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This is a different format of a detailed interview I did with Blair (Bertrand Sérieyx) as I had sent him a group of questions in three parts over the summer of 2019 and in various months of 2020. Since he answered in such a nice letter style with a great wealth of interesting information, I decided to leave it as it was received, and omit my questions since they will be obvious and the real effort was to gain more insight and facts about Bertrand's band BLAIR, and his history. So I present the reader with a nice piece all spoken by him..
©Interview by Lee Henderson August 2019 thru 2020
"Here is too much useless information :
The debut album is under the name Blair, the second (La Pantomime des Bouffons) under the band name Blair et le Peuple de gauche. We gave up the band name for the third album, and reverted to Blair. The People of the left was tired of being thus labelled. Actually the band name had nothing to do with politics. The first two members used to wear long dreadlocks, and I was sitting in the middle with my clean center right bourgeois catholic looks. "Blair et le Peuple de gauche" was a way of describing the visual impression conveyed. Generally speaking, I don't talk about politics. I use political images as ideograms to express other stuff. And because of the lockdown, I now have long hair and a beard. Life's a confused mess, as Shakespeare would have said.
My musical education first came from my family. My father is a self-taught songwriter who claims to have written more than a thousand tunes, while pursuing a brilliant career in management consulting. I digitalized several hundred of his songs a few years ago. He's still writing stuff, at 83. He plays guitar and piano, in a very personal way.
My elder sister was a singer-songwriter, and she was going professional before she died 25 years ago (at 31). She was a polyinstrumentist, a good pianist and by far the best guitarist. She also played drums, bass and a bit of accordion. I'm currently creating a bandcamp to showcase her work, but it's not finished yet.
My elder brother Yvon (aka PS Lewis) is also a singer-songwriter, the best in the family, I believe. He writes in English, and sometimes I cover his songs in French. His band's name is our last name, Serieyx.
I studied piano as a kid with my great-aunt, then with a private teacher at my sister's insistence. In France, this means learning to play piece after piece in a very linear way, without ever touching trivial matters such as harmony and composition. Then my brother taught me the basics of harmony in 10 minutes, and left me to figure out the rest. Which I did rather extensively : I was an introvert, with little social life, and a friend of my brother's remembers me sitting behind my piano all day, rehearsing improbable tunes. One of those lasted 50 minutes (the longest I could record on a 100' cassette) (I didn't trust 120' cassettes, they broke too often). Some of the music was interesting, but the words are so awful it's unlistenable.
We had an old Yamaha upright piano, very clear and strident. The piano tuning guy was appalled to see the state it was in, we all hammered on it like crazy. But he actually liked that, he said at least we were using the piano.
My sister wouldn't teach me guitar, so I took a few lessons with a friend (Olivier Brigand, who produced the first album and played some guitar) when I was 19. I picked a lot of chords from the piano, with improbable fingering, and I still visualize chords and notes on a keyboard. I play complicated things on the guitar, but I'm not a very good guitarist. I never took the time to learn how to play clean. There's always a bit too much approximation in most of the things I do anyway.
I play bass, very bad, for demos' sake. And I'm currently trying to learn drums, for fun.
I'm a bit at a loss to define my style of music. I can say of which ambitious purpose it is the failure. That's often the way it works, I believe; your style is a by-product of your esthetic vision falling apart.
At first, I was trying to write songs that would feel just as violent as punk, but with nice harmonies and pretty sounds.
Then I guess I was trying to write prog rock with witty French lyrics. Something like setting Georges Brassens's words to Zappa music. In the end it sounds more like the opposite, I guess.
The music I like, and that I feel influences me, includes mostly 60s and 70s British and American Pop, 70s prog rock from all the world (English, Italian, South-American), McCartney Beatles, Beach boys, Elvis Costello, Joe Jackson, Randy Newman. Ravel and Bartok played an impressionistic role in my musical formation, though I'm not literate enough to claim them as influences. French songwriters also had a role, Brassens, Brel, Béart, Gainsbourg, Souchon/Voulzy.
My bandmates are :
- Formerly Julien Besse, a very good bass player who left the group to focus on his other projects (most notably dub noise band Lab°)
- Replaced by Jean-François Domingues, guitar and bass, a very good player and guitar arranger.
- Emmanuel Reveneau (guitar and bass too) was there from the beginning. With Jean-François, they form the geek duo behind Emmanuel's live-looping act, The Lucid Brain Integrative Project, powered by their homemade solution NOundo.
- Etienne Gaillochet joined us on drums in the early 2010s. He's a very proficient prog drummer, singer, multi-instrumentist and songwriter, behind such projects as Zarboth and We insist.
