“I say one funny weird thing and that becomes the headline.”
Madeon is basically a genius. Here’s a long chat with him
A few weeks ago we Skyped one of our favourite new pop people for a short interview which ended up turning into an epic, sprawling chat about pop, pissed-up brawls and Lady Gaga.
As you’ll see, the interview goes on a bit, so we’ve compiled a Spotify playlist for you to listen to while you’re reading it. The playlist (below, and here) contains lots of the songs and artists mentioned in the interview, you see. How very ‘multimedia’.
Here’s the interview.
Hello! How are you?
I’m good! Actually can you give me 30 seconds to finish making my coffee? I just need to bring it down.
[30 seconds passes]
Where are you now?
I’m in my studio in Nantes, and by studio I mean basement.
What is around you?
I have a print of the Abbey Road album cover behind me. I have a bunch of vinyls that I haven’t played and just have because they look good. I have something my manager gave me which is a flyer for my first UK show which had a pretty amazing lineup – Jacques Lu Cont, Alan Braxe, Starsmith and Madeon. Speakers… A keyboard…
Have you ever looked at the Abbey Road webcam?
I have! It’s pretty funny. I’ve been to Abbey Road actually, I’ve done the photo.
Good to hear. How are you with interviews?
I generally do okay. I have very high expectations for this one.
Some people say, ‘I don’t like doing interviews – I like making my music and performing it for fans, I don’t want to do anything else’.
Yes, and that’s a fairly defendable point of view I suppose if you’re a music maker as opposed to an entertainer but I’ve been reading your blog and interviews for a long time so I know what to expect.
So you see yourself as an entertainer?
Actually I’m not sure. But I think that because Popjustice usually interviews more exciting full-on popstars…
HOLD ON. Are you not exciting? (Laugher)
The difference between a musician and an entertainer usually lies in the choice of hat. Entertainers have more interesting hats.
I agree with that. Entertainers have fantastic hats. I’m trying to think of a fantastic hat. Could you consider a Daft Punk helmet a hat?
That’s the ultimate hat.
Yes. What about the Deadmau5 helmet, is that a hat also?
That’s a logo that’s come to life really.
Have you ever been tempted to make a Daft Punk helmet? Have you seen the instructions people put online?
I wouldn’t do one myself. I’m afraid I wouldn’t have time nowadays. But if they were to sell a replica I would be tempted.
The dolls they had made were quite expensive.
But that gives prestige! They don’t cheapen the brand. They do a lot of things right. It’s like their career is one long lesson in doing it right. I think they’re the ultimate cool act. They’re an act that nobody hates, and mostly everyone knows to some extent. They’re almost untouchable. I think it’s a really impressive position. Generally you appeal to the snob or to the mainstream and it’s hard to appeal in the middle..
How do you think they did it?
They started, during the Discovery era, really embracing the pop side, but then they did the exact opposite with the next album. I don’t know what the secret is though. Fantastic music helps. Not compromising also helps. They haven’t done anything you could call regretful or shameful. They’ve never done an embarrassing commercial for instance.
You mentioned Daft Punk being perfectionists, and I remember you tweeting about the minimix you did for Annie Mac. A day or so before it was due in, you tweeted something along the lines of “I’ve spent too long on this”. And I thought it was interesting because you were saying that as if spending loads of time on it was a bad thing, but really the actual bad thing is what most people do: the bare minimum.
Well, especially when it comes to production I can’t stand listening to something that I think is unfinished. Or where I feel there’s a mistake, or something that’s objectively wrong. I’m not against simplicity or elegance, but when it feels unfinished or unpolished it bothers me. I enjoy what they call a ‘raw’ album, something that has a demo sound, but I generally much prefer something polished, layered, perfect and big.
So with the minimix I remember spending a lot of time on a couple of sections in particular that were very intricate. And I wanted to do the full minimix like that with 300 songs, but I think to have done a couple of parts that were more simple, like the part with the Kylie song, that’s really good. The urgency was interesting. I’m starting to live with deadlines though. Your ‘Bad Romance’ suggestion [Madeon had asked on Twitter which songs should be included in the minimix] was very good though. It was originally a Jay-Z line before the drop, but I thought, “yes, ‘Bad Romance’ would be more exciting there”.
Incredible. So in a way, Popjustice changed pop history.
I don’t think this minimix was pop history. It was on the radio for five minutes.
