samedi 27 juin 2015

One real cool hour with Warren Ellis

Warren Ellis - Paris (c) Joël Saget

Warren Ellis is 50, born on Valentine's day. 'I'm Aquarius', he said straight away. Some know what it means being an Aquarius. No wonder... Well, he is a composer, plays violin, flute, piano, guitar and many others to come. 

Some love his tunes for ever and ever, when he plays with Jim Turner and Mike White as the fab Dirty Three, alongside the great Nick Cave with or without The Bad Seeds, or solo as he composed and recorded the soundtrack of Mustang, a French-Turkish movie directed by Deniz Gamze Ergüven
After one hour of a real cool face-to-face conversation with Warren Ellis in a Parisian garden, one could write a book, not on a Sick bag, like Nick's one (smile).

Zoé : With Nick Cave, you composed several movie soundtracks. Loin des Hommes de David Oelhoffen this year and now solo, with Mustang. 

Warren Ellis : I was with Reda Kateb (the actor of Loin des Hommes and Un prophète), doing the music for his first movie, a short one titled Pitchoune. I had met earlier Deniz's husband who had said to me she was shooting a movie and was thinking of me for the music. She was pregnant at that stage.

Then when she really asked me, I said 'no', I was busy, but felt sorry because she was not expecting a 'no' and had no one else in mind for Mustang's music. She was then editing the film with her infant. My wife Delphine said :'you should do it'. So I thought if she could do the film with a baby, then I could try to make it too. All I had was a very small window.  'Ok', I said 'let's try to make this'. There again, it was the challenge of failure trying to do something. I really like the challenge when I'm thrown into an unknown world.

Mustang was the first time that I worked on my own. I like this, doing soundstrack, it was an evolution that seemed to happen and I have always wanted to do different things.

Mustang was a real challenge because everything I had done was with Nick, we worked in a certain way together, we have a team, an editor, recorder but this required me to do everything on my own, in that respect was the personnal challenge to achieve this. So when I come back to the band I've got something to bring into it.

So much of my music is with Nick, what we've done together tells obviously about our relationship.
I have been very fortunate with every musical relationship that I had, starting with Mick and Jim, then with Nick and the Bad Seeds, I'm glad they have actually been kind of constant. Twenty-five years that I have been with them and that's really important to me. I'm very much a team player, I like playing with people. I don't have any desire to write lyrics.
Zoé: What is your story with music ?

Warren: I started playing music just by chance. One of a big memory for me as a child was at the local big rubbish dump (the decheterie) in Ballarat (Victoria's state, Australia), where I discovered all this great things like old bicycles parts, motorbikes engines, lawnmowers engines and with all this things, my brother would build motorbikes, and bicycles, it was just a fabulous playground full of treasures and one day I found a piano accordeon in the rubbish dump and I took it at home where I learnt to play with it.

Later somebody at school came to ask who wanted to play violin, a bunch of girls put their hands up, and I put my hand up too. I turn to violin at 10.

It looks like a way to be around girls even if I wasn't particularly interested in girls. I took it up for that reason, I left my hand up.

In secondary school, I turn to flute as well, and I found myself playing a bunch of instruments which didn't belong to the world of music I was listening to, like AC/DC. I grew up as a teenager listening to Black Sabbath and Deep Purple, and the punk rock came along. So I was listening to that music and I was playing Beethoven and had no connection at all with the classical world. This music never spoke to me until I was in my mid twenties. 

I started to play the music that I liked a bit later on in my teenage years, and composed some music when I was in my mid-20's.

Zoé: Have you ever written some lyrics ?

Warren: I used to write a bit but then I realised it was more the idea of writing that I liked. I had a big box of stuff that I wrote and at one stage a girfriend that I had threw everything out and it was probably the best thing that ever happened really. I always felt that I was copying something. I don't write songs.

Zoé: Was music something well considered in your family ?

Warren: My father was playing guitar, he sung country and western songs.
It wasn't his job, his job was working as a printer mechanics in a newspaper. But his passion was playing the songs on his guitar that he had written. He loved Hank Williams. His proudest kind of belonging was his 78 Hank Williams he still owns. He's 82 now. He didn't really like rockn'roll but he loves Hank Williams. 
My Mum loved classical music. For them music was very important; My Dad has a massive records collection, my mum had the radio on all the time. Music was always around, much more than I would play music at home now and I play a lot. It's a simple background and one of the things we had was the radio. Mum had played piano as a girl and flute. They encouraged all of us, my older and young brothers play guitar. 

