BY ALEXANDER BISIGNARO Woodkid is the nom de art-rock of Yoann Lemoine, a remarkable visual artist, video director (Katy Perry, Drake/Rihanna, Lana Del Rey) and singer-songwriter with a voice that makes grown men cry in their souls. He plays Union Transfer on Monday, in support of his arresting debut album, The Golden Age. DISCUSSED: God, homosexuality, cinema, Catholicism, the death of innocence, music sweet music, Katy Perry’s tits, Drake’s perfectionism, and why Lana Del Rey is such a polarizing figure.
PHAWKER: Why is your new album called The Golden Age? What is the’ Golden Age’ you are referring to? Why is it over?
WOODKID: It’s about childhood, about the innocent age where you treat problems in a very naive way, with spontaneity. In the western civilized world that I live in, there is a sense of comfort and protection in childhood that you lose when you become an adult and have to face problems in a frontal way. You have to recreate this feeling of protection by hardening your behavior, by being more defensive, like an urban warrior, like an animal. This album is about this defense and aggression mechanism.
PHAWKER: Explain your rationale for calling yourself ‘Woodkid.’
WOODKID: Woodkid is the story of this kid that comes from a very organic, supple, emotional environment, and gets to collide with a city of marble, of stone. This is about the transition from wood to marble, the petrifaction of the soul in a way. The next video I just started shooting will be about this Golden Age, this emotional contrast in time and space between childhood and adulthood.
PHAWKER: You have a really beautiful and unusual voice. How did you learn to sing? Who were some of the singers that inspired and influenced you? I’m hearing some Antony Hegarty in there. Are you a fan or a friend?
WOODKID: It came pretty naturally; my voice is very intuitive. I am definitely a fan of Antony but I don’t feel the connection that much. I feel like he is a much better and more technical singer than I am. I’m just improvising; he is in perfect control. My voice is also much lower. He can reach crazy high-pitched notes.
PHAWKER: Please explain the inspiration and the intent of the arresting image that graces the cover of your debut album – it looks like you’re wearing a suit of armor and morphing into a human fly. Please explain.
WOODKID: This is a collaboration with the amazing digital artist and photographer Daniel Sannwald. The helmet was sourced by Matthew Josephs – my stylist – who had it done by Nasir Mazhar. It’s pieces of Air Jordans that are deconstructed, tied back together, and stuck to my face. This was perfect for the idea of protection, of petrifaction generated by an urban environment, which is a major theme of the album. We scanned my face in 3D wearing the helmet and Daniel rendered the result as classic realistic marble, but with a digital outlined mesh, a futuristic twist in a way. This tells a lot to me about the sonic production of the album and the classic orchestra rendition with a digital dimension.
PHAWKER: You are also a really beautiful filmmaker, a talent you have ably demonstrated in pretty stunning videos for people like Katy Perry, Drake and Lana Del Rey. Tell me something nobody knows about Katy Perry.
WOODKID: On the set of ‘Teenage Dream,’ Katy thanked me by showing me her while boobs jumping up and down in the water of the swimming pool. It definitely was a Sabrina Boys Boys Boys situation. All I can say is that it was absolutely beautiful, I’m usually not really moved by tits but this was close to a stunning piece of art. But I guess it’s not really a scoop. She also loves curly fries and turned me into them. Is that better?
PHAWKER: Tell me something nobody knows about Drake.
WOODKID: Drake is very concerned by the process of making videos. We talked a lot on the phone before and after shooting the piece. He was very involved in the editing process and he let me shoot extra pick up shots and push the delivery deadline after the first edit to make the video even better.
PHAWKER: Tell me something nobody knows about Lana Del Rey. Why do you think she is such a polarizing figure?
WOODKID: You’re definitely fishing for the bold headline of this interview!?Lana has an incredible knowledge in cinema, she knows her classics and references them in a pretty precise way; it’s not just random tumblr ideas. I think she is polarizing first of all because she is a woman, but also because she is making beautiful ‘indie’ music but gets ‘mainstream’ success. I don’t really like these words though. As an artist, this frontier is the best place to be, I guess, but living on frontiers is not the most stable and comfortable position to be in. There is something sacrificial about evolving between two worlds. She also plays a lot with the character she created through her life and knows how to play with this ambiguity. I know she hates this buzz around her and doesn’t want to generate this passion around her.
PHAWKER: Can you talk about some of your influences as a filmmaker? What is your favorite film and why? Likewise, who is your favorite film director and why?
