Raygun Magazine

Raygun Interview

Nicolas Godin and Jean-Benoit Duckel, a.k.a. Air, are dreamers. And like dreamers do, they are given to wordy ruminations that often border the silly. But, being French, Godin and Duckel are also serious. Oh yes, very serious.

"When I was a little child," recalls Godin, "every Sunday morning I would listen to American TV westerns. Like Ennio Morricone. It was like a song you could hear in the countryside when you were on holiday. This is what we are looking for when we are composing. The sound of summer in the countryside."

It should come as no surprise that Air are entranced by the elements. 'Kelly Watch The Stars' and 'New Star In The Sky' are two tracks from 'Moon Safari,' the album that unwinds like etheral cotton candy floating over sultry rhythms with cooing Moog synthersizers and Vocoder-treated vocals. Like 'Mr. Hulot's Holiday,' a '60s film by French director Jacques Tati which depicted vacationers enjoying an amusing endless summer, 'Moon Safari' bathes in a sunset of shimmering Rhodes pianos and strummed acoustic guitars; it luxuriates in the warm glow of fuzzy trombones, blissful strings, and the soothing laughter of children's voices.

"Like Jacques Tati," explains Jean-Benoit, "we want to make the people happy and create good vibes, no cold vibes. We want them to be contented and make them dream."

"A lot of the new wave of music now is very depressing," says Nicolas. "Good, but a little bit depressing. Like Portishead and Massive Attack, they're making great music but very sad music. We are living in Paris, it's nothing like the north of England. Paris is a cool town to live -- the music is cool, the girls are nice -- so we can't make sad music. We have a pleasing, leisurable life."

And unlike much electronica, which is often alien, reptilian, and manic, Air makes music for love, for sipping wine or simply preparing a good meal. It's music for the senses, for the fuzzy analog heart residing in all of us.

"We have tried to create an Eden Garden, with pleasure flutes," says Jean-Benoit, in his charming broken English. "We look for the pleasure of living. There are difficulties with the problems of life, but music is a means to escape from reality and to have a good time. And dream about a better world."

"It is the soundtrack for the imaginary world where we would like to live," adds Nicolas. Jean-Benoit smiles.

While Paris spins to a new scene of dance floor maestros from DJ Cam and Daft Punk to Motorbass and Dimitri From Paris, Air finds sustenance not in the groove, but in the grass, the trees, and the planets. Playing all the instruments themselves, then double-tracking vocals and effects, Air originally developed their music in a cozy Versailles stuido. With their first tracks appearing on compilations from the French label, Sourcelab, Air's debut EP, 'Premieres Symptomes', contained densely atmospheric tracks such as 'Casanova 70' and 'Modular Mix.' Using the organic instruments of the '70s soundtracks - electric pianos, primitive string machines, Minimoogs and languorous trombones and trumpets - Air blend French easy listening with the homespun vibes of "Little House On The Prairie." You might never know that Jean-Benoit and Nicolas once studied advanced mathematics and architecture. But they see no difference between such higher arts and their own brand of populist entertainment.

"We use the mathematic logic and balance of architecture," explains Nicolas. "A song is an equation. There are different elements and it has to be good. You must have balance, like Le Corbusier, Frank Lloyd Wright, and the Bauhaus school. I like very pure and simple architecture, and it is the same goal in music as architecture: you want it to balance and the pure."

Quoting French chemist Lavoisier, Jean-Benoit turns even more philosophical: "Nothing disappears, nothing is created, but all is confirmation." He looks pleased with his pronouncement. "It's the same with music. Music is only the confirmation of the feelings you have."

And this obsession with the sun, moon and stars?

"It's a good time when you feel all the elements," says Jean-Benoit. "You are cooler, you feel the wind and the sand, you feel good and you rest easily. Man is happy in the elements."

"We worked with Francoise Hardy," elaborates Nicolas. "She sang a song for our 'Sexy Boy' 12-inch. She taught us a lot about planets, because she is an astrologer. Now the planets are very, very important for us. We are dreamy boys and we are outside reality, we are in our own world with our own rules. With music we feel like a fish in the water. If we live in the street it is boring for us; the planets are the best way to escape from the real world."

Jean-Benoit takes it a step further.

"When you are nervous, it is because you are focused on the problem and you can't get away from it. But if you think you are a normal person on the earth and there is something very important to you, you are actually only a very little person compared to the moon and the universe. So escape your problems and be free to live."

When Air really want to escape, they pop in a video cassette of their favorite '70s television program, the original Spice Girls popfest, 'Charlie's Angels.' Their love of angel Jaclyn Smith inspired the track, 'Kelly Watch The Stars.'

"We think she is the most beautiful woman in the world," says Nicolas of the one-time K mart shill. "We want her to be in our next video. I'm sure she is still beautiful. We have to find her. Maybe if we are very successful, we can ask Jaclyn Smith to sing a song on the second album. Like the good American song with the female voice and the very sophisticated arrangement with an orchestra. An original song with her singing."

And if Americans think that is nonsensical poofery and misplaced nostalgia?

"It won't bother me if America thinks that," says Nicolas.

"But we're not nostalgic," claims Jean-Benoit. "We are about the future. We want to be the new and not back the '70s. The '70s thing is only background; the important thing for us is the melody and the chords, and not the wrappings. The '70s sounds are only a process, a means to an end."