Sleeve Notes: Sébastien Tellier Made a Mix of Sun-Obsessed Brazilian Musicians
Sleeve Notes is a new series where we pick an artist and get them to make a themed mix. This week: Sébastien Tellier, whose sixth album L’Aventura comes out in July, discusses his love of Brazil and its care-free culture.
You’ve described L’Aventura as a concept album and that you wanted to ‘re-write’ your childhood - why did you want to ‘re-write’ it?
I tried to imagine the perfect childhood in Brazil with a lot of music, dance and sun. I had a lot of problems in my childhood - it was a very average, regular one, but my own vision of that was very dark. I hated school, I hated authority, I hated sports like judo. My wish was to drive the car not just sit in it. I want to forget all of the darkness from the past and it's only now that I can think about the future.
Are there no bits from your childhood that you want to keep? Do you want to erase all of it?
Yes. The past is really heavy, actually. I really try to forget it. I try to forget my mistakes; by forgetting the past, you give a chance to the future, and for me it’s really important to live without the past because my brain is so unstable. The only good way for my brain to work is to think about the future.
But didn’t the past make you what you are today?
Yes but I’m not thinking ‘oh Sébastien Tellier you’re a great guy’, I think I have a long way to go before being perfect. That will never happen of course, but there is a way to try and reach perfection. I had very savage teenage years; I was a complete freak. It took me a very, very long time to become an adult. Maybe my past built me, but I’m not very proud of its construction.
In what way were you a freak?
For example on the weekend, the goal was to drink as many bottles of vodka as possible, and create a space in the middle of the forest and take LSD. There was too much drugs, I want to forget that. I have a song on L’Adventura called “Ricky L’Adolescent” (Ricky the Teenager), which is a story about me now and I meet me but when I was fifteen. I hate the person I meet and I never want to see him again.
Why did you want to base the re-written childhood in Brazil?
The Brazilian people love to play like children - they play guitar, they sing, they dance, they play football. Until they die, they love to play. For me it’s very important to live like that because in Europe, the goal is to pretend to be serious. But in Brazil if you want to win, the best way is to have fun. I like this way of thinking - that’s why I chose Brazil - all Brazilian people stay as children until they die.
So that’s something you want?
It’s only a dream. It’s an album from a French musician dreaming about Brazil. I don’t try to discover the social basement of Brazil or understand anything like that - I try to make naive art. I talk about my subject like a child. Okay I’m attracted by this country, I like it, the people are super nice and the nature is beautiful but that’s it. I don’t like to be realistic. Even in learning Brazilian music, my influence was French music trying to be Brazilian music, like the song “Paroles Paroles” by Dalida. I love seeing artists dreaming about something so far, far away.
Have you been to Brazil yourself?
The first time was on tour for Sexuality, and during that time I discovered great music, the best music I’ve ever heard. It was in the car between the airport and the hotel - the taxi driver played some shit on the radio and it was fantastic. For me, it was a mirror image of myself. Brazilian music is very complicated, the chords and harmony, but the goal of the complicated music is a simple emotion - like I’m crying or I’m dancing or I’m happy. And that’s exactly what I am myself in my mind and body. I feel something complicated because I’m a complicated artist, but I use all of that energy for entertainment. I just want to give pleasure to people. It was fantastic to recognise my own personality in Brazilian music.
Was there any record in particular that turned your head toward Brazilian music?
There was this fantastic funk record but I don’t remember the name - I don’t even remember the names of my own songs! I don’t speak Portuguese so the names are too complicated - I remember the chords and melodies but that’s it.
It’s interesting that you still sing in French over bossa nova instrumentation and melodies – do you see any similarities between the two styles?
I usually choose the language after the melody. I try English, Italian or French and then I choose the best language that makes the melody shine. But this time it was almost a duty to sing in French because I wanted to make naive music with naive lyrics, but to be naive you have to use a lot of nuance. It’s very important to be precise with the colour of the strings and guitar and with French being my native language, it was much easier to be nuanced. I want to be super natural, I don’t mean by going over there on a plane because that costs too much, but I want to be pure in my art and represent the pure artist inside me.
Your new album was partially recorded at Jean-Michel Jarre’s studio – what was it like working with someone as celebrated as him?
He is a friend of mine, he’s a wonderful guy, and for me he’s like a star in the sky. I love him very much, so it was super nice for him to give me his studio. It was a very good point in the creative process as well - I wanted to capture the emotion from the songs in cartoons of my youth, and with with all of Jean-Michel’s gear it was possible to be very precise. I thought ‘now I have the keys to write Brazilian music!’ But you can forget the beauty of it, what’s important is the charm - the goal isn’t to destroy the world or make the best song ever. We all had the same goal, to create something charming which changes everything. There was no pressure. Now beauty makes me sad - beauty isn’t my ultimate goal, instead it’s just charm. Why? Because there’s little chance to fail, and it’s better like that.
Can you go into a bit of detail on some of the tracks you’ve picked in the mix?
There are so many ways to listen to and play music. There is this kind of musician in Brazil - their ultimate goal is to explain what happens when the sun goes to sleep. A few seconds before the night, it’s already a dream, and they try to explain the sensations of this dream. That’s why it’s wonderful to work with these musicians. In the selection of music I did for you, I chose musicians who are obsessed by the sun. For them, the sun is a god.
Which of the musicians on your mix would you have liked to work with on L’Aventura?
Before making the record, I didn’t listen to Brazilian music at all to stay pure and to stay with a child’s vision of my subject. But now my job is done, I listen to a lot of Brazilian music. But that’s not to say that before then I was like a scientist, trying to find the right way to do something; my only memory is that cab ride from the airport to the hotel. I tried to stay far away from the music, it wasn’t part of the creative process, but now I can listen to it all the time.
- Arthur Verocai - "Pelas Sombras"
- Tim Maia - "O Caminho Do Bem"
- Gilberto Gil - "Procissão"
- Os Mutantes - "A Minha Menina"
- Airto Moreira - "Celebration Suite"
- Joao Gilberto - ‘"S Wonderful"
L'Aventura is out on July 14 on Because Music.
Follow Lev on Twitter: @LevHarris1