Music & clubs

Yann Tiersen: One man is an island

Best known as the fellow who created the soundtrack for Amélie, Yann Tiersen shall be presenting songs from Skyline (Mute) at Astra on November 7.

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Photo by Craig Hull

Best known as the fellow who created the soundtrack for Amélie, Yann Tiersen shall be presenting songs from Skyline (Mute) at Astra on November 7. His seventh album was recorded between Paris, San Francisco and his residence on the tiny little island of Ouessan, and can be regarded as the darker sister of its predecessor Dust Lane (Mute), which was released exactly 12 months earlier.

The album Dust Lane came out only a year ago. Would you call Skyline  a companion piece?

Nooooo… when I started Dust Lane, I had the idea to release maybe two albums – Dust Lane and Skyline – so I recorded basic ideas for both, but focused on Dust Lane. It took a lot of time! And then we were on tour, and then I had a break so I could start working on Skyline. Chemistry came quickly and easy.

That sounds like a “yes”. You had specific inspirations?

No, not really. I think music is something really simple: sounds put together and then it’s a song and then you put lyrics to it. And I like the lyrics to be abstract, as well. It should be a bit mysterious; I am not a huge fan of conceptual albums. Playing with sounds and music – it’s all a game.

That’s why you incorporate typewriters and bicycle wheels into your music?

For me, it’s all just a game; I just experiment a lot. Not in a serious manner, though, like, “I am on an experiment-mission now” – more in a playful way. When I was making elephant noises for Dust Lane, I realized I could just open and shut a door. The typewriter I used when I did not have any drums. Playing the drums I suck at, anyway. Another time, when I could not get the drum part right, I just put a banjo on chair in order to replace the snare. I just try what sounds good to me and if it does: it’s mine.

You’re saying the music itself should be the main attraction.

I think it always should have a free interpretation and several meanings, not only one. Elliot Smith gave an interview about that, where he said that lyrics need to be a bit blurry so that the listener has a certain freedom of interpretation.

But it was always clear for you that you wanted to be a musician.

Yes. When I was really young – like four years old – I saw a performance where music was involved. And also lights. It really impressed me and basically from that time on, I wanted to be a musician.

That must have thrilled your parents.

There was no “You gotta get a real job at the bank” or something like that. They teach literature.

When you’re not recording, you live on an island. Sort of like your music.

Yes, I live on a little island in Brittany now.

Is that out of necessity?

I like this place. I was born on the countryside, so I went there a lot when I was a kid, and I recorded my third album there without having a house there. I rented a place there and then after the [2008 soundtrack] album Tabarly (EMI France), I rented the same house. And then I got cozy because it’s just nice there. I have a lot of friends there: it’s quite small but nice. Especially after touring it’s good to come home to a tiny place. And I like that there are lots of bars… 700 people and 7 bars…

For a sup of inspiration, when necessary.

Yes and no, maybe… it’s a good place to wash your brain, become relaxed. It’s just convenient and easy to work there, at least to get the basic ideas. After I have them I do not care from where I work. But at this place I do not feel any pressure – if the ideas won’t come, I go to one of the pubs, meet some friends and then I go home again. It’s just more cozy. I tried recording before in Paris, but there you either work or you are at home. It’s all very complicated and all a very big plan just to meet up for a drink. I also had the plan to live in Berlin, since it seems less hectic but, well, in the end – I opted for my little island.

Yann Tiersen w/Syd Matters, Mon Nov 7, 20:00 | Astra, Revalerstraße 9, Friedrichshain, U+S-Bhf Warschauerstraße,