Sébastien Tellier is an exceptional, highly personal & intimate artist echoing such other one-offs as Robert Wyatt, Syd Barrett or Serge Gainsbourg.
His first LP, L’incroyable vérité (The Incredible Truth) (2001), was a fantastical pop album, which careered from lo-fi electronica to bizarre cabaret tunes. Its sleeve featured Tellier in full evening dress on the front, while the back of jacket had a shot of him cavorting in some playboy’s pool. He instructed listeners to only listen to the album by candle light and won a tight band of adherents, who fell for his lush, humorous compositions. Standout track, Fantino, was chosen by Sofia Coppola for the Lost in Translation soundtrack.
Sebastien followed this with Politics (2005), which, like his third studio album Sexuality (2008), took single term as both its title and theme. The disc dealt with ways of power and governance, in as much as it discussed the relative merits of genocide versus ketchup, as well as the tennis-playing opportunities presented by the Berlin Wall. Politics’ most prominent song was La Ritournelle, a sublime, string-led tune, which featured Nigerian drummer, Tony Allen, some eighteen months before he joined Damon Albarn for The Good the bad and the queen. La Ritournelle’s international success transformed Sebastien’s life professionally, sexually and domestically. “Many things have changed since La Ritournelle,” he says with a laugh, “now I’m living in a new apartment, I have a new girlfriend and a really beautiful sofa.”
Since Politics release he also recorded an acoustic album of his more popular songs, Sessions (2006), which topped the French iTunes chart; this was repackaged for the British market as Universe (2006), to include both highlights from the French CD, as well as compositions from his score to the film Narco.
His growing popularity has won him some well-known fans. Once the smart, artsy kid from the 17th Arrondissement could count only one hip musical connection: his father played with nihilist French prog rockers, Magma. Now the Tellier fanbase includes Marc Jacobs, Philip Glass and Karl Lagerfeld. He has also befriended Daft Punk; Hence his third studio album Sexuality (an 11 track, delightfully synthetic mediation on love making) is produced by the duo’s Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo.
Tellier and Homem-Christo live near each other in Paris and, given the modest size of the city’s music scene, it was almost inevitable that the two would meet. “The Parisian world of music is very small,” says Tellier, “so, if you are in the same kind of place in your mind, you’ll meet the guys who are thinking in the same way.” Sebastien wanted to work with Guy-Man because, primarily, he was fan. “I admired his work,” he explains, “Both what he did with his own label Crydamore, and what he did with Daft Punk too. All this stuff for me, he was like a star; I was so happy to touch this star.”
Although both Sebastien and Guy-Man admire classic American songwriters like The Beach Boys and Gene Clark, the Daft Punk’s influence on Sexuality was primarily synthetic. “It’s more electronic than before,” Tellier says, “because Guy-Man produced electronic stuff; I don’t want to make rock with Guy-Man. I want the real talent of Guy Man, and his real talent comes from his electronic side.” Indeed, Sexuality is Sebastien’s first fully-electronic album. This is not so great a leap as it may at first seem. “I was always fine with electronic music,” he says, “I liked Jean-Michel Jarre, Kraftwerk, and the very beginning of techno. It’s not a recent love.”
The naissance of Sebastien’s, third album, Sexuality was one pre-teen, late night soft-core TV broadcast.
“In France, 20 years ago there was a new TV channel, Canal +,” says the bearded Parisian, “It was the first TV channel to broadcast pornographic movies. I was maybe 10, and it was very special; now it’s hard to find some movies that have so great an emotional effect like your first pornographic movie. It was,” he concludes, “a very big trip.”
Tellier’s abiding memory and chief inspiration, is not of grim, low-grade close-ups, but rather Italian-style scenes of deep sexual and emotional intimacy. “I wanted to make erotic music,” Sebastien explains, “to use a pure subject to make a very personal album. I wanted to make erotic music with an Italian sensibility; like an erotic movie from Italy. Not porno; that was important for me.”
In May 2008 Tellier performed at the Eurovision song contest finals as France´s official entry with his song “Divine” from the Sexuality album. He earned 47 points and finished a disappointing 18th out of 25 competitors. He later told the Observer´s Music Monthly magazine “step-by-step, you go into the game. Like Monopoly or Scrabble… But it´s a TV show, so when you make this TV show you are a kind of slave of the film-makers. So I was a slave and my master was not so good.”