St. Germain Returns after Fifteen Years with a New, Malian Flair

Ahead of the release of his long-awaited eponymous third LP, Ludovic Navarre is back. Stream the second album cut 'Sittin Here,'

Sep 29 2015, 5:59pm

The career of St.Germain, French producer Ludovic Navarre, has been a lengthy tease for his fans. In 1995, Navarre gifted the world his tremendous debut—Boulevard—an eight-track velvet runway through effortlessly breezy deep house grooves, strewn together through a hazy smoke screen of jazz and vintage blues. At once ahead of its time and nostalgic, Boulevard offered a singular take on a quickly exploding sound. The album was a major pillar in the french house movement of the 1990s.

Five years later, Navarre returned with his follow-up, Tourist on Blue Note Records, an equally stunning album that held on to the grooving meditation of his previous work, while extending his production passport to include even more of an international flair, as well as a collection of guest artists that help blur the lines between live and digitally produced sound. The inclusion of a Marlena Shaw sample on the timeless highlight "Rose Rouge," further displayed his love for re-imagining black American music, while other tracks throughout the album reference everything from dub to latin percussion.

St. Germain's smearing of acid-jazz and house rhythms were so celebrated that they warranted a tour that ran for the marathon length of two and a half years. But, even after all that success in the studio and on the world's stage—St.Germain disappeared, with little left in his midst but a slew of coffee shop compilations, music-nerd exchanges (probably held over a cup of coffee), and a lot of dust-attracting vinyl.

In May of 2015, St. Germain finally emerged with news of a new self-titled album, forthcoming European live tour, a single—"Real Blues"—a track that suggests further exploration into novel inspiration, namely his manipulation of blues icon Lightnin' Hopkins' vocals and the use of traditional Malian instruments, performed via selection of guest African artists that Navarre handpicked for the long player.

Ahead of the album's long-awaited release on October 9 via Primary Society, we got the chance to chat with St.Germain on the events of his absence, as well as share a radio edit of the album's second single—"Sittin' Here."

THUMP: It's been 15 long years since the release of Tourist—what have you been up to all this time?
St.Germain: During the last tour, I was on the road for two and a half years—almost 300 concerts—so the first thing I wanted to do was take a little time to rest, which is what I did for some time. I produced an album in 2004 for Soel, did a couple concerts in 2005—but in 2006 is when I really started to think about this new album and what I wanted to do. I started trying out a lot of different things, different mixes.

2006 was still nearly a decade ago, was the production of the new album a more sporadic process?
Well what I really wanted to do was to work on something new—what I started between those years felt very similar to what I had done before, and I spent almost a year working on that. I realized that I didn't really like [the album] at all, so I threw everything out and started from scratch. I didn't want to betray the trust of all the people who had heard my work by giving them more of the same thing. I didn't want to bore [the fans], or myself either.

What was your solution?
I started to travel: first I went to Nigeria, then to Ghana, then Mali. At first I had thought I wanted to work with the same musicians from Tourist on the new album, but found our because of the new direction I was going in, I needed traditional music from these countries and it was very hard to reproduce it. It was logistically difficult and wasn't a fit for some o the musicians I had worked with [on Tourist]. I realized I needed African musicians who came from this traditional music, who knew how to play it, and that it was fundamental for them. So between 2007-2009 I was looking for people, holding auditions, and eventually found those I really wanted to work with. That whole process of mixing and ending up with what we have now took about three and a half years—it was a long process.

What was the process like of bringing a bunch of traditional African musicians to your Paris studio to make an electronic-leaning album?
These were mostly people from the Malian community who were already living in France actually. It was interesting because when they came, they had very little experience with modern music, and also electronic music—it was all very new to them. But as we started to work together and they started to understand it, they all really adapted quite quickly and were quite at ease working. It's interesting because they work in a different way—it's almost as they're singing when they're working—they don't count beasts like we do, but their singing and playing is much more organic as a whole.

Music from other cultures is at the core of your productions, but why exactly the choice to include Malian music?
It's something I've wanted to do for a long time—I just didn't previously have the maturity to be able to do it. I wanted to do it long before Tourist, but it's very difficult because you have to respect each each part's voices; the musicians, the instrumentalists, and getting them all to work together as a coherent whole takes a lot of works. At this point in time, I was ready to do it, but earlier—I don't think I would have had the maturity.

You're gearing up to go on another tour—what exactly caused you to stopping touring after your last album? What was it that eventually frustrated you?
At first, we didn't have that sense of frustration, it was only something that happened in the last five or six months of the tour because, you know, we had been working for so long we found out we were no longer as free at we wanted to be. We weren't being creative anymore, we were kind of repeating ourselves, and we weren't really evolving when we were in the same place doing pretty much the same things. But the one good thing with touring that long, is the chance to go to places I personally have never been. I had never been to Australia before or the United States before, and the tour in the US wasn't just in one city.

Obviously this album process has been very intimate—what's the feeling you're trying to express?
I don't usually operate that way with an idea of telling a story of having the listener come back with a particular vision. What I'm rally fascinated with, and what I love to do is to mix the sounds and styles of different countries and to see how they work with each other, play them together, to combine them together and to see what the outcome is. In fact, for me it's an exercise in style, and that;s was what the goal of this album was.

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