When the producers of a new version of Le Voyage Dans La Lune approached Air to soundtrack Georges Méliès’ legendary silent film, they were asking for the moon. Made in 1902, the 14-minute film is not just considered a master-class in pioneering special effects, but the first science fiction movie ever made. When a decomposing hand-coloured print of the film was discovered in 1993, the producers had the chance to finally restore it to its former glory, but they wanted a new, contemporary score – Nicholas Godin and Jean- Benoît Dunckel provided an elegant solution to their problem. Not only are Air used to taking lunar inspiration (see 1998 debut Moon Safari) but they have impeccable film credentials after working with Sofia Coppola on both The Virgin Suicides and Lost In Translation. “The challenge for this soundtrack was that the movie is totally muted” explains Dunckel. “There’s no music at all, no sound design, no noises, so it was a chance to express ourselves from beginning to end”. GQ.com sat down with the melodic pair in the spacious library of London’s French Cultural Institute to talk about what makes a great film soundtrack, why bespoke tailoring always beats luxe and why they’re not as French as we think they are.
GQ.com: What is the most stylish thing in your home?
Jean-Benoît Dunckel: At home I recently bought a real stuffed lion. It’s really cool because you have this animal in your home always and it reminds you of things about nature. In the wild, an animal like that is always hunting, always conscious and craving for food and sex. It reminds me that in life you have to be aware. Having this attitude in my living room gives me a lot of confidence in myself, because I think that I should be like the lion. I should not lose my relationship with the elements, with the sun and with nature. All the life we are creating, even music and art is fake. The only reality is that we are animals living on the earth. It can be a scary thing for people to see in my house – I forgot to tell my cleaning lady and it terrified her! Maybe I should get a recording of a lion’s growl to scare people off.
Nicolas Godin: In terms of listening to music, I only use old McIntosh amps. It’s an English brand, nothing to do with Mac computers. People are so used to MP3s that our ears have forgotten the idea of good sound. Suddenly one day you put on some vinyl and use these amps and you’re like: “Holy s***! That music sounds so good!”
What is your most important style rule?
NG: Get the basics right. I’m very attached to French traditions and I choose my own fabrics and get a lot of clothes tailor-made. When I was a child, luxe was pretty cool – only rich people could go for designer labels and at the store there would be someone at the door to park your car. Now it’s just like duty-free in an airport. It’s so depressing. That’s why I quit the shops and now I get everything tailored. You want to get the best guy for each part of your outfit. For the shirts, you go to Charvet in France. For the shoes, if you are in England, you go to John Lobb. We’ve reached that age in our lives when we know what look suits us. When I was young I followed fashion a lot but at some point you give that up and decide you just want to look timeless. For example, my watch is a vintage Rolex. Nowadays a lot of watches are very bling-bling, but in the Sixties and Seventies they had a more sober cool. I have a retailer in Paris who deals in old watches, has an amazing shop and he knows what I like so each time he gets a cool piece he calls me!
JBD: I have two sides. There is a part of me that likes to spend an afternoon searching the market for a vintage shirt and another part that enjoys going to the big, well-known brands like Dior or Yves Saint Laurent. I like to buy the classics from them and then match them with something from the market that matches my personality.
Can you recommend a good book?
NG: Yes, this one! [Turns and takes a thick volume down from the bookshelves behind him] Marcel Proust’s In Search Of Lost Time. It’s crazy but it’s one of my favourite books. Proust and Céline, who wrote Journey To The End Of The Night, are the two best stylists in the history of 20th Century French literature. You read Proust for the path, because he takes you on a journey, but what it seems like he knows how the human mind works. It is exactly like what we do with music, trying to explore your childhood memories and recapture that intensity in your adult life. Céline is the dark side of that. He is so nihilistic and his descriptions of war make you feel like you are at war yourself. We are of a generation that didn’t have to go to war, and while you can watch a movie, it doesn’t make you feel like you are in the skin of someone on the battlefield. Reading Céline is like being struck in the face!
JBD: The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury. It’s so entertaining, I am a fan of that sort of science-fiction – not lasers and stuff – but authors like Philip K Dick. Stories about people losing touch with reality.
Has your music always been influenced by film and TV soundtracks?
NG: A lot, because I was watching TV before I was old enough to buy records! It’s strange that bands don’t have more soundtrack elements, because everyone when they were a child stared for ages at a TV screen. It’s strange that you don’t hear this atmospheric music more often, but we are pretty alone in that style. TV is the first thing you take in music: I remember watching Planet of the Apes and they’re in the desert and there’s all these crazy noises! We put these kind of noises in our music because this is what we grew up with.
Which film soundtracks would you recommend?
JBD: I especially like dark science-fiction movies where things go wrong. I love Solaris, because it’s really dark and strange. I like the new version with George Clooney. The music is just string parts, with really dark chords.
NG: There are so many: John Carpenter’s Escape from New York, Planet of the Apes, Bullit, Inception. Even pop music in soundtracks is cool, like The Graduate. But in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly by Ennio Morricone, the music was a shock! It was so sexy, so sensual, so appealing and magnetic. I was young when I saw that movie in Paris. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing! There were all these reverb sounds, electric guitars and girls shouting! Very weird.
What was your favourite record in your parents’ collection?
JBD: My father was into Serge Gainsbourg a lot, so he made me discover things like Melody Nelson. He liked Gainsbourg’s impolite image, always drunk and saying provocative things on television. Also, I remember listening to a lot of children’s vinyl, so I loved Walt Disney records. The fact that you have a voice telling a story with some music in the background is great – and very like Serge Gainsbourg!
NG: For me it was a best-of record of music from all the cowboy movies. I wanted to listen to it every day when I was young, it was like an addiction.
What music do you love that would surprise people?
NG: The music we do is the music we can do, but we like different things as well. I love The Stooges, but it would be ridiculous if I made music like them.
JBD: I really love hard rock, but right now I’m really into German music from the Seventies. It’s another pool of music that I’d been ignoring, but that some English artists loved and tried to be inspired by, people like Brian Eno and David Bowie.
What is the biggest misconception about Air?
JBD: That we’re nice. [laughs]
NG: It’s funny, because people have their image of France in their head and they fit us into their cliché. It’s strange. Obviously we are French, we cannot hide it, but a lot of people expect us to act like a stereotype. It’s like the way people think about Versailles. Today, it’s just a boring, traditional city. 300 years ago, when the King was there, it was full of parties but people think it’s still like that! In Japan people seem to think we still drive around on horse-drawn carriages.
JBD: I think the reason we’re well-known is actually because we don’t feel French at all. If our music was really French then nobody would have heard about us outside of France!
NG: Another misconception comes from the fact that there is something deep in our music, but if you don’t connect to it, you can consider it boring.
What advice would you give your younger self?
NG: So much! Normally when people are asked this they say “I have no regrets! I’d do everything the same!” but I think that’s stupid! Every year you make a certain amount of mistakes, so I would erase all of them. But in general, we were anxious and everything went well, so maybe the advice I would give myself is just: “Don’t worry, everything is going to be fine.” It is a big challenge to make music and believe in yourself, particularly in a country like France where You listen to the radio and everything sounds horrible! We had the balls to do it, but it was scary.
JBD: When you make something emotional, musically and artistically, there will always be an audience for you. The most horrible thing to do is compromise or try to imitate others. But in general in my life I would have made a few different choices.
NG: You would have worn more condoms?
JBD: Maybe. Or maybe no condoms at all!
Originally published by British GQ.