For a producer whose musical signature has become synonymous with walls of crunchy guitars and fat distorted bass lines, SebastiAn is a fairly soft-spoken person. He certainly looks the part of a traditional rock star: leather jacket, cigarette in hand, casually hanging out with noted barons of cool like Frank Ocean and Charlotte Gainsbourg, but he's also unassuming in the sense that you might easily lose him in a crowd. He's a man that likes to fly just below the radar, always busy with one project or another, fully content to just be mentioned in the liner notes, if at all.
He keeps such a low profile that you could conceivably be forgiven for not noticing that he quietly dropped a pair of singles earlier this year, his first new solo work in nearly eight years. But despite the lack of fanfare, the arrival of a new SebastiAn album is not something to merely gloss over. As the follow up to his landmark 2011 debut, Total, a record that was one of the defining releases of the French-led blog house era, Thirst, will undoubtedly have a lot to live up to.
Boasting a tracklist that features artists like Syd of The Internet, Allan Kingdom, Mayer Hawthorne, Sevdaliza, and legendary rock duo Sparks, Thirst positions itself as the more mature, older brother of Total. Taking into account lessons learned while producing for the aforementioned Ocean and Gainsbourg, SebastiAn isn't looking to reinvent the wheel but moreso refine it. You can already get a sense of this on the album's eponymous opener, an aggressive eruption of blaring horns, bass wobbles, and distant yelps, which if left unguided by a skilled hand would have easily spiraled out into a chaotic mess.
From the disco-tinged strings of "Beograd" to the irreverent bop of "Handcuffed to a Parking Meter," to the hard rock take on J-Pop in "Sweet" before finally landing on the Gallant-featuring slow burn, "Run for Me," Thirst is an album that proudly crosses oceans, genres, and generations. Ahead of its upcoming release on November 8, SebastiAn sat down with PAPER to talk about his long awaited return, working with director Gaspar Noé, Serbian strangeness, and meeting your heroes:
Photography by Virginia Arcaro
It's been eight years since Total. Why such a long gap between both records?
It wasn't calculated, I'm not obsessed about putting out a record every year. I produced for a lot of people before Total and I continued after with the Kavinsky album. When I did the Charlotte Gainsbourg album I was working on the Frank Ocean album at the same time. It was kind of funny because Charlotte was coming from Paris, but she was living in New York at this time. Frank was from the U.S. and he came to live in London during the Blonde album. I was moving from New York to London and I met many people along the way. I started to make some songs with these guys and I said: "OK, it's a new album," but it was not calculated. Why eight years? Because I didn't count.
Did you organize the album around a theme or an idea?It was more spontaneous than this. It was like a travel book. I went to Japan where I met Loota, which is a new J-pop singer who I really lov., Charlotte was always here. I never really used my brain. The brain is the enemy of music — you can use it, but way after you've finished working. When it's done, you can start to analyze but during the whole process, I didn't think anything special. It was just like producing, producing, and seeing what would happen. I was worried I was going to make the same album as before, but finally, it changed a little. For example, I came to LA and I met again with my very good friend Mayer Hawthorne. He told me about a story about a girl, we were in a bar, and we directly came back to the studio and recorded this. Everything was really alive. I really loved having in-person contact with the artist, not just putting files on the internet. Sevdaliza came to Paris and we had some lunch and talked about a lot of things but it wasn't like: "Come. I want a feature." I met with all these people and I spent time with them. The album is about meeting people, having some bridges between styles, between generations of artists.
You mentioned before that "Beograd" is an homage to your hometown. Would you say that the album is really grounded in places?
For "Beograd" I really did the track in Belgrade, Serbia where I grew up until I was ten. I was kind of obliged to make a reference and say: "OK, I really love this city and I really love the people over there." I discovered since I started to work on this album, that slowly everything is coming back to Belgrade. This part of the world is heavy — full of war and intensity. When you go to Belgrade, it's like time travel. It's like going to the 90s. People are not obsessed about security, they are not obsessed with health, maybe it's not good, but it's something you deal with like: "OK, we're going to have less security, but more freedom." People are riding their motorbikes without helmets. People are smoking in cars.
I feel like every anecdote I hear about Eastern Europe is somehow totally insane.
We discovered after finishing the video for "Beograd" that the guy who is moving like this [imitates shaking dance] from some Instagrammers, that it's John Bosnitch. This guy was the lawyer of Bobby Fischer, the U.S. chess master during the Cold War. He's half Serbian, but he's living in Canada and helped to legalize the weed there. Afterward we were like, "What is this guy is doing in the video? Why is he dancing like this?" We asked the Serbian girls who found him because the video clip was made just by finding people in the streets or in clubs. It was just him dancing for real like this and asked him, "Would you like to be in the video?" and he said, "Yes, of course" and he came.
