Art & Photography / Culture Talks

Sébastien Tellier

France’s eccentric electro pioneer on icons, inspiration and inimitability...

Sébastien Tellier
Sébastien Tellier Photography by Jaz Clarke

Eleven years on from releasing his electro-meets-cabaret debut L'incroyable Vérité, Sébastien Tellier has carved a cult status for himself with a series of witty and musically diverse concept albums, an eclectic personal style and even a Eurovision Song Contest entry for France in 2008. And with his long hair, Jesus beard and statement sunglasses Tellier cuts a striking figure, yet the 38-year-old has the musical chops to back up his playboy aesthetic, his critically acclaimed 2008 album Sexuality confirming his status within Paris’ burgeoning electronic music scene. Sensual, suave and sophisticated, it showcased Tellier’s humour and songcraft, and proved that the stunning 2004 single “La Ritournelle” – which first put him on the international radar – was no fluke. Earlier this year he made a comeback with My God Is Blue, a space-disco odyssey with a message; Tellier promising spiritual enlightment by imploring listeners to join his “community”. AnOther asked the charismatic self-styled cult leader to talk us through his latest concept and reflect on a colourful life at the forefront of the French music scene.

What was the idea behind your most recent album My God Is Blue?
I wanted to invite listeners to become part of a new community called the Alliance Bleue, the message behind it being not to forget the spiritual side of life. If you want to reach the perfect balance in your life you have to live half in reality and half in dream. Faith is a dream – you believe in something that perhaps doesn’t exist. Obviously we all have to live our reality but it’s important not to forget dreams and faith, be it God or Santa Claus. It’s a very good foundation for happiness.

How do you approach performing this as a live show?
I create moments that are light and others that are very deep, sometimes it’s funny but sometimes it’s very sad – but it’s always super cool. I try to create a kind of trance state so people can expect to be hypnotised…Almost.

"Obviously we all have to live our reality but it’s important not to forget dreams and faith, be it God or Santa Claus"

What have been the highlights of your career?
When you play music professionally there are a many huge and intense moments, but the success of Sexuality changed my life. Before that I was living in a tiny apartment and was full of hate but with success I felt like I had been accepted by society and the world, and this was a fantastic feeling. And of course by success I’m not talking about the money – I mean, I love money, but it was perfect for my psychology.

Why is Paris so important for electronic music right now?
All of the “cool” music genres, like rap, rock or reggae are done so well in the UK and the States that for French guys it’s almost impossible to play in the same game, so we had to find new music to exist internationally and this was electronic music. I feel that the golden age is French music is now. Electronic music began with Jean Michel Jarre, who was a kind of genius. He may not have been to everybody’s taste but he is the father of Daft Punk, of Justice, of me, because he opened the way to being an international star while also being French.

You’re often likened to French icon Serge Gainsbourg. How does that sit with you?
I am proud of that but I try to be very different from Serge Gainsbourg because when he sings he almost speaks; when I sing I sing with the voice of a little child. If we talk about voice, I am very different from Serge Gainsbourg but there is something in my style and point of view on society could be similar.

As a musician, what’s your relationship with style?
In my profession I have to be in fashion, even if I don’t like the fashion – I want to live for my time. When I was a kid I promised myself to always be “cool”. My icons are Miles Davis  – who had the perfect style for me – Michael Jackson, Fela Kuti. These are all people who loved to show their art and share their philosophy through their clothes and that is the perfect vision of style. I wear a beard to explain the complicated and mysterious side, I wear the long hair to explain the feminine side and I wear sunglasses to show the sophisticated side of my music and philosophy.

Text by Ben Olsen