WOODKID: I’m obsessed by that movie Running on Empty by Sidney Lumet. It’s definitely one of my favorite films. I connect a lot to the character Danny, played by River Phoenix. It’s a lot about disconnecting from your family, running away and not necessary keeping your parent’s convictions as a part of your identity. I could mention L’incompreso by Comencini, or The White Ribbon by Hanneke, which also kinda happens to treat about the identity development of children. I also love directors with a strong sense of cinematography and camera work. Directors like Tarkovsky, Kubrick, Mallick, Van Sant or even Spielberg are treating deep subjects with a beautiful sense of form and aesthetic.
PHAWKER: In 2013, do music videos still matter?
WOODKID: I guess videos matter for artists, for directors and for the audience that want them to matter. I don’t think they are a necessary form of art and communication, and some artists manage to make impressive careers without a single good video. I still think image helps artists to connect with the public easily, to enhance their personality and to communicate more deeply about their identity. If you compare Bjork to Phoenix, it’s two fantastic acts but they have a very different approach to music videos. You could also compare Frank Ocean to Tyler, The Creator. They are both amazing artists but Frank is very discreet image wise where Tyler is very expressive on that level. I guess it really depends on the personality of the artist.
PHAWKER: You studied cinema under the tutelage of famed French director Luc Bresson: what was the most important lesson you learned from him?
WOODKID: I did not actually; I just started as a 3D graphic designer for the video game that was a link to his film. It was just a year of my life. I didn’t really have to deal with him. What I learned from this experience is that I would never work in an office ever again. I then made the sacrifice to start working as a freelancer. I’m too independent to do the same thing every day over and over again. It’s been super hard for the 5 first years money wise but I think it was worth it.
PHAWKER: Do you have any ambitions to make a feature length film? If so, please tell us a little about the film you would like to make, what would it be about and what would it look like?
WOODKID: Yes I am working on my first feature film. I can’t really say what it is yet because I’m still in the process of writing it. I will take time to do it. All I know is I would love to explore different aspects of my personality as a director. I would definitely make films that have a strong melodic dimension and that would be very photographic, very visual. I also love the idea of directing a big Hollywood studio production one day. I’ve actually received studio scripts but I think it’s too soon. I might start with something simpler and focus on the actors and the story.
PHAWKER: Do you believe in God? If so, please explain why. Likewise, if not, please explain why.
WOODKID: I’m not sure what I believe in; I have a strong love and hate relationship with what people call God. I was raised in a very catholic environment and I really embraced God and the bible as a kid. It brought a lot of answers to my questions but later, all these convictions collapsed with the discovery of my homosexuality, of the other religions, and the nonsense of the world. Traces of this education are still here inside of me, somehow, but I only keep the fundamental aspects of religion in my life: concepts of love and passion, of forgiveness. I also learn from other religions. But this has nothing to do with God; it’s only about how humans should behave with each other. I do believe and need to believe in something bigger, that we are part of… Something that we can’t control. It’s almost a scientific approach to life; there is a part of me that is somehow a determinist. I believe we are domino molecules that are colliding in a predictable way, but that we, as humans, as a part of this extremely complex system, are unable to predict and understand the amazing complexity of this universe. This is what I call God, somehow. I love the idea that we are surrounded by the beautiful complexity and can’t find an answer to it. Some people are afraid of this black hole and need to fill it with religion and dogmas. With time and wisdom, hopefully, I filled it with my own personal and individual convictions. I think that’s what God should be. There should be as many individual interpretations as there are humans on this planet.
PHAWKER: What was the last album/book/film that blew you away?
WOODKID: Sonically, I’m obsessed by Black Atlass right now; he’s gonna open my shows in Canada and we are trying to work together. Friends of mine gave me What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami. I’ve been running a lot recently on tour to stay healthy and keep my head clear. When I feel down or exhausted from all the promo and tours, I connect a lot to this book. It’s a lot about the relationship between creation and the outside world, the inner demons and how you can chase them.
PHAWKER: If your house caught on fire in the middle of the night and you only had time to grab one album, what would it be and why?
WOODKID: Grab an album? I guess you mean if my house caught on fire in 1995… Well probably the album Dis Quand Reviendras Tu by Barbara, a French singer that my mother used to listen to. Haunting voice and lyrics, beautiful poetry. Martha Wainwright did a beautiful cover of the title song, actually.