Composer Yann Tiersen finds crossover success
In 2001, Amélie was the kind of movie which popularized the indie cinema archetype that’s been so prevalently peddled today by Fox Searchlight. And at the center of the movie’s emotional lift was its endearing, quirky score composed by Frenchman Yann Tiersen, who will bring his foreign arrangements to the Rio Theatre on Friday, April 16.
At the time Amélie came out, Tiersen was a complete unknown outside of France, and even within his own country was something of an up-and-comer despite having released three albums prior to Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulain. However, the attention that the movie garnered, and the acclaim that Tiersen received for the soundtrack, pushed him into a new realm of critical success that is difficult to define, but undeniably influential.
“This huge success showed me that my music was a bit universal and not so discreet like most people believed it at this time,” explains Tiersen about his mainstream breakthrough. “Obviously it was a big surprise and a pleasure to see this … [and] quite embarrassing to be permanently glued to the movie because it only shows a part of myself and an age that was obviously evolving at the same time.”
Though Tiersen is often compared to minimalist composers such as Philip Glass and Jóhann Jóhannsson, in truth there is much more to his music than sleepy orchestral-imitating electronics. Tiersen makes frequent use of odd instrumentation, incorporating toy piano, harpsichord, and even typewriter sounds into his compositions. The Amélie soundtrack is dominated by accordion and the kind of sounds you might actually hear on a Parisian street corner.
These days Tiersen’s star has grown beyond the Amélie halo. The 39-year-old also crafted the score to another foreign film that’s become quite popular in America, Germany’s unification film Good Bye Lenin! This gig helped Tiersen solidify himself as a bohemian celebrity, becoming something of the apex of modern love compositions.
But beyond some of his more mainstream work, Tiersen has begun taking on some more atypical collaborations. Perhaps the most notable among these is a track called “The Best of Times,” a song which will be featured on the upcoming album Li(f)e by independent hip-hop artist Sage Francis, who coincidentally stops by the Catalyst in June.
“It was a track I already wrote for myself and that I was keeping for a next album, [Francis] just raps over it, but so nicely,” says Tiersen about the tune. “I think that Sage Francis does like this for all his tracks. I’m really glad that he chose one of my tracks without any wish to change it … I’m not a real [connoisseur] of hip-hop music but I know that Sage Francis is one of the most interesting and clever [rappers] coming from the USA.”
Another collaboration—one which required an actual face-to-face meeting—was when Tiersen worked with Elizabeth Fraser of the Cocteau Twins. “I really wanted her for the Les Retrouvailles album and asked my executive producer if there was any possibilities to meet her,” explains Tiersen. “She already knew my work and was really open for doing it. I was impressed to work with her.”
Tiersen’s stop at the Rio is his last tune-up before heading out to the desert for the Coachella music festival. Though the Frenchman’s live shows differ greatly—wavering between full orchestral shows and intimate band-type sets—his music fits well in either setting. The Rio show promises to be the latter, smaller type of concert, which Tiersen seems to prefer.
He says that each type of show “brings different pleasures and performances and I really want for the future to do both and mix it if possible. My upcoming compositions will incorporate this wish to combine both setups and playing … from classical to rock or others, but playing with the sounds coming from the one with the other.”
Yann Tiersen performs at 8 p.m. Friday, April 16, at the Rio Theatre, 1205 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz. Tickets are $18.90. For more information, call 423-8209.