Filed under: Interview
When the powers of Nicolas Godin & Jean-Benoît Dunckel combine they form the formidable super duo AIR. Besides their foray into the compilation market with “Late Night Tales” late last year, the Parisian pairing have been rather quiet since their 800,000+ copies selling album “Talkie Walkie”. But now, with a few Japanese instrument lessons in the bank, JB and Nicolas are set to return with their highly anticipated fourth album “Pocket Symphony”.
HigherFrequency camped out at the Toshiba EMI building in Tokyo for a chance to interview the surprisingly humble twosome as they began the grueling promotions schedule that proceeds any platinum aspirant album.
Interview & Introduction by Nick Lawrence(HigherFrequency)
HigherFrequency (HRFQ) : First of all, the new album “Pocket Symphony” is obviously what we want to talk about. How is it different from your past efforts?
Jean-Benoit : I think that this one is more Zen, more peaceful. There is not a special moment where it is crazy. There is a certain craziness but it is more a peaceful craziness. We wanted to sort of have something that catches you, with a soul behind it. Also you know you have songs from other people, we worked with Jarvis Cocker ad Neil Hannon. This album is well built because there is a beginning, a middle and an end. We thought about an introduction and then afterwards we wanted to have messages. And maybe it is more diverse in one way also because you have real songs and you have some true instrumentals and you have like some typical AIR songs with just a few words…but good ones (laughs).
HRFQ : So when you make music you don’t feel pressure from the media or your fans to follow a certain sound?
Nicolas : No. That’s our main quality, we don’t care what people want. We care what people say afterwards but when we do it we don’t want to please people, we want to please ourselves first.
HRFQ : “Talki Walkie” sold something like 800,000 copies. Do you think about sales at all? Are you thinking that you need to make this album more successful?
Nicolas : No. Especially nowadays because in Europe there is a big downloading thing and sales don’t mean anything anymore. I hope it’s going to bring more freedom for the artists. When the French charge started everybody was making some original music but then everyone wanted to sell records so they change their music to sell more. All the bands that we liked started to make music with no soul anymore. Now there is this sales problem people will remember why they make records, just to make good music. And we never lose our soul, that is why we are here.
HRFQ : So, you just do what you want to do and don’t worry too much about the other stuff?
Jean-Benoit : The other thing is we know that we have to change. We know that for each album we have to find a new direction. We know that our fans won’t like to have the same album, they want to be surprised.
Nicolas : You know we are French and the fashion world is very important in Paris. We have learnt that if you don’t change clothes every year it won’t work. So we have the same body but every album we change clothes. That’s part of our culture.
HRFQ : Some of those new clothes on the album were the Japanese instruments the koto and the shamisen. How did you first get introduced to them?
Nicolas : Well, I wanted to learn shamisen to introduce some Japanese sounds into the music. So I went to take lessons and when I was at my teacher’s house I saw the koto. I had never heard about it, I’d never seen it. So when I touched it I thought the instrument was bad ass. Also we really like harp and it is a kind of harp you know.
HRFQ : It seems to fit in really well. It isn’t made a centerpiece it just fits in nicely as part of the music.
Nicolas : The instruments, you are right, fit the music. When we tried it, it was obvious that this kind of sound would fit the music. It’s not like if we took pipes you know and did an album with pipes or accordions, it would not fit. But when you touch a koto or a shamisen it sounds like it would fit our sound, that’s also why we used them.
HRFQ : What about the vocalists Jarvis Cocker and Neil Hannon? Was that a similar thing? Did they just fit the sound?
Jean-Benoit : No, we wanted them to be themselves. We wanted to have the other side of the song like they improvise around the music. There is a lot of their personality in the songs. They have crooner voices and our music is feminine so it was like our music was the woman of their voices, you know what I mean?
HRFQ : So now that the album is recorded is that it? Do you get to relax or is it busier now?
Nicolas : It’s busier now, because we have to promote it (laughs). We start a world tour on the 30th of March and we’ll tour for one year or something. But at least we are going to play something. I miss it. I was in my hotel room this morning and I wanted to play guitar so bad. I think next time I need to bring a guitar with me but if you bring a guitar then the customs think you take drugs, so I’d rather buy a guitar everywhere I go.
HRFQ : J.B you recently did your solo album, how was it working separately? Was it a strange feeling?
Jean-Benoit : It can be strange sometimes…because you are alone (laughs). It’s harder because you have to carry everything by yourself. When you make a mistake you can’t accuse the other one. I learnt a lot of things and in one way I went back to the beginning of our career, like ten years ago.
HRFQ : And Nicolas will you be branching out on your own as well?
Nicolas : Ahhh, I think not because when I leave the studio I am going out to party and J.B. is going into the studio to do his other work. I need some window to make it, I don’t have time in my schedule.
End of the interview
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