Foto-Credit © Universal Music
Yoann Lemoine alias Woodkid, audiovisueller Ausnahmekünstler, ist nach seinem epischen Erstwerk The Golden Age mit S16 nun endlich zurück! Etwas industrielles wollte er kreieren, erklärt Yoann uns im Interview, der S16 nicht as Fortsetzung zu den narrativen Erzählungen von The Golden Age sieht, sondern als dokumentarisches Werk, das soziale und politische Themen hinterfragt, ohne dabei Antworten liefern zu wollen.
Salut Yoann! Given that we’re all going through very strange times, in which part of the world are you now?
I’m in my studio workshop in Paris, where I do all my visual work and final touches. I went to Berlin to record the Colors Session and have also been to Norway to shoot a music video at a really amazing location. But I haven’t really moved from Paris and have mainly been here.
How have the past few months been for you?
A lot of work, not enough holidays, a lot of stress. But I’d say mundane stress, because me releasing an album is kind of nothing compared to what is happening in the world right now.
Maybe not the worst of times to create during a pandemic? Creation as a form of relief?
Yeah, I know right. It was a bizarre alignment. The video for Goliath we shot in June last year and we though about whether we should release it now, in the middle of a pandemic and everyone is wearing masks. But I felt like it was in the air, the subject of toxicity. The things are literally and not literally in the air.
You clearly have some superpowers looking into the future!
See that’s the worst part of it, it’s easy to see these things. And I’m not the first one to say that that kind of thing is going to happen. We didn’t know which form it would take, but this general idea of toxicity has been in the world around us for a long time now. You know, with the record and the making of the music and the writing of the lyrics and the making of the visuals, I didn’t invent it, I just took what was in the air. But would it feel opportunistic to release it? But it was not by essence so I just didn’t want to push it further, because then it would’ve felt like I waited for the things to be over to talk about them. So in the end we decided to not change plans and to see what it does.
I see what you mean. There’s definitely been a sense of transformation in the air…
You know it’s funny. I mean of course I didn’t literally talk about a pandemic in the first video, but I talked about the individual and collective responsibility of being part of a system that does create some form of the monstrous forms of the unbeatable. There is a collective responsibility in the making of things even when the individual is not doing things. My lead actor in Goliath doesn’t do anything, he’s just watching. Which was a completely conscious choice. He is not even touching a button or anything. He’s just there and he’s watching. So my question was: is he equally responsible as the chain of workers that are actually part of the system he also lives from? Where is his responsibility here? When I went to Eastern Europe to shoot and saw these machines and people, I realized that there was something here, that was somehow talking about my inner feelings about the fascination and repulsion for these machines, but also the individual and collective responsibility in the creation of monsters.
It’s been seven years since The Golden Age. When did you feel called to work on a new album?
I didn’t feel a call in that sense, it’s not like I woke up sitting there and thinking that’s it, let’s make a new Woodkid record. I planted the seeds during sessions in 2015. Sessions of work with other people too and then I’ve let the songs grow over time. And since then I’ve been guarding that record somehow, I allowed time to let some songs die and some of them remain. At some point I just felt like the music was ready. It wasn’t that I suddenly went in the studio and made 100 songs and then edited them down to 20 songs and down to 11 songs in six months.
So you’re constantly creating and throwing ideas in there and feel into how it evolves?
Yeah and I’ve been doing a lot of collaborations during that time. I’ve been learning a lot through that and it’s been fertilizing my songs somehow and has helped them grow.
The Golden Age was about the intensity of growing up and leaving the simplicity of childhood behind. Now Woodkid has grown up and is finding himself in an industrial world. What was your intention for S16?
First of all, I don’t really see it as a sequel. In a way the first record is more narrative and is more about how I see the world. I think this one is more a social and political documentary on mental health and on things that are way more realistic. It’s less sequential and progressive, but more a testimony that stirs up questions and scales of the forces that play around each of us. To me it’s more a record about an acknowledgement of fragility and importance of requesting help when help is needed.
