Pitchfork interview

Make some 'Talkie Walkie' about Air

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Pitchfork interview

Postby waiu » Tue Oct 13, 2009 10:46 am


The French electronic duo Air broke through in 1998 with their classic album Moon Safari, and in the years since have built up a rich discography of romantic, atmospheric, and immaculately produced pop albums. We recently caught up with Jean-Benoît Dunckel and Nicolas Godin to discuss their new recording studio, their creative process, and the ideal conditions to listen to their new album, Love 2.

Pitchfork: So you have a studio now, Atlas Studios. What made you decide to build your own?

Jean-Benoît Dunckel: We wanted to have a studio a long time ago because, you know, we have a love of studio recordings. We like the ambiance and atmosphere, and we felt really early that... I mean, of course, we are an electronic band, but we are doing so many real recordings and the studio is so important for the sound. The acoustics create atmosphere and emotion. Also we want to be independent, we don't want to be obliged to go into a commercial studio and only stay one week because it's really expensive. We want to be able to give a chance to a song, and to spend a lot of time in the studio.

Nicolas Godin: We want to be safe for the future because we don't know how record companies can afford to pay for studios for bands. If we build our own studio, it means we can make our own music for the rest of our lives, whatever happens. We feel safe now, it's really cool.

Pitchfork: Now that you have all this control and as much time as you want, did you end up spending more time than usual working on the music for Love 2?

NG: That's the paradox. Since we can spend as long as we want, we worked so much faster than we used to. I think that when you don't have the pressure anymore, the ideas come faster. If you're in a commercial studio, you've got to be out by the end of the day, and it can be paralyzing, but if you have your own studio you move fast because you don't care. If you don't care, you can be patient, and also think fast.

Pitchfork: Do you plan on letting other musicians use the studio, or is this just your private workspace?

NG: If it's a good opportunity, if it's a good friend. The studio can help anyone who needs it, but we need to feel connected to the project. We do not have any ambition to be a commercial studio.

Pitchfork: How did you go about looking for equipment for the studio? I understand that you both have pretty large collections of vintage equipment and keyboards.

JBD: When we tour we often go in some music shops and so we fall on some interesting keyboards or machines. And so that's why last year we had, like, machines from all around the world. It creates a problem for plugs.

Pitchfork: So you're now also an expert in adapters.

JBD: Exactly. We have a magical technician, he's in Paris. He's an old technician and he knows everything about old electronics. When he'll be retired, it will not be possible to have some electronic keyboards repaired in Paris anymore. So we have to hurry and to make him repair them really fast!


Pitchfork: When you're working with all these keyboards that you have acquired, do you find that the songs come out of the equipment, or are you finding the right equipment to suit the songs?

JBD: Both. Some sounds are coming from the keyboard and they are very important in the writing process, but on the other hand, we have melody and we have the song before, so if the keyboard sound fits very well, it takes its artistic direction. We play the machines and the machines play us.

Pitchfork: Do you ever have the song, but not know what sound is right for it?

JBD: Oh yeah. It's better to find a composition through an instrument and to play it and record it because you have something. It's a composition, and the song is good. It lives as a song. The worst is when you have a song and nothing is working well when you produce it. It's not like what you expect in your imagination. It's the worst because it requires a lot of work.

Pitchfork: Do you have any songs that were like that, that you got to a point that you felt it was successful?

JBD: Yes. For example, "Sing Sang Sung". We had a completely different version when we started the recording, and we changed it. We found some new keyboard sounds and some new ways of producing it, and so we have been lucky.

Pitchfork: How did you originally write that song? It seems a bit more folky than other songs you have.

JBD: We found this song a long time ago, while we were recording with Charlotte Gainsbourg. We wanted to give her that song because it was a happy song, a pop song, and we felt it was in a model-style mood. Jane Birkin, you know, when Serge Gainsbourg did some songs for her, she was keen on singing these sort of happy, classy melodies. So we tried to do the same for Charlotte, but for some reasons, it never happened. So we kept the song and recorded a new version for us.

Pitchfork: And you sang it yourselves. You don't have any guest vocalists on Love 2, as you did on your previous album. Was that a conscious decision, to just have it be the two of you?

JBD: Yeah, we wanted to record by ourselves because we worked with Nigel Godrich, and we did some music with Charlotte. We love what we've done, but we wanted for this one to find the spirit of Air again. The third member was the studio. For each album, there is a new collaboration, or something new. New equipment, a new machine. There's always something new, and the new thing was the studio.

Pitchfork: You're still working with Joey Waronker, who plays the drums on your records, and he's been in your touring band for a long time. Is he like a member of Air at this point?

