Does Rock ‘N’ Roll Kill Braincells?! – Sébastien Tellier

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 how much the years in the pop trenches have affected the ol' grey matter. This week: French oddball-pop genius Sébastien Tellier

1: Which pop star’s name is written on a pair of pants in the video to ‘Cochon ville’?

“Ooh la la! I haven’t seen it in six years, and all I remember is that in the video it’s possible to see the balls of a guy. They were big balls! And I remember the parakeet flying out of my outfit.”

WRONG. Somebody wears underwear with Beyoncé’s name emblazoned on them.

“OK – that’s good information! (Laughs) That video was crazy because the director asked real porn actors to come along and, man, it was so odd! That day was the hottest of my life. We had dogs, birds, a firework lit in somebody’s bottom. It was a tough day!”

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2: How many points did your 2008 Eurovision entry ‘Divine’ score in the final?

“I can’t remember, because at that point, I was black-out drunk (Laughs). It was forbidden to drink on the Eurovision set, so I hid super-strong cognac in apple juice bottles. I think I was number 19 on the scoreboard?”

CORRECT-ISH. Close enough. You scored 47 points – but you were indeed 19th on the leaderboard.

“Nice! Eurovision was crazy because it was held in Serbia, so I spent a week there rehearsing and drinking the strongest alcohol and smoking the strongest weed I’ve ever had in my life.”

Your performance was memorable – you arrived on a golf buggy, surrounded by backing singers wearing Sébastien Tellier beards and sunglasses.

“My first idea was to crash the golf cart into the crowd and pretend I’d had a terrible accident, but that was vetoed on health and safety grounds. I had an inflatable globe full of helium and in the second half of the song, I inhaled it and sang higher – but I don’t think many people realised that!”

For a bonus half-point, which country came dead-last on the scoreboard that year?

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“I think the winner was Russia that year, but I don’t remember who was last. My wish was to be the last one because it’s an achievement to be the super-loser and ultimate failure (Laughs).”

WRONG. The United Kingdom were at the bottom (tied with Poland), represented by Andy Abraham trilling the disco ditty ‘Even If’.

“(Laughs) That’s crazy because for me, the UK is the best country for music. But the UK treats Eurovision the same as the French – it’s ridiculed and nobody wants to enter because it’s not seen as for real music lovers. I do underground, sometimes conceptual music and for me, it was a chance for an audience of 150 million to see my music. I’d advise any singers to do it because it’s a super-fun – like the craziest rave you’ve ever been to.”

3: Which song of yours does The Weeknd sample on the track ‘Kiss Land’?

La Ritournelle.”

CORRECT.

“I never listened to the song, but I guess it’s good! But I’m proud because The Weeknd is a big, famous pop star, so that was cool – and they gave me a lot of money! Although I don’t remember what I did with the money either. A lot of people play ‘La Ritournelle’ at weddings or funerals, so that song is the light of my career. It took me less than 10 minutes to write, so sometimes it’s better to be lucky than a hard worker.”

4: What character are you credited as playing in Mr Oizo’s 2007 movie Steak?

“Ay, ay, ay! So. Steak is a film from Quentin Dupieux, aka Mr Oizo, who I’ve been good friends with ever since he mixed my debut album,L’incroyable Vérité’ I appeared in his first movie, Nonfilm, in 2002 and then in Steak he asked me to play a priest in a wheelchair. People from the crew thought I actually was in a wheelchair! It was strange.”

WRONG. You’re credited as playing ‘Prisme’.

“Oui! We did that movie with the French DJ Kavinsky, so it was like two weeks shooting in Canada with my family, staying in a great hotel and going to super-good parties.”

5: In your new documentary, Sébastien Tellier: Many Lives, the band Phoenix recall three things you did at early gigs which they found unusual. Can you name any of them?

“Even though I have a weird personality, I’m very shy. My first ever show was to around 100 people in a small bar in Paris, and after that, the first professional show I did was in Texas, in front of 5000 people opening for Air. The stress would make me do crazy things!”

WRONG. They recall you eating ashtrays, hiding under the piano and putting cigarettes up your nose and smoking them.

“(Laughs) I did that a lot! Because if you smoke cigars with your mouth, you can’t sing, so I found a way of solving the problem! But to be sincere, it was my way of signalling to the world that I was special and had a different, absurd way of looking at the world. All of us French bands at the time were close. Daft Punk showed me how to use computers, Cassius gave me their studio for a year to do an album, my first big tour was with Air, and I remember one day with Phoenix I went to say ‘goodbye!’ to them on the bus as they were departing, and ended up on a full European tour with them just for fun.”

 6: You contributed the song ‘I Eat It At Home’ for the 2015 film Partisan. What pseudonym did you adopt for it?