There’s always a lot of contrast in your work: the dark and the light, the gigantic and small, the epic orchestral music and raw voice. What is drawing you there?
I think you can’t talk about the world and not talk about contrast. I think it is by nature a fundamental element of the world we live in. In my case, I wanted to make an album that was documentary, so it needed to embed that ambiguity in its own form. It needed to talk about the equal fascination and repulsion there is for scale. You know, for one to talk honestly about the massive issues we’re all facing right now. We can’t just talk about the evil side of things, we also have to talk about the fascination we have for these forces. If we don’t, we create a dishonest, utopian commentary of things that is not serving the purpose of solving things. I’m thinking about Trump, I’m thinking about the general rise of capitalism, I’m talking about the rise of the far right, finance in general. If you don’t admit that there’s a fascination also for these forces that play, we’re missing a point. It’s like commenting about Social Media on Social Media. It is that form of dissonance and ambiguity that I think is fascinating as an artist. I’m not trying to serve any answers here, my work is more about questions than it is about answers. But one thing that’s striking me is that, for example commenting about Social Media on Social Media I s by essence the proper definition of the irony of it. A left wing channel making money in constantly showing images of how terrible Trump is. It’s these kind of dissonances that we’re sometimes being dishonest about and I think we can comment them with the fact that we’re fascinated. iPhones, they’re a marvel of technology, but there’s also a downside and that’s what we have to acknowledge. And it is complicated issues, but they are indeed by nature equally utopia and dystopia. The album talks a lot about it, you can translate it to super intimate phenomenas, like depression for example. Which I think also is attraction and repulsion.
It’s there and the moment it’s there we have to face it as a whole. We can choose to look away, but facing both sides and finding a balance makes us grow as humans?
Yeah, I think you know look at the environmental challenge. It’s easy to say oh my god, we’re killing the planet. But that’s not the problem, the problem is that we’re attracted to things that destroy the planet and we can’t let go of them. That’s ultimately the issue of climate change. We’re destroying the planet and post it on the iPhone. I’m not trying to judge, I’m just saying that in every behavioral pattern that are about fear, always bring a responsibility with them. And if we manage to identify these patterns, we can fix the issues easier. Maybe it’s fine to have iPhones, I don’t know, maybe it’s fine to change one every year, I don’t think it is on a personal level, but if we manage to identify that there’s a problem, we have to self-regulate ourselves all the time to rebalance this dissonance.
You’ve been mysterious about the meaning of the two Golden Age keys. How about the Adaptive Minerals logo?
For a long time I’ve questioned what it means to be generous as an artist. Is it showing what I eat for breakfast and every moment of my life on social media? I don’t think that’s what it is. It’s too easy to be generous in that sense, it’s too easy to point your phone and post whatever you’re doing. It feels heroic for some people, for me it feels extraordinary lazy and doesn’t ask for much effort. I’m not blaming Social Media, some people do amazing things on there. So then I realized, is generosity me reinvesting a lot of my personal money into my projects, so that the images and the music have a real value? I think it’s a little bit of this, it’s monetary generosity. I do believe that making money is not a problem, but what you do with that money is a matter of integrity. I realized that if I made money with my project, it would have to go back into the project or into my music so that people who, let’s say, paid for my ticket get something back. And then I realized that the other way of being generous, that’s where I’m coming to your point in the question, is when you tell stories and when you create a mythology around what you’re doing, it’s important as an artist to not fill all the gaps.
