From synthpop superlatives to petite pop, there’s been a noticeable shift in the sound of Thomas Azier. Releasing his sophomore album last spring, the Dutch artist revealed a side of himself that’s softer but just as sincere; often straightforward, often heart-breaking. Glamcult met the gifted songwriter and performer to discuss the many shades of a black-and-white world.
Your latest album, Rouge, instantly stands out because of its artwork.
The initial idea was that the fil rouge of this album would be my voice. Rouge is also the colour I would give to the voice. I find it interesting how it’s such a versatile instrument, and how we use it in the most interesting way when we experience intense emotions—from screaming when we’re mad or moaning when having sex to crying. […] All these contrasting emotions are represented in the colour red too, so I thought it would be nice to simply call the album Rouge.
Do you see colour in music?
No, I don’t. And I suspect there are fakers out there because lately everyone and their grandmothers are claiming they have synaesthesia.
So, what would you dream of seeing?
What I do is dream up melodies. I have a thing called rocking syndrome, which means I rock my head back and forth quite violently in this half sleep right before the deep sleep. I also hum loudly with it, which drove my brother crazy when we were kids and sleeping in the same room. Most people lose it when they get older, but somehow I didn’t and I really like it, it makes me calm—even though it sounds a bit freaky. I usually put my phone next to my bed and just let the recorder run. When it’s really good I can wake up from this half sleep and drag myself to the piano or computer to really work things out. But usually I’m lazy and figure it out the day after (if I can still make sense of it).
Listening to songs like Gold and Talk To Me, it feels like a new sense of warmth and vulnerability has entered your music.
For me, making music is just a reflection of what I see around me. I’m trying to make sense of the chaos of our times. Everything is so divided; it’s all black and white with no colour or shades in between. You’re either gay or straight, a hater or lover on the internet, an influencer on Instagram—fucking hell, that fucks me up. I was longing for something softer, poetic and intense. I wanted to explore the many shades we all carry inside of us with attention to detail, sometimes with contradiction and multiple truths…
You worked on your debut, Hylas, for five years, and on Rouge for three. Do you feel more skilled as an artist today?
We learn and change every day, and somehow I feel we unlearn a lot by simplifying and going back to a childlike essence. I love that process and I’m a student of it; how the brain works, how it fools you, how external factors like success, opinions and money fuck with you, and how to keep them away from your creative process. That’s the real skill, in my opinion.
You recently mentioned that hip hop inspires you. Does this perhaps have to do with its urgent, often political character?
Hip hop is community-based music. I grew up in a small village in the Netherlands, so I don’t have that feeling of community. It was just quite isolated, I guess. When Wu-Tang Clan arrived on my first Discman, it was quite abstract but somehow I connected to it, listening to a completely other culture in the fields. It taught me about authenticity and how to escape the copycat culture we sometimes have music-wise in the Netherlands and Germany. I knew I needed to live a bit and explore a lot more before releasing something. That’s when I left for Berlin at around the age of 19.
What do you think of people describing Rouge as your “Parisian album”? And how do you look back on your time in Berlin now?
I consider it a European album, which is more of a spirit thing for me than borders or rules on paper. Young people might not necessarily feel European, but I guess we have a European spirit of working together, talking and exchanging ideas. I just really immerse myself in different cities and learn from their rich cultures to make something that connects. France, for example, has such a rich culture in arrangement—think of Brel and Gainsbourg. It has real singers and performers, deep songwriting and orchestration, and of course changed electronic music for ever with the French touch. Rouge was written in my own little holy trinity of Amsterdam, Berlin and Paris.
What’s the best setting to listen to the new Thomas Azier?
I like travelling, so I’d say walking, sitting on a train, plane or metro. Or early in the morning when the day beats the darkness and the first rays of lights are coming in. I love that moment.