What's On The Hi-Fi Interview with Bertrand Burgalat
Bertrand Burgalat is a truly impressive figure. He is at once a musician, producer, soundtrack composer (LES NUITS FAUVES), remixer, founder of the fabled French label Tricatel, and recipient of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres from the French Cultural Ministry in recognition of his contribution to the arts. All the while, Bertrand has an immediate warmth and a refreshing sense of humility and approach to music and the world that surrounds it.
We met Bertrand at the buzzing Tricatel office to talk about, among other things, his current record TOUTES DIRECTIONS, his collaboration in the 1980’s with Laibach, the icon that is David Bowie, the adventures of running an independent record label, and how the loo might just be the best place to listen to Madonna’s latest single.
“The more that time goes on, the more I try and be clear and sharper. I am using the same tools. What changes is the way that people perceive my music.” This neatly encapsulates Bertrand’s approach to his music, from the more romantic pop sounds of THE SSSOUND OF MMMUSIC (2000), the more electronic PORTRAIT ROBOT (2005) to the more rock based production of CHERI B. B. (2009). With TOUTES DIRECTIONS, Bertrand brings these sounds together, embracing the post-modern and futurist. While remaining true to his songwriting, TOUTES DIRECTIONS marks an evolution to a tighter and more concise approach to music. “Maybe, because it’s the first album recorded in a proper studio. Because most of the time, I recorded in places that were not treated acoustically. I put more energy in trying to find the right sound combinations.”
The new record also marks another departure for Bertrand, that of standing back in the process and working with a sound engineer (Séphane Lumbroso). “This is the first album of mine that I did not mix myself, and I think that is why it sounds better.” Laughing,Bertrand adds, “I am a very bad mixer, especially for myself. He succeeded in making the record sound powerful in a way, but with an intelligent use of compression.”
This overuse of compression [reducing the volume gap between loud and quiet sounds] is an approach that Bertrand set out to avoid on TOUTES DIRECTIONS, an album on which he wanted to give the sounds the space to breathe. “I think it completely kills the dynamics. I think a lot of records over the past 10 years will be hard to listen to because of this compression. I was in Brussels the other day doing interviews, and I went to the loo. I was pissing and listening to Madonna’s new single on the radio. It actually works really well in the loo – there is nothing – there is a voice and a snare kit. And I was thinking that I still have a lot of progress to do. I don’t think my records would sound that sharp in the loo. The guy who makes that is probably the trendy engineer of the moment, a guy in LA with probably 200 compressors, and it sounds so bad.” He laughs, “yes, I am still far from Madonna’s standard.”
COLLABORATIONS | LAIBACH
The conversation shifted to his various collaborations, and in particular with Slovenia’s multi-disciplinary artists Laibach. “It is probably one of my most interesting experiences, and probably my first real experience like that. It brought me so much in many ways because we were very different. They are not real musicians, they are more conceptualists. And they were involved in something which was to me wonderful, which is hard for people here to understand. They had guessed what was going to happen in Serbia, and they had a role -- a role of very intelligent, and witty provocation. Using all of the elements of the Titoist word and turning them in the most absurd and totalitarian way, but only using elements from the uniforms and speeches. Their graphic artist went to jail. There was a contest every year for the poster for the day of peace, and the graphic artist had won. Three months later, a minister noticed that the poster was from the Third Reich. They had just changed the eagle and swastika and swapped it with a dove. These idiots had taken a Nazi poster without knowing.”
“They [Laibach] were free with music and technology. Where I would say that I like or don’t like and artist, they would say that an artist is interesting for this or that reason. A lot of the freedom that I try and have in the studio comes from that time. That was a really good education. Very disappointing to return to France and see the local scene that was a bit dull.”
As to whom Bertrand admires the most musically, one name immediately springs to mind. David Bowie. “To make records that are both ambitious and understandable by a lot of people, that’s fantastic. For a musician, that’s a dream. And with Bowie, I like his use of influences. He is someone who has never hidden his influences, and because of that, he did something very different. Like when he was quoting Kraftwerk, but never did anything at that time that sounded like Kraftwerk when he was in Berlin. Even the B-side of LOW, these instrumentals which are beautiful and don’t sound at all like Kraftwerk or any German rock of the period. It’s a masterpiece.”
Bertrand never set out to create a label. Tricatel was originally born purely out of practicality, providing a way for Bertrand to be paid for work he was doing in London with the likes of Mute in the early 90’s. It was only after he returned to France, and as part of an unplanned progression, that the company transformed into a label beginning with an album with actress Valérie Lemercier.
He had said a few years back that he was going to write a book about how not to run a record label. “This label, I think in France we have really been ahead. Ahead in bad sales, ahead in the catastrophe. So, I think this makes us stronger. Why are we spending all this energy to sell so few records? So, let’s keep the energy to make music. But, then let’s consider that the record sales have no more importance than the sales at newsstands for fashion magazines. So, that’s the idea that everyone has now. The problems that we have, we share with lots of other labels.
Bertrand doesn’t think in terms of taking risks. “Maybe because in France this is a word that is very over used, ‘this actress took such a risk by doing that role.’ The thing is that this is a label. And maybe it’s a mistake. But, I never, never planned anything. Every time that I am doing things, I say that I am going to stop after that. So, I say that I have to stop before I do something good. That is the thing that pushes me. In 1998, we did the first Tricatel compilation in France, and I thought that that was the end. We couldn’t find any distribution. But, we have not been badly welcomed enough to stop. That is the problem. For this album, I think that my secret dream would have been to sell 20 copies. That would be fantastic. Even maybe one would be sent back. Then I could stop.” Bertrand laughs, “but, yesterday we had already sold 200 copies on the first day. That is much too much.”
TOUTES DIRECTIONS is available through Tricatel. You can check out the video for BARDOT’S DANCE here.
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Track of the Day…“The House That Heaven Built” from Japandroids
“The House That Heaven Built”
From The House That Heaven Built EP
Polyvinyl Records 2012
This energetic jam is spreading amongst indie college students’ ears like wildfire, giving the already well-established garage punk band Japandroids the prevalent recognition they’ve been working towards. After two albums, The House That Heaven Built EP steps further into their signature punk rock roots, being both poppy and brooding, while cleaning up the unrefined sound that the duo started six years ago. These young Canadians really made a hit here with a rebellious anthem fully equipped with the catchy chanted “oh’s”, a pulsing rhythm, and tantalizing crunchy guitars. Make sure to watch for Japandroid’s new album Celebration Rock, which will released in early June.
Check out the track here.
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