Some musicians think their music exists just to be heard by others – for why else would they be creating it? – and that praise should naturally come their way. Others are simply glad that anyone has turned an ear to their work at all.
For Benoît Pioulard (aka Thomas Meluch), the kind words and love that his music inspires are sometimes a little baffling. Over an email interview with State last week, the Portland-based, Kranky-signed musician wrote of how he feels lucky that his music, which spans three full-length albums, and numerous EPs and 7” releases, has been so wonderfully received.
But one listen to the multi-instrumentalist’s work and it’s no surprise that it has hit a chord with many. There’s an intimacy to his music that invites you to peel back the layers and see what awaits beneath. Often, it feels like we are eavesdropping on the private recordings of a man who never goes anywhere without a Dictaphone in his pocket; someone who finds inspiration in nature, and natural sounds that are so omnipresent the rest of us have tuned them out; someone who has a gift for melody but swathes that melody in a gauzy wrap of ambient noise.
2010 was a big one for the 26 year old: he released his third album under the Benoît Pioulard name, ‘Lasted’, got married, and started working on another musical project. This year will be spent working on new music, and, State hopes, perhaps even booking some European gigs.
Here, Meluch speaks to State about his music, dreams, the difference between Benoît and Thomas, and future and past musical collaborations. Below the interview, you’ll find a mix that he has specially put together for State, which was inspired by the skills of the touring drummer at a recent Mogwai gig.
Congratulations on your latest album, Lasted – were you happy with how it was received?
I’m happy that it was received, you know, at all. I have been very lucky, and it baffles me a lot of the time because I know more than a few people who have more talent than me, and who deserve to be known beyond the basement but it remains a struggle. So, thanks for caring!
The name Benoît Pioulard was something that came to you in the middle of the night, which I believe you scribbled down in a notebook and discovered the next day – what other ideas to do with your music have come to you in such a way?
I had a dream the other night that I was chasing my wife playfully through a version of her school (which is, in fact, a castle in southern England) that was more like a cavernous library with vines hanging from the rafters and old men in really tasteful vests with pocket watches pushing the book carts about. There was also a McDonald’s in there, for some reason, and I found a covert door that led to a corridor full of compartmentalized little offices with weird little greasy portholes as the way for looking out. Those were the teachers’ quarters. I don’t know what that was about. So, to answer your question, none, really… I’ve dreamt of songs that are – at least in the dream – really good, but I can never remember them upon waking.
How different is Thomas to Benoît ? Is it a case of two sides of the same coin…or two completely different things altogether?
A friend of mine came on tour with me last year and remarked on a distinct difference between my off- and on-stage personalities, such as they are. I have very slowly become ok with the literal spotlight, but I tend to retreat into the shadows before and after those 45- to 60-minute stretches, and Thomas is spectacularly awkward at times; Benoît is probably a touch more confident.
Do you consider yourself a natural performer and do you enjoy performing?
Natural? Goodness, no… As a kid I would often hide in my bedroom closet before my piano recitals in the vain hope of not being found. Nowadays, like I said, it’s become way easier and my tours in the past couple of years have all been really terrific in a lot of ways. Some shows are unremarkable but some are just locked in, you know? Like whatever sliver of musical instinct I have takes over and I’m just thrilled with what’s happening and everything goes really well. Those rather rare occasions are worth the nights that end in second-guessing and insecurity and all those kinds of things.
You toured with (Kranky labelmates) Windy and Carl in 2009 – how did that go and what did you learn about touring and performing during that time?
Windy refers to herself as the ‘mother hen of the Kranky family’ so I heard a lot of advice, plenty of which turned out to be pretty valuable. By that point she and Carl had been on the road at least a half-dozen times so they were definitely veterans, and I was the naïve, slightly rambunctious one who didn’t mind loading and unloading most of the amps and guitars and demanded that we listen to that Black Sabbath tape again ’cause ‘oh my God I’m on tour and people think I’m actually doing something that’s reasonable for a human being to do and it’s super exciting’. That was a fun trip.
Listen to the mix and read the rest of the interview on page 2.