The musical/lyrical project is mostly mine, and I still wonder at how all these incredibly talented people carry on supporting me after all this time.
Many more play on the albums, of course. I love to write arrangements for strings, woodwinds, brass and have them recorded, though I lack the theoretical training to make it sound really good. Maybe when I'm 80 I'll have the time to learn all of this.
We try to rehearse and play live from time to time, but not so much recently, of course. There's a few not so convincing stuff on the Youtube channel.
Thats what comes in mind! Hope it answers your questions.
House sales are very emotional moments, and complicated, too! I wish you the best of luck.
Have a nice day
============== (PART TWO)
Sorry for the delayed answer, too much work (not music-related, unfortunately).
"Contes centristes de l'éternel déclin" can be translated as "Centrist tales of eternal decline". At first, I wanted to record an album with the title "Contes et légendes de la Droite d'antan" (something like "tales and legends of the Right wing of yore"), but the centrist songs took over. The centre is a metaphore for many things, like my inability to make decisions, but also the tension between the extremes. The eternal decline is basically what life is, for individuals as well as for civilizations. It's also a poke at the way ageing people keep on repeating the same words about general decadence. The feeling of decline is eternal.
"La Pantomime des Bouffons" (Buffoons' Pantomime) is in the same vein: the words come from a 4th century historian, Ammianus Marcellinus. I give the quote in the booklet, I looked for the Loeb translation of it for you : "In consequence of this state of things, the few houses that were formerly famed for devotion to serious pursuits now teem with the sports of sluggish indolence, re-echoing to the sound of singing and the tinkling of flutes and lyres. In short, in place of the philosopher the singer is called in, and in place of the orator the teacher of stagecraft, and while the libraries are shut up forever like tombs, water-organs are manufactured and lyres as large as carriages, and flutes and instruments heavy for gesticulating actors." So "La pantomime des bouffons" is here translated by "gesticulating actors". Ammianus is a fascinating figure, he was in emperor Julian's staff, the emperor who tried to revert the christianisation of the Empire - and failed. For Ammianus, christianisation was a sign of decadence, much like de-christianisaition is to conservatives today. I view them both with the same agnostic tenderness. Also, the sequence makes me think of my grand-parents' generation, frightened by the sound of electric guitars, much like I'm frightened by the overload of sound on rap recordings of today. The ineluctable passage of time. Sad and comforting at the same time.
I will gladly give you a few words of explanation on the last album's songs as soon as I find the time, if you have the patience to read them. And I have a few pictures, yes.
Have a nice day, it's night time here.
=================== (PART THREE)
So here it is : song titles (title translations), a few words of explanation.
1. Agent immobilier (real-estate agent) : this is about a time in my life when I was looking for a flat, and appointments with the real-estate agent were the best part of my social life. I was going through a very painful divorce and the simple frankness of the commercial relationship was a relief. The guitar theme is supposed to convey the despair bursting through my centrist bourgeois crust, the orchestral mess between the guitars and the lyrics is a tightly written score faithfully reproducing the random chords of my demo, the screams were recorded on cassette in 1989 and represent my friend and I's idea of music at the time, and the musical box was a present from dear friends that I wanted to include somewhere on the album.
The lyrics are short, so I give you a quick translation :
Real Estate Agent
You're my only friend
You think about me a lot
You call me
You wait for me downstairs, at noon
Whether it rains, hails or blows
A 3-room flat upstairs...
I know I'm expected
You tolerate my inopportune life
No thunderstorm between us
You find me a foxhole,
I got the dough
2. Les pissenlits par les deux bouts (dandelions by both ends). The title is difficult to translate, it hardly means anything at all in French. It conflates two traditional sayings : "to eat the dandelions by the roots" means being dead and buried ; "to burn both ends of the candle" means living a profligate life without thinking of tomorrow. This is about a guy who grows up and keep on depending upon everybody, smoothly sliding from dependence upon his parents to dependence upon his children. He remains a child himself (every verse starts with "i'm [age] and I'm a child") but hides it beneath a show of arrogance. Another song from the time of my divorce. It all started from the lines "I'm 30 or 40, and I'm a child, but it's not cute anymore".
3. Fonctionnaire (civil servant) : this is a very old song, from the 90's. One day, my father told my brother and I, with a sigh of despair, considering our deliberately ugly song output, "why don't you write pretty things ?" So it was my attempt at writing a pretty thing. It's about a guy surviving a revolution, set up in an imaginary kingdom. Being a centrist, the narrator doesn't know what to think about the political situation. One day the revolution bursts, and the ruling Princess runs away and hides under his chair. The revolutionaries find her and take him for a hero. He's really sorry for her but decides to accept the honors. He becomes a civil servant in the new regime, or he already was one and gets promoted, it's not very clear.
