What’s in a name? The key to Woodkid is in this self-moniker, just like the wrought-baroque keys inked on his forearms tell a story too. Woodkid’s first album, ‘The Golden Age’, is about growing up. For Woodkid, the tender fabric of childhood is symbolized by the texture of a young tree. For him, adulthood then calcifies that supple wood into stone: like a marble statue of Daphne, becoming a tree in the Greek myth; like the fate of the child fleeing in the Grammy-nominated video of his track ‘Run Boy Run’.
For Woodkid this idea returns to his own family mythology, which goes back to the Jewish Holocaust and his battle to assert his own sexuality. In this interview we’ll explore this, and how his vision fed into those of Drake, Rihanna and Lana Del Rey. For this first LP, he specifically sampled almost every instrument in the French National Orchestra and the Opéra de Paris, individualizing each effect and reconstructing the pieces into a mosaic that forms this painfully impeccable solo debut, soaring from alien-movie soundtracks to the show tunes of Rufus Wainwright or Elton John. His visual work is a mixture between Romanticist art, enhanced with Matrix/Looper-style CGI flourishes and Royal Opera House costume design, finished off with an haute-couture, fashion-reel lacquer. When we speak, Woodkid speaks tentatively, Frenchly, where fragile is ‘frah-jeel’ and subtle is ‘sooh-teel’, all of which belies a fiercely competitive streak - whenever Clash mentions an art medium he is instantly already its master; and perhaps this shyness is a critic fooling blind.
‘The Golden Age’ is the work of three years, and completely electronic in the way he splices and pastes his samples. He’s been heavily involved with French synth-pop duo The Shoes, be it in making their videos or their collaboration on ‘The Golden Age’. It is an utterly grandiose project, incorporating organ, church bells, Taiko drums, timpani, brass, strings, woodwind - a fully orchestral work, bravely centering on Woodkid’s voice. This is considering the fact that he first managed to channel it correctly relatively recently, sitting in his flat in southern Paris. Tracks range from the euphoric stand-out ‘Conquest Of Spaces’ to the thrumming pace of ‘The Great Escape’, the accomplished song-writing and subtle voice control of ‘Boat Song’, to the heady mix of lyrical tone and military-charge snare and brass in ‘The Golden Age’.
Tell us about the themes of your album.
It took three years to make. The title track, ‘The Golden Age’, is a very very cynical song. It’s about growing up. I’m saying that boys, they like to leave their home at some point. You never stay home, you always leave at some point, that’s how life is. The themes of the album [are] war, religion, all these things you don’t really care about when you’re a child. The fact that you don’t care about these things makes it a golden age to me. You just care about things that are a lot more subtle, a lot more innocent. Somehow, it’s a lot more beautiful.
The album sounds like a mixture between an alien movie soundtrack and a Rufus Wainwright record...
Well, as a kid, I would buy records, but mainly soundtracks of movies that I’d not even seen. And at night I would have my CD player with my headphones fixed to my head, and I would listen to those original soundtracks, not knowing anything about the films themselves. I would imagine characters in my head and events - like massive earthquakes, or massive grand things, because the music was grand. Things that were very catastrophic somehow. That’s how I started to shape myself as a director and a musician.
Like Rufus, would your sexuality influence your song writing?
Well, I’ve never really lied about who I was; all my work has already been about my sexuality somehow. The next single, ‘I Love You’, is actually a song I wrote to a boy; it’s a boy I love in the song - it’s obvious. It’s much more Rufus’s subject than mine.
What was it about you that drew Drake and Lana Del Rey to your work as a cinematographer?
The Drake video was good for me - of course, they’re very big. It was the first time I’ve been completely free to express myself as I wanted... Drake called me and said, ‘You know, I trust you.’ He was very very happy to make me work on that project. I was very happy that such a big thing, such a big project, had such an indie feel somehow.
Tell us about making the Lana Del Rey video, ‘Born To Die’ - following on from what you just said, one would question that Lana, sat beside two Bengal tigers, on a throne, in a huge palace could be so subtle...
(Laughs) That was actually her idea! She came to me and she said, ‘You know, I had this vision, and I’m in a temple,’ and I’m sorry I’m taking this very manic voice, but that’s kinda how she talks. ‘But I see myself in a temple, and I’m gonna have two lions with me, and I’m gonna have this beautiful big dress.’ I think that’s why that resonated with me: because I love to shoot in places that are big.
This is an excerpt from the March 2013 issue of Clash magazine. Find out more about the issue.
Words: Miguel Cullen
Photography: George Harvey
Fashion: Matthew Josephs