Interview: Sébastien Tellier
The Frenchman finds God, makes record, starts cult, tells us about it
Words Jeremy Allen
Illustration Mickey Gibbons
In the tradition of the chanteur, it’s fair to say that Sébastien Tellier, like his predecessors (particularly Gainsbourg), is well-versed in the art of provocation. He seems as capable of beautiful music as he is of buffoonery, though while Serge was often calculated in his iconoclasm, you sense Tellier genuinely can’t help himself. The French public find him exasperating whereas, across la Manche, we’re baffled. The big man behind cast-iron classic ‘La Ritournelle’, from 2004 album Politics, has shape-shifted so many times that it’s difficult for the unimaginative to compartmentalise him. Then, of course, there was Eurovision 2008, at which he represented France…
“For me, it was an opportunity to play the biggest musical show on Earth!” he says. “After Politics, I did Sexuality. I always try to be the opposite of what I am. You think I’m like that? You don’t know me. Because I don’t know who I am. I can do Western style, I can do hard rock, I can do African music… I don’t know which side people prefer, but I don’t really have a personality.”
John Cleese once said Peter Sellers had no personality, forcing him to adopt a series of characters in order to communicate. Called upon to be himself, he would be frozen by his own inadequacy and ineptitude. Are you saying you’re like that?
“Yes. I know it’s a shame, because to be a real man you have to be a real person inside, but me, I’m not a real person. I’m very malleable. I’m a follower of everything.”
Tellier is sitting on a worn leather couch in the darkened backroom of the Record Makers offices in Paris, sunglasses on as he lights up a long cigarette. He admits to nerves, given that this is the first interview he’ll do in English about his new album, My God Is Blue.
Having teamed up with Mr Flash, a producer normally behind US hip hop and Parisian electro, Tellier likens the album’s creation to that of Pink Floyd’s The Wall or Use Your Illusion by Guns N’ Roses. “He’s a very violent spirit, a very violent person – not in a physical way,” says Tellier. “I wanted to make a comfortable album, but he is like the devil. So in the studio it was how you might imagine a rendezvous between God and the Devil.”
My God Is Blue was inspired by a drug-induced dream where everything was in vivid blue. Afterwards, as Tellier composed freely on the piano, the idea of a sodality came to him. He resolved to create a new ‘community’ called Alliance Bleue – not a web-based community, but an actual community. The fellowship will reside, he suggests vaguely, “somewhere in, I don’t know, Normandy or Africa”.
He continues: “Because you go to a place for children and there are toys and it’s fun. A place to have fun now is a discotheque, but it’s not really fun. A beautiful restaurant? You have to be polite. All people’s pleasure takes place during holidays with sun, boring sun. Me, I propose something very cool, like how I imagine heaven or paradise. But a real one!”
Is he serious? A Koreshian-style sect? Mon Dieu!
“I want Alliance Bleue to bring freedom to a lot of people. If you want to give me money, it’s okay. You want to give me your car? It’s okay. Maybe we can buy land altogether and maybe we can have fun on the land. Alliance Bleue is waiting for its followers.
“If I have people who make bread and people who make cars, Alliance Bleue will run on cars and bread. Today, I am the only person in Alliance Bleue. I don’t know yet the spirit or the science because that depends on future followers.”
In an article for French magazine Technikart, a glossy shoot captures Tellier in a white robe with a beautiful, topless harem in attendance. He says this was the vision of the publication; a distortion.
“Alliance Bleue is not completely obsessed by naked girls,” he says. “Of course we want naked girls, but it’s not an obsession.”
Two words in that article jump out: Alcoolique Anonyme.
“Yes, it was a hard time in my life,” he says and sighs. “I went to a psychiatric hospital – the hospital for the head, you know. I went voluntarily. ‘Oh my life is too hard and too sad!’ So to protect myself, I went. It was full of crazy people and I said, ‘Yes, I’m ready to leave. I feel better and I want to go home’. And they said: “It’s impossible. You must stay; you’re not ready to leave.’
“After that, I escaped from the hospital. It was very funny – my sister helped me. She took my clothes from the window. It was an amazing escape! And after that I was drinking a bottle of whiskey a day and it was too much, so I went to AA, and it was amazing because I heard stories worse than mine.”
Tellier not only realised his life as a musician wasn’t nearly as bad as he thought it was, but that he was somewhat blessed. The experience, as he tells it, suggests he’s dead serious about Alliance Bleue.