Zoé: Were you thinking of having a career like the kids often dream of... being a doctor or ... 

Warren: No, I really never had a path. I didn't even thought that music would be a profession. I had no path. None. There was a point in my school years where I thought about being this or this. I had a vague idea of becoming a plumber at one point. 

Because I grew up in a working class area, all my friends left school and became carpenters, or things like that, well, workers. My parents believe that education was really important. I come from a very poor background. I won this scholarship. My dad said to me that knowledge was very important, that  I had this possiblity to get out of where I was.

I did win a scholarship. I went to university and I studied music, English, mathematics because I didn't know what else to do. I didn't want to be locked in a job, I went to Melbourne to the city, I finished that degree there and I went on trip to Europe in 1988, and burst in the streets, in Ireland and in Scotland, and across Europe, to Hamburg, Italy and Hungary, just playing in the streets with musicians that I met. 

This launched an idea that may be this was something I would like to do. In my early twenties. I teached in a secondary school but I knew I didn't want to see myself at sixty doing that. In 1990, I left with a friend and my violin in a pickup. My brother gave me a guitar pedal and I remember that I was doing something that made me feel good. Then, it developped very quickly, I was playing with five different bands. Then in 1994, Nick Cave came on tour with Dirty Three up the coast of Australia and said 'you want to come on tour with us?. 

It was a tour in America. It was then when I left and never went back to Australia to live. I go back every year to play and see my family. Eventually I moved to London but I toured non stop. Dirty Three went to America, we found an agent and it became what I was doing with my life but it was not a conscious decison and it just kept evolving.

Zoé: do you know what you parents think of your work ?

Warren: I never asked them. My father is proud. He listen and follows what I do. I think that also for him, it was a dream he never fullfilled, he had this pile of songs in the cabinet, he recorded one record himself and he had practised to autograph. I guess I fullfilled the dream of my father. On paper it would look like that, but he never said that. It was his hobby, he had a passion for it. If he had been a success, I would have probably been a plumber. (Laugh) It might have been great too. It's funny.

It's never been the money or success anyway. I'm very grateful to provide for my family but it's never been about that, it's a personnal kind of endeavour. I was a listener of music, I love to listen to music and where it transported me. I would have never dreamt that would be a composer or a musician. I always love being transported, being taken to places by the music. It took me out of the real world, it is important.

Zoé: Aren't you satisfied with the real world ?

Warren: I guess I'm not. Well, music it's like cinema, for two hours you're out of the real world. You can't be out of it all the time.

Being in a band, in bus touring, taking drugs, all that stuff was fabulous at 20. I still like sitting up until 2 or 3 in the morning. It's always been a way of escaping at least as a listener. As a composer, there is a moment in the discovery process like I engage myself in the way that I would as a listener, I feel like I'm being transported somewhere. The discoveries are the great moments. 

The act of creation is that's what it is, I suppose. It can be a disaster. But You don't get anywhere without stepping off the edge. You don't get anywhere unless you take a risk.  That's why I'm afraid of failure. It's the thought of failure that makes me want to succeed. It pushes me to try. May be it is linked to the upbringing where you have to prove yourself. Fear of failure, I'm not sure. 

Zoé: Are you religious ? I ask because I can see a silver cross around tour neck... among a lot of other things...

Warren: The chain around the neck, well, I like the image of the cross, but I'm not religious. I like the idea of a greater force though, and I like the stories in the Bible, it 's fabulous. I would be lying if I said I was religious in that sense. I had periods where I thought I might have been. I belong to the Church of England. But I can't believe, the world is too full of cruaulty. But may be it is the way it is meant to be.

I just like jewellery. I bought that ring jetlagged in San francisco China Town, I payed a fortune for it, that what happens (laugh), this one in Brussels, I just like rings, I like the red colour of this one. That one is white gold. That one, white gold and diamonds. The yellow gold one is my wedding ring.

Zoé: What are the vices you hate ?

Warren: Jealousy and envy that's what I hate. It is so hard to control. You don't even realise that it grows,  it is very destructive, one has to watch that one, like a cancer, it's poisonous, roten. Totally useless. C'est pourri !

Zoé: and your favorite values ?

Warren: Loyalty is important. Admiration and humility. It's important to accept when you're wrong. I'm actually pretty kind, I don't try to present something that I am not. I am what I am. I don' t pretend I don't see the point. It's like lying. I like transparency. I still don't have my dose of wisdom that everybody seem to say you get but I like this certain things that seem to dissipate when you're getting older.