Soon after the release of 1998’s Moon Safari, Air almost at once became a steady fixture in the electronic pop scene. But Air’s Nicolas Godin and John-Benoit Dunckel would not call themselves an electronic group. Instead, they usually refer to themselves as purists looking to create cool, sleek records, and they often employ synths to texturize their trademark ethereal landscape. The duo, which has worked with Sophia Coppola, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Nigel Godrich and Jarvis Cocker, has recently released a synthy new single “Do the Joy”; is on the cusp of its fifth studio album, Love 2, to be released in October; and is preparing to tour Europe and the U.S. for the better part of the next year. Here, Godin and Dunckel discuss the makings of Love 2, the album’s concept, and why they think Swedish people are a little too nice.
You go on tour quite a bit, but when you initially didn’t mean for your music to be translated to the stage. What made you change your mind?
Nicolas Godin: The experience. We had no idea what to do after the first album. But we jumped in the water and had to learn to swim.
We come to New York quite often, but we know L.A. more than New York. We shoot videos in Los Angeles, and we have friends there. Last time we came to New York was so fast — we just came to play and that was it. When we play in big cities it’s always tricky, because the audience goes to the same shows all the time. It’s like that with Paris, too. In the biggest cities in the world, it’s not like the croweds are blasé, but it’s always like they’re going to the same show. I still want it to be surprising for the audience, but it’s not always surprising. So I don’t like to play twice at the same place. There are so many big venues — in Paris the big venues are so uncool — and I’d rather play a few nights in small venues in town. Paris has good good clubs, like the Olympia. That’s a legendary venue.
You have a new album coming out called Love 2. How do you plan to translate it to the stage?
NG: It’s going to be good. We played with a new drummer when recording the album, so on the tour, it’s going to be the same band. Usually we hire new musicians especially for tour, but for the first time, it’s going to be the same team of musicians. It’s going to be cool.
You produced this record yourself, as opposed to getting Nigel Godrich in the studio. Why?
NG: When we started out we produced ourselves, and we were so happy to do it ourselves. We worked with Nigel with Talkie Walkie, and he did a great job, but we missed the old times when it was just us producing. We were nostalgic.
On the new album, is there a fresh concept?
Jean-Benoit Dunckel: We don’t think too much. We just toured, so we were very tired of the songs that we’ve done before. We just want to jump into another environment, into another universe. I think music is very psychological. So our feelings and desires are going into the music. And there is no concept. The songs are just … stronger than us. And we don’t know why. So we record them a long time after the concept occurs. But there is a lot of love in this album and butterflies, feelings. It’s mostly about the charms of the women that we love, our expectations about women, the consequences of being in love [laughs]. That kind of thing.
Did you use any computers?
NG: We never used computers. They’re too dangerous. We’ve done music since we were children and we know how to play pretty well, so we don’t need computers. A lot of people think we are an electronic band. But it’s always been us playing live. We love to play. We do use a lot of old synthesizers and stuff like that.
Are there other French pop bands that you’re listening to?
NG: Oh, yeah. Not that much, because there aren’t many French pop bands, but we love Phoenix and stuff like that.
Have you been kept very busy during your stay in the States?
JBD: Yeah, we had to fight for a break for lunch! You know in France, people are taking a lot of time to eat. For lunch, it’s also about work, but at another angle — another way to work. At 1 p.m., people are going to have a lunch, but everyone at lunch is relaxing and discussing work. There is time to think of what they do and to have imagination. It’s incredibly important for the economy, for the French economy. Otherwise we would be stressed all the time. It’s another system. Your system is more work-hard capitalist. And we’re capitalists, too, but I think that in France we have a good system. It’s not so much about money; it’s about the demographic and the people and how they generate. It’s another kind of balance.
It makes a lot of sense when you say it, but when you suggest that system in the U.S. it can result in a lot of name-calling.
NG: Yeah, but if you have more children then you have more consumers, so there is more money!
If it were up to me, I’d pack up and move to Sweden.
NG: Sweden? Really?
They’re so nice over there! Especially to foreigners.
NG: They’re too nice! When they ask you “How do you do?” they really want to know how you’re doing. That’s too nice! The suicide rate is so high, it’s because they’re too happy there [laughs].