Yoann Lemoine is a man of many talents. He is restlessly creative, and seems to effortlessly move between artistic endeavors, whether that be directing and writing treatments for music videos, performing with Lana Del Rey, making his own music as Woodkid, or, most recently, writing and directing a feature film. People who have been impressed by his majestic debut album might not realize that he directed the videos for Drake's "Take Care" and Lana Del Rey's "Born To Die," and those who loved the powerful black and white imagery of Woodkid's own "Run Boy Run" video, might not realize that he was also behind Katy Perry's "Teenage Dream" visual.
In both Lemoine's videos and his music, there is a strong focus on narrative, as well as rich, vivid imagery. In mixing the grandiose with the intimate and personal, he has created a recognizable visual aesthetic, to accompany his rich, sweeping, orchestral collection of music. As a creative who is involved in numerous artistic ventures, and who has a very singular vision for his art, Yoann Lemoine is a fascinating man to talk to.
In advance of his October tour of North America (check out the dates here), we talked to him about his love of hip-hop, his "soulmate" Lana Del Rey, and why we won't be hearing another Woodkid album for four our five years.
You started your career as a director, how and when was the idea of Woodkid born?
I’ve always liked music, I’ve always been a musician. When I started as a director, it was great because I was experiencing something. I was trying to connect it to the music that was given to me, but at some point I was frustrated that I could not connect my own music with my own visuals. So I did a few short films where I was using my music—I would say it was the starting point of Woodkid really—and at the same time I signed to a label in France.
I found this name just randomly, but I had an idea that it would be about the wood, that it would be about something very organic because I wanted to explore that very emotional side of things, almost that folk songwriting side of music.
Then I did “Iron” on my label and I did the visuals at the same time. I had already done a few big videos in the mainstream industry, but never something that personal and big. And yeah, it worked! So then I ended up doing the whole album. I feel like a musician now, but I feel more like an artist where I try to connect these things together and make music and sound and videos together. I don’t feel like I’m a real musician now; it’s much more complex than this.
It’s not like I spend hours on my instruments and I spend hours training my voice and then I go on stage and then all I do is be on stage. I do things that are much wider than this. I spend a lot of time shooting and writing concepts, writing treatments and ideas for music videos. I see music as a color, a visual, and I always try to connect visuals with music. So I think my point-of-view would never be as precise and exhaustive as the biggest musicians or bands that you would see right now. But my vision on the connection between visuals and sound, this I’m really trying to push and in Woodkid I have found a project where I can express myself with all the tools that I have.
Did you grow up in a musical environment?
Yeah, pretty much. I mean my uncle was a music teacher, my cousin that I was very close to is a big cello player. So I’ve always been surrounded by this. My mom used to listen to a lot of classical music, my brother was playing the guitar. So it’s never been like a crazy hardcore musician family, but it’s always been here. My parents are from the art world so it’s always been around me.
There’s a huge amount of really vivid imagery in your lyrics, do you think that comes from your background in visual arts?
Yeah, of course. You know I’m trying to build Woodkid with my DNA, with what I’ve been experiencing during my life, and what I grew up with. Of course the films that I like and the work that I’ve done as a director, all these things are an inspiration and a tool that I use. And the music I was listening to, the music that I liked—all these things come together. I only build things by relying on my experience and things that define my identity, because it’s genuinely who you are.
So there’s real honesty in your art?
It’s a sense of honesty, but it’s also a sense of accepting that you can build something that is relevant and accurate and contemporary based on things that have built you in your past. It’s just a way of interpreting it that makes it modern. That’s why I take from what I see around me. The core of it is, yeah, what I’ve experienced in life. Sometimes I get to use things in my music that I would’ve never used and never thought I would use one day—experiences from my life, songs that I liked when I was younger that I think are cheesy or stupid but that for some reason just make sense.
Storytelling is obviously important to you in both your music and visual projects…
Well storytelling in a way—I’ve never wanted Woodkid to tell a specific tale or anything like that. It’s much more fragmented and complex than this. I have these feelings of themes which are still blurry in my head and that I’m trying to find out.
It’s almost like psychoanalysis, and I’m putting these things on the table together and I’m trying to assemble something. So that’s why there’s a sense of repetition sometimes, because I’m still experimenting. Sometimes I tell the same stories with different metaphors, different symbols, sometimes I go back in time or in the future and have a feeling that these together in an experimental way are connecting a story, at least a thematic story or a symbolic story that is about the transition from childhood to adulthood.
You transform from that wood to that marble. You just petrify in a way. It’s almost like some sort of cancer. And I wanted to explore that very dramatic feeling. Of course, I have a very optimistic vision on growing up and what’s ahead of me. But in that project I wanted to explore this quest for darkness in a way. But it’s not a story like a novel, it’s fragments of emotions, of memories. It’s almost like a sketch of a story somehow, a very advanced sketch but it’s like this abstraction of blocks of stories that together create this story.
Do you find it cathartic getting up on stage and performing these?
Being on stage is not the most creative thing. It is more of an accomplishment, it is more of a way to communicate and say things, and a way of transmitting. But it’s a second step to me. The first step would be really the creation. I’m creative in a way on stage in that I make the tracks evolve a little bit, but the real creation occurs when you make the songs or videos. This is the most important step, because if you don’t have the right songs or right things to say, being on stage is useless. So I’m trying to work a lot on that creation level which is making songs, making music, developing my identity and then I go on stage.
So the cathartic moment is more when I find what I have to say through my songs, when sometimes I write songs and I put them together and even I, myself, discover my story. Because I’ve been honest in everything I’ve done so far, or at least tried to be, I find that my work does draw some kind of rough portrait of me. That’s where the catharsis is.
Even if I didn’t see the movie, I was attached to the soundtrack. I would just picture my own stories on it. I would see cataclysmic things, I would see explosions, I would see horses, I would see battleships, I would see a lot of things.
You’ve said that you want people to feel like heroes, or heroic when they listen to your music. Tell me a little about that.
When I say heroes it’s more like I want people to be inspired, I want people to be inspired to create things. Cause that’s the role music had in my life and it still has. I use music as an inspiration to create. When I write treatments or screenwriting or concepts, I always write with music because music carries me and pushes me up. When I was younger, I would listen to soundtracks of films and I would already direct films in my head just by listening to the soundtracks. Even if I didn’t see the movie, I was attached to the soundtrack. I would just picture my own stories on it. I would see cataclysmic things, I would see explosions, I would see horses, I would see battleships, I would see a lot of things. It would just carry my imagination in a way. So once again it’s about doing music based on your DNA, right, so I wanted to recreate that with my music. I wanted it to be my turn to create support for a younger generation that listens to music, to actually be inspired. And I see on Tumblr, on Twitter, and social networks a lot of kids that draw and make short films out of my music. I think it’s great; that’s the main goal of my music I think.