But it lives forever online. What sort of advice have people given you, what with you being at the start of your career and everything?
Hm. I think one of the most recurrent pieces of advice from people I admire – and this is really boring and clichéd – is that you have so many temptatons to divert from what you really love doing, that you are tempted to make something that you think will be more successful. But you will only be more successful if you do something you really love. It’s such a cliché that I ignored the advice for some time, but it’s so true. It’s crucial advice: do what you really love and make what you love grow. Content yourself in your little space and always produce music you’re really excited about.
Obviously you can say ‘stick to your guns’ but have you had people who don’t get it saying ‘this needs to sound more like David Guetta’?
I was told when I started doing my choppy disco style that there was no market for it because it couldn’t exist in the club world and wasn’t pop enough to exist in the pop charts. I was told there was no market, but I kept doing it because I really loved it and because I wanted to work in music somewhere and I thought it would be useful somehow in the long run, even if I ended up doing something less exciting than what I wanted to do. I started to live with the idea that it wouldn’t catch on, then it started to catch on and now people want a piece of it. If you’re trying to chase what’s currently popular, by the time you do it well it will be irrelevant. You hear it in pop production: they’ll try to do an electronic sound, but because they’re not part of the scene they don’t understand it and don’t get what’s appealing about it, and it doesn’t work.
Can you give me an example?
The thing is, when you start saying you don’t like something you’ll always end up meeting the guy who manages the brother of this guy. So… Well most dubstep breakdowns in pop are like that. They don’t get what’s exciting about dubstep, they don’t get that it’s not the tempo that’s exciting, it’s the sound design. It’s not about just having womp-womp-womps at 70bpm. They can’t do it because it requires extreme skill. Instead it just sounds like random noises at a slow tempo. Most pop songs with dubstep breakdowns just aren’t getting it.
The Britney one was good.
That was the first major one! That was exciting. Nobody had done it. Plus it was done right. But there are many less exciting examples.
How did you get kicked out of school?
Um… Hm. It’s actually – well, generally in interviews I feel like I have a responsibility not to encourage aspiring producers to do this, but the real story is that I stopped school because I thought I was going to make it. But the thing is, if you say ‘hey man, leave school and tour the world’, there are a lot of people who are not great at school but they’re starting to produce and they’re not great at that either. There’s a moment where you need to be reasonable about life. I took a risk but I was incredibly lucky for it to pay off. My life story shouldn’t be an example! I was always a terrible student. I had a very chaotic and complicated education history. I’ve always been more attracted to self-learning. I didn’t learn English or Music at school – I preferred to do it myself. So there came a point where I could legally finish school for a little while and I thought, I’ll just stop for a while and if it doesn’t work out I’ll do the exams myself. In most cases that’s not a good decision. I was just incredibly confident then incredibly lucky.
There is a lot of false hope peddled isn’t there. The whole message of The X Factor is: anyone can have a go, anyone can achieve their dream. But most people are shit. Popstars should be extraordinary. It’s like the Olympics – it’s all very well going ‘oh anyone can do this’ but the whole point is that only an elite group can ever achieve those things.
Exactly, it’s about bringing out the best in human abilities in specific categories. But while I will never be a professional basketball player, maybe in more intellectual fields if you work at it you’ll most likely get there. It’s easier for some than others, but at least there’s nothing physically stopping you. Hm… I’m speaking quite slowly because I’m trying to make sure I don’t say something you’ll put in the headline out of context in a hilarious way.
That’s your trap, right? You say ‘relax’, I say one funny weird thing and that becomes the headline?
You see, “I say one funny weird thing and that becomes the headline” would actually be quite a good headline.
I like the meta nature of that. Okay.
What’s the best BPM? (Immediately) 126. It’s my favourite. 125 is quite good too. But basically when I want to write a song, if it’s more of a pop song it’s 125, and if it’s more electro it’s 126. ‘The City’ is a pop song so it’s 125. ‘Icarus’ was more electro so it’s 126. I’ve been experimenting with more tempos recently though. The minimix was 115! But it ended at 128. At 130 there’s no groove, there’s no funkiness at 130. And at 120 it’s not dance enough for me.
Do you listen to Kiss FM when you’re in the UK? They tend to speed everything up a bit anyway.
I’ve done an interview with them, they were very nice. Actually, have you noticed at the end of the ‘Hold It Against Me’ video, not only the tempo but the pitch changes for the end section? It makes it so much more exciting. Look at it! If you jump from the start to the last but you can tell it’s different.
