Amy Stratton 10/11/2010
GIITTV's Amy Stratton caught up with French musician and film composer Yann Tiersen on the Manchester Cathedral date of his tour at the end of October. Yann Tiersen album's new album Dust Lane s out now on MUTE.
Dust Lane is the sixth studio album by Yann Tiersen. Two years in the making, it was largely recorded on Tiersen's current home of Ouessant, a small island off the coast of West Britanny, with further parts recorded on an island in the south Philippines and last touches and final mix at The Chairworks Studio in Castelford with producer Ken Thomas (Sigur Rós, M83, Dave Gahan).
Dust Lane is, inescapably, an album preoccupied with mortality. During its recording, Tiersen lost his mother and a close friend, and the music within embodies what it is to be bereaved. It is also an album about life not as something lost, but something to be lived. "Not a sad thing, but a colourful thing - an experience sometimes painful, but also joyful," says Tiersen.
Hi Yann, thank you for talking to us today. How are you?
Very well. Sound check went OK and I' m very excited to be playing in a cathedral. It' s a very beautiful building. Also quite a funny experience because the church officials have told us to make sure we don' t leave beer bottles about the place. There' s a bar being set up in the church, would you believe!
Can you tell us a little bit about your new album and what inspired its sound?
I don't know, there was no specific inspiration. I spent two years working on Dust Lane. Lots of things have happened during the recording of the album, which has given me a chance to have some distance and come back to the songs with another approach, like starting again. I ended the previous tour to my previous album in Palestine, Gaza and it was pretty impressive for me, so maybe this was a bit underneath the album.
How was your experience in Palestine? I understand that the title of the record Dust Lane partly comes from the image of the road going into Gaza.
Yes, when you pass the checkpoint, it is this kind of no mans land where everything is destroyed on both sides of the road. It' s quite impressive. The title was born with that image.
What inspired you to compose music from that experience?
In my opinion, you can't translate something into music because music is not a language, its just sounds and noises so there is no meaning. I think this is the magical thing about music because you cannot translate things with the medium, you can maybe share emotions but it' s always subconsciously.
For listeners who are more familiar with your soundtracks and your 1990s albums, do you think this album marks a departure from your earlier work?
No, for me, when I start making music and making my own albums, it was after the 1980s, after spending so much time playing with a rock band. For me it was like a liberation to discover acoustic sounds and other instruments to make music. But my idea was not a new departure. My idea was to be completely free and to incorporate lots of different sounds and textures within one song and I spent a lot of time trying to do that. But you can' t just do it because it' s an idea, it has to be natural and make sense without thinking, and that's why it took a while. So it' s not a rupture. If you listen carefully on my
other albums, there are elements similar to Dust Lane, maybe separate from each other. In Dust Lane everything is put together.
I understand that you are classically trained. What are your views on classical music?
Yes I like classical music, well not ' classical music' -I hate this term. I don't know whether you' ve read it-Alex Ross, author of The Rest is Noise has just written another book and in the first chapter it starts with ' I hate classical music, not classical music but the term' because its an awful finite word.
So I like contemporary music or music from the beginning of the twentieth century, but there is no frontier between classical music and popular music, especially nowadays you are free to work with whatever you want. For me it' s natural to use lots of different instruments and textures and sounds and noises because life is like that.
How does a track normally begin for you in your creative process?
When I start a song it can be a loop on a guitar that I play for hours and then after it becomes something else because of some other textures, other layers. I like this idea to start with a little thing and then at the end you forget what the beginning was.
For instance, not in this album but the one before- for one of my songs, I started by putting a banjo on my drum kit instead of a snare, and a cello instead of a bass drum. I just made a pattern with that and it was the beginning of the song, everything was based on it.
Does your creative process differ when you're composing for films?
No because I' m not really good at composing for films. I beg to differ! No it' s true, I' ve only made two soundtracks-just Goodbye Lenin and Tabarly. Amelié was mostly excerpts. I didn' t change anything: 90% of the soundtrack was an excerpt from my first album. I only made two tracks for the movie.
I read that when Amelié was released you felt you had moved on musically. How so?
Yes for me the soundtrack was like a joke. The tracks used were mostly from my second album but it was already old stuff for me. So it was just like a pastiche of my work, lightly done without too much expectation. It was like a game.
In retrospect, do you wish you composed new work, considering the success of the film? Or are you happy with the tracks that were used?
No I was happy with the tracks that were used. The problem was that it was focused on accordion tracks a bit too much because in my albums there are some accordion on some of the tracks but it' s not the main thing.
I'm also not too fond of the association that sometimes creates. It is really far from my environment. Like I don' t like Paris for instance so it is so strange to be linked to a movie which is all about that.
Why don't you like Paris?
I'm born in Brittany and I don' t like the city, I think it's the worst one in the world. I think it was a really great city at the beginning of the twentieth century; it was bohemian with lots happening, but now it is like a dead city with stressed people, really aggressive, nothing happening. It is more Berlin that Paris nowadays.
When composing for films, do you write music on images and specific scenes or do you take another approach?
Music is not a language and it has no meaning, so for me, it is impossible to write music on images or even on a specific scene. For me it just doesn' t make sense. With Goodbye Lenin and Tabarly, I just made music and hoped it would fit with the film. The only thing is maybe the length of the track, but that' s it. Usually it works.
That sounds like a tricky process!
I think it makes sense. Yes, the music and what you see on screen can interact with each other, but not on a conscious level. You can mix a lot of art together but they need to be
separate in the creative process. And after, you can create new meanings with all of theelements combined, but I think it is pointless for everything to go in the same direction. It is not possible. Plus, you don' t choose the soundtrack of your life so why choose the soundtrack for a movie? If you see all the good directors, like Stanley Kubrick and his film 2001, the soundtrack is so important but it is so far from what you see on the screen. The Waltz is nothing to do with spaceships, and that's why it' s so great. There is no link except maybe in the head of the director. I think that's the only option for a good soundtrack. If you try to translate what is going on in the screen to music, it will be really bad.
So is it important that you are able to relate to the film you are working on?
For me it is impossible to do a soundtrack that I can' t relate to.
For instance, with Goodbye Lenin, my mother was sick at the same time, like very ill, and it is a great part of the movie, so that' s it, that' s why I said yes, because there was that common link.
I can' t work in any other way. I tried once to do a soundtrack for a movie with absolutely no relation to my life and it was impossible. After two weeks I gave up. That's why sometimes it is so strange to have people know me for soundtracks because I think I may be the last man on earth able to make one. For lots of bands it can be a game and it can be easy, but for me it is always painful and I don' t see the point.
We're nearly out of time. Any quick tips for young composers?
Sincerity. It has to be genuine. Believe in what you are doing. Create the kind of music that you would want to listen to.
And what does the future hold for you?
Lots of touring. I think we are touring for a year, all over the world. It' s very exciting.