uneinterview qui date de l'époque de home
he is the best pop star in france. he writes songs with keren ann. and he's married to catherine deneuve's daughter. gail caught up with monsieur biolay at cafe des marches in his own saint germain hood in october.
chickfactor: when did you write your first song?
benjamin biolay: I was 14. my first finished song. it is in english. stupid lyrics, I don't remember but it was totally stupid. I wasn't speaking english when I was 14 because I learned german at school. so it's a shame I can't even tell you the name of the song because I don't even remember.
cf: but you made up a lot of songs just for fun when you were a kid?
benjamin: I don't know, I was really serious. every time I did a song for fun that was a good song. I wrote plenty of serious shit and every time I was trying to joke. it became interesting when I was 21 after years and years of...
cf: your parents are musical too...
benjamin: my father was learning classical music as a student but he was really against pop music, I don't know. for him it was really stupid crap but he loved chansons francaise which I hate, like the very serious stuff like jacques brel. for seven years I was a total loner with my music. you know, when you're a kid you don't want to play ballads, you want to play red hot chili peppers covers.
cf: what did wind? do?
benjamin: one of my many bands.
cf: what did they sound like?
benjamin: it was pure crap. we were trying to do some duran duran/wham! stuff, you know, we were 14. (
) after ten minutes of music we were doing something closer to can or devo. we were trying to make pop music but we were unable to do that. too freaky.
cf: just noise?
benjamin: just noise. I would play you a song but it's just pure noise.
cf: what about mateo gallions? was that your music?
benjamin: that was my music. I always compose the music and the lyrics in my bands, but no, that was a very bizarre period. for the first time I found musicians who really wanted to play with me—I felt grateful. one day it was grunge, one day it was [something else]. I was trying to find my way, making copycats of the best. trying to sound like the beatles.
cf: I read somewhere that you taught yourself to play guitar from watching mtv. is that true?
benjamin: yeah. I remember when I started to be really happy when weezer single the "undone song" and the video by spike jonze. before I learned the piano by myself because I was in the music school but I learned violin and trombone. so I didn't know how to play piano but I thought it was easier to put fingers. but then someone bought me a guitar for my birthday. I didn't know the names of the notes I was playing. it was like starting music from the very beginning once again. it was great.
cf: hadn't you learned classical music before that? but that didn't help with the guitar?
benjamin: no, never. playing the tuba won't help anybody to write the song or playing guitar. you play one note.
cf: you were reading music though.
benjamin: I was doing a lot of other stuff but from my studying and also my money—I was one of the best in the music academy, so I played with a professional orchestra. so at 18 years old I had money compared to my father. but I was doing music by myself. I quit when I was 20 to make only music. I said no day job. I will never do it if I have a day job. I prefer not to do it. during three years I had the most horrible years of my life with no money at all but that was a good choice.
cf: struggling gives you something to write about.
benjamin: all my friends took day jobs and were were promoted in their day jobs.
cf: you have this new band, home. your first two albums were just you but now you have home?
benjamin: no no, it's just one project. my next one is benjamin biolay (out in feb/march). maybe we'll do another, but... [the third solo album] went very very fast... ten days ago I didn't have any songs, and then it came.
cf: does your wife [chiara mastroianni] make her own solo albums?
benjamin: no no, she's an actress. she likes to do music with me, with other people, for fun. when she does it, she's very serious. you know, in march I'm going to be in a movie, a really small character. I'm going to be serious but I don't want to be an actor. it's comedy, it's funny, I'm playing a big asshole.
cf: if you could score anyone's films, which director would you like to work with?
benjamin: I don't really want to be an actor so it's hard for me to say that...
cf: no no, if you could write the music...
benjamin: the best ever is tim burton, but he already works with the most brilliant composer in hollywood, so no.
cf: the job's taken.
benjamin: the job's taken.
cf: what about dead directors?
benjamin: they all have wonderful musicians. stanley kubrick, sometimes he had crappy music in his wonderful movies.
cf: it can really date a movie too, don't you think?
benjamin: yeah yeah yeah. that's why I always love woody allen's movies. he always takes the same songs from the 30s and it's perfect. it won't grow older.
cf: what other musicians would you like to work with?
benjamin: none for the moment. I wanted to work with other people in the past. cf: what if kylie asked you?
(c'est pour anrkyl ça
benjamin: yeah, I would do it. she's never called me. you can bet it. I'm sure her sister will call me. madonna? no. I'm not dreaming of this kind thing. there's a lot of artists that I love but they're already doing their job by themselves. if I could play tambourine on björk's next album which is only made by tambourine I would do it. she's really one of my favorites.
cf: you like her new one?
benjamin: yeah. I cried when I heard it. she's far away from every other musician on the planet. if my real dreams came true I would like to make a song for eminem or give him a bit for a song.
cf: what were you like as a teenager? were you a nerd?
benjamin: no, I didn't look like a punk but I was. I have been fired from all my schools for example. I was a nice guy but I was really against education.
cf: you got kicked out of school?
benjamin: every time. sometimes I'd yell at a teacher. if a teacher told me lee harvey oswald shot jfk, I said no, you're wrong, you have to learn the warren commission. I was this little offbeat punk. I also never gave back the paper you have to give back signed by the parents. mainly I didn't go to school—that was my big problem. I wasn't there.
cf: no regrets?
benjamin: no, because I finished my courses. I wasn't nice for teachers.
