The art of parties and beyond

Sébastien Tellier


With his scruffy beard, ever-present wayfarers and the ability to smoke through his nose, Sébastien Tellier is a kind of wisecracking Jesus. Since 2001, when he dropped his first album and toured with Air, the electronic musician has been delivering religious experiences to fans the world over—disciples including Karl Lagerfeld, Marc Jacobs and Sofia Coppola, who asked him to contribute to her Lost in Translation soundtrack. This year, Tellier has been obsessed by a more immediate and human concern. Sexuality, his latest album, brings together lush synth leads—thanks to Daft Punk's Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo—and dreamy lyrics seemingly from the ghost of French poet Guillaume Apollinaire. Photographer TIM UNDERWOOD sat down with the latter-day Serge Gainsbourg to discuss the constraints of architecture, his Eurovision controversy and, of course, sex.

It seems like wherever you go, you’re having a good time. What's your secret?
I think about sex. When it’s impossible for me to sleep, for example, I think about sex and I can sleep after that. Sex is the center of my life. It’s a very good way to be happy. I have nothing to say about spirituality, just sex. (Laughs.)

Sexuality is the title of your latest CD, and you've previously addressed themes of truth and politics. How do you approach these big subjects?
I am always looking for something, but I never know what it is. I’m on a kind of quest because I feel like a puppet, and I see people around me as puppets. So in a way I am looking for the master of puppets. That was the theme of my first album, L'incroyable Vérité [Incredible Truth]. Politics was the second album because, at the time, that was the most important thing going on in the world. We were all puppets of politics—now sex.

Sébastien TellierSébastien Tellier

How has working with Daft Punk and Air influenced your work?
Before Daft Punk and Air, the quality just wasn’t there. They changed how music is produced, not really for rock or reggae, but electronic music. Everything changed after Daft and Air hit the scene. It was the same for everybody. Air created a very warm and precise sound. That was kind of a revolution for me, because I was first a singer and a composer, but not a great producer. Production is a very difficult thing. But on my new album I worked with Guy-Manuel from Daft Punk. He knows synthesizers and he chose really huge sounds for my compositions.

What are some of your earliest musical memories, and do you have a favorite song or album?
When I was young my house was always full of music because my father loved guitars. My earliest influences were French composers, in particular the great French composer François de Roubaix, who did a lot of movie soundtracks. His was the first CD that I owned. Even now, with my beard, I look very similar to him.

Sébastien Tellier

Your music integrates pop and classical in a uniquely electronic way.
Oh, completely. I think it's because in Paris the buildings are very old and we live in very small apartments. We didn’t really have places to set up drums, so having a laptop and a synthesizer is paramount. The city gave us this order. We have to play electronic music because of the constraints of architecture.

You have a special connection with the fashion world. What really turns you on about fashion, and who are some of your favorite designers?
My favorite maybe is Tom Ford. In France we don’t have a Tom Ford shop. Also Marc Jacobs for women, which has a very good spirit and quality to it. And of course American Apparel.

How did you get involved with American Apparel, who have pre-released Sexuality in their stores?
They really loved my CD, so my manager one night had the great idea to collaborate with them. We have a very good connection. We talk about sex in a very sweet way. Its not about being overly sexual, just very sweet and colorful.

Sébastien TellierSébastien Tellier

Do you realize how many people have sexual fantasies to your music? You're like the French Marvin Gaye. It definitely has the ability to move a couple to the bedroom.
I hope so! My dream is to be the French Marvin Gaye. I made Sexuality not only to have sex with the music, but to help with seduction. So you open a bottle of champagne, put on Sexuality and boom, you fuck. The best song to have sex to is Nature. The sounds of rain and the sea are the best for sex.

You were just in Eurovision. Why was there such a controversy surrounding your song and singing in English?
Well, it was kind of a ridiculous controversy. French people are very afraid of the rest of the world sometimes. France is a small country and we are not very powerful, so one of our weapons is our language. The French are very proud of that, and I am also very proud of that. But if you want to be understood around the world, you have to sing in English. I broke tradition at Eurovision because I wanted to explain the French vision of the world in English.

You're also known for your stunts. I think I’m most impressed with nose-smoking.
Yeah, when I was a teenager, I would do a lot of funny little tricks—kind of Jackass things, nothing hardcore. I still love doing stunts. Once, during a TV show in France, I don’t know why, I just put my cigarette in my nose and smoked it. It was painful, but I’m very proud of it. (Laughs.)

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