Kevin Cook

In conversation with award-winning composer HELMAUD

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      Image by Quentin Chamard-Bois

Producer and composer HELMAUD has recently shared his new single ‘Hey Boi! featuring talented vocalist DIXIE. HELMAUD is the winner of Jazz à Saint-Germain-des-Prés festival back in 2008 and has also shared a stage with the renowned Avishai Cohen. He also performed live at Sonar Festival. To date, the music enthusiast has produced for a number of iconic brands like Vogue, Elle, and Tiffany & Co to name a few. 

We find out what makes HELMAUD tick below.

Looking back, what were some of your earliest entries into music appreciation? And music production?

With music appreciation, the latest memories are probably when I was 4 or 5 years old. My brother David used to take piano lessons & I would stay in the room with my mom, sometimes lying under the grand piano. The sound of this instrument was just magical to me. 

Also, My dad at home was always playing great fantastic rock music, from John Fogerty to the Stones. Later on, my brother David offered me my 2 first records at Xmas. Scott Joplin, the ragtime pianist & Guns N’Roses. It was already very diverse. Then when I  was around 10, I start to really fall in love with American south rock n roll, boogie & blues music. Little Richard, B.B King, Fat domino, & my favourite, Jerry lee Lewis. I use to play some tape of Lewis in repeat all day long in my walkman.

With music production, it started with some commission from publishers. I remember the first time I opened Ableton Live… I felt like I was about to pilot a booing 747… I got afraid by the dashboard and closed it.  Went on Logic. At this time I got commissioned for the soundtrack of an indie full-length movie. I scored & recorded 50min of original music,  including strings arrangement, etc. I learned a lot from the engineer at the time. 

A couple of years later, some of my friends, were creating electronic music on Ableton, and I spent some time with them, producing early beats & songs. Now I do everything on Ableton. It’s such an amazing software !!

Please tell us more about how your latest song/release/project was conceived.

Regarding « ‘Hey Boi !’ » it mostly comes from a jam with DIXIE on this 1920 grand Bechstein piano. I was coming back from Miami at the time, just a few months after I lost my dad, and I spent some « reloading » time with a very inspiring find of mine, she’s a model & musician too, so I was super pumped & full of creative energy. With DIXIE we were on fire, I think we rec 3 tunes in 3 days. I start to find this piano riff, and she started rapping on it. I felt we had to lay down this riff & vocals. Production-wise, I was still in a quest of trying to go straight to the quintessence, with a few things as possible (this was probably going along with my mindset, losing a parent, definitely brings you back to the essentials). Less definitely becomes more! I want every sound, to be meaningful & powerful. My ideal tune would be a 6 tracks tune, with strong bass, fire bouncy drums, a dope cool piano riff, and powerful vocal melodies.  ‘Hey Boi!’ definitely enters into those specifications. The rest is just arrangement vibe things. It’s without any doubt the first time in my life that I do a tune that has less than 40 tracks. Big time.

vocally speaking, with DIXIE, most of the first takes are the good ones, they may not be as clean, but more strong emotional. This is what matters to me. Especially with a kind of rough/DIY new soul vibe. By 4/5 am the tune was done. Randomly, some friends coming back from a party bump in the house/home studio when we were done. They were the first to listen to the track &  they really dig it. We felt we had something strong.

Take us through your songwriting process. Are there any particular steps you take when putting music together?

It can come from a sound, and idea, an harmonic color, or often a beat, a vibe & more recently a killer riff.  More generally with DIXIE: rather DIXIE starts with an acapella proposition that I instantly and instinctively bounces off of (‘Lost and Found’, ‘Strive’, ‘In the Way’), or, I will share a track/production/beat that will inspire DIXIE to write (‘Thx You’, ‘Brain’, ‘Cupid’), write for. This process, as simple as it may seem has been nonstop and has turned into organic mechanisms for both of the musicians. But, through all this activity, jamming has always stayed our main creative motor, giving life to songs such as ‘Hey Boi’, ‘Stalk Me’, ‘Wander’, or ‘End of Summer’.

Songwriting-wise, DIXIE is always in the process. I would tell her about my life and my countryside house, then she’ll write down a few lines that will give the ‘End Of Summer’ tune. It’s an ongoing process for both.

 Your method of recording sounds laidback, as you previously mentioned, “Half of the vocals have been recorded after midnight and on an average of 3-4  bottles of wine and 2 grams of weed, an empty wine bottle was used as the support for the mic. Starting around 11pm with H E L M A U D finding this « 2000’s hip hop Dre’s nod » riff on the piano. The whole song was bounced in 4-5 hours tops.” How would you describe a typical workday?

