Benoit Pioulard‘s album Temper hits the streets on October 14th via Kranky. In these dog days of summer, it has had a fairly steady background presence as we attempt to soak up as many rays as possible. We like to imagine that Benoit aka Thomas Meluch, wrote the majority of it while riding around Portland on his bike, and it turns out we weren’t that far off. After the jump, read about the making of “Idyll,” ghost jellyfish, Weezer and bird sounds. Up above, watch the video premiere of “Idyll,” featuring a bunch of ’70s scientists looking at machines.
I’m sure you’ve been asked this before, but can you explain to me how you started recording as Benoit Pioulard?
It’s actually not too crazy an explanation, it’s just a name that appeared to me while I was sleeping. I always keep note pads next to my bed, so I wrote it down and came back to it while I was looking for something else and it ended up getting attached to a song and from there I kept it.
What prompted your move to Portland?
Well, some of my friends moved out here before and I visited and fell in love and just needed a place to go after I graduated, which was in 2006. It just became the primary candidate, and it hasn’t disappointed. I was made to live in the Pacific Northwest, I think it’s like all the things I love about the places I grew up in Michigan, but, somehow cooler, more dynamic anyway.
What do you like about it?
Oh you know, Michigan is a very green state, as well — lots of forests, coastline, everything.
Was Temper recorded entirely in Portland?
No, actually. I started it at the beginning of last year when I still lived in Michigan. And then sort of took a hiatus halfway through the year to move and finished it [in Portland].
Was that weird in terms of your head space? Did changing your surroundings affect the songs you were making?
Absolutely. My mindset when I still lived in Michigan was a lot of anticipation and uncertainty, so I think that definitely affected the songs I recorded while I was there. And when I got here I found a lot of sudden inspiration in my new surroundings, different circumstances and everything that I’m sure had an effect on the songs I recorded thereafter so sequentially it’s almost chronological. There are a couple songs that are out of order, but the first half is, for the most part, from the first part of the year, and the second part is absolutely from the latter half.
Okay, so where was “Idyll” recorded?
I did that out here in Portland.
Is that why it sounds, if this makes sense, more comfortable?
Yeah, that was one of the songs that came out of nowhere, and I recorded it in a day and a half or something. I’m sure it was coming from a good place. That was one of the jauntier ones.
And what about the video? Did you make it or did someone do it for you?
No, I edited that myself.
Can you explain the concept?
I don’t know. Honestly, I was scanning archive.org and found the video on which it was based, and it seemed pretty ripe for usage in something. It’s a pretty short song, so I figured I wouldn’t need all that much footage and it somehow made sense to do it that way. That just happened one weekend while I was bored during the rainy season last year.
So it’s footage from one thing?
Yep. It’s a Dutch filmstrip about heat transfer printing.
Weird. What made you decide to watch that in the first place?
The look of it. You know on that website they have thumbnails and you can get a sense of what something looks like and that looked appropriate and it was.
Temper has a definite flow. Did you have a theme or concept in mind while recording it?
I don’t know if I can necessarily pinpoint one. The album that came out two years ago was a very breakup influenced record, and I was coming from a totally different place this time around. I wasn’t in a relationship or anything, so it was all personal stuff. I don’t know if that makes a difference in the overall aesthetic or not but I feel that it’s more… I don’t want to say positive necessarily, but it’s more in that direction.
Are you bumping into more like-minded artists now that you’re in Portland?
I haven’t played out much at all, except for a couple times. My main contacts in the scene, so to speak — if there is one — have been Honey Owens [Valet] and Adam Forkner [White Rainbow] because they’re also on Kranky and they’re extremely friendly folks. Honey runs the shop that is in my neighborhood, so I had some of my photography up there just for fun and I guess that’s sort of a first step out there. Beyond that I haven’t dealt with the community very much.
Is photography a hobby or an aspiration?
I enjoy doing it and working on it as much as the music, but I consider both to be hobbies at this point.
What is your day job?
I serve in a restaurant in my neighborhood from time to time.
So you have a fair amount of free time.
Most of every week I have off. So I’ve got lots of time to get outside. I ride my bike a ton, get out and take photos. I’ve been writing a lot more lately for some reason, maybe it’s the summertime. I feel really blessed, for lack of a better word, to have the kind of opportunities that I’ve been afforded without really feeling like I’ve done much to deserve them.
I’m looking at the cover art now and trying to figure out what it is…
It’s a photo of the wall above my bed actually. But it’s a picture of a reflection of sunlight that was coming through my window and reflecting off the back of one of my guitars. So I was sitting at my computer and turned around and it was suddenly on the wall right there. Somebody said it looks like a ghost, somebody said a cloud, and someone else… my favorite description of it was that it was like a postage stamp from heaven.
Maybe a ghost jellyfish. You mentioned that you haven’t been playing live much in Portland at all, but when you are playing live, how do you translate the album stuff?
When I do a show under the pseudonym [Benoit Pioulard], I usually keep it solo. I’ve only a couple of times endeavored to translate the actual songs because I don’t have the stage legs to sing yet. It’s usually ambient stuff with guitar and pedals and that kind of thing. It’s a different feel, but it’s the kind of thing that I enjoy making just as much. I sit around in my living room with my amplifiers and go off for an hour sometimes and that sort of recording may or may not be the direction I go next. I’m not sure what’s going to happen.
When you first started making music was that the direction you were going in or were you doing more actual songwriting?
It evolved from about age 9 or 10 when I first got an acoustic guitar, and it wasn’t long before I got an electric one and played both equally. But I was really fascinated with the sounds I could get out of the electric one with the shitty pedal that I had at the time, and then I also preferred the acoustic for certain other things.
Who were your inspirations at 9-years-old?
I was way into Weezer when they first came out. And I think shortly thereafter, probably ’95, when their bigger record came out, I loved the band Hum. The record that came after that one, Downward is Heavenward, I think is still pretty amazing. That was one of the first records that made me realize that you could have really powerful music with a really massive presence and also an understated vocal delivery and it could add up to something really beautiful. That’s the closest thing to metal I’d say I like.
Temper is like that — very understated but also a lot going on. It’s layered, and there are bits of noise, but shaped noise. So its like the bits of noise work towards a cohesive, almost pop song.
I think it was what I’m going for. I think that most of the songs on this record benefit from the fact that I had so much time to work on it, like I spent a lot more time on percussion and sound treatment, just getting things off of a tape and EQing them for a day and a half until they sound right. Having that space to work was pretty amazing.
You’ve also got some field recordings in there.
Yeah, I think one benefit from listening on headphones to most of my songs is that if they want to hear stuff in the background there’s recordings of bird sanctuaries and waterfalls and all sorts of shit going on that’s probably unnecessary but it’s a document of a year of existence so I feel like those things should be there too.
So your goal is to document a certain time in your life?
Yeah, that’s part of the problem that I have with adapting songs to play live is that when I record them they arise from such specific and contemporary influences, like they’re influenced by the exact moment that’s happening. It seems weird to try and recreate them in a different time and with a limited palate of instruments, but that might sound like an excuse for not playing,