Woodkid On Working With Elle Fanning & Growing Up With The Titanic Soundtrack

French filmmaker and musician Yoann Lemoine discusses the intersection of images and music in bringing his industrial soundscapes to life.

Woodkid may not be a household name in North America yet, but it’s likely you’ve seen the film work by his given name, Yoann Lemoine. The French music video director has crafted memorable accompaniments for Lana Del Ray’s “Born To Die,” Harry Styles’ “Sign Of The Times,” and Katy Perry’s scandalous highway adventure in “Teenage Dream.”

Lemoine found his calling in the realm of music after the late Richie Havens gave him a ukulele during a video shoot he was directing—or so the story goes. As Woodkid, Lemoine creates beautiful cinematic compositions that are complemented by his haunting vocals and innovative mind.

Lemoine approaches his music in a unique manner, incorporating high-art, fashion, and a design aesthetic that permeates every part of Woodkid’s collective whole. This multi-dimensional narrative has seen him perform everywhere from the top of the Eiffel Tower to Coachella, and most notably at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 2017 where he was accompanied by a live orchestra while cloaked in a beautiful luminescent light. 

This month Lemoine is releasing his long-awaited full-length sophomore LP, S16. The album is an explosion of orchestral and industrial soundscapes paired with raw human emotion. We sat down with Lemoine over Zoom to chat about his new release, his love for the Titanic soundtrack, and how he cares for his magnificent beard that contributes to his signature look.

Congratulations on the new album. Where are you calling us from? 

I’m in Paris, at my studio where I do my visual but also my sonic work. I have my sound studio here and I have my visual studio on the other side.

Can you tell us a bit about what it was like growing up in Lyon?

I’m a very middle-class child, I grew up in the countryside and I had a very normal education in a way that I don’t think anything was either extraordinary or dramatic in my life. I was passionate about arts and it was something that I had to be about and create it. Even as a child, one of the things that I was most opinionated about was how I should build my Legos.

What kind of music did you listen to growing up?

Whatever was playing on MTV at the time, because my brother and I would hack the cable. MTV was kind of like my open window into music and the world. 

I was buying a lot of soundtracks from films that I sometimes had never seen and I would just listen to the soundtracks in my bed with my headphones and my little CD player by my bed. I would make my own pictures out of that. 

Were there any specific soundtracks that stood out to you?

Yeah, I listened to the Titanic soundtrack a lot. All the big classics like John Williams and anything I had access to through that mainstream middle class culture that I grew up in. 

What about the Titanic soundtrack were you drawn to?

Nothing in particular, it was just a big disc at the time and it was a big soundtrack to buy. I wasn’t making decisions really about music, whatever was in the air and was the thing at the time is what I ended up listening to. I was more of a receptor to music than I was a seeker to music. 

There’s a very cinematic quality to the music you create. Is it just a coincidence that you’re also a filmmaker, or are you consciously bringing these cinematic elements in?

The only condition that I can validate any music form for me, in the things that I do, is when it triggers images. From the sound of a snare to a line of text, to lyrics, to the way the orchestra is playing, it has to somehow have a visual feeling. That’s why I think my music is so evocative, because it has in its DNA the purpose of being attached to images at some point. My job initially, and the one I think I’m the most professional at, is being a director and making images. 

There’s a beautiful video online of you performing ”Never Let You Down” at Montreux Jazz Festival with Elle Fanning. Did that come about through your work as a filmmaker? 

Yeah, I did a film [Lolita Lempicka fragrance campaign] with her when she was 14 [years old] , so almost 10 years ago. It’s funny because I just found a letter she wrote me after we made the film, and there are tons of cute stickers on it and it’s such a pretty letter. We remained friends. When I did the concert, I wanted to have some people that were important in my life and people that I loved. I knew she knew how to sing because I heard her sing at some point on set. So I was like ‘do you want to try it?’ She sent me a demo where she was singing the song in her bathroom and she killed it. 

What headspace were you in when you were writing your new album?

It was quite a roller coaster but I think the bottom line of the album is talking about mental health, the beauty that there is in asking for help, and admitting fragility. I don’t think there is anything more universal than this right now. Which strangely, still feels like a very taboo subject. 

You’re so immersed in all these different elements of pop culture, what are some trends you’re noticing in music right now that excite you? 

There’s something about reconstruction, which is a general theme in the world right now, reconstructing ideas of gender, reconstructing power, reconstructing contrasts. For example, Sophie or Arca, which are two producers I’m absolutely passionate about. Their work is a lot about deconstruction and a certain form of chaos, which I think really echoes with the politics of the world right now.

Do you have any tips or techniques that you use to maintain your beard?

I trim it myself. One thing that I think is the worst is a beard that’s too groomed; you should always keep it a bit rough but not too rough. It’s an in-between. I hate when they do the line on the jaw very sharp; it should always be a bit rough there but it should be clean on the neck. It should also never go on top of your upper lip. I started getting white hairs, which I’m really excited about because I can’t wait to see the pattern it makes. Beards are a kind of makeup for guys. 

Woodkid’s S16 is available now via Green United/Universal Music