Musician Julien Granel, originally coming from Bordeaux, has established himself as a direct contrast to what's popular in his home country of France. With his Dadaistic and artistic music videos, synthesiser-abound tunes, and extraordinary style of clothing, he has created a remarkable sound. Staying true to his mother tongue French, he combines personal and emotional lyrics with jazzy seventies inspired melodies. Granel speaks with us, among other things, about his role model, David Bowie and his dedication to experimenting with film and acting.
When did you know that making music is your passion?
It was the first time I heard a piano: instantly. I have a very precise memory of it – I was 6 years old. Since then, I have had the chance to play many tours. Every time I find myself in a moment of collective hysteria with the audience, it transcends me and makes me feel exactly this sensation.
Your music includes elements of the seventies and sixties – not only regarding the sound but also visually, for instance, considering the aesthetic of the music video for La mer à boire. What aspects inspire you about this era?
Not having lived during this period, I am very inspired by the image it sends back to me. The feeling of absolute freedom, psychedelic and multi-coloured madness. These are elements that correspond well to my vision of music. Also, being passionate about fashion, I found my happiness in the spirit and the cuts.
You had a piano improvisation performance at the Paris Fashion week for the brand Tatras earlier in 2020. How did that show come off? Did that impact your career in any way?
Tatras called me for their last show, they wanted a solo piano soundtrack ranging from something peaceful and luminous to a virtuoso and grandiose climax. I decided to approach this like an improvisation performance, directly inspired by the creations. It was quite scary arriving in front of this piano without preparing anything beforehand, but it was so exciting.
Indeed, this could have had an effect on my career, in the sense that many people were able to discover my pianist side. I did many years of classical conservatory, but it is not something that I necessarily put forward.
You experiment a lot with elements of funk, jazz and infuse them with synthesiser compositions. How did you form your personal style of producing?
I have always had very varied inspirations, like mixing music, photography, and video. But when it comes to music, the common denominator has often been the groove. I loved both the electronic music that I found avant-garde in the production and the big classics of funk and jazz for their harmonic colour. I've always been drawn to pop as well, which I think has resulted in this sound through some crazy experiments, like in a lab. In the end, it was a very instinctive process.
The music videos of Bagarre Bagarre and Défait depict visual elements of modern Dadaism. Would you resonate with that concept? Where do you take your inspiration from for directing your extraordinary visuals?
I have a deep attraction for absurdity. I also think that we live in an absurd world. Based on this observation, it is better to have fun. In any case, that's what I try to do in my clips. I really like to bring this touch of self-mockery. It puts some fun back into the process and it's very liberating. In the end, the absurd allows freedom, and that remains the basis of all art.
As for the inspiration, it comes directly to me from the images I have in mind when I compose. Then I confront them with a director whose work I like, who can also bring me ideas. I do not set any image limits or constraints. In Bagarre Bagarre, directed by Agathe Auriffeille, I am a dwarf pony trainer who dreams of becoming a rodeo champion. This is a good example. By combining exceptional patterns with numerous shades of bright colours, it is visible that your appearance mirrors your style of music visually.
What do you want to express with your personal choice of attire and aesthetic?
It's the music that made me fall in love with colour. The album covers that I loved, but also the colours that every music I listened to reminded me of. When I was very young, I began to dress in all colours and it is now as if I treasured this childish soul. It is very important to me to remain a child and to keep this precious energy – the daily wonder and the fun. The colours also evoke a certain acceptance, an openness and a freedom that are dear to me - in my art as well as in my life.
Your music is solely in French. Why did you choose to stick to your mother tongue? Would you consider switching to English?
I have always had a very Anglo-Saxon or American influence in my way of producing music and of composing. But it was with my mother tongue, French, that I was most touched when telling something. I think that my main challenge is to try to bring all the groove of these influences back to French lyrics, which are often attached to 'variety music.'
Moreover, my melodies are often more English than French, in the approach, before putting words into it. Maybe one day I'll do something in English. But I think I need to take some lessons first.
One of your inspirations is the English singer-songwriter David Bowie, who majorly shaped the music industry for several decades. Can you elaborate on what aspects impress you about him?
I think my fascination with Bowie comes from his uncompromising freedom. Each album, he came against the grain with a new character. You were not able to know in advance what he was going to do – he was unpredictable. Bowie was a visionary who always had the head start that every artist dreams of having. As much on music as on fashion, and society. He made people react and think. I also like his androgynous side. I watch documentaries of his very often, I find him deeply inspiring.
Julien Granel Metalmagazine 4.jpg
Besides making music, you have also celebrated your debut as an actor in the award-winning movie Bang Gang by Eva Husson. Likewise, with your project Freestyle Pop, you have gained experience as a director as well. What does the genre of moving image mean to you? Would you call yourself an artist rather than a musician?
I find it hard to say that I am an artist because I find there is an arrogant connotation in self-proclamation. I always say that I am a musician but, ultimately, being a musician in my vision is also doing things that are outside of this framework. Self-making videos for my project was basically the most logical way to stick to my ideas as much as possible. It was also the only way, before having a label.
I also had the pleasure of playing in the movie, indeed, and it was a very rewarding, fun experience. I think I will not hesitate to do it again if I have the opportunity later. But yes, to summarise, even if I do not say that I am an artist, I apply the total pride that defines this word every day. I have no limits, I like to discover new things and have fun with them.
What else is in store for Julien Granel?
I am preparing my first album. But, also, I am realising little dreams that I can tell you about a little later. In the meantime, if you want to meet me, I use Instagram as the extension of my little multi-coloured studio, to continue experimenting, laughing, creating, and meeting new visions.
Julien Granel Metalmagazine 5.jpg