To tell a story, I need to leave some questions and answers. And in that I’m telling you, that it’s not just my story. I’m giving you a range of symbolism, lexical field, music, I’m giving you a world that is incomplete intentionally, so that you can transfer your own experience onto it. That when the music is out in the world, it doesn’t belong to me any more and you have the freedom to transfer your own life onto it and invent your own puzzle around it. And when I make a logo, when I create a world or a fake company, I intentionally create a form of mystery and an attraction to it, that does have a deep meaning to me. But I’m not going to give an answer on everything, because if I do, I’m locking the story to my own interpretation. And that is not generous. It’s not a book or a film and to me music has this very peculiar quality, that people can transform it and make it their own. I love reading the comments on my visuals or music. Sometimes it’s interpretations I would’ve never thought of. Sorry, that was the longest answer ever!
Ha, thank you! Fascinating to listen to! I get the point and I love the point. You bring this thing that’s yours into the world and once others let their experiences join in, a sort of super consciousness get’s created..
Pale Yellow is obviously about escaping addiction and fighting your own demons. When did your emotional support animal Omega come into your life?
It’s… you know I love paradox and ambiguity! This is really something that fascinates me. I love things you hate and love at the same time. It goes with so many things. I had the idea to illustrate addiction with that dog. As an emotional support that’s equally disgusting. Because that dog is pretty gross if you really look at it.
Ha, yes! It comes and it’s scary!
But then you think oh but it’s so cute! Sometimes there’s a bit of humor in my work. I thought this one I had to do with a sort of humor or a bit of weirdness and get it a bit quirky. It’s a metaphor for the idea that things that are conferring are not always good for you. We talk about addiction here, things that are an emotional support are not always good for you. It doesn’t mean they can’t be good or cute or.. you do want to pet that dog in a way. I mean it’s not as simple as that, you have to go through a lot of phases.
Now we’re back at your point about contrast earlier.
Yes, contrast and ambiguity. And non-binary. We’re starting to understand that there’s a binary problem in the world and we have to repaint all the different shades in between dark and bright. Not everything has an answer, not everything has a solution, that’s fine and maybe that’s for the best.
It’s not worth it analyzing everything to its deepest all the time, is it? Maybe that’s a lesson for a lot of people these days, that you cannot control some things..
You’ve been on a path from illustrator to director to musician… Are you happy now, with this holistic piece you’re now creating? Or do you feel like, nah, there’s more to it?
Never, never! Something you have to understand with releasing a record is.. It’s like releasing a film, people judge you on a version of yourself that’s already two or three years old. So when you talk about a piece of art, you’re not exactly the person any more that people think you are, based on the work that you’re presenting them. And in two years you learn a lot of things. So you’re never really satisfied, it’s not that you don’t like the piece but you’ve already moved on to something else. I hope I never stay satisfied with my work. The only thing that I’m focusing on is, do I think my work is better than the work I’ve done before?
And would you say it is?
I think so, I think it’s less naive, it’s a bit more connected, more complex musically, I think my English is better, I think my voice has expanded. So in many ways I think it’s a more open record from an artistic point of view. It doesn’t mean that it’s better fundamentally on a critically based point of view or it doesn’t mean it will have better commercial success or connect better with people. That I don’t know, that’s out of my league. But on a personal note I’m prouder of that record. Also because it’s been done in more adversity, with more questions and with more doubts. It’s good to sometimes make music very fast, but it’s also good to really go deep in what you’re doing and intellectualize it for a long time, so it really gets infused with value. So yeah, I’m proud of that record. But I’d already do it differently.
Can you tell me about the beautiful Japanese choir in Reactor?
And Minus Sixty-One, they’re in two songs. They’re called the Suginami Junior Chorus and I had the chance to go to Tokyo to record them. Retrospectively it was very lucky, because it was just two or three months before lockdown.. They’re an amazing kids choir and they have that timber that I’m very drawn to. You know when you start to work with children’s choir, there’s sometimes a risk that it starts sounding too commercial. Whenever you want positivity it’s like oh yeah, let’s have kids singing. That would give a tonality to my record that I wasn’t willing to give up. So I found the Japanese language and especially the choir had a very specific timber I was interested in. It’s a very precise range of young girls voices, who give me an idea that was very neutral as a matter point of view on positivity or negativity. It was neither optimistic nor pessimistic, almost like an omniscient commentary on my singing. Almost like voices that were commenting what I was doing in a very non judgmental way. It wasn’t shifting the music in one direction or another, but rather opening it. For the last song of the record, Minus Sixty-One, it was important for me to not finish it. That the last words were not coming from me. So I had the kids finish the record. They sing kind of a reverb of the world, a change of an era, where I don’t sing. Where I, as a 37 year old, don’t have the last word. I thought it was pretty nice, to let a younger generation end my record on a note that is super bright and positive. Like an epilogue of the album that’s moving on to a super uplifting part.
