Thomas Azier is the fast-rising Dutch electro-pop artist, with a fascinating story of moving to Berlin at the age of 19 in order to learn his craft, as well aiding his habit of playing gigs at 4am. His debut album 'Hylas' was five years in the making but is finally out via Polydor Records and he is currently on tour playing European festivals. The hard work has paid off, and these are exciting times for Thomas Azier. Thomas took some time to talk to Contactmusic about his experiences.
Contactmusic: Hello, how are you doing?
Thomas Azier: I'm good, how are you?
CM: We're great! You've been to many European cities on tour over the past couple of weeks, how are things going?
Thomas: We've just played three sold-out dates in Holland, which was amazing. After five years, I'm just really excited to get out of the factory and show it to the people. I'm happy playing in the more unknown cities that I haven't been to like Bucharest, or even the more Eastern Europe cities have been quite interesting to play. I was in the UK the other week; Brighton was really nice, we had a good time!
CM: You've played a few gigs at 4am, how are you enjoying a more structured touring schedule?
Thomas: Yeah, it's a huge change! I still like to push my shows late because it just fits the vibe and the energy that I've been making a record with. For me, music is about communication in its first form and trying to go back to the emotion when I wrote the song, so it's sometimes quite dramatic. I try to look for those moments where I can completely let myself go and they really work when you play around 1 or 2ish. That's what I'm looking for but, of course, in venues like in Paris, it's hard, and in venues in Amsterdam, everything is more structured, but still I like to find a place where we can do whatever we want.
CM: You're a night person then?
Thomas: Yeah, definitely very late in sweaty small clubs, low ceiling, like a lot of the clubs I grew my music in over the years in Berlin.
CM: Your debut album 'Hylas' has been out for nearly a month. How do you feel the reception for it has been so far?
Thomas: I'm very happy; the press has been really nice and it's got a lot of good reviews. I use the frames of pop music but I've been interested in finding the boarders and playing with the European feel like Kraftwerk. I've been trying to mix that with some French emotion, melody and drama; a more romantic way of looking at music. That's kind of how I was looking at my music and it's been received pretty well, I guess. I mean, it's not had huge record sales but I wasn't expecting that and, honestly, I don't really care about that.
CM: Do you feel that some countries have embraced the album more than others?
Thomas: It's been really well received in France. Germany is coming now and Holland is really well. Benelux, also countries like in Eastern Europe. We played Spain which was amazing. We have nothing to complain about; we have a great tour and the only thing I would really love is to play more UK shows - it's just crazy out there.
CM: You spent five years working on your album - was there a particular reason it took so long to create?
Thomas: In French, there's a beautiful word I like called 'Artisan' that, I guess, translated would be like craftsmanship and that's how I see song writing. First of all, I had nothing to say when I was 19 and I had this feeling we were drowning in releases. There's so many releases online, everybody's releasing everything. What I wanted to do was really take my time and find something that is authentic to me, so it took a little bit of time to do it and that's why I've used five years to really work on the craft of the song writing. Also, sound-wise, I had to become a better producer and that's the time when I found the factory; this old factory with Lenin flags everywhere; and I used the halls to amp the sound and used the real reverb of the room and I felt like that's when it was getting together. By the time I'd finished the record, I had over 60 songs done that I really was happy with so I had to find the twelve songs that tell the story of the last five years.
CM: Composing, writing and producing the record yourself, did you at any time feel a lack of confidence in your direction? Did you miss having someone to bounce off creatively?
Thomas: I was incredibly insecure about what I was doing. That's what happens when you start something new to you and you're experimenting. The thing these days is that we have so many hats on. We are producers, mixers, musicians, sound engineers, video directors, A&R - musicians do everything. I think the key to this is to find your own frames; a frame could be, 'I'm only going to use this synthesiser' or, 'It's going to be three minute pop songs with strong hooks'. Minimalize everything you're working with.
CM: Do you feel your move to Berlin helped you creatively?
Thomas: When I came to Berlin I was quite naïve and young and you hear that in some songs. I was looking for a certain beauty in music and art, and I found in Berlin it was nothing of that sort (laughs). It was just mayhem! Crazy clubs where everyone is taking drugs, f***ing each other, crazy stuff you know? (He says, very blasé). Then my music grew darker and darker, it was kind of a play between hope and despair at that point, but more despair and at the end I kind of found the balance again.
CM: So did living in Berlin influence your sound at all and how did growing up in the Netherlands affect your music?
Thomas: Ooh, that's a very cool question. A lot. I'm such a big fan of the German music. I don't know what happened to Germany but there's this huge divide between commercial music; which is extremely commercial, and I'm talking about sounds like Coldplay ten years ago with German lyrics; and the other side is guys like Moderat. Those dudes have very credible cool stuff but it has nothing to do with big labels, they just do their thing. I'm just a fan of those pioneers, the whole Kraftwerk way. But then I have my Dutch roots like industrial, hardcore and what I like from France is this beautiful melody, haunting melodies and beautiful harmonies. I just try to mix them up.
CM: Right now, which of the songs on the album is your favourite?
Thomas: I feel like on some songs I succeeded more than others artistically. I really like 'Angelene'; I was looking for a sort of R&B sound but with East German industrial roots. We have such a rich history of electronic music in Germany and Holland with our hardcore and industrial pioneers, and that's what I wanted to show a little bit, but then also with English influences. I think 'Verwandlung' and 'Angelene' are the songs that really succeeded at getting the sound I had in my head.
CM: You have a very dark sound, especially for a pop musician. What brings this sound out and do you feel it makes you stand out in your scene?
Thomas: I think one of the frames I was talking about earlier was that I wanted all original real reverbs on the songs. We recorded in an old casting iron factory and the acoustics were brilliant; I wanted every sound to hit the air and be recorded on the other side of the room. All the songs were all done like this and I think that is what is real about it. I had crappy gear, sh***y microphones, everything; it's not like super high-end stuff, so I had to be creative.
CM: Are there any current artists grabbing your attention that you'd recommend our readers to check out?
Thomas: I really like a band called Moonface from Canada and I really like this guy Spencer Krug, he's very talented. He did a piano record recently called 'Julia With Blue Jeans On' which is just incredible. I've been working on the record of Stromae, he completely blew up and he was a friend of mine already before that. I don't know how he's doing in the UK, but in Europe he's crazy; he sold like 2 million records.
CM: If you could tour with anyone, who would you pick?
Thomas: I would love to play some shows with Future Islands, I like those guys a lot!
CM: We previously talked about 'Hylas' taking 5 years to release, do you think your next album will take as much time?
Thomas: No, definitely not! I want to release faster. I had to learn the language. I had to learn German, then I got nothing with Germany; the big labels said, 'this is too weird for our label' so I decided to make my own label and then I got signed to a label in France so I was like, 'Jesus, a Dutch guy living in Berlin, signing to France'. So that took a couple of years, then I had to learn French. In the meantime, I tried to learn as much English as to write better lyrics, but then I had to learn French. That was also just part of why I had to work my a** off to get it all together.
CM: What's next for you?
Thomas: I'm touring now; I'm doing Paris tomorrow, Brussels the next day. Then I have a week off. I need to find a new home, I'm apparently homeless (laughs) - which has been the same story for me for the last ten years! I guess, otherwise I can always sleep in the studio.
CM: I hope you do get a home, you definitely deserve it. That's everything, thank you very much.
Thomas: Thank you very much.