Woodkid is the musical alias of French music video director and graphic artist Yoann Lemoine, and ever since the release of his Iron EP last year, I simply can’t stop the admiration. His reclusiveness blended with the striking visuals of his music videos (one of which I myself deemed was one of the top music videos of last year) and his amplified and epic musical style have driven me to want to figure out this great project, and I was incredibly delighted to have the opportunity to recently interview Woodkid and get answers to some burning questions.
First off, I’d like to welcome you to Los Angeles when you do arrive here on November 3rd. Is there any specific draw to Los Angeles that would make you want to tour here?
I actually work a lot there. It’s the city that I often spend a lot of time in. I have a production company, and I have a lot of people that I know there, so I have a big fan base through social networks. My label works a lot out of LA where people are interested in my work. LA is really my center to me — it’s really the city of cinema, and my projects are all about cinematic sound, so it really makes sense to start there.
I think most people discovered you around the same time I did when you released your video for “Iron,” but I know you’ve been around for some time as a music video director for artists like Lana Del Rey, Katy Perry, and Moby. How is there all of this sudden exposure?
I think that when you’re a director, you’re always in the shadows, so as a director you’re only a part of the industry and the cinema world, but I also had my music project on the side that I had never really expressed or showed to anybody. One day I actually got to do a couple of tracks that I signed for the label in France, and then I worked on my first EP with my friends from the band The Shoes, whom I directed their video “Wastin’ Time.”
Then we came out with the first track from the EP called “Iron.” I said “Woah. That’s the sound I want for my project. If I ever make an album, that’s what I want to do.” And, of course, I used my talent as a director and my networks to make a video of it. And it’s not just a video on top of the track: it projects my visions that I already had when I composed track. I really wanted to realize the visions, and I always work with music and sound at the same time. I spent all the money I had made as a director, and I really put all of my heart into it, and I really think that’s how it got so much exposure. People really saw the production value in the sound and video, and that’s thanks to my career as a director in music.
So then when you’re presented with a song or an idea, what are you looking out for or what inspires you to bring it into a visual realm?
I have an artistic statement, which is what I call “translations.” It’s whatever I do, I try to translate things from one language to another. In this case, it would be the language of image to the language of sound. For example, in “Iron,” I looked for this very epic sound that was half synthetic, half real, half orchestra and half sampled. I mixed it to have this very epic sound, and then once I had this texture, I thought of what would be the cinematic equivalent. So I worked with how to make the look of environments with the same toxicity that the sound implies. I basically get inspiration from my work by just finding sounds and then translating them into images or finding images and translating them into sound. It goes back and forth, vice versa. It’s like a very powerful circle where I just feel that universe — that unique voice in sound and image.
In translating the song, then, how do you find the right instruments or what instruments do you use to capture that language?
My songs are basically pop songs the way they’re written. You could play my songs on the piano or guitar. But I didn’t want it to sound like pop music. I wanted it to sound very different in a way that was new, and my idea was to go a lot from the world of original soundtracks and from practical music. What I did was I decided to use no drums, no bass, and no guitars at all. It’s all about using the power of an orchestra because it’s the tool or that sound that helps me express my emotion the best, which means that it takes me further and is as strong as possible. So we have different types of percussions, from orchestra percussions to Japanese drums, like taiko, as well as miniature drums. But never clashy, pop drums. By cancelling that out, we can almost feel the beat, similar to hip-hop tracks. In “Iron,” it’s those kinds of drums that people feel. It’s that mix of a more traditional sound and then using keyboards for arpeggios and sounds that bring more of a futuristic vibe to my music. That’s how I create my sound.
I notice a lot of keys represented in your videos and promotional material. What’s the significance of that imagery?
I have two key tattoos on my arms that I got in 2007 when I moved to New York. It was just a way for me to express my identity as an adult and the act of making them into two and having my own set of keys, which to me represents my home both to and away from my parents. I decided to use crossed keys because they’re a symbol of religion — the symbol of the Papal keys and the Vatican. There are a lot of religious inserts in my project because, of course, religion is very important to my music. I have used a lot of organs and chords that belong to classical religious music, so having these keys definitely makes a lot of sense. But it also represents me and the kid that thirsts to become an adult and collide with a lot of themes surrounding religion and war.
Photo by: Karim Sadli
So then where does the name “Woodkid” come into play?
There’s another dimension to my work, like the way I would like to make metaphors and symbolism around the textures or materials and the story that I am trying to create. “Woodkid” is the story of a kid that grows up, and after time turns into stone and marble, representing the city and the concrete that makes it up. It’s a very hard material that turns humans into very hard sounds. That’s the idea of the whole project. I would say that “Woodkid” is the boy in “Run Boy Run” — he’s the one that comes from underneath and from the very emotional material. In the album I explain at the beginning he’s made of wood — he bends in the wind because he is very supple and tender, but the more he grows up, the more he turns into this marble and he has to break it.
You also seem to lean toward shooting a lot of black and white imagery. Any particular reason?
Part of the reason is because when we made “Iron,” we shot it on a green screen because we had a lot of visual effects, but we had a low budget and producing it in black and white relieved us of the complexity involved in coloring in the post-production process. But really it’s half creative, half budget. It’s cool because it just ties into any project we’re doing.
Are you going to be utilizing any visuals during your concert?
Yeah. I actually spent three months locked in my room just working myself on the visuals because I didn’t want anybody else to see it. We’re traveling not only with an orchestra but with this projection that will hopefully and technically make it to the LA show, and [the Luckman Fine Arts Complex] should be good for that. The show is half visual, half sound, and people have to understand that this project is more than just music. It’s more of a visual art project with a dimension that really fits the project.
Now I know you directed the music videos to your own songs. Both my podcast co-host Ben Gill and I were quick to note the aesthetic is similar to that of filmmaker Tarsem Singh. Is he an influence in your visuals?
Yeah. I actually love The Cell because it’s a film that really shocks people when they see it. There are many influences that I have, but yeah, Tarsem is somebody I’m absolutely close to in regards to the worlds he creates, especially in The Cell and its photography. There are a lot of people I’m inspired by, from Wes Anderson to Tarsem to even older artists like Tarkovsky.
Nice! Is there anything you’d like to say to Los Angeles to get us ready for your debut as Woodkid?
I really can’t wait to come to LA It’s really like my home, so I can’t wait to see how the American people react to my project.
Maybe just to tease us, when can we expect a full-length LP?
We’re still working on the release because I want to make something special for it. I also want to make a special book edition that I’ve been working on, so if everything goes right and if we finish the next scheduled video, then we’ll find the time to distribute it. If we finish it on time, we’ll release it in January.
Don’t forget that we still have a couple of FREE tickets up for grabs for Woodkid’s Los Angeles debut at the Luckman Fine Arts Complex on November 3rd, which is sure to be one powerful night of music and visuals. Enter now, and watch the video above for a preview of what we can expect at the show. The remainder of Woodkid’s tour dates are listed down below.
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