That’s a good trick.
It’s a VERY good trick. The French electro producer Sebastien did a song called Walkman, which starts at a walking tempo then gets progressively faster. The idea is that by the end of it you’re walking faster?
Useful. Have you heard ‘Thousand’ by Moby? That’s ridiculous.
I will check that out. But however you do it, the tempo always has to go up. The tempo can’t go down during a song.
What do you dream about?
As in my sleep? Well I’m not great at remembering dreams.
If you keep a notepad and pen by your bed and as soon as you wake up – literally in the first second or two of waking up – start scribbling, you can remember more than you think.
That’s what I try to do with my iPhone, I’ll try to get to the Notepad app to write them down, but then I just get confused with mails then I have things to deal with, and then the dream is gone. I had one dream where – and I know I’m talking about Daft Punk way too much – I was seeing the Alive show they did, but at a waterpark. And they came out and spoke German. Actually don’t write that! That’s too weird!
You know if you say ‘don’t write that’ in an interview, that’s basically flagging something up as being worth writing about?
I know, I know…
If you dream about water, doesn’t that mean you need to go to the toilet? Had you wet the bed?
I had not, no.
Earlier on when you said you tutored yourself, did you say you taught yourself English?
I did, yes.
Now this is going to sound monumentally patronising but your English is incredible. I don’t understand how it’s so good.
Maybe it’s just being exposed to it? I made the decision that I didn’t want to be a French artist that then exports – I wanted to work with English people, and be European, from the get-go. So being around English-speaking people constantly has helped on the aural side, and as far as written English goes I don’t think I’d be able to progress if I wasn’t surrounded by it all the time. I think the best way to learn a language is to be exposed to it, get the pieces together and guess the rest. Then you progressively build a vocabulary and understand the mechanics of grammar and syntax without necessarily knowing the rules. So it’s like, ‘well I’ve never heard a sentence said like this, so it’s probably not right’. And you become a patchwork of all those idioms and styles of language. And that’s it!
What were you immersing yourself in, was it pop culture stuff?
Of course, but regarding songs, when I listen to an English song I often don’t understand the lyrics unless I make a conscious effort to understand them.
Most lyrics are nonsense, that’s the problem.
That’s partly why in the chorus of ‘The City’ is just nonsense syllables cut together – it’s how English songs sounded to me when I didn’t understand them. I just like the musicality of the syllables, rather than the meaning. For a long time I wasn’t interested in lyrics at all, actually. I didn’t feel like music was a good medium to express messages. What’s great about music is that it’s so abstract, and so emotional on a very primal level. You just feel it. And that’s more appealing to me than something that’s descriptive or has a narrative. it’s much more open to interpretation. So sometimes lyrics felt like they’d ruined that side of music, but growing up and listening to more music I find lyrics appealing as well, but in a different way. I don’t feel the need to have an emphasis on lyrics in my music, though. But in answer to your question about what English I was exposed to, I was exposed to movies, TV shows, basic stuff.
What sort of TV shows?
This is so unmysterious! This is so boring! I hate reading about what TV shows a popstar likes, I want a popstar to just sit there and be amazing!
So not only are you an entertainer, as we established at the start of the interview, but you’re an amazing popstar too?
No no no! I’m not a popstar. I don’t think? I don’t know.
I was only asking about the TV shows because it would have been interesting if you’d taught yourself English by watching Game Of Thrones, or something.
I know what you mean. But no. Regarding being a popstar, I don’t know, I… Well, I admire producers in the same way people admire popstars. If I could buy a Stuart Price poster, I would have it in my wall. The thing I once loved is that you didn’t know much about producers, they just made amazing music and you had no real notion of who they were. I really struggled to find Stuart Price interviews, for example, and my assumption was that he was going to be a really obnoxious guy levitating above the ground being mean and confident. If I was one of the best producers in the world I would probably be a bit of a jerk. And as it turned out he was so surprisingly nice when I met him that it was brilliant, but it was sort of more exciting to just imagine him as a deity. He’s so wise. He’s everything I want to be. ‘Confessions On A Dance Floor’ was so good, right?
The way the songs segued into each other, the recurring sounds… I really like albums that have sound palettes.
Give me three names of people you’d like to produce a full album for.
