Q&A with Sebastien Tellier
French singer-songwriter Sebastien Tellier isn't shy about talking about either his sexuality or Sexuality, his new album, throughout which he delves into matters of the flesh with great delight. But he also sees the sacred side of salaciousness, as he makes clear in a December 4 Westword profile and the following Q&A.
Tellier's English is heavily accented but serviceable, allowing him to get his views across to those Americans who wouldn't know a crepe from a quiche. He discusses his belief that sexuality is a worthier artistic topic than politics (the inspiration for an earlier recording); insists that superficiality isn't necessarily a bad thing; contrasts the approach to sex taken by Americans and the predelictions of Europeans like him; recalls the first music that ever gave him a sexual sensation as a kid (good on you, George Michael); concedes that he can't listen to music -- even his own -- during love-making; salutes Daft Punk's Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo, who produced Sexuality; shares his fascination with bisexuality, threesomes and women in sportswear; endorses maintaining mystery in sexual relationships; and explains the symbolism of the new disc's cover, which features a tiny rider on horseback about to explore the body of an enormous nude woman.
Good luck on your noble quest!
Westword (Michael Roberts): One of your previous albums was called Politics. Are you still interested in politics as a subject? Or, over time, have you become less interested in it?
Sebastien Tellier: Oh, no, no, no. I have no more interest in it. I have no more interest in politics. Because politics is just one part of my life. I have no more interest in politics, because politics is not the biggest subject possible. Now I find, with Sexuality, a more deep subject. I write about sexuality and I try to forget politics. But I use the same logic that I did at the time of Politics. Because the goal of my career is to try to find who is the master of puppets. Because I feel like a puppet and I see people around me are puppets, too. So I try to find, who is the master of puppets? And at the very beginning of my career, for me the master was the family - and I did my first album [2001's L'incroyable Verite] about the family. And then politics became the most important subject, so I did a record about politics. And now I think the master of puppets is sex. So I make an album about sex.
WW: Why do you think sexuality is a deeper subject than politics?
ST: Because sex is about humanity, about life. So it is impossible to find a deeper subject. Nothing is more important than life. And at the same time, it's very superficial. Sex is about makeup, high shoes, perfume and these kinds of things. Sex is the perfect balance between very, very deep and very, very superficial. And for me, that's why it's such a perfect subject.
WW: Many people see superficiality as a negative. But it sounds as if you can see the appeal of superficiality.
ST: Yes, because for me, when you are stupid, you are really happy [laughs]. For me, I try to make the same logic in my record. For me, superficial is a quality. It's proof of passionate love, because you are trying to think of perfume and makeup. So you have a good life if you have time to think about that. So, for me, there is a link between the superficial and the passionate. And that's why, for me, something superficial is a noble idea.
WW: Europeans tend to think of Americans as having an uptight view of sexuality. Is that something you've observed? And if so, why do you think that's the case?
ST: I'm not sure, because I'm not an expert when I talk about sex. When I talk about sex, I talk about my sexuality, my sexual fantasies. I try to explain my sexual fantasies through my songs. So I'm not an expert about sex. But I feel the differences about sex between the U.S. and France and Italy, for example, is in France and Italy, we have a Latin spirit. And Latins understand about passion. And so, when you have a Latin spirit, it's easy to put the sex in some part of your life. You have a loving version of sex. Maybe in your eyes, sex is more "boom-boom - ahhhh!, boom-boom, ahhhh!!" Like, a very masculine guy and very feminine girls. It's almost always the same story, with a very strong guy with a very fragile girl. And that's not the answer for French or Italiano. In France and Italy, it can be the story of any guy being a guy, and any woman being a woman.
WW: How old were you when you first realized that music could have a sexual affect on you?
ST: Very young. Maybe with the first record of George Michael. Yes, I was around ten. Something like that. And it's a very good affect, because with music, you can cry, you can dance, you can love. For me, the best affect is when you are excited by the music - with a sexual emotion from the music. For me, it's a perfect goal, because it's impossible to learn to make sexual music at school. There is no rule to create sexual feelings. Sometimes you find notes and music that have a sexual affect, but you have to be very patient to make sexual music. There is no rule. That's why sexual music is so basic.
WW: Because there are no rules when it comes to making sexual music, do you feel that you have to make your music very personal?
ST: Yes, yes. Because at school, it's possible to learn to make very sad music. You can learn to make the music on a piano. For me, it's possible to compose something very sad. And it's possible to make something very complicated, like the jazz music. It's possible for me to do that. But if you ask me to create to create a sexual song right now, it's impossible. I have to wait to feel good, to feel right for the music. I have to wait until the time is right.
WW: Do you remember the first time you made love to music? And did it heighten the experience?
ST: I do remember. It was when I was a teenager. It was wonderful to make love with this music. And it was a very good way for my parents not to listen to the screams of me and the girl!
