As you might imagine from the title, mornings are where it all started. France’s Elliot Diener, who lives in the musical world under the name Petit Prince, had spent an evening in Brussels, jamming with some friends, and they had come upon a song idea he felt he needed to record. So he went back to Paris, to his studio, and got to work trying to turn that inspiration into gold. “I would arrive every day around 10am, or much, much earlier if I couldn’t sleep”, he says. “I took all my breaks in a little thuggee bar next to my studio, drinking a lot of coffee when others were already drinking wine. A truly inspiring place. It took me about eight intense months to make it. I was almost always thinking about it and thinking about it resulted in a lot of insomnia”. Those recordings, made as the sun woke up the people of Paris, eventually became eleven songs of sparkling psych-pop, his debut album – Les plus beaux matins.
Diener grew up in Strasbourg and had a musical childhood, starting on the piano at a young age and then going on to attend a music conservatory. However, his enthusiasm for music didn’t extend to a lot of his lessons at the school. “To be completely honest”, he says, “when I was in music theory class, I couldn’t care less. I could not see the link between theory and the emotions music made me feel when I was very young”. Later, he came to appreciate the grounding those lessons gave him.
“When I was working with my band, I realised how important it [music theory] is to be able to communicate musically with the others. That’s why during the lockdown, I started to learn music theory again, with much more enthusiasm. And it was really pleasant”.
Sound engineering was something that did spark his interest, and in 2010 he went to Paris to study it there: “Recording studios have always fascinated me, that’s why I wanted to study sound engineering. And I love spending my days in my studio. I spend a lot of time working on the sound. I learned a lot at school, but I also learned a lot just by listening and analysing music I like”. In Paris, he started to grow into an artist himself, and Petit Prince as a project was born. In 2015 he released the EP Deux Mille Dix, which marked his early sound out as dreamy, spacey, blissed-out synth music.
On Deux mille dix, Diener was more of a producer and composer than a singer – vocally, he’s barely present, his voice coming in only to add detail to the songs, and extra instrument rather that real singing. On his 2019 EP, Je vous embrasse, he stepped right into the centre of the songs, and grew close to the rich, psychedelic pop sound he has today. “It took me a while to get music was not about talent but mostly about work”, says Elliot. “Deux mille dix was more or less four demos I put together on the same record. The vocals were just experiments I made, recording them with the mic of my computer. I think I really found ‘my sound’ when I was working on Je vous embrasse. That’s what EPs are made for – experimentation. For Les plus beaux matins, I tried to make songs, real ones, with a clear structure and lyrics that tell stories. And that is much harder than making experimental structures for me. I found the coherence between the songs because they were all made during a small period of time, with the same instruments, in the same studio”.
With a much stronger vision of who he was, Les plus beaux matins came into being. The album ties together all the musical threads Diener has teased out over the course of his career. The experimentalism that’s always been a part of his sound is still there – these songs still bloom and flow in strange directions, and keep a colourful, shapeshifting motion that gives them life and vitality. But now that sound is shaped into shining choruses and melodies, and swept along with slick, swaggering momentum. It’s ambitious and elegant psych-rock, with Diener stepping up as a frontman and leading the listener though his glittering sound.
Learning to become a storyteller
Back in Brussels, the first spark for the album came from that jamming session and eventually became lead single Chien Chinois, a jagged, dreamy pop song named after Diener’s Shar-Pei dog Josephine. “I went to my studio and recorded [Chien Chinois], based on my memories”, he says. “Then, I composed all the music and wrote all the lyrics [for the record] all alone in my studio”. For Diener, a lot of the process of finding his way to Les plus beaux matins was about learning to become a musical storyteller, not just a composer. It meant more work on his lyrics, trying find the balance of light and darkness that would provide the album’s graceful melancholy. “The strength of French music is for me the capability to be able to tell a story”, he says. “I try to be understandable, though sometimes failing to be poetry. I hope people will connect my stories to theirs and it will make them feel the emotions they used to live through”. It also meant working on his vocal craft, something that had been in the background on his earlier work: “For this album I used a lot of studio techniques to compensate for my lack of vocal technique. Like doubling or tripling, making second and third voices, using some plug-ins like reverb or echoes. Vocals are, I think, the most important thing in a track. That’s why I’m working a lot on this right now, hoping it will be noticed in my future productions”.
Inspiration came from the people around him (“I was influenced by my dog, my mom, my girlfriend, my friends, my holidays with my grandparents, my insomnia and my anxieties. I would use to watch a lot of movies, but during this period I left my cinephilia to the side. I was just binge-watching ‘Friends’ on Netflix”) and, of course, the other side of his insomnia, the mornings that gave the album its title: “I love watching the sun rise, and I love when the sun rises. Because it extinguishes the anxieties of the nights. It’s also the first thing of the day, and it’s my first album”.
Diener didn’t build a life as an artist all by himself. After his arrival in Paris, he founded Pain Surprises Records, an indie label and community with Diener and his studio at centre, home now to artists like Grand Soleil and Salut C’est Cool. Having that community makes Petit Prince’s lot in life easier. “It’s very helpful to be able to discuss your difficulties”, he says. “The hard part of being an artist is you are living a bipolar life. When you go to the studio and record something you feel like you are good, you feel good, I would even say that you feel as happy as a dog who’s going on a walk. On the other hand, when you can’t record something good, you feel terrible, useless. So having friends who are living through the same thing makes it a bit easier sometimes”.
With Les plus beaux matins about to be released, and Corona ruling out any touring for the time being, it’s back into the studio where he feels most at home for Diener, to see where he goes next. “As I’m recording all by myself, I am sometimes not cautious enough. I often work a lot, attempting to polish a rough draft, instead of just re-recording a clean version. [In the future] I’ll take more time to work on the composition also. My sound will also evolve with my studio, as I will probably change my instruments and gear. But it will all came from the same roots”. After a record like Les plus beaux matins, a lot of people will follow him there.
Les plus beaux matins is out on September 4 on Pain Surprises Recordings.
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