Air: Men on the Moon
It’s been three years since Air released their last album Love 2, which had moments of brilliance but received mixed reviews in the press. An amalgam of art-rock freak-outs and Godin and Dunckel’s signature breathy melodies and amorous-inspired atmospherics, it seemed like the prolific duo was running out of new material with the failed-to-launch effort. A creative push and an auspicious omen was what they needed—and Voyage is what they got.
“We always need something to feed us creatively,” explains Dunckel as he pushes the discarded coffee away from him. “Méliès was like a sign, and inspiration for us.”
Godin agrees: “He brought magic back into the studio. Because nowadays, the music world is kind of strange and it’s hard to find inspiration. When I was a child, I wanted to make records because I thought it was a magic thing to do. Méliès brought this magic to us—it was a good reason to make an album.”
On the rainy Tuesday evening before I meet Godin and Dunckel, Le Voyage dans la Lune made its New York City theatrical debut to a packed house at the Museum of Modern Art. The room was filled with media types, music fans and members of the all-girl Brooklyn-based electronic pop band Au Revoir Simone who collaborated on the creepy-cool track “Who Am I Now” inspired by the ultra-spooky soundtrack for Rosemary’s Baby. Featuring dark, phantasmal French and English call-and-response vocals and suspenseful bursts of rumbling percussion, this ominous song—that’s found on the album and not on the soundtrack—is an exciting sonic departure for Air.
“Working with Jean-Benoît and Nico was so much fun,” gushes vocalist and keyboard whiz Erika Forster of Au Revoir Simone. “They are open to and listening for whatever spontaneous magic happens in the studio, which is really similar to how we work, so it was super harmonious to join forces with them.”
Air also enlisted Beach House’s Victoria Legrand to sing on the celestial and cinematic “Seven Stars,” a song that conjures the glimmering ascent from the earth to the moon.
“We wanted to express the concept of the moon—the surface is very rocky and there are many volcanoes and craters and caves,” Godin says about selecting this gravelly-voiced songstress for the tune. “And we wanted to have this kind of voice that could express this—a dark mineral-like voice, and the texture of her voice is like that.”
While the film and the album may tell different versions of the same trip to outer space, Godin and Dunckel made sure to write the soundtrack and the album in the same way that Georges Méliès made the movie—by embodying the director’s independent vision and methodology.
“It’s a homemade process and I think Méliès worked in a very independent way and invested his money to build his own studio and that’s exactly what we did,” says Godin. “And so when we did this album, we wanted to work the way he used to work, so we wanted to conceive everything ourselves.”
Friend, collaborator and Phoenix frontman, Thomas Mars says much the same. “They created this amazing studio in Paris and they made everything themselves,” he explains over the phone from Los Angeles. “So it makes a lot of sense to me that what will come out will be so personal in the end because they worked on every possible stage of the process.”
Mars, who lent his vocals to the bittersweet song “Playground Love” from Air’s ‘70s-inspired soundtrack to The Virgin Suicides, also notes how this whimsical twosome are not only a product of their moon-obsessed generation, but also of their Gallic culture. “They are both extremely French. I don’t think there’s anyone more French than them,” he says with a playful laugh. “And it’s a timeless vision of France. But they are very complex guys and they are very mysterious, and I think that’s part of the appeal.”
Although Air embraced the task at hand and completed the project without any outside influence or help, it was not always easy, nor was it a process they will most likely ever repeat again.
“I don’t know if I liked it,” admits Godin with a grimace. “I did it just because of the experience of making it, but it was too many things to think about. At some point, I was very sick and scared of making wrong decisions. I really went crazy. So for the next movie, I definitely want more help. We are really proud of it, but it was a lot of worries.”
As the interview comes to a close, and after Godin and Dunckel joke about how my questioning felt like group therapy, Some Kind of Monster -esque line of questioning, I am left with one last important question: Why the name Air?
“It was quite instinctive,” says Dunckel, not really explaining anything at all, as he pulls up his quirky striped socks. “It fits the style of the music. Like if you hear this music, it’s the perfect name for it.”
“One day, I saw this quote in the newspaper or magazine in the States,” adds Godin. “They were describing our music as a Frisbee that never lands and I thought it was exactly that. The name wasn’t made for a reason—it just feels so good with this kind of music. It was almost perfect, ya know?”
Not quite as perfect as the aptly timed release of Le Voyage dans la Lune, which dropped on a full moon.
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