4. Choucroute (Sauerkraut). Started from a short demo including the word "choucroute" ("I love the flaccid sound, the mellow lapping of sauerkraut beneath my wheels", a not very clear reference to the French expression "to pedal in sauerkraut", which means something like being in a total mess). Then it grew into this sort of mini prog epic (that's the ambition) by adjunction of other little pieces. All the band members share the lead here. The global theme is inadequacy. Trying to learn life from the book and failing miserably.
5. Allumette (matchstick). Another piece from the divorce era (2006-2008). Maybe my favorite, though everything is a bit confused about it, music and lyrics. It's uselessly difficult to play on piano, for no particular benefit - I could have simplified it and nobody would have noticed. Story of my life. It's about how I tried to warm myself near the flame of a match in the North Pole. In the end the match is put out and I decide to carry on my way without the help of fire. Sounds awful when I sum it up like this, but the song is almost hopeful.
6. Caca (Poop). My son loves it that there's a song called "poop" on the album. It starts with "Tonight is the night I spread my poo everywhere". It was written after an argument with my girlfriend (my present day wife). It describes that state when you feel so miserable you want to blow everything out, although you know perfectly you will be OK tomorrow ; but you try to persuade yourself you won't, because you're in love with your anger.
7. La vraie vie (Je veux rentrer à la maison) (Real Life/I want to come home) : this is a French version of a song written in English by my brother, under the title "Technopath" (different subject). It's about facing what it takes to join the big boys and lead a real life, but not wanting to and preferring to come back home.
8. Chocapic (Chocapic) : this is my anthem, I wrote it long ago. It needs a long introduction when I sing it live. In the 80's, when the chocolate cereals Chocapic were created (by Nestlé), the little dog on the box wore a very strange expression, as a friend had me notice back then : he smiled lightly, and seemed to say "yeah, those are OK". Which is exactly what the product is : just OK. Not awful, but not sensational either. So this is a very rare instance of marketing telling the truth. So the 80's little dog on Chocapic packages became the emblem of my centrism. Even if nowadays the little dog has become absurdly hysterical. While the product didn't change a bit.
9. En hiver (in winter) : this is a budding-love song written when I met my present-day wife. It's designed to get airplay (didn't work of course). It's about unfreezing in winter (the season when our story started to unfold). So it kind of picks it up when "Allumette" ended. (I just realized this). I almost cancelled its inclusion on the album, since at the time of recording things were not that bright between us, but it got better and I like the song, so I kept it.
10. Loin (far away) : yet another divorce-era song. It's about intellectually knowing you will get better some day, but feeling discouraged by the awful amount of time and effort it will take. The opposite of Caca, in a way.
11. La leçon d'économy (The Lesson in Economics). When I was a teenager, my motto was "in life, you must never try anything, because you may fail". I didn't follow very strictly this advice, but I retained something from it, which is the capacity to enjoy what you have (rather easy for me, I'm from a well-off family ; but still). The thing is my father is a winner (a very loving, caring and endearing one, but a winner), and I got contrarian of course. So this song is for my children, and it tells them that a lot of people will tell them to take their life in their hands, work a lot, be brave and make bets ; so I don't need to teach them that part. All I have for them is this simple lesson in Economics : take what your given and say thank you. The brass accompany the conquering verse, the recorders enter for the keep-your-ambitions-low refrain. And in the end they join together during the mock-Penny Lane trumpet solo. (Well, duo, I didn't know which one to chose so I put both of them, lacking the wisdom of the Beatles in Let it be).
12. Huay Xai : this is the most inept song, and my favorite. It was written at the time of my trip to Laos (divorce era again). In the North-West, in the Bokeo province, my friend Jean-François created a treehouse estate called "the Gibbon Experience" (I strongly recommend it). I went there and had a great time. Some of your fellow country people were there to help too. I wrote the words on a terrace over the Mekong, trying to convey the numbness I experienced, both from the climate and from my body's innate inability to feel much. Then I wrote the music on a cheap guitar bought in Vientiane, and recorded it on my mp3 portable player (that's 2007). The words for the bridge were written in Luang Prabang, and set to a preexisting tune that you find also in "Choucroute" (so I can claim some concept-albumness). I always fantasied an orchestral arrangement for it, and I finally could do it. Probably not very orthodox, but I like it.
Have a nice Sunday.
Blair" - END
©Interview by Lee Henderson August 2019 thru 2020
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