By Jose Lopez-Sanchez of Dead Curious.
For someone who’s been in the music industry close to a decade now, Erwan Castex still sounds just happy to be a part of it.
The producer and composer – best known as Rone – speaks with both the bubbly enthusiasm of a newcomer and the straightforward assuredness of someone who has survived countless studio sessions. Castex may have produced a string of critically acclaimed albums – and, perhaps most notably, was the guiding hand behind the electronics on The National’s Trouble Will Find Me – but he remains delightfully approachable and sincere. His Parisian-accented English is peppered with laughter and self-deprecating asides, and you get a sense that he knows he’s lived a truly charmed (#blessed?) life. And Castex is obviously a popular man, as evidenced by the number of marquee guests on Creatures, his fourth album as Rone.
I talked with Castex from his home studio in Paris last week, a few days before heading out for the first leg of his North American tour.
This is your third studio album as Rone. What’s the shift in mentality from producing for someone else versus producing you own records?
When producing your own records, you have total liberty. It’s really cool, because you can do what you want, but at the same time it’s really difficult, because you can lose yourself in all this liberty. For me, the most interesting work is to work on my own music, but it can be very interesting to work for other people – you have to take into account the other guy’s personality. It’s interesting to experiment with some stuff you wouldn’t try on your own.
I was working on a movie production – on a soundtrack. The film was really dark, and in this period my own production was very happy and light. It was interesting for me to have to find something very dark in myself, and I discovered a part of me I didn’t know, and I could use it in my own production.
How do you prepare yourself for working with a band or film director for the first time ?
It’s important to meet the person, and to take time to understand their personality. You have to respect the personalities you are working with, because it has to be – how do I say? When you are working for someone, you have to keep a distance. You put a little bit of you in the music, but the most important thing is to reveal the person you are working with. Something like that – sorry, my English is not so strong. [Laughs]
For me, it’s important to have a long discussion with people before working with them in the studio. Of course, I listen to all the stuff they’ve produced before, and understand a direction that could be interesting. Of course, there can be some mistakes and I can make a bad choice, but there is a big conversation beforehand.
Creatures plays like a series of sonic landscapes. What was the inspiration behind it? It’s a very cohesive sound throughout the album.
It’s funny you talk about landscapes, because in the middle of producing this album, I had this small tour in North America. There was this long travel between all gigs, and it was really a bus tour. I was traveling all day long in a bus with a team, and I was with my laptop and headphones. For a little Frenchie like me, coming from a small country, it was like seeing a whole new world! [Laughs] I guess it helped me a lot to express this kind of new landscape music, and also maybe something slow in my music, with a different tempo. I’d been focused on European techno before, BPM style, really fast. Suddenly I was putting some air and space in my production. It was important for me to feel a big relieve and distance between the songs, using reverb to that effect.
It’s crazy to have left my little studio in Paris, and go out into this big world in front of me. It was a strong influence on this new album.
It was really evocative of the Chemical Brothers’ 2010 album, Further – they both have this long-form theme throughout. I can see the parallels in the stylistic shift for you as well.
It’s true – for sure. There was something on this album – I was really thinking about movie soundtracks, and making the score for an imaginary movie instead of the dance floor.
And, yeah, Chemical Brothers are a big influence, but also bands like Boards of Canada and Brian Eno, as well as some stuff in pop music, and hip hop music. I have so many different influences. It’s a little difficult for me to talk about one big influence because there are so many. It’s like I’m a sponge: I absorb everything that I hear, and after that, I vomit all that stuff with my synthesizer. [Laughs]
Let’s talk about the instrumentation you used to make this album. Are you working mainly within the context of synths and software, or are you using organic instruments?
First of all, I am working with my own synthesizer and my laptop. Many of the tracks began just on the laptop, because I was on the road last year because of the tour. My laptop was a notebook for ideas, and then I’d go back to my studio to develop the track. We had a lot of guests and collaborations on this album, and I’d invite people to come in and play an instrument or sing some vocals – it was a really nice part of the process. I work alone often, and letting someone come into my world is interesting. [Laughs]
What effect, if any, did leaving Paris for Berlin have on your style?
Environment is very important, and it’s a big influence on my music. I am a real Parisian guy – I grew up in Paris, and when I am here, I feel at home. But when I moved to Berlin it was also like a new life and experience. There was something very fresh on my mind, and it felt like beginning from zero. It was very inspiring to make music in a new country, and every time I am traveling I have a lot of energy, influence, ideas. I like the idea of moving, and to make music while I am on the road.
For Americans, Berlin is probably considered so close to Paris, but it’s such a different city and culture. There was something very different to Berlin; it was quiet, finally. Paris is a bit stressful, and aggressive, and I have a lot of friends who love to party. [Laughs] It was cool to be a stranger in a city, and I don’t speak German well. I was alone and just observed, and had the time to make music.
I like the idea of moving for each album. I was going to move to New York or Canada for the next album. My dream is to make every album in a different country if I can.
I guess you can, though! If you had to choose the next three cities to make your next three albums, where would you go?
Oooh. [Pauses] Probably New York first, because I have a fascination with New York. I am in love with this city, and I don’t know why. I feel like a stranger because it is so huge – again, I am just a little Frenchie – but at the same time, after a few days it feels so familiar. It’s very special and strange. I feel at home, and feel good there, and I’ve made some friends there. I’ve met some great musicians, like Bryce Dressner from The National. It seems like very easy, and I think it’s a good city to be creative in.
Maybe something very different for the one following that – something more natural, like Iceland. There is something very attractive about a place like that.
And let me think about the third. [Pauses] I don’t know – somewhere in Asia? [Pauses] Tokyo! I just spent a few days in Tokyo, and it was really like being on another planet. I think it could be interesting to make something there, because it is just so strange. [Laughs]
Do you have a preference for live performance or being in the studio? Where do you feel most comfortable?
Actually, I really love both. It’s good to have a, how do you say – an equilibre? A balance. I love the studio sessions, but you are alone with your doubts for a long time. Sometimes it can be very exciting because you’re in a phase of pure creation, but it can be difficult. When you are on tour, it’s only happiness and you’re meeting people and smiling, and you have a lot of fun. But it’s very intense and tiring, and you can become crazy. It’s about finding a balance. I’d love to spend six months in the studio, and six months on tour.
What are you listening to these days?
Very different stuff. I am a big fan of Sufjan Stevens – I just listened to his new album, and I love to listen to this music, especially when I’m on tour because there’s something very relaxing about his work.
At the same time, I just discovered the new album by Blanck Mass – you know the guy from Fuck Buttons? To be honest, I picked it up yesterday, but first listen was really interesting.
I listen to a lot of classical music, and electronic music, and some French friends’ music as well – though they’re not very famous! [Laughs]
What are your ambitions for your next couple of projects? What do the next six months look like for you?
Actually, a bit of everything! I have a lot of gigs after this American tour – a lot of big festivals in Europe. The cool thing, and touring in Europe is different. You only play one or two times a week, and then have time in the studio in between. I plan on working on my new album, and also on a couple of soundtracks. I have a lot of different things going on. I also would like to make some remixes, and try some new stuff out; it’s a great laboratoire for new ideas, you know?