17, 2020 at 11:00 a.m.
Do you have fond memories of your big outdoor show in Montreal at the opening of the Jazz Festival in 2014?
This is by far the concert where I performed in front of the most people. I remember it started to get nice after bad weather. It was crazy. What memory.
Woodkid at the 2014 Jazz Festival
You took a long time to work on your second album after the huge success of the first, The Golden Age. Shift is one of the first songs you wrote after the Bataclan attacks. Tell us.
The album is not about that, but this attack started the engine of the album. A driver of incomprehension, questioning, fragility, anger. For the song Shift, I had this mantra in mind: What Have You Done, What Have You Done… I didn’t really know who I was talking to or if I was talking to myself. Or if I was talking about romantic relationships or governments …
One thing is certain, it is also about the myth of David and Goliath on your album. In this time of a pandemic, it’s hard not to feel like David.
There is something very contemporary about feeling fragile in the midst of the forces at work around us. […] When we see the rise of the far right in the world, the ecological challenge, it is very difficult not to feel helpless. It is an album of utopia and dystopia at the same time. We have a fascination with law enforcement, like Trump. An ambiguous fascination that we also have for Kardashian culture and social media. […] Are we at the height or the burial of capitalism?
Still, should the success of your first album make you feel like Goliath?
I like to say that if the first album was a Hollywood blockbuster, this one is a sci-fi thriller… which is not so much fiction. It’s an album that is less nostalgic, more contemporary. I speak of myself when I sing it, without looking to the past. It’s an album of fragility, because fragility comes naturally after a great success. Years of touring also bring questions. […] In our time, a lot of people do a large inventory of the intimate on questions of identity, gender, sexuality, racism, misogyny, homophobia… The kids do this work of deconstruction very quickly and it is is very beautiful to see.
You have collaborated with big names in dance [Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui] like fashion [Nicolas Ghesquière de Louis Vuitton]. Xavier Dolan and Steven Spielberg have chosen your songs for their films. How do you relate to celebrity?
A I don’t consider myself famous. Especially since I’ve been around famous people who can’t even go out on the streets. My life and my daily life are not completely transformed. I think celebrity is also a choice… Today, you have to work very hard to be heard. But for my part, I need some shade too. Time is an incredible ally. Taking your time and taking the time not to chase after fame is a risk, from a business perspective. But it is artistically beneficial. However, we are in a system where we are told to generate comments, content, engagement …
Quite rightly, you had the time to record S16 worldwide [Japon, Islande, Los Angeles], in several legendary studios [dont Abbey Road]. Tell us how it went …
I started working with Son Lux [Ryan Lott] and then with Sammy Herbert, an amazing London arranger. For the orchestral arrangements, we wanted very precise sounds, more contemporary than classical. There are two songs, Reactor and the last, Minus Sixty One, which features the Tokyo Suginami choir, very famous in Japan. […] For me, it was important that the album does not end with my voice since it speaks of the beauty of the collective and that it constitutes an admission of weakness.
When did you go to Tokyo?
In December ! The pandemic came right after, so it was crazy luck. I have the impression that this album, in its form, is a testament to something that is no longer possible today.
Tell us about the ballad In Your Likeness…
Very quickly, there were the lyrics: I know, I’m not made in your likeness/You’re not made for my darkness. It describes the idea of an impossible relationship. From too strong a dispute over the conception of life. It’s my favorite song from the album. She is out of format and emotionally powerful.
Did you think a lot about the scene while designing the album?
R All the time. I didn’t really know what it was like making my first album. After years of touring, I know the music needs silence and breaks. In the studio, it often happens that we get stuck and that we have to find a key. Often times I close my eyes and imagine being on stage.
How do you fight the urge to be on stage when it’s impossible?
I waited seven years before making this album. I know how to wait.
A versatile artist
Before his singer-songwriter career took off, Woodkid (born Yoann Lemoine) rose to prominence as a music video maker. In particular for his compatriot Yelle and for Moby, but also for Katy Perry (Teenage Dream) et Taylor Swift (Back To December). We also owe him the clip of Take Care, of Drake and Rihanna, and more recently that of Sign of the Times, by Harry Styles. He has also collaborated several times with Lana Del Rey.
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