The youthful airs of Axel Bauer, from Bill Evans to “Won’t Get Fooled Again”

In 1983 he traveled to France in his “Cargo”, “striped sweater, badly shaven”. Coming from a family of musicians, the aspiring pop-rock singer had to fight for his first guitar…

Between his father and aunt, an international pianist and close friends of the greatest jazz musicians, Axel Bauer finds his way by discovering The Who’s explosive rock.

Where did you spend your childhood and in what environment?
I grew up when I was 17e district of Paris. I have a brother who is four years younger than me. My mother took care of us and helped my father with the bookkeeping in his work. He had a PR company. As a child, I drew for hours. White sheets filled with hundreds of tiny characters that had to be seen under a magnifying glass. They all had an expression. I listened to a lot of music while drawing. Mainly my father’s records, jazz and classical. In the sixth grade, my parents’ divorce interrupted my schooling. The music took precedence over the drawing, I started playing the guitar. After graduating from high school, I took part in a preparatory workshop for the Beaux Arts competition, but music had taken a very large place in my life. I did studio sessions, I composed. In the evenings I went to the Rose Bonbon and the Gibus, punk rock and new wave clubs. I was admitted to the Beaux-Arts, but I preferred to attend the courses of Master Iannis Xenakis at the Jussieu faculty. An introduction to electroacoustic music. This is where I saw a computer for the first time, that was in 1980. That’s when I discovered that you could make music with it.

Did your parents listen to music?
Almost everyone in the family played an instrument. My maternal grandfather played the organ in church. He said that in his day, if you wanted to hear music, you had to know how to play it. My paternal grandmother was very good at the piano. My aunt, Évelyne Crochet, is a great classical pianist. She has performed at Carnegie Hall with the Boston Symphony Orchestra under the baton of great conductors. My father played Hammond organ and drums with Django Reinhardt. A true jazz enthusiast, he had organized a major festival in Pleyel after the war, which featured America’s big names. It was common for these musicians to come in for jams that lasted all night. That’s where I first saw and heard Oscar Peterson, it was magical. From a young age I had direct contact with elaborate and complex music: while drawing, I would listen to Bill Evans, Erroll Garner, Jim Hall, Barney Kessel or Joe Pass. I heard Rachmaninoff, Prokofiev or Malher before the traditional children’s songs, which influenced me a lot. My mother was an exception to the rule in not playing an instrument, but she organized blues and jazz concerts at Le Méridien with the famous drummer Mustache.

“I built a battery out of the upholstery of an old armchair, barrels of washing powder and an old basin.”

What is your favorite childhood song?
Small, between 5 and 7 years old, I loved Pierre and the wolf. But most of all I liked the book CD Piccolo, Saxo and Co by Jean Broussolle and Andre Popp. Through this music-educational story, we playfully learned to distinguish the timbre of the instruments. Then one day my father brought a Who album with him. I was 12 years old and discovered rock. The lyrics touched me because they reflected the questions asked by the teenagers. Rebellious language, uplifting and destructive words, the energy of the compositions, it was all contained in a clever cocktail invented by the genius Pete Townshend. My generation, I’m free, don’t be fooled again quickly became the hymns of my youth, but the song The true me in quadrophenia summarized everything. All the energy of rock ‘n’ roll is in this wild and lyrical song. I made a drum kit out of the upholstery of an old armchair, detergent barrels and an old cymbal from a percussion box. I practiced playing over the records. I wanted to be a rock drummer like Keith Moon!

What was the first concert you went to?
It’s the Who, a few months later, in 1974 at the Porte de Versailles. I was 13, it was apocalyptic, I had never seen anything like it! Keith Moon, the drummer, stomped wildly on his drums, Pete Townshend twirled his guitar and made impressive jumps, Roger Daltrey twirled his mic in the air, always catching it at just the right moment, while Entwistle, the bassist, held the house with lunatics bass lines. And then, above all, there was this incredible music. I came out of this experience with stars in my eyes, stunned by the volume and more determined than ever to be a musician myself. Back home I intensified the guitar lessons I had just started.

Did you learn music as a kid?
Small, I tapped the piano keys without understanding, following my inspiration, I liked to make sounds. When my parents saw this, they decided to let me take piano lessons with a private teacher. But I didn’t like learning those little Mozart minuets that I was studying, they seemed too easy to me when in fact they weren’t. I was more drawn to the jazz music that my father listened to and that I used to listen to. I dropped out of classes after a year. When my parents separated, they sent me to boarding school. It was on this occasion that my mother gave me my first guitar: an unplayable piece of wood that I could still make a sound out of, a condition for which they would buy me a real instrument. For my parents, you had to show that it wasn’t a whim if you wanted something.

“One evening our singer didn’t come to a concert, the others chose me as a substitute.”

I first learned how to play as an autodidact by deciphering songs with my little Sony cassette player. I gave myself the musical phrases that interested me and tried to figure out where they were on the instrument’s neck. Then I took lessons from Mauro Serri, an excellent guitarist, who taught me how to pull the strings like bluesmen do. When we were 15, we founded the Knightbirds group of friends in a Paris high school. One evening our singer didn’t come to a concert, the others chose me as a substitute, I was afraid it was the first time. I liked doing backing vocals but that was it. I started composing when I was 18. In the beginning I discovered the chords and melodies of the songs I liked, analyzed their creation and tried to get closer to them. Then little by little I found my inspiration, more personal elements that came from my intuition, from my memory, parallel to the studio sessions.

At 21, I showed my models to Jacqueline Herrenschmidt, then artistic director of Pathé-Marconi, the one who had discovered Alain Bashung. She advised me to go to her son Philippe Missir and explained that my songs were too indie for the major. Philippe worked with Michel Eli in a small label distributed by Vogue. There was an artistic bond between us. I played my compositions, I listened to their remarks and little by little the song charge was born. In the studio I played all the guitars, keyboards and recorded all the vocals. Drummer Manu Katché recorded the drums. Success came quickly and we were then able to make a clip that revived the song. As a result, Mondino’s career took off and I signed an international deal in England with the big EMI, which produced my first album.

Do you remember the first song you wrote?
I wrote some instrumental songs before writing the lyrics. I read and wrote a lot, took notes, but I couldn’t find what I wanted to say in the songs. Maybe also because I mainly listened to Anglo-Saxon music. French seemed too literary to me, it distracted the listener from the music. The meaning of the text took precedence over emotion and musical intensity. I saw myself as a composer-guitarist and had trouble legitimizing myself as a singer. I wasn’t driven by the desire for fame, I just wanted to write the most beautiful music and offer it to the whole world.

listen, see
The new album RadioLondon by Axel Bauer was published on May 13, 2022. He will perform at the Trianon, Paris 18eNovember 15, 2022.

#youthful #airs #Axel #Bauer #Bill #Evans #Wont #Fooled

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