Does Rock ‘N’ Roll Kill Braincells?! – Nicolas Godin, Air

In Does Rock 'N' Roll Kill Braincells?!, we quiz a grizzled artist on their own career to see how much they can remember – and find out if the booze, loud music and/or tour sweeties has knocked the knowledge out of them. This week: one half of French electronic duo Air, Nicolas Godin.

1: Which band covered ‘Sexy Boy’ as a B-side in 2005?

Nicolas: “It’s the guys from Scotland – um… Franz Ferdinand!”

CORRECT.

“It was a good cover. I liked it. It’s very rare that anybody covers Air songs.”

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2: ‘Moon Safari’ reached Number 4 in NME’s Best Albums of 1998. Can you name any of the three artists you were beaten by?

“Well…uh…maybe Fatboy Slim? I’m trying to remember who were really big. Massive Attack or The Chemical Brothers?

WRONG. You beat Fatboy Slim’s ‘You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby’ (Number 20) and Massive Attack’s ‘Mezzanine’ (5), but were pipped to the post by Beck’s ‘Mutations’ (3), Beastie Boys’ ‘Hello Nasty’ (2) and Mercury Rev’s ‘Deserter’s Songs’ (1)

“Wow! So that was a good year – those are fucking great albums!”

You’ve collaborated with Beck on numerous occasions…

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“He’s a friend. When ‘Moon Safari’ was successful, the record company told us we had to go on tour. We were having a party while shooting the ‘Kelly Watch the Stars’ video. Everyone was there, and I was on the balcony with a cigarette saying ‘Fuck man! I don’t have a band’. And Beck and his musicians said: ‘No problem – we’ll do it’. In one night, we made a band!”

 Did you feel you’d made a classic album?

“Yeah. My dream was to make a classic album and when ‘Moon Safari’ was released, I thought it was crazy that my dream was complete. When we recorded ‘Sexy Boy’, I said to myself: ‘OK, my life is going change. It’s never going to be the same again’.”

For a bonus half-point: ‘Kelly Watch the Stars’ was a homage to Charlie’s Angels actress Jaclyn Smith, who played Kelly Garrett in the show…

“Yes, exactly!”

…But can you name the two other OG Charlie’s Angels?

“Yeah! There was Farrah Fawcett’s Jill Munroe and I didn’t like the third one so I don’t recall her name.”

WRONG. The ‘third one’ was Sabrina Duncan, played by Kate Jackson.

“I’m curious to know if Jaclyn Smith heard the song or was aware of the connection.”

 

3: Name the two guest lyricists on Air’s 2007 album ‘Pocket Symphony’.

“There’s one song by Jarvis Cocker, one written by him and Neil Hannon, and we wrote the rest of the – really bad – lyrics ourselves!”

CORRECT.

“They felt like the aristocracy of pop music. They’re so British – pragmatic, calm and very funny. They felt like modern poets to us.”

You all met while working on Charlotte Gainsbourg’s ‘5:55’, an experience you said almost ‘broke’ Air…

“Because we gave her our best songs and came back into the studio two weeks later to make our own album and said: ‘We gave her the best shit and now we’re only left with the rubbish!’”

 

4: Which British Prime Minister did your bandmate Jean-Benoît Dunckel claim in a 2010 The Quietus interview you “owe much of our success in Air” to?

“Uh… maybe Tony Blair because he’s the only Prime  Minister we can name? Apart from now Boris Johnson but I don’t think we owe anything to him – thankfully!”

WRONG. Bizarrely, it was Margaret Thatcher.

“Really?! What did she do that we owe our success to?!”

Strap in for JB’s hot take!:

‘Thatcher was really unpopular because she changed all the businesses and the economy in England and she closed all these mines. On the other hand she helped Great Britain to modernise so much so that London became a really powerful city because of the financial markets… Because of that it was a sort of a golden age for Great Britain from ‘’96/’97 to 2002. People were tired of rock and roll and at this time, musically, they wanted to have something new… A lot of the young generation were interested in lounge music… So when we came out we were totally the target. The audience made us big. It was not us. We had been chosen.’

Nicolas: “Nah! I think the only reason we had success in England was because of the Eurostar. Suddenly all the journalists came to Paris because they had something new to do.”

5: Which Madonna album did she ask you to submit songs for?

“I can’t remember the name, but she asked us if we’d do a song for her and we did it. Then someone from NME asked us if it was true and we said yes, and suddenly her management called us up and yelled at us, saying we should never leak information to the press and the proposal was out. We were blacklisted! It was funny to be shouted at by very angry American people.”

WRONG. Apparently it was ‘American Life’.

