It is the greatest wish of every artist on this planet to be appreciated by having success with their own art. Sometimes artists do not get popular at all, sometimes they are able to build their audience slowly during many years and sometimes the great success happens overnight without letting the artist any minute to take a breath.
Although it feels like all your dreams come true when you think about this sudden, international popularity, there are – as with almost everything – downsides to it which people tend to not see in the first place. It is a challenge for artists to cope with sudden success as they are thrown into the cold water and need to adapt themselves to this new situation in which people treat them differently as before. This special challenge is exactly what the French artist Yoann Lemoine alias Woodkid experienced after releasing his debut record The Golden Age in 2013.
The challenge of sudden success
Although the creative mastermind directed music videos for popular artists like Katy Perry, Taylor Swift or Lana Del Rey before his breakthrough recod 2013, no one really payed great attention to him until the release of his debut album. But shortly after the release, the attention almost exploded and he suddenly saw himself being nominated for a Grammy, watched his debut The Golden Age climbing up to thecharts in many countries and even saw it winning platinum and gold. After this great success, it took Yoann Lemoine seven years to release another album as Woodkid. Seven years in which he experienced great challenges, the greatest of all the challenge to cope with his unexpected success, as he tells in our virtual meeting:
“Having a fast and unexpected success asks for a certain amount of humility to redefine your identity afterwards. After this massive success I realised that it was a part of my life now which defined me as a person. I knew that I needed to come back with something new whilst redefining my own definition of success. This has been a great challenge for me because I had to step away from the idea that success is necessarily something you can count with numbers. I had to realize that it also is something you can feel intimately without being definable. It can be about pride, about creative accomplishment or about joy you can have with many things in your life. And I had lost this joy for some time after my massive success. For that reason, I needed time to redefine my standards. It has been really challenging but I got there and my new album helped me realize that I always found the most joy in making music with people that I love and that I can be proud of that.”
During the years of taking a break from his solo project, Yoann Lemoine tried to direct his creative output into other directions by collaborating with people from different art fields. These collaborations helped him to work in the shadows and deal with his success. For Lemoine, the performance space has always been the favourite creative field to work in. “I think there’ s nothing more powerful than a curtain opening emotionally” admits the musician during the conversation. Taking his love for the performance space further ahead, he worked on fashion shows, ballets and in the cinematography during the last seven years.
You reap what you sow
Back in 2015 – after doing some of those collaborations – Lemoine decided to begin working on his second Woodkid record S16. The creation of his new album has somehow been like gardening for him: “I always like to refer to myself as a gardener who plants song seeds to let them grow. Sometimes, I garden them a little bit with collaborations. The process of making S16 has been a great and slow gardening experience for me. Although it also has been a painful record to make because my mental health went up and down. I made the album to heal myself a little bit and, in the end, I cherished it a lot.”
Finally, after working five years on his new music, eleven songs were ready to be reaped in Woodkid’s musical garden. Songs that deal with failed relationships, the incapacity to sustain love, doubts and the duty to be resilient against life’s challenges. S16 an album that incarnates multiple things by living from contrasts. It is a mix of threatening, industrial songs and intimate, organic pieces. This unique world of contrasts was created on purpose by the French artists:
“I realized more and more that my live experiences helped develop these contrasts. Rupture was something which helped me to get the attention of the audience. There is this idea of deconstructing and fragmenting music which I have always been interested in. So, there is a contrast because of the ruptures I use in my music, but in S16 there is also a contrast in the volume of the songs. I wanted to create a dynamic album that really has contrasts in the volume and is not compressed like music which runs on the radio. So, when it is quiet, it is really quiet, and the listener must push the volume button up. And sometimes the listeners must push it down when they do not want the intended loudness of a song. There is a special kind of contrast and aggressivity behind that concept.”
Chemistry and chaos
The album’s title S16 is a chemical term – it is the chemical description for sulphur, an element for which the musician harbors a special fascination. For him, chemistry in general is an absorbing world on its own, because it incarnates more than one thing: it can be about feelings, but it also can be about science.
“When I started to make this record I knew that I wanted to do something industrial, I wasn’t really sure what it meant at that time but it was triggering a lot of ideas musically and visually. I started to visit many industrial places like oil platforms, coal mines or nuclear power places to get inspiration from. I also went to meet the industrial workers to see how the machines work and to get something out of the process of their aesthetics. What really nourished me was the industrial process of using sulphur in the creation of fertilizer. I think the fact that sulphur on the one hand is the base of life and can nourish life but in the other hand can be used as a deadly and horrible weapon by humans is what fascinated me the most about it. It is this ambiguity behind sulphur which is equally frightening and attractive in a world that is also equally frightening and attractive at the same time.“
Lemoine even goes a step further and admits, that there is something about chemistry which triggers the inner child in him. For him, chemical reactions are something magical which can be something attractive but also something toxic and manipulated. Again, it is a world of contrasts coming together when you have a closer look at S16.
Diving deeper in the ambivalent world of S16, it comes along with a certain kind of chaos which also forms the basis of the album. It does not matter which chaos it is – a personal one or a general one in the whole world – what only matter is the fact that there is a certain kind of chaos which comes along with all existing life.
“For me, the interpretation of my songs and the mentioned chaos is whatever the listener wants to make out of it. Over the past few years as an artist I have learned to let my songs live their own life in people’s minds. So, when you talk about a certain form of chaos it can be the chaos inside us like the speed of information, but it can also be the chaos of the environment like the climate change. It is really more about what is your intimate relation to my music and what you want to make out of it.”
S16 is now out via Island Records.