cf: how famous are you in paris?
benjamin: in paris and in the big cities. but in provence someone would say I know this face. it's not a big thing. I know famous people for a long time. one day you start to watch your feet when you're walking.
cf: do the interviews and photo shoots take you away from things you'd rather be doing?
benjamin: it has but I'm growing old, I'm going to deal with it in a better way and I'm sure it won't be important.
cf: do you sell records in any other countries?
benjamin: germany and spain. I was really afraid of taking planes and everything so I only went to berlin to play two times. it was completely full. it was really strange for me because I sing in french and there were all these german girls (swooning).
cf: who would you want to play you in the movie of your life?
benjamin: I have no idea.
cf: what do you like to do when you're not doing music?
benjamin: everything which is funny. music is part of my life. it would never be the first priority. I know what it is to be lucky to be published, which was my dream. now I'm selling good. I have enough money to live in a really cool town in a big apartment. my mission is done. I'm published. maybe I'm going to be huge, maybe I'm going to lose a part of the people who buy my records. the first part of my life was dedicated to that, now it's done. I love being a father which is my favorite. I love this part of my life. I am seeing a lot of movies and reading. I'm really into politics, especially the past 5 years, it's becoming harder and harder. the u.s. situation is making me upset, I'm really afraid, the war and all this shit and your lousy prime minister. all those people who are managing europe are making me really sick. I think it's normal to be sick and to be afraid of tony blair, jacques chirac, george bush. tony blair for example is a really big deception for all the left bank. I hope he's going to lose. I am really afraid of the u.s. election. the republicans come again, they're going to kill us. that was a fake election 4 years ago. for me the guy who killed the last election last time was bill clinton because he wasn't into the campaign. I've seen the debate—even if what they say is really crappy, kerry is brilliant next to the little dwarf. but I am afraid of that.
cf: have you been to the u.s.?
benjamin: many times, mainly in the east coast, mainly in new york city. new york has changed so much (since sept 11). so different now. last time I went I was really in a strange town. the world is really different for new york city.
cf: it had to change though. things were on such an economic high for so long. in a way I think it's a good thing.
benjamin: the towers collapsing must be a part of the history, not a part of the present all day all day all day. you have this new york thing—we never talk about it, but we think about it all the time.
cf: I think people talk about it but they don't want to see it on tv. because it's burned into memory.
benjamin: this bush election  was the beginning of the nightmare. I was watching the election on cnn, we got florida, and then 20 minutes later bush says 'no, my brother told me I got florida.'
cf: what about u.s. culture?
benjamin: I really respect u.s. culture. I don't respect some american people but in literature this is what I prefer. if I said to a british journalist I prefer your work to flaubert, he will punch me and say "flaubert is the best ever, you idiot." but I prefer fitzgerald. the first book I bought by myself I loved, so many artists I loved. my main influence except for music, because of the british invasion. but for art and books and movies even the paintings, I really love american culture and subculture. hip-hop is the only new musical style of the past 30 years. techno is coming from germany but also detroit. I prefer seeing an american blockbuster to a dutch blockbuster, I'm sure it's going to be better, they have more money, they have the studio. thank you for all the gifts to us.
cf: who are the best musicians in paris?
benjamin: I don't listen to a lot of french music.
cf: can you cook?
benjamin: yeah, pasta, eggs. I can also make a piece of beef. it tastes good but it's really not very sophisticated.
cf: what's your favorite serge song?
benjamin: hard to say. album is melodie nelson. it's like the beatles, I can't say one song. eminem is one of my three favorite all time artists: slim shady and marshall mathers. I love the mc contest in the movie. he's a brilliant actor.
cf: you like a lot of hip-hop?
benjamin: yeah, a lot of american hip-hop. since I was a kid. the first album I got with my own money was the chronic.
cf: what's your poison?
benjamin: vodka straight.
cf: where do you write music?
cf: do you carry a book with you?
benjamin: if I have a tune in my head I call myself.
cf: who is the sharpest dressed person in paris?
benjamin: guy or girl?
cf: either one.
benjamin: françoise hardy.
cf: is she a friend of yours?
benjamin: yes, very good. she is always well dressed. my mother-in-law is always well dressed.
cf: I can imagine.
benjamin: she also has a lot of reebok/adidas stuff. she's a normal person but when she goes out she's really full dressed. but francoise is really chic.
cf: is there a men's fashion accessory you would like to see men wearing again?
benjamin: the tie. you know, bad boys used to wear ties, now it's only the assholes from the city.
cf: is there a celebrity in paris who is really annoying?
benjamin: I have one, jacques chirac. but I'm sure a lot of people want jacques chirac to leave.
cf: do you like to perform live?
benjamin: I used to be really uncomfortable with that, I used to throw up before... but now it's getting better and better.
cf: what about singing karaoke?
benjamin: every time I did that, I was the worst ever. it's funny. when I was young I was with a famous girl singer in karaoke, and one of her songs came and everyone was like "get out, you're lousy!" that's one of my favorite karaoke souvenirs.
cf: what else are you working on?
benjamin: a book, a novel. it's about someone...
cf: someone like you?
benjamin: not me. but it's finished.
cf: what are 5 records you can't live without?
benjamin: it's going to be really hard but I'll take: the white album. I consider revolver and rubber soul as a double album. I will take marshall mathers lp. and melodie nelson. I will make myself a rolling stones mixtape.
cf: thanks, bb.