“Everything is perfect for me! I think I’m living the better part of my life,” purrs the ever dapper, perma-bearded Parisian, musician and actor Sebastien Tellier.
His joyous affirmation is hardly surprising considering the cinematic upward arc of a career he’s enjoyed since his debut ‘L’incroyable Vérité’ (The Incredible Truth) released back in 2001. From working with the Coppolas, acting in Roman’s ‘CQ’ and providing ‘Fantino’ for Sofia’s Lost In Translation soundtrack respectively, to tugging tears from eyes the world over with string-laden ‘La Ritournelle’ back in 2005. One could find him anywhere, from playing stages with The Magic Numbers to hotel lobbies for art festivals such as Paris’ Nuit Blanche, or the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London. Simultaneously, with his iconoclastic take on the hirsuit, tailored suit and sunnies ensemble he became a fashion icon, publicly adored by Karl Lagerfeld, Marc Jacobs and Chanel. Not bad for an artist whose work verges on the conceptual, focussing on the drives at the core of humanity as the titles L’incroyable Vérité and Politics attest.
Always languid, but never lazy, the green-eyed lady killer took 2007 by storm, scoring Mr Oizo’s (aka Quentin Dupieux) flick Steak with Q. D. himself and Ed Banger’s boy-wonder SebastiAn, whilst spending evenings at “the same party at Le Baron.” However, the highlight of the year, and perhaps a testament to his achievement, is Guy Manuel De Homem-Christo (one half of Daft Punk) offering his production skills for the first time ever outside of Daft Punk on Tellier’s third LP; the goosebump inducing, sensual jam ‘Sexuality’. A match made in modern Gallic heaven, what with the affecting tones and melodies of Tellier and the wit and drive of Homem-Christo, he more than completes the goal of the record of explaining to the world “the latent concept of sex”. If there were an award for Album Most Likely To Spontaneously Induce Activity of an Adult Nature, this would win hands down.
With that in mind, let’s talk about sex, shall we? There seems to be something about this album that’s ‘super-sexual’.
I love US r’n’b. The music has to be cool, and it was a really big problem for me as a French person to do it well. We haven’t got that same feeling and it was this problem, this ‘confrontation’, that grew in my mind until in the end, I decided to make a sexual record. Mainly because I love US music but not US lyrics, so I wanted to add not ‘intelligent’, but sensitive lyrics. I tried to make intellectual r’n’b. I try to explain to the world the latent concept of sex and that’s the goal of the record. I’m very happy to be in a sexual society. My previous record was called ‘Politics’ and of course it was about politics. At that time, I thought it was the most important rule in the world and now I think that sex is the most important rule, because seduction is at the centre of everything. So for me, sex is more important than politics. That’s why I talk about sex in my record. I always try to find the core subject matter to talk about.
It’s funny that you say sex is not part of the French heritage…
I’m talking about music. In the US, the music is a bit obvious, but me, I need a little intellectual thing. You know it’s so sad when you go to a party, a discotheque or a club, and you have sex with a girl but the day after you feel a bit dirty. I hate that feeling. For me, real sex is when you have the feeling and then the sex, not the sex and then the feeling. After all that, I love nasty sex too but I want something more.
Is that why you hooked up with Guy Manuel De Homem-Christo?
The only place in France where you can find some good food for the spirit is in the electronic world. On my previous record, I did very seventies music – however sex is a sophisticated thing. For me, to have a good ‘sex party’ you have to follow what is special now. I know in my heart I am a seventies guy, but I don’t want to have seventies sex. So I made this record electronic because I wanted to have a sophisticated album. G. Man knows the world. He knows fashion. He knows what I don’t know, so I needed his skills on this album. G. Man is very important in the respect that we used drum machines and synthesizers, but I don’t care about his fingers [on the consoles], I care about his mind. What was important was not the notes played, but the discussion between us. G. Man is such a good producer. He can sing exactly what he wants played and always, whatever he sings, is wonderful. I was always a fan of Daft Punk and wanted to work with G. Man and now, with him I can reach the levels of Daft Punk. What a great feeling that is.
Did you know him prior to your collaboration?
No, not really. He did a wonderful art movie called ‘Electroma’ and they used one of my songs in the movie. So I said to myself ‘Daft Punk love my music’ and was confident to ask them if they would like to work with me. Without them using my music in their movie, I don’t think I would have been confident enough to ask G. Man to work with me. In fact, I never asked him directly. One evening, Guy came to my apartment, we listened to some demos and that was the beginning of the work.
So there’s quite a community in Paris then?
Ah well. You know it’s always the same party in Paris, it’s always the same club like Le Baron, then after that it’s the same party in the same apartment. If you imagine in the UK countryside it’s a bit like Paris. Okay it’s a big city, but the pace is a bit like the country. At the same time it creates such an ambience to make a good record. You can take your time and people have admiration and love for musicians. It’s a very comfortable position to be in as a musician in France.
What came first? Steak or Electroma?
Ah, Steak! That was a very interesting adventure. I’m a very good friend of Mr Oizo. The thing is, London is a paradise of the music world, but Paris is a very small world. It’s so small you end up knowing everybody, so in the end Daft Punk, Oizo, Phoenix, St Etienne, Air are all known because it’s so small. Though, to be honest, I can’t remember which came first or who introduced me to who.
Without mentioning Sarkozy, do you think France is a little conservative?
Hehe, yes! There are a lot of problems with change for French people, for me too. Every change is hard. French people like tradition, with wine and cheese and the ‘spirit’ that goes with that. But me, I try to break this spirit inside me, to be different for each record. If you make a record with the same mindset as before, there is no point in making a new record.
There seems to be an affinity to cinema and the cinematic in your work…
Yes, the cinema is a kind of obsession for me. When you’re a filmmaker you have to imagine you are making a record, so a movie with energy and emotion. When you make a record you have to follow the rules of movies like suspense, surprise, tension. I think that a musician has to work like a filmmaker and a filmmaker has to work as a musician. There is a kind of crossover.
Can you mention some of your favourite films and soundtracks which work together?
Certainly. A Clockwork Orange with some tracks by Wendy Carlos. In fact, before he was a guy and she’s a woman. I love that! A musician, a transsexual, it’s beautiful. I also like Morricone’s songs in Sergio Leone movies. Oh, and if I could work with John Woo! I would love that. I also love the music from the Miami Vice TV show.
What do you think about the new electronic producers of now?
I love SebastiAn, Mr Oizo, Phoenix. I love the sound of synthesizers – it’s completely outside reality because it’s a fake sound. You can’t put an image with the song and I love that. It’s a new discovery for me because before I was only playing a guitar. I don’t want to live in the past, I don’t want to live in the present either, I want to live in the future. For me, all these guys – SebastiAn, Oizo, perhaps even Justice – are the future. Well, Justice are okay, but there is nothing behind the facade. SebastiAn though, it’s a new kind of music but you can find some spirit behind it.