Time and Experience in Music

In the United States, French multi-instrumentalist and composer Yann Tiersen is best known for composing the beautifully wistful Amélie soundtrack. Far from an overnight success, Tiersen had been working in the industry for five years, before Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s film propelled the classically trained artist into the international music limelight. Already a mainstream success in France, his body of work includes pop and rock music, along with other film contributions. His minimalist compositions for piano, violin and accordion, in which Tiersen himself plays the instruments, places the composer front-and-center at his shows.

But as any YouTube video of his latest tour can attest, Tiersen has decided to strap on his electric guitar. As Tiersen’s latest PALESTINE EP suggests, he is opting for a warped sound that stands askew from his past stately work. Touring in advance of his new album, Dust Lane, due out later this year, Jupiter Index caught up with Tiersen to discuss this new direction, the inclusion of more vocals, and his love of the post-punk band Joy Division.

Joshua Barajas: Influenced by ‘80s post-punk outfits such as Joy Division, you’ve even worked with Elisabeth Fraser of the Cocteau Twins. Were these influences part of what compelled you to form your latter-day reincarnation as a six-member, rock ‘n’ roll band?
Yann Tiersen: I grew up in Rennes in Brittany where the “Transmusical” festival takes place, so as a teenager, I saw a lot of post-punk and rock band during the late ‘80s. That's what gave me the energy to do my own music. Electric and acoustic instruments always been part of my musical world with the same importance; it just took time and experience to put it together, which is achieve in some ways now, I hope.

No longer the lone composer on stage, you’ve been playing a lot more electric guitar lately and a lot less piano, accordion or violin. You seem to pick an instrument and explore the many possibilities of its sound. Is the guitar the main focus on your next album?
I experienced solo gigs with my first tours but it was more a question of budget rather than artistic will. Even if you feel close from the audience, touring alone with a piano, violin, and accordion can be a quite boring experience sometime. I dreamed about the new album “Dustlane” for many years. It was my dream and a natural issue to use electronic, electric instruments within a same song, because it's my culture and where I come from.

Many fans are waiting with bated breath for your new album, Dustlane. If the Palestine EP is anything to go by, it seems to be a game changer. For one, the instrumentals are gone. Did you found your voice?
Even if there is vocals in every tracks of "Dustlane," it's not [a] song in the classical way either, somewhere in-between instrumentals and songs. I don't know if I found my voice now, but for sure I found the language I want to speak now.

Since touring for the new album, has the audience been receptive to your new approach?
I think so. I never felt closer than now from the audience, which is much younger too, which is a good sign.

What was the writing process for this album? Did the lyrics come first, or did the music?
All together, I spend two years on this album. First, I had some songs and then I took them and begin to deconstructed everything, freedom and explore as many path you can was the main rules.

You have a special predilection for the “ondes martenot organ,” an electronic instrument from the 1930s. What do find special about this instrument?
I’ve always been attracted by analogs synths. The "ondes martenot organ" offers a wide range of possibilities especially in terms of expression. But there is none in “Dustlane,” and on this tour, there's Moog, Mellotron, Prophet-5 and MS-20.

What has been your proudest achievement of your music career thus far?

Where are you heading from here?
After U.S., we'll play in Mexico, then back in Europe to play in Germany and Eastern Europe, then go back in South America. And for summer festivals we work on a special gig with the band, woodwinds and string sections, percussions and some band mates doing the backing vocals.

Would you like to add anything else?
Thank you, and that we enjoy touring in the U.S.!

by Joshua Barajas