Hit the Road Jacques
With success, relationships change. For me, the beginnings are precious, I don’t want my projects to become “popular” or “fashionable”.
At first glance, Jacques’ hair tonsure is striking, but what one remembers the most after meeting him, is his solar energy. As experienced as he is at this exercise, the French artist likes to play with his own image. “I always wear beige, not very flattering”, he smiles. And yet he easily tames the lens in his studio nestled in the heart of the artistic space of Centquatre in Paris in the 19th arrondissement in Paris. And what a studio it is, filled with futuristic machines and keyboards, Jacques’ overflowing imagination flourishes amidst mysterious objects and dozens of cables. Like an alchemist, Jacques is used to testing, creating, surprising, and perceives the sound potential of everyday life. The Parisian artist made himself a name thanks to his album “Tout est Magnifique” released in 2015, in which he balances between audio captures and surprising electronic sounds: a bicycle chain, a posca pen, a teapot, each noise becomes a note of score. Unsurprisingly, the album was an instant hit (surprisingly, Jacques did not expect it!). In parallel with his music career, Jacques opened various squats on the outskirts of Paris for artists with a free spirit just like him. After many tours, concerts, experiments in France, he moved away from his fame to Morocco. Why? To find himself once again and return as a better person. And now Jacques is back to Paris, releasing his new album “LIMPORTANCEDUVIDE”. We had a chance to meet him in the Vietnamese restaurant in the 19th district of Paris, his favorite neighborhood.
Jacques, thank you for this amazing discovery! Your home is just a few blocks away, you work in the Centquatre, and you hang out often at this Vietnamese restaurant. You seem to be very attached to this area, why?
Totally. And yet, when I arrived in Paris for the very first time, my friends advised me to avoid the area, especially Ourcq district, like it was the incarnation of “the place not to go”. So I mostly lived in the suburbs. At first in Malakoff, then closer to the spots that were opened: Le Wonder in Saint-Ouen ou L’Amour in Bagnolet … But in reality, when I tried to squat my first abandoned building of the SNCF in Ourcq, Le Point G, I went to the other side of the force: today it’s my favorite district.
You’ve mentioned squats, how does it work in real life and why did you choose to do it?
Well, you have to find an empty spot, it’s a lot of scouting. Then, you set a date, you gather the team with their stuff and off you go. For example, for one of the squats, we arrived on a Tuesday morning, my girlfriend entered the place through a tiny passage, opened the door from the inside, and the spot was born. Why? La flemme (French expression to say that you have no moral force to do sth) or impossibility to pay rent, it’s nice to have a big space, to live in community, and to see what it gives! There is a strong DNA in the squats that I like. And it’s not about money: we never had a business plan.
All spots that you opened became an instant success. And among many artists these squats became a new fashionable lifestyle, even if you were against it. How could you explain it?
Squats are places of artistic effervescence. We organize there film and photo shoots, exhibitions, concerts, especially for emerging artists, so these places bring together people from all backgrounds, who need to express themselves and don’t have a chance to do so yet because they are always labeled as “too young”, “too experimental” or “not well-known yet”… But, above all, these squats are alternative places made for people who choose another way of life, often without the notion of money. That’s why the “trendy” side has always scared me, and as soon as the place loses its soul, I leave. For me, squatting is not a fashion trend, that comes and goes, it’s a way of life.
Some of your residents have made themselves a name and traveled places.
Sure. La Femme, Les Lulu Von Trap, Thomas Smith… We’ve also had some big names squatting with us, once Larry Clark came in. It’s a nice mix. You create a place, it blossoms, and then you move on to another one. Also, you have to be very motivated to live in a squat: at the Wonder, there were plants growing in the building, no windows, so to adopt this way of life, you have to really want it to live out there. And you have to keep a rebellious soul: when we accept new residents in our workshops, we always start by refusing them, and if some stay despite everything, it’s because they really want to be part of our project, so we welcome them.
Which memories do you cherish the most from the Wonder?
It was like sharing the same apartment, but in huge spaces from 200 to 1500m2. You get the energy from your days, your freedom, your time, your meetings: the world is yours. But just for a while! I had enough time to record my album there. We have a special work space nourished by this unique atmosphere. For example, I am obsessed with objects because my studio was always parasitized by the noises that surrounded me in the squat. It also gave me the material to create my music with. And thanks to it, I even learned the basics of DIY. And just like that one day you fly away!
