Unlike you might expect from an artist who just abbreviated his moniker from Heartbeat to HBT, Julien Hagenauer’s music is anything but a shortcut. Instead, the release of his first EP, To Kill A Heartbeat on Dawn Records, is a piano improv session that’ll take you on an elongated raging, soul-searching journey into the darkest depths—and right back again. Master of shifting tones and a percussionist that’s truly in command, the co-founder of the much-respected DEMENT3D label keeps his listeners on edge with an elastic precision. His sound is both warm and sharp, regularly pairing in an off-key note. Glamcult was eager to find out how, when indulging in HBT’s four-track sonic splendour, a classic American novel could suddenly come to mind.
How did the To Kill a Heartbeat EP come about?
Some time ago, Dawn Records asked me to create an experimental piano record. Which took me some time as I was also trying to figure out what my musical persona entailed. Hence, the whole Kill a Heartbeat scenario. Florent Hadjinazarian’s Hajj offered encouragement and a biting sense of humor, which inspired me to open up to the unconventional. It’s also why the song titles on the album are puns or have a double meaning—making them rather absurd and ambiguous.
For example, A l’Abri Des Regards Indiscrets sounds rather romantic in French, but it’s actually far from romantic. It’s the security message you get before typing your pin in an ATM; the kind of joke you would expect in an Alain Bashung song. Although I put some thought into the song titles, I’d also like to think that they’re ambiguous enough to allow listeners to form their own interpretations.
Does the EP in any way connect to Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, other than it being a clear reference to the title?
When I composed the record, I included some rather spontaneous and witty references such as the melody from The Mockingbird song or the guitar ballad on A l’Abri Des Regards Indiscrets. I tried to step away from formats that were expected from me. The track Pesanteur and all the piano arpeggios, as well as some of the false notes I left untouched, meant I was in some way willingly exposing myself to judgment. So, the title is a wink to the novel in the sense that my music advocates open-mindedness and disregards musical prejudices. On a more personal level, it’s my way of pleading: “Don’t shoot!”
Why did you feel the need to put an end to Heartbeat, your former pseudonym?
I hadn’t released anything besides mixtapes as Heartbeat and since this is my very first EP, I’d like to think of it as the start of something new rather than the end to anything. I’ve been DJing as Heartbeat for over 15 years and I’m certainly not going to stop anytime soon. However, I felt the experience of creating this record was really defining and different to that of DJing. Making music has become something very personal, intimate and a genuine means of expression. I’d like to think it goes deeper.
You mentioned that the EP stages a “descent into the underworld and back”. What did you pick up on during this sonic journey?
In the book Musique, there’s a chapter that refers to Orpheus myth, in which French scientist and philosopher Michel Serres argues that Orpheus already knew how to come back from the underworld, because the very act of making music was in itself a form of deliverance. I found this very intriguing and inspiring and thought it matched well with the whole scenario staging the ‘death of my former self’ on this record. Music’s spirituality both helps alleviate yourself from mental suffering and helps you to reinvent yourself—to experience a rebirth. I think, ultimately, what I picked up on along the way is that my point of view on the whole matter has grown into something considerably optimistic.
What or who influenced the sound on this EP?
Not until the record was out did I notice some things that had unconsciously influenced the sound. For instance, a number or Joy Division songs can be heard back in my music. For example, the song Atmosphere in Runway Shift and Love Will Tear Us Apart in Pesanteur. Now that I’ve realised this, I like to joke around and use a Joy Division chorus as an outro when playing the album live on the piano. I think certain musical influences have deeply planted inside my brain over the years. Artists and musicians from the likes of Steve Reich, Art Blakey, Bruce Gilbert and Regis somehow subconsciously influenced the EP’s overall sound.
My personal experiences have also been of influence. When I recorded the piano sessions, from which the whole record stems, I played synths, sang and wrote in a band with Maxime van Maldergem and Emmanuel Urrutia, two amazing musicians. Playing with them opened up a lot of perspectives and influenced my compositions and approach towards melodies. Collaborating on the score of a short movie by Chi Chi Menendez with the talented pianist and director Alexandre Eghikian also offered a lot of inspiration.
What’s the intention behind producing music that plays with our expectations?
Back to the Harper Lee reference: to some extent there is a parallel between musical expectations and prejudice. Playing with expectations, and in a way also refusing to meet demand for certain formats is my way of subversion. Runway Shift is again a way to subvert, be it in a slightly more subtle way—the kind that raises more doubts than certainties and more diversion than direction.