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The Walkmen - Lisbon
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Fat Possum

October 24, 2006
On October 16th, 2006 Benoît Pioulard released his first official full-length album, Precis, on Kranky Records. Prior to this record launch Benoît - whose real name is Tom Meluch - had recorded tracks for an EP, Enge, compilations The Rorschach Suite, Idol Tryouts Two, and Random Number…Colors Start, several home cassettes and other limited-release CD collections. Only 22 years old, Meluch's self-starter mentality and creative character is revealed both through his extensive catalog of recorded work and his fresh cognitive sound.

The crowning point of Benoît Pioulard's promising discography is Precis, a record of pop vocal melodies (think in the direction of National Skyline's Jeff Garber), lo-fi/acoustic instrumentation, experimental tape loops in the background, and an overall classifiably plush soundscape. The songs are developed in filtered textures but penetrate with the same smoothness as a cool lakeside breeze. Despite being on a smaller independent label, Precis is one of the better albums of the year.

Recently LAS senior staff writer Josh Zanger got a chance to speak with Tom Meluch about the inspirations behind Benoît Pioulard, recording setups, and proper pronunciation.

LAS: The music that you make doesn't seem to fit a younger person's personality - it's very cognitive and thought out.

Meluch: I just got into music relatively young compared to most people. I started piano when I was five and six, got my first tape recorder when I was eight or nine and started just recording whatever was around me. My house when I was a kid had a forest in the background so I was always recording myself hitting things and whatnot. And then eventually took up drums after that. So, yeah, it's just been a lifelong pursuit. Some of the sounds on the record came from those early tapes when I was 10 or 11.

When you were young, did you have any plans to use the sounds that you recorded?

Definitely not, I didn't know what I doing.

But you ended up keeping them for some unspoken reason?

Yeah, definitely. I've always been about documenting. I also have a stack of journals that I've written in since like middle school or so that I still go back to for bits and pieces. I mean a lot of it's mopey teenage garbage but there are some gems in there.

Do you think that your surroundings when growing up have aided you in your music making process or your creative process?

I imagine so, I probably wouldn't be the same without it. I'm really attached to having distinct seasons. And I think that affects my mood and the way I do things a whole bunch. Like the sounds I record in the summer, at least I hear differences in their tone and mood. As compared to the ones I record in the winter, for example.

How did you originally get into music?

My mom's best friend since she was in college is a piano instructor and a really good one. I was always taught by her. I got a 4-track, I think, when I was 12. And my first acoustic guitar around that time, started toying around on that. I think my first recordings of anything that resemble a song were covers of my favorite Sonic Youth and Sunny Day Real Estate songs.

I've read that you've played drums in bands, but on the Benoît Pioulard stuff you don't really hear a conventional drum set. How do you incorporate drums into your music?

I kinda dream of having a studio space eventually where I can have a full kit and everything. But as it is now, I'm living in a small apartment in an old house and so if I had that kind of thing my neighbors would probably be complaining all the time.

I recorded pretty much this entire record [Precis] in the corner of my room. I have limited percussion, there are some kick drum noises some of which are me hitting pillows and treating it with effects and stuff. Or I have one big drum that I would record in the shower stall, and the sound waves around it, I guess.

So your sound is kinda dictated by your living environment, you'd say?

Yeah, and I'm kinda a night owl when it comes to recording, so I'd be doing it late at night and have to keep it as quiet as possible.

What is it about the night that makes you creative?

Can't say really, it's always sorta been that way. I guess I go out and record things outdoors in the afternoon usually but then will stick to recording things at night.

How did you eventually get hooked up with Kranky [the Chicago-based label that released Precis]?

I sent them a demo in spring of last year, maybe a little earlier than that. And they expressed interest in hearing more. So I spent all of summer of 2005 recording a bunch more songs, and sent it back out to them. They were one of three or four labels that I heard back from, which was a big big surprise to me.

The other one that I would have been interested in was Introversion and I was also talking to Type, who is actually going to be releasing a 7" of mine this winter.

Another thing that I wanted to touch on was your moniker, I don't know how you pronounce it…is it just…Ben-wah…?

I say [phonetically] Ben-wah Pyo-lar.

OK. How did you originally come up with that, is it a literally reference or something like that?

Not really. I don't have much of an idea where the last name came from. I have some ideas about various combinations of French words that might be nice if you put them together. But, like, if you Google that surname, the only things that show up are things that have to do with me and the record (laughs).

[The name] showed up on a notepad next to my bed one morning. I guess I had written it down in the middle of the night. So I kept it. So, yeah, who knows.

But I've been speaking French since I was 9 or 10. It was part of my elementary school curriculum and my mom is kind of a Franco-phile. It's always been there. I have no French lineage, I'm all Eastern European.

With the moniker and your sound, and along with the Polaroid pictures and field recordings that you do, it all seems to fit in with this organic, literally, very creative, and experimental kind of feel.

Well, thank you. I take that as a high compliment.

Is that edge an aim of yours?

These are all things that are based strictly in my own drive. Things I've always been interested in. I love Polaroids, just things that seem dusty and distant, and things that have a grimey window between you and whatever the subject is.

With things becoming more digital, and technology sticking its head in a lot more places, especially music, what do you feel about that?

A lot of my favorite music is being made through that way. I'm goin' nuts for this new Clark record on Warp, and that couldn't have been made without all this technology that's happening. But I myself have probably the simplest recording setup that I could possibly have. It's just a really middle-of-the-road microphone and a 1-track mixer, and I use the editing software that came with my iMac.

Do you have any plans about going into a studio eventually rather than having your home recording situation?

I don't know. I certainly wouldn't rule it out. I love having the ability to do whatever I want pretty much whenever I want at home. When I was finishing Precis I'd be staying up 'til 4 or 5 in the morning, drinking tea and just staring at my screen and cutting and pasting things and mixing and whatnot. That liberty is really important to me.

Do you take things like relationships and life-happenings as influence into your music and lyrics?

It's actually kinda funny because a lot of the lyrics for some of the songs are, I guess would describe them as, quilts of various lines pulled from different things I've written down and then adapted to rhyme for the song. Then, that sometimes is a major function of my subconscious because I'll come back and look at lyrics and finally realize what it's all about only a few months later.

Do you also take influence from other artists at all?

Pretty much for the last three years or so, all I've listened to is William Basinski - he does very calm loops, he's got a record called The Disintegration Loops. It's just what it sounds like, old loops that go on for like 45 minutes. I guess I would categorize what I listen to as pretty boring. I like him and I like Casino vs. Japan, and I think Boards of Canada are a huge influence on me.

You can delve deeper into the world of Benoît Pioulard at his personal website or become an internet BFF at www.myspace.com/pioulard.

SEE ALSO: www.pioulard.com
SEE ALSO: www.kranky.net

Josh Zanger
Joshua Ian Zanger, a native of rural Chicago, rocks many a world with his writing, style, and generally sweet aroma.

See other articles by Josh Zanger.



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