Thomas Meluch is the mysterious, enigmatic experimental popstar Benoit Pioulard, whose debut album, Precis, appeared late last year. The album garnered a great deal of critical acclaim, and rightly so; the blending of soft, cold instrumentals with sweetly crooned pop songs just works in a mysteriously appealing way. The songs are soft and gentle, like gossamer wings. It's not surprising that the world's paid attention to this young man. I talked to him late last year, but was upset to learn that our tape had been garbled during recording, so I recently asked him some questions via email, based upon what I recalled during that chat.Tell me a little bit about how you started playing music. You started at a very young age, right?
Indeed; my mom's life-long best friend is an accomplished piano instructor, so I began lessons with her around the age of 5. I stuck with it until I was about 13, and somewhere in those years I also picked up drums and guitar, on which I'm largely self-taught. Early on, too, I became obsessed with recording every odd noise I could find with the built-in microphone on my first tape deck, so I'd go out into the forest behind our house and hit and crush and scrape things with some cheap cassette tape running for no real reason whatsoever...once I got a 4-track recorder -I think I was 14 then - I moved up from multi-tracking by overdubbing on a dual cassette stereo and started making my first proper songs, which were almost all instrumentals. Throughout high school I made a few different CD-R albums
for friends of mine (curiously it appears that at least one of them has been leaked..!) and by the middle of college I started recording on computers, which is also when I began applying the Benoît name to songs. Précis
was technically underway a long time ago, since lots of the sounds come from some of those early tapes, and many of the lyrics date back to notebooks from high school; the bells that dominate 'Coup de Foudre', for example, were a discarded part from a 4-track tape I found that was marked "11/99". Things like this make me feel like an old man.Listening to Précis, I'm struck by how the vocals and the instrumentals flow together. Do you see >your voice and lyrics as merely another instrument in your catalog of musical tools?
Very kind of you to say. I'm not in any way trained as a singer, and am still in fact getting used to my voice; it's been more prominent in some of the songs I've been working on since Précis, but ultimately yes, I consider the vocals to be equally as important as anything else going on in any given song. More often than not in the generation of a piece the vocal melody will appear to me first, though, so that most other parts are based around it; in that way I suppose the voice carries things along, but I do my best to weave everything together into a balanced array.You make music by yourself--do you do much live performance? When you do, what kind of setup do you use? Do you have a band, or would you put together a live band?
It's been suggested more than a few times that I try and put together a band for live performance, though at this point a tour's not really an option for me, unfortunately. I have done about a half-dozen solo performances over the last year or so, however, which are generally comprised of lots of drone & ambience built from tapes and/or laptop and/or guitar, filtered through a couple of pedals. I'm hesitant to attempt a live version of the songs I record in part because I've lost track of many of my own guitar tunings (whoops) but more than that, I tend to think of my home recording process like painting, in that you wouldn't likely ask a painter to re-create one of his pieces before your eyes & with a limited palette. I also recognize that I'm not a natural live performer, except in some instances with the bands for which I used to play drums.You also recently graduated from college. What are your plans now? Did making music and releasing records on the level you're doing now ever figure into your plans?
Just after graduating I also left a job I've had over 3 years, and am now living on some savings while working on new material and a few other little projects; hibernating, you might say. I'm planning a move to Oregon in mid-summer since I have several friends there and, having visited for a bit last year it feels like the right place to be. I've lived in Michigan all my years, so it's a pretty exciting prospect. As for the music, I never, ever expected that I'd be deemed worthy of a label like Kranky; recording has always been (and still is) a hobby to me, and I don't entertain hopes that it'll become a living by any means, but suffice to say I'm satisfied with how things are going at the moment.I also understand you are working on a book with musical accompaniment. Tell me a little more about that.
Yes and no; I have indeed just finished a book of Polaroid photography - some of which is up on my website - with the intention of shopping it to a few independent publishers by springtime. The musical portion I considered has since turned into material for a future LP, so that part of the project will likely be scrapped. The photos are compiled from the last year or so, taken mostly in Ann Arbor and New York City with a cheap, old Polaroid 600 camera; I assembled the book in 'chapters' denoted by little chunks of phraseology that seemed to suit them, and the prototype copies I've put together are book ended and interspersed with various sorts of textured paper and hand-carved stamps. If anyone actually wants to publish it, though, I'm anticipating that that may be a bit too elaborate...
Have you been surprised by how much the internet has helped bring you acclaim?
I've been incredibly surprised that there's even acclaim to speak of, really. I was sure that Précis
would completely slip under the radar, but they say word of mouth is the best advertising, and it seemed like a few people caught on to my music early and spread the word pretty well. I won't deny that, without the internet, the story would have probably been much different; bafflingly, some really high-profile blogs have had some nice things to say, which probably helps more than one might guess. And this is all despite that writer from Pitchfork calling me an 'idiot savant'!What's the last book you read?
There's a wonderful, rather inconspicuous shop in Ann Arbor called Kaleidoscope Books and Collectibles, whose owner often has pretty strong recommendations; last time I went in there I bought a collection of short stories and the novel The Assistant
by Bernard Malamud, both of which I've been enjoying lately. Malamud's got this way of describing incredibly complex emotions with just a few simple, elegant words that I find pretty phenomenal...and The Assistant
left me, as all good books do, feeling both crushed and uplifted.
What's in store for 2007?
The next Benoît release is a 7" for Type Records that comes out at the end of February; I'm really thrilled to be working with them, too, as I think they're building one of the most consistently brilliant catalogues of any label out there. Other than that, I mentioned before that I'll be moving soon, but for now I'm keeping a low profile, working on new songs and catching my breath.Benoit Pioulard's debut album, Précis, is available now on Kranky