Wait, you didn't give any direction to the dancers in that video?
The young guy at the end, he's French, is the only guy we got for the video. We just told him, "Dance without any thinking," because it was the concept. For the most part, the people were really dancing as they would normally dance. Even the big guy, he came to us and said to us, "In the '80s people was calling me the king of the disco." We said OK and when he started to dance it was like, "Damn. This big guy is dancing very well." It wasn't improvised, but we chose people because they already danced like this.
I want to use that to definitely talk more about the visuals for the album. I'm thinking definitely the video for "Thirst" with Gaspar Noé. How did the concept for that come along?
Gaspar has been a longtime friend for maybe 10 years, maybe more. I wanted to show him the album and he listened to this track first and said, "I want to do this. I have an idea." I said, "What's your idea?" He told me like, "You are in the club a lot, right?" and I say "yes" and he goes, "OK, lets shoot!" Gaspar is very quick when he wants, its usually just him with a camera and a couple of buds on sound. I said, "I'm in. You want to shoot? What's the story?" He told me, "We're going to destroy everything, there's no story. Just like having a fight." We found a few guys who were ready to kick themselves for real in a week.
The fight was real?
We told them "Don't destroy totally yourself," but they were up to do it. We shot it in one night. The first time there were a lot of people around in the club and they knew they were in a video of Gaspar Noé, but they didn't know that there was going to be a fight. The first shot was terrible for everybody. They didn't know if it was real or not. People reacted to the video saying that the fight is kind of slow. Yeah, of course, it's a real one! In the real world, fights are not very aesthetic, it's not "cool." In the first shot, a guy totally explodes himself, but he was OK. He just jumped after and said, "OK, let's do more." It was kind of crazy. We did it until seven in the morning, it was scary and funny at the same time which is totally Gaspar.
How important do you think humor is in your work? Where does your sense of humor come from?
I don't know. In a way, it was kind of a British humor. They like serious jokes, they don't laugh about their own jokes. That's the thing I really like in humor. That's why I like having Sparks on the album. Everything was supposed to be kind of hilarious, but in a very serious way. I love when there isn't a red light saying, "You're going to laugh now."
The Sparks did "Handcuffed to a Parking Meter." That song is hilarious. Did they come up with that line?
They directly came up with that line. The singer came in and said, "I don't need another sentence. This sentence is cool, you're going to repeat it because I really like it. OK, let's go." I was really impressed to meet them because they were important to me when I was young. For example, for the album of Charlotte Gainsbourg, I had the big chance to meet Paul McCartney. He wrote a song for her and he came suddenly in the studio, he played and everybody was like, "God is here." Everybody was surprised. The thing I remember from the people like Paul McCartney or the Sparks is that they have nothing to prove so the way they are is just like, the best way to work with somebody, because they don't have to prove anything anymore.
Do you ever get starstruck in those situations?
It's always dangerous to meet your idols. I wasn't at all disappointed. For the Sparks it was even better than what I had thought. I met them in their house in Los Angeles. I arrived with the cab and remember having a lot of garden [gnomes] with the house painted orange with all cool colors. I asked why and they told me that when they were growing up, it wasn't a rich area, but now it is. They thought about what rich people really hate, like garden gnomes. They put in one, they started to yell at them, so they put one hundred in front of the house. They're really like this. They are really the Sparks.
Cover by Jean-Baptiste Mondino
What's the story behind the cover?
The first [album] cover was about the start of the social media and I felt like the ego was everywhere. The second one is about what happens when it's going to fall, all this ego. I'm not against social media, but it's a different feeling than when we just had MySpace. I felt kind of a tension in there, so I did this cover.
What do you hope to put forth on this new record?
The first album, Total, was when I was younger, between 20 and 25, and I just wanted to put something out. Between 20s and 30s, a lot of things changed and I wanted to show some different emotions, not just banging stuff, being able to show different sides of what I'm doing or what I am.
SebastiAn's sophomore album, Thirst, is out November 8 via Ed Banger Records\Because Music. Check out the full album tracklist below:
- Doorman ft. Syd
- Better Now ft. Mayer Hawthorne
- Pleasant ft. Charlotte Gainsbourg
- Yebo ft. Allan Kingdom
- Sev ft. Sevdaliza
- Sweet ft. Loota
- Sober ft. Bakar
- Time to Talk ft. Sunni Colòn
- Handcuffed to a Parking Meter ft. Sparks
- Run for Me ft. Gallant
Photography by Virginia Arcaro