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Rock. Axel Bauer: “For me, music is a quest for oneself”

“Cargo”, an imperishable rock and synthetic success, is approaching quarantine without warning. Its author, Axel Bauer, has just passed his sixties. With “Radio London”, his seventh studio album, he gives us a collection of intimate songs which question in turn the heritage of those who rose up against Nazi barbarism, the vanity of existence and true and ephemeral pleasures.

With humility as a common thread, a cardinal value that he will draw from a rich and dense family history as well as from a personal trajectory that will not have left the artist unscathed. Solemn when he evokes History, epic when he sings of tempting vices, moving when he confronts himself with the ultimate limits of life, Axel Bauer skillfully makes his guitar speak and continues to write the pages of a French rock that makes dialogue text and raw sound.

The song “Ici Londres” is dedicated to your father, Franck Bauer, who died in 2018, the announcer who uttered the phrase “Ici Londres, the French speak to the French” 517 times at the BBC microphone.

I’ve wanted to write a song about my dad for a long time, but couldn’t. Because, I think, of the double dimension of the character: “my father this hero”, the one who belongs to everyone, then my dad, a guy I know intimately. He is a man who had a thousand lives: general secretary of the Comédie-Française, organizer of jazz concerts, founder of the first public relations firm. He even created a machine to print photographs on plates! The desire to do this song came the day he saw the same microphone as the BBC’s in my house.

I offered to re-record the messages. He accepted, then we discussed his autobiographical book, which tells the story of a 19-year-old guy, without a very strong political opinion, especially passionate about jazz. He was part of this small band of guys who were fans of this music with the Hot Club de France. Here he finds himself in the heart of the war, mounting sandbags on the roofs of London against the incendiary bombs launched by the V2. These discussions helped me better understand his psychology. He has been conditioned to live in a very intense present.

Why did you entrust the text to lyricist Boris Bergmann?

We talked about it a lot together. Boris has a family history linked to the Resistance, to deportation, and my father’s story touched him. When he arrived with his invented messages from Radio London, and especially the phrase “in other times we were more resistant”, that was the trigger.

“Rock”? What is certain is that I make music whose base is bass, drums, guitar. It is above all the emotion that guides me.

Your album is very constructed. With a first part on the vanity of existence, a second on the thirst for life…

The coherence in this album, I feel it without being able to explain it. I relied on my alter ego, the lyricist Pierre-Yves Lebert. There is in his texts a step back and a humanity that touch me. What he writes, I could say it and that’s why I can sing it. But there are different parameters when establishing a list of songs: the rhythm, the tone. However, we tend to put the themes at the beginning, which then print the other pieces.

You cover “Is this how men live”, by Léo Ferré and Louis Aragon. What meaning does this song have for you?

I find that it resonates with “Here London”. They both speak of the war as a story that repeats itself. This question – Is this how men live? – also came to me after the first confinement. Basically, this album evokes all the questions that torment me.

You sign the title “C’est malin”. Is this a way of approaching the illness that struck you?

No, because the song is not about cancer. The word is not even mentioned. I associate this piece with something heady, haunting. What I am describing is rather the rupture between a before and an after. At first the guy is fine, he’s in charge, handsome, his hair blowing in the wind. Suddenly, the news comes and he is told that his life is going to change, then he looks at the world differently. It is this moment that is interesting. You are taught that you may be dying and suddenly a different light shines on your relationships with others. That’s what I wanted to convey. The song came out of nowhere, I even kept the voice of the model. She talks about humility, which is the antidote to vanity. We need humility to consider each other with more respect, to move forward more easily together and put people back at the center.

Icon QuoteHumility is the antidote to vanity. We need it to consider each other with respect, to move forward together and put people back at the center.

Life has left traces. You mention it…

It’s the first thing you say to yourself: “You drank too much, smoked too much…” In my teenage years, a lot of drugs circulated and were touted as so many openings on “the doors of perception”, as wrote Aldous Huxley. We even felt a bit stupid if we didn’t take it. It took until the 1980s to see the carnage. At that time, a fairly strong spiritual process led me to take a shamanic journey. I also went to the Sahara to seek destitution after the Sacem check following “Cargo”. I was afraid of missing me, of missing me. I never made music to get rich. For me, music has always been a quest for oneself.

In your sixties, you feel that the rock inspiration has not left you. Have you felt the need to plug in the guitars and amps?

Yes, I still work a lot on the guitar. I took part in a tour organized by Jean-Félix Lalanne with Larry Carlton and Robben Ford, two immense guitarists whom I listened to and studied a lot when I was 18 years old. While crisscrossing France, we discussed a lot and I realized that I had gaps. So I got back to work even more. I even took harmony lessons.

You took lessons with the Greek composer Iannis Xenakis, whose centenary we are celebrating.

Yes, at Jussieu University in the 1980s. Xenakis was great. He made me understand the mathematical dimension of music. He was a great mathematician and architect, a guy who gave you clear explanations of seventh-degree equations. With him, I saw a computer for the first time and I understood that you could make music with it. And I was inspired by his music for a percussive and polyrhythmic sequence of “Cargo”.

What meaning do you give to the fact of playing rock today?

I wonder what resonance this word may have for a 20-year-old kid. When I started listening to what we call “rock”, it was already over for some people. I already considered myself “hybrid” at the time. In France, the word resonates with the past and I live in the present. What is certain is that I make music based on bass, drums and guitar. It is above all the emotion that guides me. I am on a permanent spiritual quest, through the words of Pierre-Yves Lebert or my own words. Basically, I would say that I do rock songs.

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