Yann Tiersen Interview

Album „Skyline“ (2011)

DK: This may seem strange now, but I would like to start with the end of the album: it sounds like turntable slowed down. Every time I listen to that I get confused. How did that idea come up?

Yann Tiersen [YT]: It happened by chance. On the last track of the album my idea was to have samples of all the songs and make a new song with it. All the material of the last track is samples of the other tracks of the album, like a remix…not really a remix but you know what I mean? That was for the music and the lyrics as well. I asked Efterklang. I gave them all the lyrics of the album. They just did something like a patchwork and sang on that. There was no ending to the song. While mixing we thought: how can we end the album? We said: “Oh let´s make it sound as you stop a turntable.” So that was it [laughs].

DK: How did you meet Efterklang?

[YT]: We never met. We were in touch. It is a shame because when we were playing in Copenhagen, we said: “Ok, come on, let´s meet.” And they said: “Oh no, we moved to Berlin.” [laughs]. I hope they will all come to that gig in the Astra Club in Berlin. Maybe we can come together if it is possible if they are around. I am really a fan of Efterklang. I think Peter Broderick just sent me one of his works via facebook or something. He said: “Oh yeah, I am a huge fan!” And I said: “Me too.” So they sent me their albums and I did the same. Then after that we could give it a try and said: “Oh why not ask them?” We actually never met in real life.

DK: That sounds like patchwork to me. Is the whole album like that?

[YT]: I am happy with this song but the rest of the album are proper songs, not a patchwork. When I started “Dust Lane” my idea was to release two albums, “Dust Lane” and “Skyline” at the same time. One was a bit darker and the other brighter. The darkest one was “Dust Lane” and the brightest was “Skyline”. “Dust Lane” was full of long tracks. “Skyline” is more focussed on songs. So I just stopped to record basic ideas for both. Then I focussed on “Dust Lane” and did not have the time to finish “Skyline”. I released “Dust Lane” and we were on tour in the US. When I came back last spring, I said: “Ok, it is time now to record “Skyline”.” It was really quick and easy. That is good.

DK:  “Skyline” embraces more the raw sound. Would you agree?

[YT]: Yeah, maybe. It is not really conscious as well. I did it in a gap between two tours so there is maybe more live energy even if I did it by myself. After more than one year of touring and playing the guitar every day I was more used to it. It is more energetic.

DK: The album starts with a raw song though…

[YT]: Oh yeah. The idea for the first one was to record a guitar, which was playing the same all the time. It was on a guitar, electric mandolin. So I built a song with that. The idea was to make a kind of a long melody and focus on noise and make things grow.

DK: How did the instrumentation change from “Dust Lane” to “Skyline”?

[YT]: The album before “Dust Lane” was released in 2004. So I started working slowly on “Dust Lane”. I made all the stuff at the same time, touring as well. But I spent a lot of time on “Dust Lane”. I explored things and tried to deconstruct. I worked on textures and made really long tracks. “Skyline” was just one year or two years after “Dust Lane”. It was quicker and easier. I had also these basic tracks almost there. So I just focussed on synths and vocals to build the songs. So it changed. It is more electronic but still with guitars.

DK: What do you mean by saying “easy way of making it”?

[YT]: When I started it was like working on finishing a few songs and maybe releasing an EP or something like that. Suddenly I said: Yeah, my first idea was right. I had this album and I have to make it as an album. It was like evidence. So it was really easy and so great when it is like that. All the songs were suddenly right for the album and quite quickly.

DK: You are the one who plays all the instruments. Do you think about the way they sound together?

[YT]: No, when I make music it is just a game. I think it is never difficult. When it is difficult, I go to the bar and drink with some friends [laughs]. I think music needs to be easy in a way. I do not like to think about it. Music sounds good when you put it together. So when you feel it is right and you are having fun recording and building a song then most of the time it is good. If not, you have to wait.

DK: That is interesting because I think your music sounds so complex…

[YT]: Most of the time I record two chords on the guitar and play it live. I do this for ages. On “Dust Lane”, even on “Skyline”, songs have two chords or tiny sequences on the guitar. I mean melody. I play six minutes live and I say: “Ok, the song will be six minutes.” After that I try out all the stuff. Sometimes even the first ideas become something else and then there is something else. It is like a game. I cannot compose music and think about it before. It is just really physical.

DK: In the beginning of the song “The Gutter” you can hear a guy talking. Who is he and what is he talking about?

[YT]: I got a friend who is living in Buenos Aires. It is a really close friend. We played in Montevideo. He gave me a Che Guevara record of the speech he did in Montevideo. So it is about the revolution in South America. I like this idea. It is political but not that much political. I like also the old idea when the gutters go to the sea. It was an image for workers who can make the future. I do not make the apology for communism because I am not. It is more that I think we have to find a way to stop this massive stupid hardcore capitalism. We need to find a small capitalism.

DK: Don´t we live in strange times: we are all aware of the fact that we cannot move on like that but we all do. Do you think about the future of your family quite often?

[YT]: Yes and no. I am not thinking about the future too much. We are driving against the wall and it is obvious. Everything collapses and it is normal, because it is insane, abstract and virtual. So it is common sense trying to think of another economic way of living but nobody is doing it. I do not know. It is quite strange. I think we are living in a strange period when you see the Egyptian revolution and what happens over there, which is good. The same thing may start to happen in Greece. I do not know the answer for it. I think the best way will be to have politics with a common sense and to try to change everything in politics and all the states and the nations. I do not know if it will happen [laughs]. Maybe it will just be people rioting.

DK: What do you think about the situation in France?

