The traveling poet summons the new generation and makes the hearts of the world beat on his new album “Under a huge sun”. From the great Lavilliers.
The journey, South American sounds, a tribute to his city of Saint-Étienne, poetic rhyme, political analysis. At 75, Bernard Lavilliers offers a perfect synthesis of his universe on “Sous un soleil enormous”, a fascinating album that matches the classics “Pouvoirs”, “Oh Gringo” and “If”. With a keen eye, a frank handshake, a pirate backpacker earring, Nanard welcomes us in the living room of a Brussels hotel and does not let us choose, he orders “two Belgian beers that are not too strong” and tells about the genesis of this new adventure. There is some Blaise Cendrars in him. A three-month stay in Argentina, a few models with local musicians, a notebook that he filled out at the counter of a bar in Buenos Aires called “La Poésie” (“When I saw the sign , I told myself that I had to go there ”), an emergency return to France due to the pandemic. “Somewhere you might be right, it’s a synthesis of my universe, but it’s a fluke. As often, I let myself be guided by the sounds and the encounters. ”
Brazil yesterday, Argentina today. How did this passion for South America come about?
Music, reading. There is also the film Orfeu Negro by Marcel Camus that I see in the cinema when I was fourteen. It was all a fantasy. With the experience of traveling, I have learned not to “dream” of a country anymore because the image you have of it never matches the reality on the ground. To understand a city, you have to travel alone, stay there for several months, get out of tourist areas, get lost in the streets, rub shoulders with the people who live there.
In I wish from her, which evokes your native Saint-Etienne, you sing “I had to go”. When did you get the revelation?
As a teenager, I was already thinking about it, but my dad said to me, “learn a trade first”. I trained as a turner, fitter and miller. I was pretty good. I knew I could do anywhere in the world with this training. And then I left. Discipline and schedule question, the factory did me good. It still helps me today.
In this song appears your mother who gives you your first guitar. What music do you use your first strings on?
I wouldn’t have mentioned my mother if I had written this song on my own. I find it shameless, I’m not used to trying to tear up tears. But we wrote I want her with the young duo from Stéphanois Terrenoire. They asked me how I started and I told the story. We didn’t have any money. My mother used her savings to buy me a little Spanish guitar. I learned to play it at the same time I learned to box. My mother had made an effort to please me and I wanted to show her that I was diligent. I practiced classical Spanish guitar with the “two hands” technique, I also tried Django Reinhardt but I was not big enough. On the other hand, Brassens, it was fine. A good school. Mastering about fifteen Brassens songs allowed me to do a lot of things in harmony.
You are the son of a resistance and trade unionist father, and a teacher mother. It all comes from there?
Certainly yes. My mother gave me a taste for reading and poetry. My father, he was talking to me about real things. More than my political engagement, I owe it to him to listen and try to understand the world. He was also into jazz. He introduced me to Thelonious Monk’s Round Midnight when I was twelve. I saw myself in Manhattan at night, wandering on the asphalt.
You adapt Who Killed Davy Moore? by Bob Dylan. Is it an author and a musician who meant a lot to you?
This little-known song dates from the debut of Dylan, his protest singer period. I was listening to this over and over. Because it sounded like a boxer dying in the ring but also because Dylan had fun multiplying points of view to show that everyone was blaming each other. I rediscovered Who killed Davy Moore? during the pandemic and I saw parallels with the death of George Floyd (this African American who died in Minneapolis on May 25, 2020 after being immobilized and suffocated by police officer Derek Chauvin). My artistic director had the idea of having the different characters sing by Izïa Higelin, Éric Cantona, Hervé and Gaëtan Roussel. In two days, it was over.
What makes you angry today, in 2021?
The autocratic shifts taken by politicians like Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro. People who, in France or in Belgium certainly, use the word “dictatorship” to complain about the health or social situation. Maybe they should get out of their homes and go to Haiti or Brazil to find out what that word really means.
“Under a huge sun” ends with L’ailleurs, a song in which you talk about death …
Almost went there in 2020. Heart problems. I thought I could do one more tour before I had the operation. The doctors told me no. My heart was beating at 170. I thought it was Covid. I had to have emergency surgery on my aorta. They fixed it. Note that I did not panic. I told myself that I had filled my life. That I had even had several … That the time had come to leave for “elsewhere”. But it was my wife Sophie (Sophie Chevallier, to whom he has been married for twenty-five years) that I was worried.
Which album from your discography would you recommend to the new generation?
The duo Terrenoire and the young Hervé with whom I collaborated on “Sous un soleil enormous” especially know my album “If” and the song On The Road Again. I would recommend “O Gringo” (1980), for its large mix of styles: reggae from Kingston (Stand The Ghetto), rock from New York (Traffic), Brazil from Rio or from the north (La salsa, Sertão ) and a premonitory break-up ballad (Fragile Attention) where I show both my vulnerability and my backpacking character.
The French media have not always been kind to you. Does it touch you to be unanimous at 75 with “Sous un soleil enormous”?
The only thing that touches me is that I didn’t make the record too many. It’s my dread.
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