Right. (Pause) Um… (Pause) Okay. A major popstar, like Lady Gaga, would be one. I’d love to do one with a rock band like The Killers. Let me just load up iTunes. (Sound of keyboard keys clattering in background) And I’d love to do a Beatles album but that’s not going to happen, is it?
Not while two of them remain dead.
Actually George Harrison said that, didn’t he? He said The Beatles wouldn’t reform as long as John remained dead. So anyway I won’t produce The Beatles. Maybe a huge hip-hop star like Jay-Z or Kanye. Someone hugely interesting. It’s an area I’m mostly unfamiliar with but being unfamiliar with a genre can result in amazing things. When I have slightly more experience it’s something I’d be interested in working on.
You mentioned Lady Gaga as someone you’d like to work with, but I thought you’d already worked with her?
I may or may not have… I don’t know. It’s like, uh… She tweeted me. Okay here’s one thing I’ll say: I haven’t met her.
Would you like to?
I’m terrible at this. She, she… She’s nice with me on Twitter. That’s good enough for me. I don’t know. I’m working on a lot of things…
So don’t feel that you have to say yes or no to this. But what I surmise from the tweets and what you’ve just said, is that perhaps you’ve worked on some of her stuff, and perhaps she’s worked on some of your stuff, but you don’t know what form that work is eventually going to take if indeed it does come out. (Epic pause) You are good at extracting information. Have you considered working for the police force?
What’s your favourite Lady Gaga song? (Immediately) ‘Alejandro’.
Interesting choice. Wrong choice, obviously, but interesting.
I LOVE its chord progression. It was very popular at the time, it was all over radio, so it was probably my favourite year in pop. It’s funny, there are moments in pop when everyone uses the same chord progression. I don’t know if they’re ripping each other off, it seems like everyone just has the same idea. Anyway this particular chord progression could be cheesy really easily, but the way the rest of the song worked just made it work beautifully. I think it’s one of my most-played songs on iTunes. It’s great.
I like it so much that I made a 45-minute version of it once.
That sounds like a good mix.
After about ten minutes you’re like, ‘this has to stop now’. After about twenty minutes you almost forget it’s there, and it’s as if it starts to exist inside you. After thirty minutes it’s a bit harrowing. And then for the last ten minutes it’s amazing.
It’s about as long as an album.
I’d rather have one good song that goes on for 45 minutes than one normal length song and a load of fillers.
You know earlier when you were saying that you’d like to produce The Killers? Brandon Flowers said the other day that dance music could never come close to rock music and that it couldn’t touch ‘Mr Brightside’ and so on. And I thought, well, firstly, the Stuart Price remix of ‘Mr Brightside’ is the best version anyway so piss off, and secondly, what a load of old rubbish. I thought Brandon got how it all worked. It was quite annoying.
Popstars say stuff, they change their mind. It’s fine.
You’re very reasonable, Madeon. I’m FURIOUS.
Sometimes I’m not even sure how the quote was extracted! It may be less aggressive than it sounded in the report. It’s funny that he says that though, DJs play ‘Mr Brightside’ a lot. I have ‘Mr Brightside’, the acapella, and I mash it up with my remix of Yelle, and it sounds great and everyone loves it.
Despite being reasonable, you seem quite suspicious of journalists. Mind you, you should be. Most of us are HORRIBLE.
I haven’t had any terrible experiences with journalists. Although I haven’t done many interviews.
Who would win in a fight between Thomas Bangalter and Paul McCartney?
What kind of fight?
In the street, punching, kicking, the whole thing.
I’m looking at Paul on my wall right now. Would he win? Well he’s not wearing shoes – that’s not going to help. Would Thomas be wearing the helmet? That would be a strong advantage. Plus would it be twenty-year-old Paul McCartney? What sort of street is it? What’s the lighting like? What time of day is it? Are there cops around? Are they sober?
They’re pissed. They are STEAMING. They’ve been drinking since 7pm and it’s now half eleven. They’ve been drinking beer, wine, whisky, the whole lot. They are PISSED. The evening started off well, of course. But then one of them says something. I won’t go into detail but Thomas says something he should not have said. And Paul McCartney goes, ‘that’s Bangalter order’. And Thomas goes, ‘I’ve heard that comment one too many times now – outside’. So they go outside. Bangalter shoves McCartney into a fruit stall. McCartney’s all ‘why did you do that’, and LAUNCHES himself at Bangalter. They’re rolling around on the ground, strangling each other, people are watching and cheering.
