When Life Hands You Lemoines: An interview with Woodkid
In advance of his performance at EB Festival Dresden, Daniel Jones spoke with musician, director and artist Yoann Lemoine to talk about his childhood, society, and how he prefers imperfections. Above: photo by Peyman Azhari.
Yoann Lemoine’s debut under the guise of Woodkid, The Golden Age, traverses a multitude of aural plateaus that range from bass-heavy hip hop-inspired dance to the sort of emotional folk-pop which at times recalls the ear-snarring hooks of a modern-age Smiths. Woodkid’s musical flexibility makes him hard to define in any singular genre, a factor that contributes to the love he’s received from press and fans both mainstream and underground. It’s supported greatly by his proficiency as a director and live performer. After the recent tease of “The Golden Age”, his final video for the current Woodkid project, more fans than ever are curious to see what comes next from the mind of Mr. Lemoine. I asked him some questions before his performance at EB Festival Dresden. He gave me some answers.
Your policy of shooting all of your music videos in black and white lends a very nostalgic feel to something that sounds very modern; a sort of high-definition nostalgia that works well with the album’s themes of childhood. Do you remember your own childhood through a “black and white” filter—in simple tenses?
Not necessarily. The project is of course about the past and the future, so I wanted the look of it to refer to the past—the black and white that is in everybody’s subconscious, related to the past. But I wanted to treat it in a very digital way, using HD cameras to give it a strong sharpness.
The hardcover book that comes with the album’s special edition is beautiful. How did Jillian Tamaki get involved with doing the illustrations?
Jillian has always been a huge reference for me. I’d seen her work all over, and of course I’d studied as an illustrator, so that whole world influences me. Jillian is, to me, one of the best. The book itself I wrote with my cousin in Poland. We gathered some fragmented memories to make this sort of document about the feelings I went through as a kid, elements that together make the kind of essay that constitutes a form of modern poetry, I suppose. It’s not exactly like poetry; it’s really more like an essay on the transition of emotions. It’s not a novel; it’s more abstract.
But was modern poetry an inspiration?
We talked about a lot of different authors when my cousin and I wrote the book, but I do think there’s something very modern about the way she constructed it; about the way it’s free.
Is this multimedia experience something you plan to do more of with this or other projects?
For now I’m just focusing on Woodkid; I haven’t been thinking of anything else for about three years, to be honest. I think that right now, what I’m doing with the live show is another dimension of these fragments that I’m trying to put together to tell my story— all part of the emotional empire that I’m trying to make inside my head. The projections, the way we play with the rhythm, the audience—these are new elements for me to express a story and make it more coherent.
How would you compare the immediate thrill of performing with the more drawn-out pleasure you get from directing?
I love to feel that people are impressed by what they see, or shiver when the light show comes on the beat, and everything builds up. It’s a very exciting sensation to be playing with people’s emotions like that—you have them there, inside the room, and they can’t do anything besides listen to you. They could leave, of course, but that’s part of the challenge as well. You have to entertain them. I love that word, “entertainment”. I think that’s what we do, entertain people. There’s a very spontaneous process when you perform live, a very direct connection to your voice and your emotions. You can’t really cheat on stage; you have lights, visuals, effects, all the tricks but it’s you in the middle. It just comes straight out of you, so in that way it’s a much more animal experience.
You don’t use a lot of effects on your voice when you perform.
I like that there’s something raw about it. I thought that the way we mixed the album was interesting, because we did it without any kind of ‘cheating’ or processing element. I wanted it to be honest.
You appreciate the warmth of a natural voice in music?
That, and the imperfection of it as well. There’s a strong sense of perfection and formatting in the productions. We sampled, pitched and tuned everything, and produced it to the point where we got this strange perfect quality, and I wanted it to collide with the imperfection of my voice. That’s interesting to me, and there’s also something modern about it as well.
On The Golden Age, you recorded with the French National Orchestra and the Paris Opera, stripped each recording down and combined it with digital instrumentation. How much of what we hear on The Golden Age is “real”, and how much is artificial?
It’s fifty-fifty, same for the drums and the beats. It’s all about enhancing reality. You never get perfect synchronization and perfect digital quality with an orchestra, and you never get that sort of emotion with digital. The way I mixed them, you get the experience both at the same time. I think there’s something disturbing about it, which I like. It’s not exactly like listening to classical music because it’s too processed. I thought it was interesting to make the raw qualities of my voice collide with that perfect, ‘corrected’ element representing, for example a city. Society is about manipulation, and is altered by our own manipulations—our vices, our egos. I talk about this idea of a city and societal war in “Stabat Matter” as well: “Come the sound of boots and metal chains…” It also references the war we see on our TVs every day, on every screen. In “Conquest of Space” I also mention these images of violence, empires of greed and egos throughout history… these ideas from the past that we hear again and again.
Do you think more pop music should push the boundaries of social thought?
Pop can be anything! Pop is just a way of writing down music that’s understandable to a mainstream audience, to the public. I don’t know what a perfect pop song would be, though. One that people love, I suppose. ~
The Golden Age is out now on Green United Music.
Published December 12, 2013. Words by Daniel Jones.