How we made Air's Moon Safari

‘Before we came along, French pop was synonymous with Sacha Distel. I hated it’

Jean-Benoît Dunckel, singer-songwriter-musician

Daft Punk were down the street from us in Paris and we could almost hear the music they were making when we opened the window during band sessions. It was the late 1990s, and Paris suddenly had this incredible electronic music scene: all these clubs were opening up. I didn’t get to go to all the parties, though, because I was generally at home with my wife taking care of Solal, our baby. We were poor. I knew our livelihood depended on Air being successful.

So I poured everything into it. The track New Star in the Sky (Chanson pour Solal) came about because I’d studied astrophysics and was into stars, planets and Einstein’s theory of relativity. I was singing about space all the time and reading Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles. The characters in the book go on a safari into the past to see dinosaurs. I just loved the word safari.

We recorded the strings at Abbey Road with David Whitaker, an English arranger who’d worked with everybody. We were in this legendary studio where the Beatles had recorded, too shy to even speak to the orchestra. So David took us off to his home in the countryside and we ended up discussing Rachmaninoff. He helped us to overcome our shyness and make something massive and expressive.

It was the tail end of Britpop, and people were wanting something else. We came along with this alien, psychedelic, loungecore music you’d listen to on a Sunday morning after you’d been out clubbing the night before. And one month after Moon Safari came out, we were huge.

Godin and Dunckel in 2001.
‘We sounded like a space-age Carpenters’ … Godin and Dunckel in 2001. Photograph: Mick Hutson/Redferns

Nicolas Godin, singer-songwriter-musician

Playing guitars loud through amps is great fun when you’re 15 and full of hormones, but French people are better at being chefs or fashion designers. Rock music is not really in our culture. But electronic music is different. When we discovered it, suddenly we had an outlet.

Someone lent me a 1960s Höfner bass, the model Paul McCartney played in the Beatles. Because I was a guitarist, I put it through my guitar amp, which gave this amazing sound: very cool and dry. One day I played a riff to JB and he said “sexy boy” out of the blue – and that was how we got the song. If we’d sung “sexy girl”, it would have been a disaster. Sexy Boy felt different. The song was about who we wanted to be; we weren’t handsome when we were younger; our friends always had more success with girls. I remember talking about who we thought was the most beautiful woman in the world. For me, it was Kelly from Charlie’s Angels, so we wrote Kelly Watch the Stars about her.

Unlike American or British bands, we weren’t always thinking “verse-chorus”. And singing in English made us sound even more French, because of our thick accents. I discovered Beth Hirsch, who guests on All I Need and You Make It Easy. She was my neighbour in Montmartre, and she made us sound like a space-age Carpenters.

Ever since I was a child, I’d dreamed of making a classic album – and I actually did. The night we did Sexy Boy, I knew my life would change. Before Daft Punk and us, French pop was synonymous with Sacha Distel. I hated it. But electronic music meant you could make cool music without being a rocker. In France, we’re not considered a great band. The French still have very bad taste in music.

Twentyyears, Air’s best-of anthology, is out on 10 June. The band play Victoria Park, London, 12 June. Then touring.

Contributor

Interviews by Dave Simpson

The GuardianTramp

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