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Air’s Nicolas Godin: “Louis XIV had very good taste” – Interview



Nicolas Godin

Nicolas Godin (Photo: Camille Vivier)

Music and architecture have always been natural bedfellows, especially in the lives of French duo Air. The two, Nicolas Godin and Jean-Benoît Dunckel, met as architecture students, and Godin invited his new friend to join him in a band. The rest – via the great Moon Safari album of 1998 – is history. But since then Godin has opened up a new chapter in his solo career, capped by the release this year of third album Concrete And Glass.

The title suggests he remains preoccupied by building materials, and it is not long from the start of our genial chat until the two subjects are rubbing shoulders once again. In the meantime, he has been busy. “I’m clearing out my things to get ready for a rehearsal and a showcase in London.”

Soon we are talking about Concrete And Glass – and the overall sound of the album, which is a lovely sonic experience, particularly on headphones. It has a lot of care and attention invested in it. “I try to stay classy,” says Godin. “I worked a lot on this because I wanted to do a Hi-Fi record. Today in pop music everyone is working with a computer, but here I tried to make it sound rich and wanted to use sounds from the 1980s. It is against the times, but try to do things very pure, and not to stack sounds on top of each other.”

He qualifies his remark in architectural terms. “Since the beginning of making music I like to produce tracks in a three dimensional form, with a lot of space in between layers. If you think of building a house, it’s like the space between walls. Music needs to have the space between the notes.”

While it would have been easy to choose a guest list of ‘names’, Godin opted for vocalists he had not met before, with the exception of Alexis Taylor of Hot Chip. “I wanted to have a fresh approach because I know a lot of people and singers, but I wanted not to work with people I know, to challenge myself and set a new energy. To find them I was checking live shows in Paris, and looking on Instagram and YouTube. I wanted the tracks to sound virginal. In the past I did some work with Jarvis Cocker and Beck, and I found that even if you make a great song it can sound like someone else. The thought was to do something fresh.”

Time On My Hands, a collaboration with Australian Kirin J Callinan, was recorded in Los Angeles, during a session at Mac DeMarco’s studio. “We used his keyboard, computer and drums,” says Godin. “It was a good moment, a crazy time and it was great working with them.“

It is fair to say the construction of his musical building was unhurried. “It took a long time,” he says, laughing gently, “it was kind of slow. I already had the melodies and harmonies from when I was doing an exhibition for contemporary art. When that was finished I decided to transform the music into songs. I don’t write the words, I don’t know how to do that – so each singer wrote their own. I can’t tell you if the lyrics are good or bad because I’m French. Kate NV, who is on Back To Your Heart, is a Russian singer. Nobody knew how to write the lyrics because of that. Are the lyrics OK? I was kind of worried for this track, but my friends tell me it is good.”

Nicolas Godin

Nicolas Godin (Photo: Camille Vivier)

Godin’s relaxed demeanour masks the subtle intensity that goes into his music, and the careful and methodical preparation he goes through. Because of this he feels a strong awareness of and pull towards more minimal forms of classical music. “Since the beginning of my career I have been obsessed with fine lines in music,” he explains, “and when you have that obsession that’s an opportunity to write in a more classical form and to write some classics. I hope some will become timeless. My own tracks still sound fresh, and that’s rewarding for me. My goal is to do better, and that keeps me awake at night. It keeps me awake when I have to spend time in the studio, thinking of which sound to use. That’s where I put a lot of my energy.”

His comparisons with building and architecture invite the question – which cities in the world is Godin drawn to? “I really admire Brasília, and I really like London and Tokyo for the way the modern and old are living in the same street. I like that in Paris, the mixture of traditional and modern that the city has had since the Eiffel Tower. I like to see brand new skyscrapers, and I love New York but can’t stand the noise. I love Zurich, the old town looks like a fairytale while the modern town has nice concrete and stone. I love Versailles, where I grew up. Louis XIV had very good taste.”

A willingness to incorporate the past into his art explains why Godin was very happy to base the 2015 album Contrepoint on themes of Johann Sebastian Bach. However he is equally keen to move on from that. “That album is more of a testimony, but because I learned Bach for five to six years it is now a memory, I did a record, but it’s time to turn the page and move on. I did what I had to do in Air but now it’s me, Nicolas Godin, because I want to make a record myself.”

He is in effect setting out his vision for Air, with a collaborative approach encouraged but one likely to lie outside of the studio. “I think we did the right albums,” he muses, “and we could do others, but it’s not our turn. It’s the turn of others to make new sounds. You make music together but then you start fading and find that you’re not at the right page. Pop music is more to do with youth I think, so with Air we are now more routed towards touring and life. If we feel we could do something good though we could go for it, and it could be destiny. I don’t want to predict, but anything could happen. We talk about touring, and we are agreed that the one thing we don’t want to say is that there will be no more band.”

Talk turns to the present, with Godin ready to return to the stage – though he does have some trepidation about his role as a live performer. “I finished rehearsing last night, and I feel ready to start to do small showcases again. We have a filmed performance in Paris coming up very shortly. If I go on tour I really love playing live on stage.”

Who does he admire live? “I love a lot of bands, but it’s tricky. I admire people who are comfortable talking with the audience, because I’m scared to do that. Mac DeMarco improvises and takes some risks. I love Connan Mockasin as well, they go on stage and it’s fresh. Every night it will be a different show.”

Here he reveals an important aspect of his live experience, choosing to work with analogue over digital. “I’m not a singer or performer,” he confesses, “and I don’t want to work with computers. Nothing is received, everything is played and sometimes we play better than other nights. I think that’s special. When I go on tour, if I see a band at festivals and see them again three months later it can be the same but it’s like that with the generation of computers. I don’t judge anymore. I just don’t want to have stage fright about my computer crashing.”

Nicolas Godin’s album Concrete And Glass is out now through Because. Tour dates and further information can be found at nicolasgodin.com


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Air’s Nicolas Godin: “Louis XIV had very good taste” – Interview
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