WW: When you're with a partner now in a love-making situation, did you pick out the music? Or did you ask your partner to help choose the music?
ST: Now, I don't listen to music during love. For me, the best sounds to make love to are sounds from nature. Like wind through the trees and this kind of thing. Natural sounds, like water in a very small river. You can listen to the water between rocks. For me, it's the perfect sounds for making love. Sounds from nature, sounds of water. For me, to listen to music when I'm making love is too distracting.
WW: That's interesting, especially since I'm sure you hear about people making love to your album all the time. Is that okay with you?
ST: Yes, yes, yes! Many of these people are more young than me, and for youth, it is okay to make love to music. But for me, it is too complicated. When I listen to music, I think about grooves and rhythms and bass, the sound of the synthesizer, and what kind of microphone the singer is using. For me, it's my job, music. So when I listen to music and make love, it takes away the pleasure. I don't want to make a party and mix the job and pleasure.
WW: Did you come up with the concept for the new album before you started writing the songs? Or did the concept lead to the songs?
ST: I came up with the concept first. Because for me, when you are in front of the piano, you can do everything. You are in the freedom state. And so, if you are too free, in the end, you are lost. And I don't want to be lost. So I choose a concept to have a line to follow. For me, it's more simple to do that, because I can do salsa or rock or I don't know. It's not good to have too much freedom. I need to have a line to start to compose the songs.
WW: Why was Guy from Daft Punk the right person to produce this album?
ST: He is a very smart, very modern guy. And he doesn't listen to music with his head. He listens with the middle of his body. And for me, that is perfect. Because in Europe, it is not an easy place to find a very modern sound. In Europe, it can sound cheaper. So it is difficult for a European musician. The sound is not so good. But Guy is a European guy, but he has a lot of American producer in him. He has the talent of an American producer, and he knows the synthesizer. He knows, also, the new technology - everything you have to know to make a great record. But me, I don't know anything. Me, I'm just a composer. So I need a guy like him to make the right record.
WW: How did you choose the sequence of the songs? Were you trying to mirror the tempo and pace of a sexual act?
ST: For me, it's natural. It's like a perfect love night. At the beginning, it is very soft and very sweet, like a first date. The first song ["Roche"] is about my memories of my first relationship, sex relationship and this kind of thing. And after that, it gets deeper and deeper and deeper. And at the end, you have a kind of conclusion. "L'amour et la Violence" is the last song, and it's not about sex. It's about life. The song says, "Tell me what you think about my life." Because I think if you want to have a good vision of your life, you have to think about your life just after you make love. It's the perfect time, because you're so sweet inside, and you feel in very good condition just after you make love. And so, after you make love and you are feeling sweet, it is the perfect time to think about your life and think about your problems. And you can find some good solutions to fix your life. That's why the last song on the album is about life and not about sex.
WW: You've said that "Une Heure" is inspired by your interest in bisexuality...
ST: [Laughs.] Yes, because I love to play with bisexuality. I play a role, like in a movie. And this role, the character, is a guy who's very free, very confident. A very beautiful guy who is completely free about sex: homosexuality, bisexuality, that kind of thing. And so, the character on the album, the role I play, is a bisexual.
WW: Do you consider yourself to be a bisexual? Or is it just that the idea interests you?
ST: No, I'm not bisexual. I say that in my song. But in the song, I say that you have more pleasure if you have sex with a guy and a girl. You can have more pleasure than anybody. So for me, the winner is a bisexual.
WW: I understand that "Sexual Sportswear" is inspired by a very specific fantasy of yours, involving two male coaches and a woman working out in a track suit. Is that right?
ST: That's correct, yes [laughs]. This may seem very superficial, again, because it is two guys with a woman, and she's wearing sportswear. That seems very superficial, but this kind of fantasy creates a desire. And it's because this kind of fantasy exists that life exists. No sexuality, no life. The idea of two guys and one girl together, it may be very superficial. But it's why life is life. So for me, it's the right song for the concept of the album, because it's a very deep thing - the origin of life - but at the same time, it's a superficial fantasy.
WW: Do you ever try to figure out where fantasies like that come from? Or do you like to maintain the mystery?
ST: I like to keep the mystery. For me, it's better to feel like you're in a dream and you don't know what's true or not. There is a part of truth and there is a part of lies. I try to make a mix between truth and lies to create the right mysteries.
WW: The cover art is very striking - a nude woman's body with a tiny rider on a horse on her chest. Is that a symbolic image for you? When it comes to women, there's a huge amount of unexplored territory?
ST: Yes, there is for me - but I want to explain this cover. Sex for me is not just sex like "boom-boom-boom." It's an adventure. It's a wonderful adventure. It's like a journey. It's magical. And so I did this cover because I want to show to the people that sex for me is an adventure. It's a long and beautiful story. It's not just a nasty thing. Sexuality is the center of my life, and now sexuality is the center of my musical life, too.