Christophe is charming, warm, and seems relaxed with a clear blue late summer sky in the background of a Parisian garden, cigarette in hand – all condensed into the phone screen of my Whatsapp. An unusual way to be having a face to face interview with such a prolific artist, with one half of the duo – Stephane is rumored to have squirreled away into the countryside with bad reception and not being a big fan of technology. All the more intriguing for me, yet this is a usual affair for Christophe. This is also the new normal of how we connect with artists nowadays, and perhaps it’s for the best as I manage to suppress my nerves of how star struck I am.
It has been quite some time since we heard from Télépopmusik. Over the past 10 years, there have been some releases namely ‘Connection’ with Young & Sick and ‘Try Me Anyway’, but there have been some changes brewing in the background, quietly building a collection of songs that would collate a new LP, ready to shake the trees. When I asked how Christophe was feeling about the upcoming release, he described the sensation equated to your children leaving home when they’re all grown up. ‘It comes with a certain depression. As a musician, this is your baby. You can’t just say your work is ready. Even though it is good to work towards a deadline, you are never ready and there are so many changes you can do before it is really time to let it go’.
Speaking of changes, which have been many over the past 20 years and Télépopmusik’s albums adapted accordingly. In 2001, when their debut album ‘Genetic World’ was released by Capitol Records, the financing and the marketing behind it was arranged by the label. A similar picture was for their second studio album ‘Angel Milk’. Therefore the distribution, recognition, and fame were much easier to come by. The hit record ‘Breathe’ brought the duo a Grammy Award for Best Dance Music Recording nomination in 2003. The business models in the music industry have since changed drastically (see Allen Hughes’s ‘The Defiant Ones’ documentary for a good perspective and how the advent of digital format music has forced the industry into a new direction while others may argue – a complete meltdown).
‘The music scene completely changed, so we had to learn how to produce music and release music with fewer funds’, Christophe explains. ‘The digital world is great in some ways, you can do everything out of your laptop nowadays, even the artwork and the videos. But it took some learning and getting used to’. As this third studio album is being released independently, it is a somewhat daunting experience. Especially with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, that saw most artists affected especially financially. ‘I don’t imagine we will be touring again until next summer, so we have to be patient’. Ironically, the lead track of their new album ‘Everybody Breaks The Line’, ‘Dreams’, has some uncanny parallels with the current world situation which is well depicted in their music video, fighting an invisible pandemic, the radioactivity of Chernobyl. ‘We already had to postpone the release in May once as the situation was starting to unfurl, until the end of September’. When I come to think of it, it couldn’t have been for a more perfect time to welcome the autumnal-equinox.
EG: We noticed that Young & Sick feature a lot on this new album. While we remember more ethereal female vocals as being the foundation for a lot of your music in the past, was the collaboration of male tones intentional? How did Young & Sick become a collaborator in your project?
Christophe: Actually, this wasn’t intentional. We heard the cover of ‘Breathe’ he did 8 years ago and I loved it and we thought ‘Why not try something with him?’.
EG: How does it feel to be releasing new music in the wake of a global pandemic as an artist?
Christophe: We had to postpone our release that was originally meant to be in May 2020 and I believe this may have caused some frustrations for our fans. So we decided on a hard date in September and despite having our concerns, we believe it is important to still continue to listen to new music.
EG: Do you feel overall that ‘Everybody Breaks The Line’ is a new direction for Télépopmusik? From our perspective, it is definitely a bit more alternative, nu-age with an essence of millennial avant-garde. Between songs, we sense changes between ethereal and melancholic, to rebellious and then sweet.
Christophe: Télépopmusik has always been quite melancholic, which is communicated mostly in our second album ‘Angel Milk’. If anything, it’s ‘Genetic World’ that is more of a jukebox full of different influences. ‘Angel Milk’ was a collection of lyrics of love stories that ended badly. The new album, while still full of lyrics of heartbreak and disappointments, has also some political statements and raises the idea that we can no longer hide behind the music with the current state of our planet. We have a message to send out to the world to look around at what is happening. It is difficult to stay alone in your corner and be selfish, it is time to find solutions for the improvement of these situations. It took us a long time to finish the album. There are some songs in there that we wrote back in 2008, some that we wrote more recently. We chose the most ‘real’ songs as opposed to the ones that are greater production pieces, as we always want to incorporate a live instrument sound. Also, we have navigated more towards pop songs, so at the end of the day, we are changing our style and even though our production methods have remained. In some senses, it is quite scary that as an artist you are getting older and we come into danger of disconnecting with people. You know how people get older, they’re not so much fun anymore? As a result, they start disconnecting with a younger crowd. We are hopeful that our new album will be just as relevant to our fanbase as the new generation.
“The new album, while still full of lyrics of heartbreak and disappointments, has also some political statements and raises the idea that we can no longer hide behind the music with
the current state of our planet”
EG: We share your concerns about the current ecological climate as well. We currently have the Extinction Rebellion taking place here in London, have you ever heard? Would you join an organization like that?
Christophe: I am more of an individualist by nature, and if I have a small slice of power to note something in an interview, then I will do so. However, who knows… maybe one day!
EG: Tying back to ‘Dreams’…why Chernobyl archive footage? Was this in mind to intertwine with the current state of affairs?
