Sebastien Tellier

Sebastien Tellier
For Sebastien Tellier, 2008 has rarely offered a dull moment. Since the year’s start, the Parisian pop experimenter has worked with one-half of Daft Punk, represented France at the Eurovision Song Contest, ignited a national controversy with his song "Divine” and flirted with the idea of soundtracking a porn film (but only if it was made by a "nice person”). Somewhere back there, Tellier also released Sexuality, arguably one of his strongest albums to date and the shot in the arm that kick-started his whirlwind year.

With Daft Punk’s Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo serving as producer, Sexuality draws out a choice selection of promiscuously charged electro, through vintage synths, analog beats and, above all, Tellier’s sleazy croon. It’s a formula that’s garnered Tellier a surprising amount of praise in his native France and, for the first time since his 2001 debut, brought him a bit here in North America as well.

As Tellier lounged about a Hollywood hotel room before kicking off his North American tour in support of Sexuality’s domestic release, the ever-eccentric songwriter took a moment to talk to Exclaim! about the sex, Daft Punk, Eurovision and not getting burned by the sun.

One of your previous records was called Politics and you’ve called your latest Sexuality. What made you shift from wanting to writing songs about politics to penning tracks about sex?
Because I am looking for who is the master of this world. I feel like a puppet and I see the people around me as puppets, too. So I want to know who is the master of the puppets. At the beginning of my career, for me it was family. After that, it was politics. And now I know sex rules the world.

So why did you choose electronic sounds to represent the theme of sexuality?
I love sophisticated sex. I don’t feel ’70s sex or ’80s sex. I want to feel the perfume of modernity when I have sex. And what is important for me is to try to make good music and to follow a specific subject. And since the subject of this album is sexuality, it had to talk about sophisticated sex, so I made sophisticated music to match my subject.

While making this album did you discover anything about your own sexuality?
Yes, yes, now I am in love and love changes your sex life. And this fact was very important for the record. There is a message in my album: if you want to be a great lover, you have to be a nice person. And I found that out not so long ago, and for me, it was a big discovery and I tried to explain that in my album.

Does pornography filter into your personal version of sexuality?
In fact, music from pornographic films was a big influence on Sexuality. You know, there is a very famous series of porn movies in France by Marc Dorcel. And for the album I worked with Guy-Manuel from Daft Punk and another guy named Rico, who was the co-producer of the album. And Rico was the guy who made all the music for all the Marc Dorcel movies, so funnily enough I worked with the creator of my influence.

Did you know this Rico did these movies before you worked with him?
No, no, it was a discovery in the studio. He told me his story and I thought it was incredible because of the sexual nature of my album. It was pure chance.

All your records are very different from each other. Why do you decide to always jump in a different direction?
I just want to be original. For me, life is so boring. And trying to be original is kind of a game and I love to play this game.

How did you feel about Daft Punk using your song "Universe” in their film Electroma?
It was wonderful. Daft Punk, for me, are a huge band and I really appreciate their music. They are kind of the masters of European music. So when Guy-Manuel and Thomas [Bangalter] asked if they could use my song in their movie, it was kind of the first step in gaining confidence towards them. In fact, it was the first step in my new album because without this I would not have been confident enough to ask Guy-Manuel to work with me.

Did you learn a lot by working with Guy-Manuel?
Yes, yes, he is a very wonderful guy with a lot of philosophies and ideas. And what is magic with Guy-Manuel is when he plays electronic instruments, like a drum machine, for example, he plays them such feeling and he makes machines sound like they have feelings. So it was wonderful to experience that with him.

With Guy-Manuel, it was the first time you worked with a producer, correct?
Yes, year after year, I discovered I am not a great producer, but I can create great compositions. So now I want perfect production and perfect compositions, but I am not strong enough to create very good productions. If you want to be a good producer, you have to think about that all day long and it’s the same thing with being a great composer. So it’s impossible to give enough thought and energy to both ideas. I had to choose my side and I chose to be a composer.

Do you think you will work with Guy-Manuel again?
I hope so. We have to do something else because for me it was such a wonderful experience working together and good experiences can be really rare. And so yes, I want to do an album with him again. Maybe, Sexuality 2?

Have you started thinking about doing another album yet?
Yes, when you are a musician you are always thinking about what you can do next. So I always try to find a good subject, but I am not sure. I am playing with the idea of writing an album about eternal life for the next, but I am not totally sure yet.

What was it like playing the Eurovision Song Contest?
It was very funny. In Europe, it is the biggest TV show and it was not at all my world. But for me, I’ve always said Eurovision is like a big sun and I need the light of the sun to make my musical life because I make very underground music. But you know, I don’t want to be too close to the sun because I don’t want to get burned. So I used the light of Eurovision but I was careful not to get burned up by it all.

Did you fit in with the other Eurovision performers?
Oh, no, no, no. I stayed away from everyone. I hid away alone in my hotel suite and I just wanted to see my manager, my producer and my girlfriend. It’s too different of a world. I was open in my mind but in reality it was too different for me to handle.

How did you get chosen to represent France at the contest?
I had just done a gig in Paris and usually after a show I am very happy and getting it on with some white white. And two people from a French TV channel came to me and were like, ‘"Hey Sebastien do you want to take part in Eurovision?” And I was happy so I said yes without even thinking about it, and this was the beginning of the adventure.

How do you feel about the controversy over your Eurovision song "Divine,” where people got quite upset that you almost entirely in English during the track, not French?
It was funny. My music needs light so this problem became a new sun for me. It was crazy. The French government talked about me in parliament. They talked about me in the newspapers every day. It was a huge problem for French people. But it was really funny, to sing in English was not my choice. It was the choice of the TV channel; they chose the song. It was kind of like my life turned into a big, commercial movie, but it was free for everyone to see.

So do people still care that you sung in English during the contest?
Until the day of the contest, it was a huge problem, but the day after it was completely over. Nobody talks about it anymore.

I heard you were doing some film work here in Canada a little while back.
Yes, I was making a movie with Quentin Dupieux [Steak], a French filmmaker and a very special guy and good friend of mine. Yes, it was in Canada. It was very funny to be there. It was in Montreal. Sometimes I act in movies because I am very lucky and have some friends who are filmmakers. So sometimes they call me to be in a movie. But it’s not a job, it’s just for pleasure. When I’m in a movie, I can go to the restaurant and say, "Hey, I’m in a movie. Look at me!” It’s a little pleasure, but it’s still a pleasure.

What kind of roles do you play? I always play myself because I am a very pitiful actor.

Why have you signed this deal with American Apparel for them to be the exclusive distributor of the North American release of Sexuality for the first few months of its release here?
There is a certain spirit in my album and I feel the same kind of spirit in American Apparel — sexual but with very sweet colours. And the idea of my album was to talk about sex and sexuality, but with sweet words and sweet colours. And the U.S. is a very big market for the music industry, but there is a bad mood amongst record companies because of the Internet and that whole pile of problems. So I want to work with people who are in a good mood, so now maybe it is better to work with a brand than a record company because a brand can put me in a good mood and give me happiness in work. You know, kind of a spiritual relationship. And it’s impossible to get that with a record company now.

So with Sexuality, what do you hope listeners take away from this album overall?
I propose to the audience to listen to Sexuality like this: first, you must be in love; second, you have to open a bottle of Champagne; and three, it must be night. If you listen to Sexuality with these three things, I promise it will be a great, great moment for you.