“The song we did for her was ‘Alpha Beta Gaga’ which is the one I whistle on. Because she didn’t want it we recorded it on our 2004 album ‘Talkie Walkie’ and now on each tour, I have to whistle in front of thousands of people – which is embarrassing. If I’d known that, I wouldn’t have done it.”

 

6: Air contributed ‘Alone in Kyoto’ to Lost In Translation. Which song does Bill Murray sing at karaoke in the film?

“Oh shit! I don’t remember.”

WRONG. It’s ‘More Than This’ by Roxy Music.

“Oh yeah! It’s a great movie. I don’t know anybody who doesn’t like Bill Murray – he’s the favourite actor of everybody, like the acting Pope. I saw him at a party once but was too nervous to talk to him. I’d like to do a science fiction film or horror movie soundtrack – but the kind you can watch without putting your hands over your eyes.”

 

7: You once claimed ‘French rock is like English…’ what?

“English wine.”

CORRECT.

“We were quoting John Lennon. With global warming, maybe you will do wine some day! I mean, you still don’t know how to do bread so I can’t imagine you could do wine – because that’s more complicated than bread. I have my doubts!”

Don’t diss Hovis! What was your time in Orange – your pre-Air rock band – like?

“When we were teenagers, we had a rock band at school but I think that was because of hormones – I fast decided I didn’t want to be a French rocker. It wasn’t cool. So at 18, I stopped the band and decided to wanted to study architecture. You can’t make rock and be French – the two things are completely opposite!”

Now you’ve come full-circle in that your new album, ‘Concrete and Glass’, has been inspired by architecture…

“Maybe I’m a nostalgic, sentimental person because I live exactly where I was born, and I do music about architecture and I started my career with ‘Modular Mix’ – which was an architecture song. Planet Earth is round so when you move forward you just arrive where you started. And I think that’s what I did.”

8: Which Air album did Kevin Parker claim influenced the sound of Tame Impala?

“’Talkie Walkie’.”

CORRECT.

“Kevin Parker was here in my studio a week ago – he visited when promoting his new album in Paris. We talked a lot about ‘Talkie Walkie’ and I showed him the keyboards I used and explained the process we used to make ‘Run’ – his favourite track.”

Ever have any memorable encounters with anyone who influenced you?

David Bowie! When I met him, I was paralysed. The first thing I said to him was: ‘What’s the drum machine you used on ‘Nightclubbing’ by Iggy Pop?’ And he answered me with the exact model – it’s crazy to think he can remember that after all the drugs he took!”

“We walked in on The Strokes in the middle of a punch-up once. They were beating up their tour manager and everybody was arguing, yelling and fighting – with fists and everything! Now that’s what you call a band meeting. We backed out, saying: ‘Well guys sorry – next time. Have a nice night!’. And left. But that first Strokes album is one of my favourites of all-time.”

9: In 1999, which Channel 4 series did ‘Sexy Boy’ appear in?

“I don’t know, but I can tell you one thing: if we’d called that song ‘Sexy Girl’ it would have never been a success at all!”

WRONG. It was Queer as Folk.

“Ah of course! At the beginning of Air, I didn’t have time to watch TV – it’s only in the last 10 years, I’m getting into shows.”

“A lot of people tell us they have sex to our music. Personally, I can’t imagine ever having sex listening my own music – it would be too disturbing!”

 

10: Name the Japanese bonus track on ‘10 000 Hz Legend’.

“Argh – is it ‘The Way You Look Tonight’?

CORRECT.

“We didn’t know what to think about that track, but the night we were recording, Michael Stipe from R.E.M. was in our studio in Paris and said: ‘Wow! I love that track – you should finish it and release it’. And I did vocals and played this stupid fiddle and I thought the song was really bad, but he told us it was good – so we did the song because of him.”

Will there be another Air album?

“I think artists and bands have 10 years when you make really great music and after that, it gets less and less good. We have to be careful because Air is magic and we don’t want to ruin it by doing a substandard album. If we’re able to find that magic, we’ll go into the studio. But if not, we’ll move aside and let other people make those magic records.”

Who do you feel are making magic records?

Billie Eilish. Sometimes you listen to new stuff and you’re scared to be old so you force yourself to like it, but with her record, man, I didn’t have to force myself – it’s cool, the production is just the way I like things done, and the songs are great.”

The verdict: 5/10

“Well not bad! I did well because I took less drugs than people in the ‘70s. It’s not like Elton John’s autobiography where it’s a tsunami of cocaine!”

Nicolas Godin’s new album ‘Concrete and Glass’ is released January 24 on Because Music.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

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