Émilie Simon Goes Stargazing on 'Polaris'

Émilie Simon Goes Stargazing on 'Polaris'

Apr 02, 2024

The central star of Émilie Simon’s album Polaris is an enigmatic, adventurous character named Lily Mercier. An embodiment of the French singer, musician and composer, Mercier sets off on an odyssey, her sights set on the North Star.

“The story came to me at the very beginning,” she tells PAPER. “The first song that came to me was 'Tiger,' I was obsessed with this tiger symbol,” she says, pointing to the vibrating synth track, with climbing walls of sound and trickling beats under her echoing voice. “Then [the album] came step by step, like a compass, directions, almost like clues of little pieces of a puzzle I was trying to discover in myself. Then here comes this story of this character who was a little lost and she didn't know what to do. I found that sometimes what happens in in life is that you need some help, and help doesn't come always in a very gentle way. Sometimes you need a tiger to push you out of and give you the impulse you need to go beyond the problem, to resolve the problem.”

Polaris marks Simon’s first studio album in a decade. The latest release in her 20-year career was recorded in New York, Los Angeles and Paris and captures the journey of a protagonist who represents a “lost sinner, conflicted person” their “inner demons” bubbling to the surface. Despite the odds, the character makes it to the North Star, thanks to a helpful shove from the tiger. “To me, the star is really the symbol of absolute pureness and infinite and beginning and ending,” Simon says. “It’s very inspiring to me. I like that she has to take distance from her life, so she goes to the stars.”

Below, Simon tells us about her journey to Polaris, how her career has transformed over two decades and how she found her own North Star.

What was the biggest difference in your approach to writing and creating Polaris in comparison to your previous albums?

I think Polaris was a lot more of a personal journey where every song had a meaning. In the beginning, when I started making albums, my albums were not very narrative. Everything was very contemplative and more symbolic. This one has a story. You can listen without knowing the story and appreciate the songs without necessarily knowing what's going on in the story at this point. But the fact that I wrote this album with this story in mind and with this question: “What is she looking for? What, why, where she's going? How is this story ending?” Because I was creating at the same time and the answers were coming to me step by step. It was very mystical experience.

What was the first moment you had while recording Polaris that you knew you were on track, the "aha" moment in the studio that validated you were going in the right direction?

It started with “Tiger," that was the big one. It was almost like an obsession. This this melody and these lyrics came to me. It started in maybe 2014, so a long time ago, and the tiger was never really leaving me, it didn't want to leave me alone. That was the big sign to me that there was something to develop. And there was a story and “Lily’s Wish” came, it's actually the only song on the album that I wrote and produced one night and I didn't touch it, after that. I didn't add anything. I tried to record the vocals again, because sometimes you want to improve the take, but I couldn't make it better. You know, it was almost like it's meant to be like that. And so it was a kind of a magical moment for me. It was about Lily and the stars, and her wanting to go back home and making a wish. So it was also the essence of the album, because it's about her trying to find her way, wanting to go away but also wanting to go back home.

You’ve taken part in so many creative endeavors outside of making albums like film scoring and composing. How do you approach those projects differently than when you’re in the studio for an album like Polaris?

When I work on an album, I'm really digging inside. It's a very personal work, it's something that can be very demanding because of this self reflection. Also, you're the captain of the ship. It’s up to me to give the direction and to have a vision and to sustain this vision, and to make all the decisions. It's a very passionate, fascinating process. It's very demanding also. I do all the production and the programming and arrangements and the recordings. You can really dig deep. That being said, working with other people on a different project on a movie, for example, is just to me, wonderful, because you can experiment with the work as a team and communicate about ideas right away. You're also serving the purpose of the movie. So it's really about serving somebody else's vision, which is great, because you can learn so much from that and you can contribute in your own way. [I] create something that is bigger than me, then because it's really an addition to a lot of different talents and vision. I absolutely love doing collaborations for this reason to and also just sharing with people and creating together is beautiful.

I also wanted to ask you about the world that you've created around Polaris with the visuals and photos, it's really a beautiful reflection of the album itself. How do you go about creating a world to kind of mirror the the music that you're making?

This is something we created in New York with [People’s Revolution] and the wonderful team they put together of immensely talented artists like Kabuki for the makeu,p photographer David Roemer shooting and Charlie Le Mindu for the hair. It was wonderful to translate in a picture. I remember discussions with Rommel and really digging into the music and listening to the album and he was you know it could feel all the parallel with movies like The Neverending Story, this quest, the ‘80s, because it's my childhood too. It's in the future, but there was a little bit of nostalgia in it and the big star, it was really me in the sky, it was gold, and silver, because the moon, the stars, the crystals. It all came together, and the character of the tiger, so we really worked around those acts those directions of light silver gold tiger to create something very dreamy and almost from another planet.

I know you have a show here in New York City on May 7, which is exciting. What are you most excited about though, now that Polaris is out in the world?

Giving birth. I really consider my albums like my children. It's something you carry for such a long time. It's not physical. It's not a physical baby, but it's emotional and it's an energy. A creation. It’s a birth to for me, and it’s pure happiness to see that.

Photography: David Roemer