Epic music, grandiose effects, Agyness Deyn and other supermodels in battlegear — Woodkid’s IRON music video seems at once surprising and classic in the way it mixes imagery and music. That’s probably because Woodkid is none other than Yoann Lemoine, a twentysomething, multi-awarded illustrator-turned-director.
He’s already worked with the likes of Richie Havens, Yelle, Katy Perry, Moby and Taylor Swift, done short films for kids, and been rewarded for a film about a dick graffiti… And now he’s releasing his first EP, IRON.
IRON EP cover, illustration by Stephan Balleux.
ANTOINE ASSERAF: The music video for IRON – is it strange to make a music video for yourself ?
YOANN LEMOINE aka WOODKID: Not that strange, because as soon as I started the WOODKID project, I knew I wanted to make images, so it made sense with the video, and it was the first time I could make a movie and control all the parameters, with a budget and without at the same time being told what I could and couldn’t do. Being both the client and the director was a crazy opportunity, so I’m super happy with the result.
To direct and to make music is a bit similar, emotionally you are touching the same sensible points, it’s just a different medium of expression.
You have a material theme going on – you are the WOOD kid, the single is IRON, the tentative album name wood and CRYSTAL…
The project is always evolving, but I really like attention to textures, I made a film once on the texture of rocks, in IRON there is a lot of marble, black smoke. I love looking at textures and the emotions they create. The color, the complexity, what they evoke, mystical and dark things.
So did the song or the visual come first ?
I’ve had an image in my head for this project for a long time, I wanted to make a statement about heroic fantasy, not in a kitschy, elf and trolls way, but to explore what Tolkien, Final Fantasy, and Matthew Barney did. How you create a world with social codes, in a documentary sort of way, with specific imagery, dogmas, political parties, currency, dresscodes, ethnic groups, races, geography… How you recreate these codes in a parallel world. And how to do this in a way that is less cheesy than we are used to seeing in heroic fantasy, more intellectual…
IRON music video, directed and sung by Yoann Lemoine.
You once said on Facebook (laughs) that you were afraid that one day you would have to make a choice between music and directing, do you still believe in that ?
If I have to choose, it will be a matter of scheduling.
So a temporary choice ?
Temporary but… you never know how things evolve.
I come from illustration, and a series of circumstances led me to move to directing without ever deciding “I’m quitting illustration”, but I never came back to it… I just never had the occasion to do it again, a road built itself in another direction.
How did you make the transition between illustration and film direction ?
First it was animation films for kids, because I come from 3D, then I felt the need to make live films, with actor direction, a quality of photography, so I bought myself a camera and started making my own films. Then it turned into commissions, and I transmitted into real shooting my desire to compose images and artistically direct scenes….
At first jobs were appealing to your 3D and special fx know-how, but now on the Taylor Swift video you had no post-production special effects…
It’s all experimenting. What I’m trying to do in my career and in my artistic development is to reconcile a beautiful image, detailed and in good taste, with fashion references, in the air of the times, that people want to see, with a type of narration usually seen in Hollywood films. Postproduction effects, a bit WOW, symbolic narratives with visual trips… It’s part of my identity.
But I’m no Gondry either.
Yoann Lemoine in Erotokritos FW 2011. Photo by René Habermacher.
Our discussion with Julie, Jean-François and Tanguy, moves to touring — an essential element to the success of YELLE — and the need for a record label in 2011…
Yelle in Marios Schwab FW 2011. By René Habermacher, styling Ines Fendri, make-up by Akiko Sakamoto.
When you play live, do you try to add other things visually, like with the Katy Perry tour for which you’re opening ?
JEAN-FRANÇOIS: Well as opening act we have actually less means on the Katy Perry tour!
JULIE: Normally we’re 6 on tour, with the sounds, the lights, the stage, but on Katy Perry we’re just 4.
Also we don’t give our whole show away, it’s more of a teaser — anyway we know Katy Perry is following up with 4 trucks so there’s no use trying!