JBD: Yeah, he's like a member of the band. Especially during the past year we toured in China and in Israel and we were three on stage, and so Air was Joey and Nico and J.B. all together. Joey fits really well in the songs, in the music.

Pitchfork: You both have been working together for a long time now, right? At least 14 years?

NG: Since we were teenagers.


Pitchfork: How has your collaboration changed over time?

JBD: We know each other better, and it's like we understand more what is Air than before.

NG: I think on this album we came back to the two of us, so it was a good way to make the band more solid, because there were fewer people involved and around us. When we started, it was just the two, we created our own thing. With this new album we have the same feeling, it's crazy. It's like going back to the original process. Getting our ideas, making them, creating them. It's not like the sum of the two of us, together we can create something different. It's like a chemical reaction, so there's nothing to interfere. We forgot, because when you're carrying on all this recording, your path is crossing everyone else's path and it's like when you add water to some wine. So this is the pure essence of Air. This album was our way to find a really strong blend.

Pitchfork: Do you feel that you have improved at all from the collaborations you've done in the past, before coming back to being just the two of you?

JBD: Yeah. The collaborations that we have done were absolutely necessary to make the band discover a new recording process. I think that the band Air is learning to unlearn, which is really important to create your own style of music.

NG: When we worked with Charlotte, it was very heavy because there were so many people. We were doing the music, Jarvis [Cocker] and Neil [Hannon] were writing lyrics, Nigel was producing, and she was singing. We had this nostalgia of just being the two of us. I really love her album, and I think it was a dream to do this kind of music, but it almost killed the band. The band is us, and we forgot that.


Pitchfork: How do you think this album is different from your others, in terms of the sounds on it?

JBD: It's more acoustic. The songs are more into something really, really warm emotionally. It's more uptempo.

Pitchfork: I noticed that a lot of the songs are shorter, and snappier.

NG: I think we're not scared now. When we made albums before we were so obsessed with making something timeless. We were limiting ourselves, but now we don't have this fear, and we don't care anymore. There's more freedom on this one. We don't have this big heavy thing. For some reason, as I get old, I don't give a shit.

Pitchfork: What is an example of a song on the record you might not have done a few years ago?

NG: A lot of songs, especially the uptempo ones. I think "You Can Tell It to Everybody" is the closest to the old style, that we used to do. Super Air, slow. I feel like all the rest is pretty new for us. We put the beats really loud, they're not just in the background.

Pitchfork: When you write these songs, do you imagine particular scenes and settings for the music?


JBD: No. I mean, every song is like a reflection of some emotions and some words that we wanted to say to someone else, or some currents of life that went through our brains. It's not to think of the environment around the album or around the music, but I know when I like to hear it recorded, I know it's a cliché, but in a café with my girlfriend and a sunset, the music is really loud.

I remember one day when I was a teenager I was in Greece on an island and there was this beautiful café near the beach. There was a Pink Floyd album, The Dark Side of the Moon, and I knew this album but I never heard it from beginning to end. I think I could've had some weed, and I smoked some joint. I was near the beach hearing the music of this album, being completely stoned and I was, like, 16 years old, you know, so it was a big shock, it was really strong. I would like for people to do the same for this album. Getting stoned.

Pitchfork: Nico, would you agree?

NG: I think getting stoned has made me buy a lot of bad albums, because when I'm stoned I think everything is amazing. There have been so many nights smoking pot and listening to some music and thinking, "Wow, that is fucking great!" and the next day I go to the shop and I get home and put it on the CD player and think, "It's not that great." Getting stoned increases some qualities of what we hear, and so if there are some qualities in this record, it's definitely a good way to get into it.

JBD: I think of one day when a friend of mine showed me a DVD of Prince and the Revolution, videos of Prince, and Prince playing on stage. I think Prince made a documentary about this. The idea was like, there was a woman, an incredibly pretty woman, speaking about Prince. You see her at the beginning of the DVD, she is working and hearing some Prince for the first time and seems interested. You see her commenting "What is this music?" and of course, at the end of the DVD, she is almost touching herself. It's so funny. I would like, of course, the same to happen when women listen to our album.
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Re: Pitchfork interview

Postby grimbog » Tue Oct 13, 2009 5:52 pm

Nice in-depth interview considering Air's usual mystique... :)

Interesting to hear more about their new studio set-up too. Not sure if this has been posted yet, but just saw a video interview as well with the duo about their Atlas Studios.

Check this out:
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Re: Pitchfork interview

Postby donato » Tue Oct 13, 2009 9:45 pm

Isn't Pitchfork the same magazine that gave the album a terrible review? How strange...
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