Okay see I understand the generosity thought from earlier, but it’s beautiful to understand your thought process deeper too.
You know there’s that illusion that the album is finishing at the end. And then it starts again with that super surprising, bright explosion at the end. It’s similar to what we sometimes see in films, someone is drowning in the water and then you see the surface and there’s no-one no-one no-one is coming and you feel like that person is dying. And then suddenly there’s a hand and going in the water and gets him out. A cinematic twist was my idea. Plot twist, it’s actually gonna get better.
Between the albums you’ve kept yourself busy and collaborated with Nicolas Ghesquière for Louis Vuitton amongst others – what role does fashion play for you?
I don’t know much about fashion itself. I know about fashion, but it’s not that I’m.. as a director you’re always asked to have an opinion on costume, on silhouette, on wardrobe. Because in some cases it can be 50% of your image. It is a subject and you have to have a point fo view. I’m not not interested on the subject. I like costume and I like artistry more than I’m interested in the idea of fashion in general. What drove me to collaborate with Nicolas Ghesquière is Nicolas Ghesquière. His brain works in a way that is absolutely fascinating and it is somewhat close to me. We both work in a clash of ideas and contrasts and putting things together, that aren’t supposed to go together. I feel like I do a lot of that in my music. And I did realize that collaborating with him on his shows would be a great occasion for me to explore territories and ideas that I wouldn’t in my own music, because I’m already somehow constrained by my voice to the pop format. I did the collaboration and continue to do so, because I was also learning a lot. And if you listen to the album I made out of that collaboration and you listen to my album, you’ll realize that here’s a lot of transfer. The Japanese choir being one of them. But also things about deconstruction, there’s a freedom I had with this collaboration, where I had time and money and a great ground of exploration to make things that were pushing me up, allowed me to reinfect that and retransplant that to my record and I’m super grateful for it.
You really don’t seem to be scared of diving into completely new worlds or mediums.
No! It’s the only thing that’s really interesting and that allows me to learn. The reality is, when you’re on tour you do learn but at a very slow pace and there’s a lot of repetition. As an artist, it triggers mechanisms inside of you that are very negative. And I’m way too curious to be doing the same thing over and over again. I need to feel like I’m exploring new continents every time. And it’s also a way of avoiding critics. If I decided to to opera tomorrow, or started to act or to dance, I’d be totally pushing the critics away. I’m new, I’m trying things here.
I think you’re absolutely fierce and brave for doing that. But how smart too, move on and say hey see ya later, I’m already over there!
Having two careers, as a director and as a musician, has always helped me to make both of them not important and less fragile. If something doesn’t work as a musician, I still have my career as a director vice versa. That really helps you to have a little bit of distance and making decisions that can be a bit more dangerous. If there was one advise I would give to people is that if you have even the slightest opportunity to have a double career, any chance to be able to afford that financially and time wise. Whatever life offers you, if you have that opportunity, grab it! The reality of me taking a seven year long break is a form privilege, because I also make money as a director. It helped me to sustain an economy that was viable for that amount of time. I didn’t have to rush into making an album, maybe repeat myself, or not have much to say. It’s a real luxury that I have and at the same time it helps nurture it, because I do take risks. It’s almost like a love relationship, you know it’s precious and you can loose it, so it helps you push for the relationship.