Enzo seems to be holding at the moment the right balance between two otherwise potentially fatal combination of artistic traits; confidence and humbleness. A man with a defined mission, who grew up around the household piano but just recently purchased a guitar, showing also a great interest in films which is perhaps why some of his music sounds so rich and textured. We talk about fame, payola, rebellion, isolation, inspiration and collaboration.
Hi Enzo. Where does Astre come from? What are your first musical memories?
I am French, but my origins are in Spain and Portugal, my family has always been quite a multicultural mix, just like France which is a multicultural country. I live in a small village, you probably won’t know the name, Alixan. It’s close to Valence or Lyon in the south of France. It’s not Paris, though I have many friends there.
As a kid, I remember my parents listening to Gotan Project, Björk, Radiohead, Gorillaz... they used to play these a lot in the car. Then my older brother introduced me to electronic music. I kind of owe the start of my culture to them.
I guess then, there is not much to do in a small village…
[laughs] yeah, totally.
How does this affect your creative process, if in any way?
Um… Good question. The nearest city is twenty minutes away by car, so I didn’t use to go there often. I had a lot of time to kill, so I started making videos and music. Being isolated really pushed me to occupy myself and learn… Learn with my computer at home. I enjoy being here, actually. When I go to big cities like Paris, it actually feels a bit rushed and stressful.
You mention your computer, I take you are also talking about the internet.
Yes, with the internet you can easily find new contacts, friends. Thirty years ago, pre-internet and computers, I would probably had done something artistic, but it would have been more difficult to connect with new people from all over the world, and to learn, because you learn from people you meet.
Didn’t you collaborate then with people from your own village?
Yeah, I remember when I was in high school or even before, I used to collaborate with my friends. They weren’t into movies or films themselves, but I was into special effects; lightsabers, explosions and stuff… [laughs]. Everyone loves that as a kid, so I was always pushing them to do projects together. As we grew older, we also grew apart and I started doing things by myself. But yeah, I still have a few friends here who do music and films.
On your first two EPs there is a mix of EDM-ish and R&B songs with chilled classical piano pieces. How is the new EP ‘Erase Everything’ different to those?
To be fair, I’d say I wasn't really conscious of myself at the time. My first two projects were more ‘childish’, which can surely be a good thing as it’s instinctive music, but what I do now is more thoughtful.
I did struggle a lot with my previous work, and still do, because I don't think it represents me well today. I feel like those songs didn’t reach their full potential. For a lot of small musicians like myself, there’s a lot of pressure to continually keep releasing. I chose the name ‘Erase Everything’ as a break, to do it my own way.
But your first EP was self-released.
Yeah, when I started composing at 15. It was more of a ‘self-made’ thing and I had no real purpose other than just making music. But then I met people to collaborate with and expectations were created. As I found my purpose, I refused to change because of those expectations or to do something I wouldn’t be proud of.
There’s also my band Slow Hours, which mainly features the electronic and club side where I come from. We are six people so it’s not just me, it’s a good way to support each other and keep interest. We have a lot of discussions about music and what it means to us. I feel I can do the ‘sad’ stuff on my own project. I like to have separate projects.
When I started music, it was because of Madeon. He was was so young and doing music so fresh which I never heard before. I became a huge fan and I wanted to find out how he did it. I saw a role model in him. A few years later he happened to follow me online, and eventually we started discussing music.
I followed my own path since but the same way I was inspired by his songs, he was inspired by other artists in his former years, so it’s always a circle of inspiration. A never-ending circle. It will be interesting to see who will be the artists that inspire musicians in ten or fifteen years.
Do you have any particular publications or forum boards where you discuss music?
I wouldn’t say I have a particular publication, but my friend sent me a ‘reddit’ ran by a big engineer in the electronic music industry. The thread has like 2000 followers and people ask for advice. The guy basically knows how to reproduce any song and he has worked on many of the hits that we know. It’s very interesting to read his words about music, theory and techniques. It’s great to hear what people who are in the shadow, not in front of the light, have to say. We have many things to learn from them.
How do you choose artists to collaborate? You seem to find very good new and unknown artists.
Sean Bolton send me a message two years back, which I didn’t see. One year later, he sent me another message and I told him how sorry I was for not having noticed him the first time. He added something like “Man, I love your voice, we need to do something together”, so we worked for six months straight on many different versions and finally ended up with a song we both loved. I totally feel connected with him, even if we never met. So, it’s different each time.
You once said “2007-2008 were blessed years for music and pop culture”. Why?
Maybe because I was a kid at that point and it had a bigger influence on me. There was also a lot of culturally important releases in France during those years: my favourite electronic music album; ‘Cross’ by Justice, also Kanye West with ‘Graduation’, the peak of the Ed Banger crew… 2007 felt like a new communion era. It’s like music became more colourful and powerful all of a sudden. It also became more visual and controversial. It was quite a rebellious period of ‘we are young, and we don’t care’.
Those years coincide with the beginning of the financial crisis. Maybe there is relation between unemployment and rebellion.
Um… that’s interesting. Maybe.
You’ve also spoken about ‘digital payola’ and ‘paid-for-plays’. You mentioned an artist that you know who signed to a label, and then found out all its plays were paid for by the label. Why do you think this is not a good idea?
Basically, it has been shown in many studies. These fake listeners and plays won’t go to your show or concert. Maybe I’m too old-school, but I strongly believe cheating won’t help you. Maybe it’ll be more difficult at the beginning without these tools, but at the end of the day, artists that are remembered are not the ones that paid for plays. Maybe it will work for six months or so, why not, but down the line I don’t think it helps. You should put your time and money into crafting good songs and reaching people in other ways, even if it’s harder. You’ll be prouder of yourself.
I can see how it will help with the recommendation algorithms, but I have to agree with you.
Recently, I figured out what music means to me and how it transmits to other people. I think a lot about where I could be in five or ten years, maybe not as Astre but with another project. I would like to do something with a meaning, from a humble point of view. If you buy followers and plays, what is the meaning of your music? I wouldn’t like to worry too much about the number of plays, as long as it has a meaning and I’m happy with it.
Maybe you just don’t want to be famous.
Ah!... May-be… Maybe... That’s a good question. All I can tell you is that I’m pretty confident in the future, but I know it can’t be achieved in one month or one week, personally that’s what I feel. Maybe this is something you should ask me later. I am working on my debut album at the moment and on other projects, but they need a bit of time. I’m not saying ten years, I’m saying maybe one year and then we’ll see. But yeah, of course I’d like my music to be listened by the most people possible and being respected by other musicians, not necessarily famous. I think now I’ve found the way and I just need to craft it.
What are these other projects you refer to?
I’ve been working on an EP with Slow Hours during the past year. Also, as you may have guessed, I’d love to work in the cinema industry at some point. Actually, my biggest dream is to become a film director, I’d like to shoot my own stuff. I believe that if you are really thoughtful about your art and you have good intentions with it, it will end up successful. You just need to believe and be honest with what you’re doing.