Émilie Simon: The Big Time

She has soundtracked films about penguins and made albums incorporating the sounds of plants. Now, electropop chanteuse Émilie Simon talks to Rockfort about how she shook up her writing process for new album ‘The Big Machine’, and how New York City has overwhelmed her senses.
Rockfort: Why did you move to NYC?
ÉS: At the beginning I moved to New York because I just wanted to spend some time here for my vacation, so it was not motivated by any project of music or anything; it was really a personal choice. And I enjoyed it so much that I kept pushing back my return until I just decided to stay here and work here.
Rockfort: So did the energy of the city inspire ‘The Big Machine’?
ÉS: Yes, it did, a lot. I think I was really absorbing everything that was surrounding me. I was very curious about the city and the people I was meeting here. I think this very strong energy that you can feel when you live in New York influenced the album.
Rockfort: Were there any other influences for this album?
ÉS: I would say that this album is really like a journal. A lot of my feelings were described in the songs, all my experiences in the city, the things that I was living every day, in my everyday life, were a very strong influence on my songs.
Rockfort: Why did you choose to sing in English?
ÉS: I didn’t really choose to sing in English; I’ve been singing in English for a long time. For me it was part of my music, my melodies. It’s a language that is very musical and that I enjoy working with. And of course the fact that I moved here and I was speaking in English every day, it gave me a lot of inspiration for this language.
Rockfort: ‘The Big Machine’ is a departure in style from your previous albums. What did you do differently on this record in terms of process?
ÉS: Well, I did decide to spend more time with my keyboard and my writing, compared to the process that I had in the past, which was working with my computer very early in the process. Usually with my previous albums I was composing with the computer, like as soon as I had an idea I was building some beats on the computer, having a few ideas of arrangement and programming. So that’s something that I tried to not do with this album, just letting the song breathe a lot before getting to the computer. The computer has been involved, but later in the process.
Also I experimented with the songs onstage before I recorded the album, which was the first time I did that. Just playing songs that were very fresh, sometimes not even completely finished, to an audience, and also letting myself be influenced by that before recording it.
This is also the first time, in terms of production, the bass and drums have been the spine of an album, the bones of the arrangements. In the past every song was a little planet, a lonely little planet, but ‘The Big Machine’ has the spines in every song: bass and drums and keyboard.
Rockfort: How do you like living in the US? How does it differ from France?
ÉS: It’s very inspiring to just change culture, to be in another, completely different logic, different codes, culture, types of inspiration and art. And people coming from different backgrounds that I’m more used to meeting in France. It’s very inspiring to feel that you have things to discover every day, but of course I do go back very often to France, I have been touring there. It’s very nice to have both, one foot in New York, one foot in France, because I need my roots, I love my family and I love my country, but at the same time I’m very excited about everything that I have discovered here.
Rockfort: Any plans to play in the UK?
ÉS: I do! April 20 at the Jazz Café in London. I’m very excited to play there.
Interview by Cat Conway