And how old are they?
This is happening now. So it’s Paul McCartney, a respected older statesman of British rock, and it’s Bangalter as Bangalter.
Is Bangalter wearing the helmet?
Well how has he been drinking? How has it gone through the metal? You see all the inconsistencies in your story?
He picked up his helmet, in the same way that you might pick up a hat, as he left the pub.
Okay, that’s defendable. But really, nobody knows Thomas’ face. So maybe it’s someone else who made a replica helmet, and thus it wouldn’t be a fight between Paul and Thomas.
So then who would really win: Bangalter by not fighting at all, or McCartney by at least turning up and standing his ground, regardless of whether he wins the fight or not?
Bangalter by not turning up.
Could you tell me the five Madeon-related things from the next twelve months that people most need to watch out for?
Well a lot of things are not announced. In fact the most exciting thing I won’t be able to say.
What is it?
I’m not telling you.
What is it? (Ignoring persistent badgering) Well one of the five things is my new single ‘The City’ which all your readers should buy or pre-order or whatever it is you do in the UK. I don’t understand how the industry works there. Why do you have songs on the radio for three months before you release them?
Oh don’t you start. We tried to change it about a year and a half ago…
Yeah I know, the on air/on sale thing. And I was so excited about that. You should have switched to that. But I’m fascinated by the UK. You have amazingly cool artists who chart, which is so impressive. I mean in France our charts are quite embarrassing generally. In the UK you’ll turn on the radio and you don’t know what you’re going to hear – it could be drum ‘n’ bass, which is never heard in France ever, and sometimes it’s more indie, or sometimes it’s big pop songs. In France it’s pretty much always the same. So anyway to go back to your question about five things that are coming up. Well there’s my single, which I mentioned. Then following the success of the previously-mentioned single, with sales of over three billion, I’m awarded a special prize and go on to cure many major illnesses. Then there will be lots of shows, which will be worth going to. Then I’m going to have some bits and pieces for various people that are going to be released. For instance there’s a song on the Ellie Goulding album, on the deluxe edition, called ‘Stay Awake’. It’s a nearly drum ‘n’ bass tempo track. Drum ‘n’ bass heads will think of it as inauthentic but it’s good. And what else… Well I want to be able to cultivate being a good producer for other artists. I want to be able to produce anything I want, in any genre – that’s really appealing to me. I’d love to be able to produce a good rock song, or pop songs, of film scores…
If you could score the 2013 remake of any classic 80s film, which would you choose? Actually let’s just say Ghostbusters.
Do you know what you should do? Just sit down, write some questions, write the answers you most want to hear, and just write the interviews yourself. That would be the best interview.
If you’re giving me permission to do that, that’s great, because I’ve got some great answers I’d like to read ‘you’ saying about a certain American singer. (Nervous laughter followed by odd silence) Sometimes I’m talking fast, sometimes not talking at all.
Don’t do that when you do radio interviews.
It’s terrible isn’t it? I’m so bad at it.
While you were waffling on just then I put a Tweet out, basically saying ‘I’ve been on the phone to Madeon for an hour’. In the space of a minute, there have been a load of replies. Can you guess what they say?
No, what do they say?
‘Ask him about Lady Gaga,’ says one. ‘PLEASE tell me you asked something about Gaga,’ says another. A third person says: ‘Please ask him about Gaga.’ Another says, ‘Ask him about working with Gaga, of course’.
Let me just have a look at this. (Sound of keyboard clattering, followed by pause while Twitter loads up) Here’s what else they’re saying. ‘The youth of today are so chatty,’ one says. ‘It’s going to be a fucking nightmare to transcribe,’ is another. And, ah yes, there are the Gaga ones. And then there’s someone asking ‘out of 10, how French is he’. How French am I?
You’re pretty French. I don’t think there’s any escaping your Frenchness.
Okay well I’m going to be (slipping into absurd Officer Crabtree accent) even froncher. Baguette! (Back into normal mode) But it’s natural that people will ask about Gaga because your demographic is really pop and the majority of people reading you will be Lady Gaga fans, won’t they?
And anyway, there’s nothing to say, right?
There really isn’t! It’s annoying! There’s not much to say!
Nothing to say or not much to say? (Giggles) You are good.
I’ve been doing this for a long time.
I can tell.
Questions: Peter Robinson Answers: Madeon (obviously)