[YT]: In France nothing happens [laughs]. It is really, really bad. I am a bit away from France because we are always travelling. Actually I do not know what happens. But there is no political conscience in France at all. France is a strange country as well because French people focus on France and nothing else, which is strange. I think it is the worst country in the world for that. They are not aware of the fact that if we want change, it needs to be global, as the bad hardcore capitalism is global. If you want to change things, it needs to be global as well. French people just focus on French problems. So I think the solution will not come from France [laughs].

DK: What do you think about the French music these days?

[YT]: French music is really bad. Not all the bands but I think…maybe it is because French was the international language in the past a long time ago [laughs]. Paris was like a kind of Bohemian artistic town. But it is more than 100 years ago [laughs]. So it is over now. Maybe the French still think it is the case which is not true at all. Musically France was never a huge country for music, especially for Rock and Pop music. There is no. It is more Chanson and stuff like that.

DK: At one point in your career your song titles switched from French to English. Why?

[YT]: I always did songs with English lyrics because I think it is more…French language is great but it is really – also as the ways of French thinking – complex. We were in Sofia, Bulgaria, in this hotel. There was a quote from Aristotle. I do not know what it said. It was in German, English, Bulgarian and French: Two lines in English, German and Bulgarian, six lines in French…

DK: So you have problems with the French language?

[YT]: It is a great language. We had really good writers. It is really beautiful but it is so complex. What I like is that you can have a word in English and it is also a concept. It means a lot of things. In French it seems that you have to explain everything. It is really strange. In the 80s, late 80s, French radios started to have quotas, which is really stupid, so that you have to sing in French. I think it kills the French scene because they had to sing in French. But if you sing in French and want good lyrics in French, it is not really easy. You need to focus on lyrics to do chansons. It is not easy to play rock songs with French lyrics. It can happen but it is really hard. I do not know a lot of bands doing that [laughs].

DK: Well you are French…

[YT]: No, I am from Brittany, which is different [laughs] and more and more I travel, I realize it is a completely different culture. It is French since the 16th century. Before that we were on war with French people. Culturally it is not French at all. It is funny because when I was spending my time in France and Brittany I was not that aware of the difference. But while travelling that much you realize that Brittany is kind of connected to the world and it is the same. People are kind of nice and polite. It is really stupid, but for instance I broke my phone and I went to buy another one. In the shop in Brittany there was a queue. The people did not even enter the shop. If you do that in France everybody would be in the shop and try to be the first. It is not a really civilized country. It is funny because it had all the bad things of western, capitalist countries. It is a big mess. This is good in other countries. There is respect of each other. But in France bad things happen from everywhere [laughs]. So I am not considering myself as French, of course I am and there are really good things in France as well. I am a bit bitter with France in general, also because of the audience because it is the worst country for us. I am not saying what I am doing is good. But I realize that when there is one French band or artist that has success in other countries, they are always having trouble with that in France. Take for instance Air, which is a big band everywhere. I do not think that they are playing in very big venues in France. Phoenix, which is huge everywhere, for them might be the worst country France. So why [laughs]?

DK: Of course there are also French bands which are successful in France.

[YT]: But I think that is because the French say it is a world in itself. Take for instance my computer. My Google preferences are in English. If you put your Google preferences in French, it is another world. You do not have a single, normal I would say, result. All over the world, if they google something, they will get something, that they can share with other countries, what will be kind of the same. But in France it is typically French. So it is really strange.

DK: So how is touring in France then?

[YT]: We were touring in France. It was really good, perfect food and a good welcoming but the audience was really boring. I think it is not just us. I saw Arcade Fire in Marseille and in the middle of the gig they said the same: “What is wrong with you?” [laughs] That was not aggressive. It is just a fact. It is just really strange. And I was happy because the entire band was depressed [so it is not only the case with our band]. The rest of the tour the audience was great. People have fun. We have fun too. And in France: Good food, the best! And people react like that. And we think: “We are moving on stage and making noise!” [laughs] I said to them [the band]: “Ok, you will see, when we end up in Brittany, it will be different!” I thought, maybe it will be the same, but it was different [laughs].

DK: Let´s talk about another song: “Exit 25 Block 20”. That is very aggressive. Why?

[YT]: Yeah, because it was the most gentle song of the album. I got the instrumental version and said: “Fuck!” I just went mentally dark and started screaming. I deconstructed it and had fun. So it became more aggressive. I like the contrast of that. There are really tiny and gentle sounds at the beginning.

DK: Was it hard for you to get in that mood?

[YT]: No, it happened really natural. I was just mental and opened the microphone. My daughter was upstairs and she went downstairs and asked: “What happens?” I said: “Nothing! I just….” [laughs]

DK: What is the song about?

[YT]: It was just a big joyful peace of anger. But I guess it is nothing serious, like the title: Talk something and try to escape.

DK: And what is “Monuments” about?

[YT]: It is just really simple. Things are not private property or monuments are human buildings. I like the idea of memories or the interaction of emotions. That can be common memories instead of the actual common memories which is what we see, like historical monuments and factories. There are subconscious memories of feelings.

DK: What does the title “Skyline” stand for?

[YT]: Sometimes a title makes sense. There is an explanation. For “Dust Lane” it was easy to explain why. “Skyline” stands for distance: see the skyline [laughs]. Basically “Dust Lane” was focussing on the ground [laughs]. I needed to make “Dust Lane” in order to explore…maybe “Skyline” is brighter. The lyrics are maybe also more pessimistic? Maybe not? I do not know. “Dust Lane” was more intimate. “Skyline” has the attitude: “Ok, done that. Now you are open to see what is in front of you!”