As many followers of my blog know I am a fan of many musical genres. Well OK, mostly Japanese heavy rock, but I also have a penchant for other cool stuff! The more hip among you may remember a French outfit called Air who built a name for themselves making gorgeously melodic electronica during the late 1990’s and into the early 2000’s with albums such as critically acclaimed Moon Safari and the soundtrack to The Virgin Suicides.
Starwalker is a collaboration between the aforementioned Air’s Jean-Benoit Dunckel (also Tomorrow’s World, Darkel) and Iceland’s Bardi Johannsson (Bang Gang, Lady & Bird) and the pair produce some really well crafted songs very much shaped and coloured by the likes of Jean Michel Jarre and Stereolab. If your bag is expansive, retro-futuristic pop featuring intelligent songwriting and super-catchy hooks, then Starwalker is very much for you.
I was lucky enough to catch up with the pair recently and we discussed everything from late 1970’s Science Fiction to how to get Nickelback banned from Icelandic radio. Huzzah!
All answers Starwalker’s Bardi and Jean-Benoit (JB) unless otherwise stated.
What have you learned working with each other and has it changed the way you approach song writing?
Bardi: It has been a great pleasure and a good self re-inventing session to collaborate with JB. With digital technology it has been more and more easy to combine different recording takes in one. JB has reminded me of the importance of getting a good sounding and well performed take. Even though the album has lots of electronics it is hand played, not programmed. Also he is very playful with productions and
arrangements. By far the best keyboard player I have worked with. Not to forget the great humour.
JB: I learned lessons from Bardi about making tricks to get a sexy voice. I was not giving enough chances to some music I was working on to become songs. Bardi gave me the strength to focus on that.
In the UK I think there is a lot of under-appreciation of French music -especially in the mainstream. Artists like Alex Gopher, Pepe Bradock and to a lesser extent Etienne De Crecey are relatively unknown. But there has always been a really strong electronic music scene in France. How would you explain this?
Bardi: Coming from Iceland, I cannot explain how the UK musical mind works. Maybe the Brits have listened to too much “dub step” and “grime” that their electronic ears are destroyed. Etienne and Alex are great.
JB: [The] French are good for turning knobs on electronic machines. And we are good at putting on successful parties. So its the perfect combination to have electro success abroad. Yes the Brits hate us more than we do.
What melodic ideas to each of you bring to Starwalker? I’m a musician so I insist you are as geeky and technical as possible!
Bardi: When we work together we bounce ideas until we are happy with them. I don’t know how geeky or technical this sounds, sorry.
JB: Melodies are mysterious to me and they come naturally. It’s the core of a song. Even a beat is a sort of melody. Melodies are divines and they appear like elves on the stones of Iceland.
I would describe your music as having a sense of ‘beautiful emptiness’. Does that make sense?
Bardi: The word beautiful makes sense to me, but emptiness would be nothing. Maybe “beautiful spacious”.
JB: Yes there is vacuity in our music. There’s a gap to fill with the emotions of listener’s life.
Most readers will be familiar with Air but no so much Bang Gang or Lady & Bird. How would you familiarise those readers with your music?
Bardi: I think they would just have to listen. Bang Gang has been described as “ghost pop” and Lady & Bird “children like”.
JB: It’s a good moment to listen to Bang Gang’s music.
Your video for Holidays was inspired by ideas from fans. Have fans ever inspired you in other ways and if so, how?
Bardi: Fans sometimes send stuff that is interesting. The ‘Holidays’ video was made from a competition and it is amazing. I don’t remember being inspired from a fan, maybe it is more the other way around. Fans are amazing, specially those who have a lot of knowledge and get tattoos related to albums.
JB: People are really inspiring. I consider fans as normal people who fell under the charm of the music we do and they are really inspiring to me. For the ‘Holidays’ video it has been made through a geneto tv competition.
What do you enjoy most about writing music?
Bardi: I think everything about it. It is freedom, challenge and can be a healing process too. You put your emotion into music. Making a musical fantasy or a song based on real life is amazing. Making an invisible picture with notes, sounds and lyrics.
JB: I just love chords of love and beats like hammers of gods. I’m trying to combine the two, writing music is making love with our fans without touching and without vulgarity. Nobody’s obliged to come into this business.
I hear you are huge Nickelback fans! Why do you adore their brand of incredibly dull and predictable asinine rock?
Bardi: Where did you hear that? I had a radio show a few years ago on XFM in Iceland. I had it written in my contract that I could delete Nickleback songs when they would come up on the playlist. Same went for anything by the band Creed. All people like different things and I don’t judge people for what they listen to. I love rock music and metal but just not that ‘Nickleback’ kind.
As I listen to your new album I am reminded of late 1970’s science fiction movies; there’s a certain nostalgic electronic experimentalism that I enjoy. What would you say to that?
Bardi: I completely agree to that.
JB: Science fiction is my favourite future. I’m obsessed by it. May be the keyboards sound is really spacey. That’s why.
What is the most exciting thing you have planned for this year and why?
Bardi: I would say that the Starwalker album is the most exciting thing this year also making new music. Because it is what I do.
JB: I’m exited to go in USA this summer. I’ll go to San Francisco and I have a good feeling about chilling out in this city.
Starwalker’s self-titled debut album is released on Friday 1st April 2016 by Prototyp Recording & Bang ehf under Starwalker’s self-titled debut album exclusive license to Sena ehf.
Official website: starwalkermusic.com
All images copyright Taki Bibelas.
Video director, vfx and 3D animation: Olivier Candito.