No matter how much I complain about France, the country’s general state of grumpiness and our president François Hollande’s political inertia, Paris still has a lot to offer as a new generation of creatives take the world by storm. This week I ran into one of them, Yoann Lemoine a.k.a. Woodkid (his stage name). The Paris-based musician and director, who has made videos for pop princesses such as Katy Perry, Lana Del Rey, and Rihanna, is himself a prolific singer-songwriter. Unlike his glamorous music videos, Woodkid’s music sits more on the dark side of pop culture. Last year the musician and producer released his ambitious first LP, The Golden Age, and performed a series of theatrical live shows. I caught up with him for a quick chat.
It’s January, so there is still time to ask if you have any resolutions for 2014.
I’ve promised I would allow myself more fun this year. I’m gonna try to use this third year of tour to travel and lock free days around the gigs to visit and meet people.
You probably have been asked this 10,000 times: Why have you chosen Woodkid as your stage name?
This is about the idea of a kid that grows up from wood to marble, who turns into an adult. From emotional and supple to hard and defensive.
You started your career as a visual artist, which grew into a parallel career as a musician. How do you manage your time with touring, promo, and pitching for music videos and commercials?
I don’t want to direct commercials anymore. I decided I was done with them last year. This year has been a lot about music; I’ve only managed to shoot my video for The Golden Age, which will come out in a couple of weeks hopefully. I am planning to finish writing my feature film this year and shoot it when I’m done with the tour, so hopefully next year will be more about directing. This is just a matter of scheduling.
As a kid from Lyon, what music did you grow up listening to?
I remember the we hacked the cable so we could watch MTV, so I basically grew up with the mainstream music from the nineties. I also remember listening to a lot of film scores, which really influenced the music that I do today.
How did your interest in making music start? Is the Richie Havens banjo story true?
It is true. I was shooting him for a documentary I was directing on his life, and he got me this little banjo that he tuned and signed for me. I wrote my first real ballads with it, in New York. I have always loved music and played music, but I guess this is when I really started to feel that I wanted to be a composer.
Your music sounds heavily influenced by the classical genre. Is there a period of classical music that influences you the most?
I have a classical training as a pianist, but I think I became more influenced by scores than classical music, actually, from [Bernard] Herrmann to [Angelo] Badalamenti.
I’ve been very influenced by Eastern European music, where [my family] is from. I remember mentioning Mussorgsky a lot when we did the album.
On your first LP, you sing in English with a charming French accent and a hint of Antony Hegarty’s voice. Do you find it an advantage or an inconvenience, and why?
I don’t know, I just sing the way I feel it. I think my French brain cuts the words a different way than an English-speaking person’s would. I guess it creates a strange dynamic to the songs that belongs to me and my way of singing. I’m not trying to erase where I’m from; I would never win that battle. I guess I’d rather play with it and make it my identity.
You have already directed three videos for your album. Would you let someone else make a music video for you? If yes, who would you like him or her to be?
I don’t think I could, no. This story is a crazy puzzle that is inside my head, and I also feel that I started this project to create a playground that would allow me to direct the things that I want, that are personal. I don’t think I could let another director access this playground.
As a director, you have worked with pop acts such as Katy Perry, Rihanna, Drake, and Lana Del Rey. How much control do you have over the final cut? Would you consider a musical collaboration with any of the above or with other pop artists?
I now have a lot of control on the films I do for others, though it has not always been this way. But directing a video for another artist is a form of collaboration; I think it is important to let the artist drive you in unusual directions. I would love to produce for Drake, definitely. His album is really incredible.
Your visual work embodies an aesthetic full of drama and is highly cinematographic. The same goes for your music. Would that naturally lead you to a feature film in the future? If yes, do you have a timeline for that?
Yes, I am currently writing it. I think I will shoot it in 2015, hopefully. I feel that everything that I’ve done so far has been a step toward feature film—even my album and my music.
You have done a few fashion collaborations (Dior Homme show music, a Lolita Lempicka video). What do you think about the fashion industry these days?
I don’t really know anything about the industry, to be honest. I always say I don’t like fashion but I love clothing. I’m hanging out with amazing designers who craft incredible clothes, and I still see a lot of great things at the shows. I love what Humberto [Leon and Carol Lim] are doing with Kenzo. I am still a fan of Kris Van Assche’s work, and I really love young London designers like Shaun Samson, Meadham Kirchhoff, and Nasir Mazhar.
What are your most exciting projects for this year?
I am composing a ballet for New York City Ballet, [with] scenography by the artist JR. It’s a new challenge for me. I’m also going to tour new places, like South America. And, of course, I’m very excited about the release of the new and last Woodkid video for this album.
Photos: Ismael Moumin