I don’t think there is a typical workday. It depends on the people in the studio, the music we’re doing, the vibe of this music, and other factors like deadlines, clients’ requests, etc…

Also, I learned by experience that singers are very sensitive creatures & everything goes through the voice, so If you want good vocal results, you have to make sure first that the singer feels good about the moment, about herself, and about what she’s doing. Otherwise, it goes from roadblock to roadblocks… My trick is to always let the first take be whatever she wants/feels, even tho it’s not what I’m looking for or what we need, so the singer gains confidence and her zone, and then as a brand new idea dropping from the sky, I ask for what I want. With DIXIE, except in the first week of April 2020 when we wrap up all the tunes, (so we really had a plan of every tweak we had to do on each track), there are never any attempts, so it goes super fluently while drinking and smoking. “Oh, I like this riff/vocal melody let’s rec it” etc.. Then I spend a big load of time working alone on what has been recorded to make it sound the way I want. Also, I try to never lose the flow when I’m with someone in the studio, so the creative process can keep running. As long as ideas are flowing, let’s record them or lay them down. I’ll do the tweaks and production later. That’s a key point too I feel. Once again it’s all about flow and timing.

How much do you invest in how your music is received upon release? Are you very concerned about how your art is received?

I think it’s important to make sure it is delivered to the audience in the best way. I have the best craft ever, regarding music, images, video, etc, and make sure it’s well spread depending on your means, so it doesn’t get drown in the ocean of music releases, but then, I feel it’s beyond you. What matters to me, it’s to do a work of art. How it receives doesn’t matter that much. The more people like it the more it’s satisfying for sure, but if it’s not that’s fine. Art & music history reminds me that, Van Gogh didn’t sell a painting, that Beethoven ends up alone at the countryside composing his best pieces when everyone thought he was crazy, philosopher Nietzsche ends up alone too, with kids throwing stones on him while he was strolling, Garnier had not been invited to the opening of his Opéra building because the building was disliked at the time, Eiffel was criticized because his tower was useless, I read so many bad articles about Keith Jarrett or Brad Mehldau whereas they are absolute masters & poets… and I could go on… so I’m very aware that you can not be loved by everyone. What matters is to do your craft in the best way. Never stop doing it. And the time will set your work. This is what matters to me.

What is the most memorable response you have had to your music?

People that tell you that they’ve been listening to that track on repeat, (I’m a play-in-repeat-for-a-full-week guy, this kind of thing I do) or DM telling you how much someone loves a song. It’s very touching I feel. I haven’t dropped many things yet, so the best is yet to come I guess ;). 

 How did you and DIXIE discover each other before the collaboration?

The two neighbours initially met in Thai boxing classes in 2015 (have been doing boxing for 8 years now). They would both come and spar with good energy and an open mind, but DIXIE and HELMAUD only truly started sympathizing in spring 2019, as DIXIE learned HELMAUD was a pianist. DIXIE has a wonderful 1920 Pleyel Piano in her flat, rue St Denis, 75002, so I drop by many times just to jam. And she did the same, coming over randomly while down my block. Hitting me up asking if I’m around, and dropped by for a fast jam, and a lot of white wine… Man, I can’t follow up with her drinking.. she’s way too trained. As HELMAUD’s jazz-infused technique started attracting DIXIE, the two yet-to-be friends very quickly became inseparable. Music, and especially jamming had forged a very strong bond for the two, DIXIE, discovering her attraction for singing and composition, and HELMAUD, finding very much satisfaction through DIXIE’s soul heritage and care-free energy. Hedonism, stoicism, philosophy, friendship, and the ups and downs of relationships have forged their urge to doing music together. 

Are there any key non-musical influences on your sound and creative process?

Definitely!! Baby don’t do baby. Antic philosophy brought a lot to my life, in my perceptions so then in my music as well. As we said previously, the fact that I don’t give much importance about what people think and feel, helps me focus on my craft more the Gram or the Grammys.

Do you have any information regarding upcoming releases, projects, DJ mixes or collaborations in the pipeline that you would like to tell us about?

Yeah definitely! I’m super stoked about some upcoming tunes with DIXIE. There are plenty of other songs mixed & mastered and ready to be dropped. There’s a new soul ballad called ‘Stalk Me’, (probably the next release), some sunny fresh new soul modern groove called ‘Thx You’, or even new soul rock-vibe with ‘Lost & Found’. Can’t wait to drop it! Got half a dozen more actually. Could be an EP or LP at some point.

Famous last words?

ITA FAC. Follow your plan & let’s f*cking gooooo!

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