Woodkid: From Lana Del Ray Videos To Superstar Solo Artist

He's most well-known for making the iconic 'Blue Jeans' promo, but with his new album is poised to find his own success in front of camera...
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He's most well-known for making the iconic 'Blue Jeans' promo, but with his new album is poised to find his own success in front of camera...

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Yohann Lemoine, Grammy-nominated director and now going by the nom de plume Woodkid as he embarks on his own musical career, seems like an artist destined (or cursed) to grace soundtracks.

His first solo EP Iron - an indie-orchestra wonder that was, somehow, missed by just about everyone - was released in 2011 and instantly exploded all over our television screens, being used in promos by everyone from O2 to Guinness with his eponymous debut single even gracing the eagerly awaited Assassin's Creed . Apart from netting Lemoine, the Dutch-born Frenchman, a veritable shit-load, it's also earned him over nineteen-million YouTube views on the self-directed video for his first single alone and with the upcoming release of his first LP, The Golden Age (due this month) those kinds of numbers are sure (no jinxes) to be replicated.

From semi-humble beginnings growing up in middle-class Holland in what he himself describes as “a normal youth”, Lemoine was hooked by the arts from a young age – even venturing to that Mecca of culture, England's own Swindon to take a course at one of its colleges. “It was a just short program in like, screen-printing…” says he, speaking on the phone from his home in New York. “And I've always been fascinated and captivated by visual arts in general and, y'know, it wasn't like a nightmare, because I was young and it was still very exciting for me, considering my life in France.” Speaking with a droll enough to make a Francophile purr, Woodkid is a passionate talker, but with a hint of shyness not unbecoming of someone thrust into the limelight after so many years behind a camera.

Video, the medium that he is perhaps best known for, is where the majority of Woodkid's passions lie. After directing smash-hit singles from everyone from teeny-fave Katy Perry to Drake, Lemoine finally won a Grammy for Best Director (natch) with his “Blue Jeans” video for sexy gloom-peddler Lana Del Rey. “It's always fascinating to work with such major artists and people that have access to so many resources... You get tools and budgets that you'd never have when you do your own indie projects,” he says. But far from kowtowing to major label pressure, Lemoine saw this as an opportunity to explore. “I have to say that, for the work I've done with these artists I've always tried to do new things for me, so I could learn through that process. I wouldn't just try to turn in something cool or… I wouldn't see the videos as an end in themselves, as a finished product; I would more see those videos as way for me to train to make feature films for myself at some time very soon…” He hesitates before adding, “Or something like that, anyway. I just like to find new tools. It's good for you.”

With directorial acclaim and cinema beckoning, it can be easy to forget the music if you’re  not careful. “Well I've always been musical: I went to a conservatoire [music college] when I was a kid and for many years I would always make tracks on the side and little projects but it was more of just a hobby or something,” he says, humbly. But it was to be video, once more, that begat his musicality professionally. “One day I started making some short films that I needed music for and I had no money for it… And I just tried to explore the connection between what the music was doing and what the video was doing; I found it was much more efficient when I could just do the music myself.”

As his career progressed, Lemoine's video work and music remained inevitably intertwined. After making a few tracks of his own he signed with GUM in Paris, run by a friend of his, and hired to make “a grand gladiator movie” for label-mates The Shoes. Whilst the video didn't come into fruition it didn't stop his upward trajectory. “We wanted to find a connection between the sound and my visuals for that movie - and that's how we came up with the first EP. But to me it was more of an experiment; an extension of me as a director than of me as a musician. Then I had success with Iron and I really didn't see that coming; now I guess I'm more of a musician than a director,” he laughs.

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Upon first listen, The Golden Age is an album of great sweep with the unfortunate timing to live in an age not so golden for projects of its ilk: where a million Sigur Ros rip-offs and critics have snaffled “sweep” of its legitimacy as an adjective and pasted it all over any chillwave track lasting past five minutes. With that by-the-by, the album is impossible to listen to without it conjuring imagery of vast verandas and panorama, even (mostly) without the help of Woodkid's similarly-themed directorial efforts. The eponymous album opener, its ascending piano melody and dramatic strings, is a great indicator of what follows: Woodkid's monotonous voice acting only as a part of his orchestra rather than the lead role. It's subtly anthemic and the middle-six's shift to spaghetti Western-aping horns and drama-drums borders on soaring: if you're walking while listening, on your daily commute, your step might elongate; your gait carrying that extra air of “Fuck you, I'm in my own awesome movie”.

Experienced in full at a packed gig in central Berlin's Babylon Kino, it borders on mind-blowing. Striding on stage, Woodkid – whose small stature belies a big BIG voice – is dwarfed by two drummers and a brass band but wasted little time before asserting his dominance amongst the impressive production. For an artist whose music can border on pretension, Lemoine is an amiable chap: his giggled opening to debut EP hit “Brooklyn” was fun and “Iron” - an obvious choice given its relative popularity – was received uproariously with Woodkid egging everyone on, jumping around like a prog house DJ (only four-fold less cunty) as the entire venue (a beautiful all-seated theatre) rose to its feet for a brilliant outro which bordered on a tribal rave. I'm sure it goes without saying but those German sound guys know their shit: the bass was such that you felt every note deep down in your chest and it was a feeling that this reviewer won't be forgetting in a hurry. “It's the end to a really fucked up story, the last song on the record and you'll see that it's a really great song because... It's a song about death” said Woodkid to the baying fans, before launching into “The Other Side” - the night's final song.

After the show Woodkid looked relaxed backstage despite complaints that he was losing his voice. He speaks eloquently and amiably to executives and journalists before inviting us on his night out in Berlin – to a bar then onto Monster Ronson's Karaoke; he's a fun guy who's clearly no fool when it comes to playing the industry game.

With his new album sewn up, what's next for Woodkid? “It's funny because people from Black Sabbath have been trying reach me recently. You know, metal is a big influence for me: visually and sonically. I would say I'm like in a chilled position of metal or like, "metal in a classical environment". Right now I'm actually working on a rap project, not that I can say anything… [Laughs] I'm just producing beats for somebody - I can't say who it is. I'm trying to translate my sound into hip-hop and rap beats… And it actually works super well. It's a digital sound but still with the big orchestra and that whole vibe to it. I'm very excited - that's gonna be the new sound of Woodkid.”

The Golden Age is released 18th March on Island Records