More than just a couple of soundtracks

If you’re between the ages of 18 to 24 and attending a Canadian institution of higher learning, you’re well aware that our musical generation is, unfortunately, one of three-chord progressions, verse-chorus-verse song structures and hooks manufactured with the help of a little white laptop. Given that context, it is unusual that an artist primarily known for his work on a foreign film soundtrack has garnered significant popularity among a relatively young North American fan base. Multi-instrumentalist Yann Tiersen who made a household name for his contributions to the soundtrack of the 2001 French cult classic Amelie, is currently on a tour of North America promoting his newest album, 2010’s Dust Lane.

Dust Lane, apart from being his most recent autonomous project, is also his first studio album with an English title.

“It was just natural for me,” says Tiersen. “I think that the French language, it’s a beautiful language, but it’s really strange sometimes, not that clear and simple. Especially for this album because there are no lead vocals– it’s more choirs– so English was perfect for that.”

“I prefer it if people can understand the lyrics.”

Tiersen also shows that the cultural focus of his music has never been readily distinguishable, or distinctively French, for that matter.

“I grew up in this part of France that is more close to the U.K. than French culture, so I never really had a French cultural focus,” says Tiersen. “We are touring mostly outside of France and most of my musician friends are not French.”

­­­In addition to its anglicized title, Dust Lane also differs from the rest of Tiersen’s works in that he took almost two years to complete the album, a divergence from his usual writing time frame.

“In a way, part of the process of Dust Lane gave me a distance, and when I came back to the song I had new ideas, and it was as if I was starting again,” he says. “I discovered a new way of working because usually I like to work fast, so that’s why there are sometimes so many contrasts or different moods in some songs.”

The unusual writing process worked and the LP has become a favourite among his six studio efforts.

“It’s the album I wanted to do from the beginning,” says Tiersen. “Most of my first albums were instrumental [but in Dust Lane] there is no proper song structure and no lead vocals as well. I feel more comfortable with that and use the voices not as an instrument, but as a picture inside the song.”

Although Tiersen has gained considerable acclaim from his work on Amelie, film scores are not his primary artistic focus.

“I’m not a composer and I really don’t have a classical background,” he says. “I never made Amelie’s soundtrack. It was [made up of] previous tracks from my first albums, I’ve just done two soundtracks in 15 years and that’s not a lot. For me, music is not language, it’s just sound. It’s really difficult to work on a full soundtrack and it’s not natural and so I don’t like it that much.”

That being said, it’s hard to ignore the fact that doing the soundtrack for an acclaimed film like Amelie certainly increases a musician’s fanbase.

“I’ve had the chance to have a really young audience, younger than in the past, thanks to the Internet I think,” he says. “Lots of people discovered my music through Amelie; it was like an open door. I’m really lucky and I’m happy with that.”

It’s an interesting situation for Tiersen, who favours his rock ‘n’ roll roots over classical music when citing the primary influences on the evolution toward the musician he is today.

“I was the singer and guitarist in a band and my bandmates just started … to choose another way of living, and I started to make music on my own,” he recounts. “At that time I was really influenced by the bands I was listening to and to get rid of this influence I rediscovered the acoustic instruments and sampling– using orchestral material. It was like a liberation because it was a way to not be influenced . . . but the energy was the same.”

While Tiersen has kept this energy, he is still a travelling musician and a lover of sound at heart.

“When I go travelling or on holiday, I like to have my guitar and I always like to have something to record [on].”

The eclectic approach taken by Yann Tiersen on his recent projects proves that the proverbial “lane-less-travelled,” in the musical sense, might be a little more dusty, but all the more worthwhile to take.

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