“Is it something to do with whisky? No? Is it super-ridiculous?”

WRONG. You were called Albert Mondo. Metronomy’s Joe Mount and Robyn (under the guise of Tony Primo and Nixxie) as well as  Jarvis Cocker and All Seeing I’s Jason Buckle (Spann N the Werx) also submitted songs for it.

“Well, I don’t know why I chose that name! (Laughs) But I like doing music for movies. When you write your own music, it’s a blank page upon which you can paint anything, but that total freedom can make you feel lost, whereas with a film you know exactly where you need to go. Is there a woman crying on screen? Bring in the emotional strings! When I did the music for a US TV show called A Girl Is a Gun starring Denise Richards – I even did a song with her and she has a lovely voice. That felt like a big moment.”

7: You soundtracked the 2007 movie Narco. Which action star appears in it?

“Jean-Claude van Damme.”

CORRECT.

“Yay! I finally got one! (Laughs) People in France think Jean-Claude van Damme is super-stupid, a bad actor and a total douchebag but I don’t think that’s true. I remember the filmmakers used him in a ‘Haha – he’s ridiculous’ way, but I see him as Belgium guy who impressively became a major American movie star. Having muscles doesn’t mean you’re stupid – it means you have a work-ethic to pump iron every day.”

8: Your song ‘Fantino” was selected by Sofia Coppola for the soundtrack to Lost in Translation. Which classic song does Bill Murray sing at karaoke in that film?

“I remember that scene! I love Sofia Coppola ,of course, and know a lot about her movies, but I’ve smoked a lot of joints over the years and drank a lot of vodka, so my brain is just cheese now!”

WRONG. He sings Roxy Music’s ‘More Than This’.

“Ah I knew that! Sofia’s very precise in her musical choices. In fact, she named my latest album ‘Domesticated’. I was explaining the concept to her – that it’s a record about domestic tasks and family life. Her eyes lit up and she said: ‘Call it ‘Domesticated’’. Which is perfect – because for me, I was a wild beast and now I have been tamed by family life and become domesticated. So for putting my music in her movies many times and for forming the title for my new album, she’s my rock.”

Speaking of which….

9: Your new album is called ‘Domesticated’. How many hours in his lifetime does an average man spend doing domestic chores?

“Sometimes I spend so long cleaning the house, I don’t have energy left to play piano!. I spent maybe four hours each day cleaning, so I’m just going to say ‘a lot’! (Laughs)

WRONG. An average man spends 6,448 hours of his life cleaning – compared to 12,896 hours for the average woman.

“Each time I did an album before, I’d play a different character. I’d change my studio, my house, all the gear in my studio – everything in my life, because it was important for me to have different stuff to sing about. I did it again for ‘Domesticated’, but it’s easy to play this character this time round because it’s me. I’m a real father and husband and I spend ages cleaning the sofa, carpet and windows. Before I’d stress over interviews because I had to play to a specialist of sex for ‘Sexuality’ or a cult leader for ‘My God Is Blue’, but now I can be myself.

“The album’s exploring the paradoxes of human life – although ‘Domesticated’ makes me sound like a slave, I’ve never felt so free and happy now I have responsibilities. Like ,I’ll spend hours on all fours crawling around the floor pretending to be a baby and crying – which is my three-year-old daughter’s favourite game – and then when I go to my studio, which is in close proximity to my drug dealer (Laughs). I appreciate doing music more since I’ve had kids.”

10: You wrote Dita Von Teese’s self-titled 2018 album. A year after you entered Eurovision, which act did she dance for at the contest in 2009?

“It was something weird, no? I don’t even remember the names of the songs I made with her, so no, I don’t know! (Laughs)”

WRONG. She danced for German entrant Alex Swings Oscar Sings’ performance of ‘Miss Kiss Kiss Bang’.

“Ah yes! I remember! Dita’s very cool. When we worked together, we had a lot of fun – she’s nice, sweet and polite. I remember waiting for her at the front of the studio and she walked out of her Mercedes – dressed all in black with very white skin. It was like: ‘Whoooo! The ghost is coming! (Laughs)’ She took me to so many weird and amazing parties in Los Angeles, where we recorded, and Paris. She took me to one fantastic gay party, where half of the crowd were naked. She’s unfazed, being lovely to everyone in this naked party, and it took me more time to adjust to all the hard dicks. Like, you’re talking to a guy with a hard dick, and then you’re smoking next to another with a hard dick. It was fun!”

 

The verdict: 3/10

“That’s really bad! My life and career are super-intense so I can’t remember everything (Laughs) Now I am a dad, but partying and drugs were a big part of my life, so I’m brain-dead!”

Sébastien Tellier’s new album, Domesticated, is released May 29.

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