Just like in music, there are ups and downs when you open these places. Why did you end up leaving?
With success, relationships change. For me, the beginnings are precious, I don’t want my projects to become “popular” or “fashionable”. I’ve never had any specific role models or examples to follow, so I don’t want to be in a hierarchical process with my loved ones.
And your instant success, did you live it well?
I think so, because I always took it easy. You have to put it into perspective. On a world scale, France is a very small country, it’s just a part of Europe. Of course, it’s very pleasant to be famous, but I am not blind. So much the better, if I can make someone happy.
Few artists have such singular universes as yours. How do you perceive this label of an unconventional artist?
Very quickly, they put me in the same category as Flora Fischbach or Flavien Berger, personalities who sing while I was not singing at all. I was stupefied and surprised in a good way by this reception of the public, even if I did not understand why everybody was going crazy about it, I had only 4 songs! I felt like a loser, so if people liked me, they really did. But with time I’ve learned to love myself.
Today you are surrounded by a very talented crowd. Do you feel close to the universes of these artists?
Everyone has his own aesthetic. Even if Pantera who directed my clip understand really well the vision of my music, Alice Moitié also with this demented coat that you see on the cover of my new album. But if we were on the other side of the world, would we be compatible? No idea! Only one band could have a guaranteed effect on me: the Strokes.
What is your dream collaboration?
Mylène Farmer. I will be buying my tickets for her 2023 tour this week. And in the coming months, I have a gig with an Irish pop star, Róisín Murphy, who is ultra famous over there. You have to let others inspire you.
You are currently in residence at Centquatre, what links do you have with other art mediums? Like painting or cinema?
For me, we are all artists. Everyone has his intuitions, his inspirations. Moving in a space from point A to point B is art, because there are a thousand ways to make one’s way, but some people become specialists in movement and use certain means to translate them: through dance, music, sound… Hope it’s understandable (Laughs).
How do you feel about criticisms made against your vision, for example, on your new album? Is it important for you?
Yes, I read everything and I’m happy if I like it. For example, I received a message from Philippe Katerine to congratulate me. I was touched. We thought of coming up with collaboration but I would like to propose something different. For example, let’s make a drawing together or a story? And I had never sung before this album so it’s a new approach for me. After 5 years of absence, it’s important for me to reconnect with the public.
You went to Morocco for several years, you continued to enrich yourself there I imagine, artistically and humanly…
It was essential. I was caught up in this sudden emulsion, with the fame, the tours, and I needed to be sure that I was making music for the right reasons. Not for the success, even if that counts, but for me, my audience. It took me time to find the time.
We had the chance to visit your studio at Centquatre, do you have any other places you missed when you were in Morocco?
While abroad, I miss France a lot. Especially French cuisine. To be honest, I don’t go out too much, I’m pretty much a home-bird, but when I come back to Paris, I like to see my friend Alexandre Gain at the Tony, a bar in Strasbourg Saint-Denis. I don’t drink alcohol, I don’t do drugs, so going out is pretty uncommon for me. Otherwise, I go mostly to the restaurants, for example Krishna Bhavan, a 100% vegetarian Indian restaurant. That said, I can already imagine myself far away, in Lisbon or Mexico City.
And yet we often have this image of musicians multiplying partying all the time. Especially during tours!
Many do, but not my close friends. I am very close to the producer, composer and DJ Agoria, one would imagine he is a nocturnal party animal, and yet not at all, and he has been touring for 25 years. Flavien Berger too, Superpose… There is a fantasy of the obsolete “rockstar”. All these parties require so much wasted energy that sobriety is almost an obligation for me. At the time I was so intense, today I see less interest in partying. Life is cool enough already, isn’t it?
So, how do you see your future tours?
I want to offer a real show, not just a concert. Normal concerts fulfill a simple contract, and I would like to propose something technical with the musicians interacting in the show, I would like to add resonators, or image/sound synchros. And why not add sensors on my guitar that would be connected to a screen? So the more I squeeze my guitar, the more dense the projection is.
Do I get it right, that you want to propose a 360° concert, between a performance and a show?
Exactly. It depends, of course, on the technical means and the motivation of professionals that surround me. But, yes, I want to offer my public extra experience that gives substance to the show. And I will always have objects on stage with other very technical functions… I don’t want to spoil the surprise, you will see it at the show.
Interview : Camille Laurens
Photos : Jean Picon