Christophe: We were supposed to shoot a video with sheep, consistent with the cover of our album. We had everything planned out: to go out to the countryside and shoot the content in May, however with the lockdown at the time it was impossible to move, so we had to find alternate solutions. In my time, I have often been to Ukraine to perform, DJ, and play live and on one of my visits there, I went to Chernobyl and was quite inspired. I kept this moment in my mind and got in touch with one of my connections there who happened to have a whole arsenal of movies and archives of Chernobyl and Pripyat during the explosion. So, I thought ‘OK! Let’s try something here…’ and as we were unsure how this would gel with the music. However, we found that some of the lyrics resonated well with the footage, especially a lot of similarities were shared with people all in masks fighting an invisible enemy.
EG: The album also features sweeter, hopeful, and somewhat sunnier songs such as ‘It Hurts’ with Jo Weddin. Tell us more about this contrast?
Christophe: Do you think it sounds happy? This song is about a tragic ending to a love story, but there is light in her voice. She is a Swedish singer, so she comes with a sunnier pop background.
EG: There are also more rebellious songs like ‘Hopali’ and ‘Who Gives a Fuck’. We sense a more direct and piercing approach to the lyrics versus subliminal messages. So all in all – a good variety on this album.
Christophe: We wanted more direct songs that engage a crowd. Our problem with our second album was that it was very difficult to play these live. The songs were down-tempo and intimate. Having songs such as ‘Who Gives A Fuck’ will have a great outcome in a festival live on stage. ‘Hopali’ has a lot of dynamic to it and is mysterious. The word actually comes from the term ‘hop the line’, which is for those situations when you’re standing in line to enter a club and you have that frustration building up trying to get in. Angela McCluskey is Scottish, so perhaps the word derives with some Scottish influences however, she was at this time living in New York and this is a very New York kind of issue.
EG: We noticed Angela featuring a lot in your previous projects. She makes another appearance in your third studio album. What is the story there?
Christophe: We have a close relationship with Angela as you may have seen in our first and second albums. I met her in New York many years ago. I was opening with my band for her. I heard her sing a Billie Holiday cover and I was like ‘WOW!’. I came back to Paris and told Stephen about her and we wanted to invite her for a feature when we started Télépopmusik. We wanted to produce something. So she came to Paris and we were recording in the studio, smoking loads, and Angela, who doesn’t smoke, simply couldn’t stand it. ‘I cannot breathe!’ she exclaimed. And that was the seed that sowed the lyrics for ‘Breathe’. Then she looked at a cigarette packet with the government health warning ‘Smoking Can Damage Your Health’ and just like that, ‘Love Can Damage Your Health’ was born.
We made a lot of demos with her, however, for this third album we felt we were taking a different direction and most of the music was not doing justice for her voice. We prefer her voice for jazzier pieces.
“The band sends out emotions playing music and the audience absorbs these emotions, gives out a different set of emotions that will influence the way the band will then play. It is an exchange”
EG: What do you feel as an artist and duo, the future will look like for artists, for musicians, the music industry, and even for this album?
Christophe: The main problem is that humans are built to adapt to many different situations. The bigger issue, not just for us, but everybody involved, is that money is drying up. People have to pay for rent. I am already seeing so many musicians moving out of the city to go to the countryside as they are not touring anymore. It is difficult to be optimistic. My only advice would be to keep on pushing, releasing, and writing as much music as possible and hope for a better situation. For Télépopmusik, it is difficult to do a livestream as a lot of our sounds are thought for live performances and all our vocalists are scattered all over the world. It just doesn’t work. I also feel that while livestream performances may be beneficial to some artists, it in general encourages free performing which is a road you don’t want to be going down. There’s a theory called the ‘Heisenberg’s Uncertainty’ that sustains that ‘the simple fact of observing a phenomenon is modifying its very nature’. I would apply this to the idea of live performance: the band sends out emotions playing music and the audience absorbs these emotions, gives out a different set of emotions that will influence the way the band will then play. It is an exchange. We are hoping to be able to do exactly that by next Spring.
EG: If you had to describe ‘Everybody Breaks The Line’ – what would you say?
Christophe: It is a collection of electronic pop songs of the last 15 years. It is not a concept or compilation, it is actually difficult to describe as an artist of your work. Give me a few months to think about it, in the meantime, it is your prerogative to understand it.
EG: What is next in store for Télépopmusik?
Christophe: I think next Spring we are looking to release a new single which is not on any of our albums. We would like to do a song with a big feature, but that’s all I can say for now. If we begin touring it would be a perfect time to release something new for the occasion. Next June (2021) will be the 20 year anniversary of the ‘Breathe’ release, so we aim to spice things up to honor that occasion as well. We definitely have no intention of stopping releasing music. Release, release, release – never stop!
The timing of the conversation couldn’t have been more perfect as both our phones were running out of battery. With this uplifting conversation mind, I listen through the tracks again and take myself on a little mental road-trip of sunnier times, stormier times, more rebellious times, and daydream into a haze that is reminiscent of something along the lines of Empire Of The Sun. A brilliant way to enter the new season with a vibrant collection of stimulating and current tracks, ‘Everybody Breaks The Line’ challenges listeners to take a step back and observe the world around them as it is, for what it is.
Télépopmusik’s ‘Everybody Breaks The Line’ is now available. Stream and buy here.