Woodkid: Directing Creativity
They say creative direction is a tricky thing to isolate and define. Daniel Mall argues that creative direction is championing the intersection where art Direction and design meet Strategy. Consequently, art direction is a talent not everyone possesses. If we look among today's music artist, you will only find a handful of names that can master this craft. One name that has to be highlighted at this point, is Yoann Lemoine, better known to the world as recording artist Woodkid. It should be well-known that Woodkid is a master in balancing his creative ability in different fields -- just look at his spectacular music videos or his recent 4-D performance. What only few might know, Lemoine is also the creative director of Pharrell's "Happy" music video and his star-studded Coachella set earlier this year. We met this versatile artist in Hong Kong, where he performed at Bibo and Cliche Records' ArtBasel Hong Kong Celebration and found out about his creative collaboration with Pharrell, how he created a "sad version" of one of the biggest songs in recent years and much more.
Tell us about your experience working with Pharrell as the Creative Director for his “Happy” music video, how did you approach the video and its creation process.
I creative directed the video with these guys called We Are From LA, who are a group of French Directors. I basically thought up the concept with them and I approached Pharrell and talked to him about creative directing some of his videos. We developed the idea with the We Are From LA guys and they built it and they shot it within the next two months or so -- the shoot itself took 10 days.
Seeing as you weren’t expecting such a big response, what are your thoughts on how it’s been received so far?
We were really not expecting that it turn out to be that big and have such response on a global scale. I think it’s great, Pharrell is a good guy. And you know, when you do something that’s visual it’s always a good thing and more impactful. So yes, it’s very exciting.
You also creative directed his show at Coachella this year, can you tell us a bit about that?
Yeah. The creative direction for this meant taking on everything from the lights and the sonography to the projections and supporting visuals - the set up and movements on stage. Pretty much the whole visual aspect of the show I had to manage, and it was a very tricky because we only had three weeks to do it. It was definitely a bit of a challenge, especially considering all the guests that were coming on stage, it was a very unique set up.
What made you do a “Sad Remix” of “Happy.”
Pharrell sent me the acapella vocals of the track and I thought it would be interesting for me to bring it into my world. Because my music is very melancholic I thought it would be very interesting to create a sad version of it.
And how exactly does one make a happy song sad?
(Laughs) I just worked on the melody. Melody can be attached to many different chords. You have limitations in terms of how much a voice can evolve on a scale but still you can tweak it a little bit and find new chords and progressions that are more melancholic, and that’s what I did with this song. It was very easy because his vocals are great and he sings very on tune, it’s very sharp and very bright, so you can move his vocals like a keyboard almost and you can transform it very easily.
When you collaborate with another artist on a creative level, what is the toughest and what is the easiest part of the process?
It definitely depends on the artist. With Pharrell, for example, he really trusts me and he lets me be very free in terms of what I want to do and they never really change anything from there so that’s definitely one good part. I wouldn’t really say there’s a hard part but it’s definitely interesting when you have to fit someone elses mind and ideas in to your own because as an artist I work a lot on my ideas and think about these projects that I have all the time - my brain is always about myslef, it’s very egocentric, and sometimes its good to take these thoughts out and bring them into somebody elses world. It definitely helps me open up a little bit. It’s hard but at the same time its very good for the creative processes.
What is the biggest misconception that people in the media have about you?
I think I’m a pretty honest person so I don’t think theres many misconceptions about who I am. When people see me as melancholy I think it’s because I am melancholy, when people think I’m a bit pretentious then maybe I am because that’s what my music is, when people think it’s too “hype” then maybe it is because I like the idea of the hype. I think my music describes who I am so people who see that have an idea of me that is right.
Do you consider yourself a fashionable person?
I don’t think so -- there’s many different types of fashion and many different trends. I like clothes for the art of making clothes, I’m very fascinated by designers and the complexity of it, and I like how it transforms you. I have different styles, like sometimes I’ll be wearing lots of streetwear and look more like a hip-hop guy which is very contradictory of my music, but then sometimes I’m more about wearing a suit and it really just depends on the difference in my mood.
Do you have a favorite sneaker?
I wear a lot of these Patrick Ewings. I have a friend who is renewing the brand in Toronto, Canada, and he’s doing it with Patrick, and it’s big for me because I used to wear these back when I was really young and I’m very excited about that.
What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned in the music industry so far?
I think the best thing that I get from all this is that what makes me happy at the end of the day is when I’m being creative -- not when I’m being exposed or not when successful, but really when I get to create something and get to be with people who I admire and collaborate with them, and I get to be at a desk and make my brain work. One thing that makes me sad is when I’m on tour for too long and I can’t create anything because I’m on stage most of the time -- I love being on stage, but at the same time I want to be back in the action.