JEAN-FRANÇOIS:: We want to make our show stronger, so we have these suspended drums which are very visual, the logo, which is new – an inverted Peace sign. We like bringing in new elements, whether they cost 20 euros or 2000, but we’re not in a fantasy of something crazy. However from the beginning we’ve wanted to make one-off shows, like with a choir, big ensembles…
You were also mentioning new lights for your tour ?
JEAN-FRANÇOIS: We found this guy for lights, we were looking for a long time for someone who would bring something to our live performances,
someone who’s creative on his own but open to our ideas…
TANGUY: We need that extra, because we’re coming a second time around but without huge means, we want to make a show with songs we’re proud of — lighting is really the little ‘plus’ that we can bring.
So would you want to make a “live” music video to show people who don’t know how you perform ?
TANGUY: We thought about it at the end of the last tour, with all that footage [shot by “Ce Jeu” director Yoann Lemoine],
JEAN-FRANÇOIS: We just haven’t been able to edit it yet… we could have done as a single, but not for the first single of the album — but we’ll do it eventually.
"Ce Jeu" music video by Yoann Lemoine. Photo by Antoine Asseraf.
I still have a hard drive somewhere saying YELLE with all your tour footage, I was asked to help edit it “when I had time”, I was really into it but documentary editing takes so. much. time.
JULIE: And you can’t do just one hour per day, you need to really get into it…
JEAN-FRANÇOIS: Even us, we don’t even feel like going back in there right away, you kind of need to put those images aside and let them rest, but we would like them to show them at some point.
It looked like an amazing experience.
JEAN-FRANÇOIS: There were some beautiful images…
Trailer for the 2008 Yelle world tour, by Yoann Lemoine.
What’s your idea of the role of the record label, since you started without one and were without one for this album, you also released things without a label in between albums…
JULIE: We learned a lot from the time we had at Source, good things, bad things, some things we didn’t want to do the same way again, it was evident for us that we had to make our own structure, to get even more freedom.
JEAN-FRANÇOIS: To sum things up, on the first album we had ideas but not the means, now we have both!
For the first album you worked with Pierre LeNy, acting as an artistic director of sorts…
JEAN-FRANÇOIS: Yes Pierre brought a lot of ideas, a lot of contacts, a network, in fashion, which made it a lot of easier, now we’re the art directors, it’s the next level.
Second music video for "Je Veux Te Voir".
How was that experience of remaking the video for JE VEUX TE VOIR – doesn’t it feel strange ?
JEAN-FRANÇOIS: That was a flashback [a lot of time had passed since the original release of JE VEUX TE VOIR]. First of all we hate the first music video for JE VEUX TE VOIR, we hated it as soon as we made it.
But you’re not always in a position to say no to a label who’s invested, we still hate the fact that it has so many million views!!
The new video was made with Nicolas Benamou following the experience with Michael Youn, it’s the work of a label, who feels there’s a second life to give to a single,
it was so strange for YELLE, when they first brought the single to radios, they didn’t know what to make of it, but once they had gotten used to it it was ok… it’s really the work of the record label.
So are you at ease with that freedom ? Talking to Roísín Murphy who has done many things herself over the years in terms of styling and ideas for music videos, she was still happy to have worked with an art director on OVERPOWERED, to sharpen the image.
JEFF: We’ve never felt forced, we’ve never had the record label pressuring us, at first we were a bit naive, everyone’s nice, we were just happy to do things, and except for that first video we enjoyed everything we did.
We’ve always been masters of our image, but of course somethings get out of hand, get bigger than you expect them, doing things by ourselves is exciting, it makes us feel more responsible. the DIY style is very stimulating, you want to defend your project even more because all the choices are yours.
Of course it becomes 100% of your life! So when you say “I’m going to relax, i’m going to the beach” you’re not really relaxing because you’re thinking about what you could do. But that’s the case with everyone who’s a freelance or has their own company, it’s an obsession!
Work becomes a luxury.
It’s not work, it’s not labor, it’s energy!