Martin Solveig may have concocted jams for everyone from himself to the likes of Madonna, but music is just one of his true passions. Since the early days of his now 10-plus years as a producer, the cheery Frenchman has expended almost as much energy on the visual presentation of his music, an effort that, when traced from videos for songs like 2007's "Rejection" to 2011's "Hello," has made him dance music's only auteur.
"Most of the time when I make music, I have images that come with it," Solveig told The Huffington Post in a phone interview as he was en route to perform at Electronic Daisy Carnival in Chicago. "It's like a package for me."
His latest video is for "Hey Now," a summer anthem Solveig crafted with The Cataracs and Kyle. It comes on the heels of "Hello," a global smash hit that came out of Solveig's desire to make a video at France's famed Roland-Garros tennis stadium. Trading clay courts for a breezy beachside playground in Los Angeles, Solveig, some models and fellow producer Tommie Sunshine lob water balloons at each other, race minibikes and dive into shallow pools -- a cute vision of summer that approaches twee without quite overdoing it.
Solveig, who's a fan of Wes Anderson movies, knew what he was dealing with. "Typically making a summery video in Los Angeles for a sweet song is on the edge of cheese," he said. "So, of course, the tricky part is to bring those elements and visually bring all the fun that we had making the song -- the sun -- without the cheese. I think I managed to do that."
Watch the video, which is debuting exclusively on HuffPost Entertainment, above. Ahead, a transcript of our chat with Solveig, in which we take a deep dive into his legendary career in music, delineate his development as a filmmaker and take stock of today's EDM culture.
You've said that "Hello" was actually inspired by the desire to make a video in Roland-Garros. Where did this obsession with videos start?
It started quite early, actually. The first story I can tell about that is when I contacted a friend who's an extremely famous photographer in France, Jean-Baptiste Mondino, about seven years ago. I was his neighbor, so I was always trying to get him to direct one of my videos. He actually had stopped directing at the time and was just doing photography. One day, I pitched him on a video and he said the pitch was cool and I should just direct it myself. That was for a track called "Rejection," and from there, I didn't have a complex about who was going to direct my videos and to have more of a focus on the concept. Most of the time when I make music, I have images that come with it -- it's like a package for me.
When you make music, what part do you usually start with? Some producers focus on vocals, others on keys.
Generally, I start with drums and vocals. Drums are just to give me a pattern and swing, and, of course, I'm making dance music so it's always a drum-driven music. Then, almost immediately, the topline or a hook or a word is coming. So I start with those two elements and then just arrange the rest.
And where did the inspiration for the "Hey Now" video come from?
This one was a tricky one, because it was very obviously a summery song. The evocation is very Californian -- and I made it with Californian artists, The Cataracs and Kyle -- and we recorded it in Los Angeles, so something very L.A. came out of the song. I wanted that in the video. We had the most depressing winter ever in Europe, so I really wanted to bring a summer vibe. This is where it gets tricky, because typically making a summery video in Los Angeles for a sweet song is always on the edge of cheese. So, of course, the tricky part is to bring those elements and visually bring all the fun that we had making the song -- the sun -- without the cheese. I think I managed to do that.
Did you write the treatment for this video?
Yes, I almost always write the treatments for my videos. And then it's a pleasure for me to collaborate with directors or cinematographers. For this video, the timing was no crazy that it wasn't realistic to book a director to embrace the project the way it was. I wrote the treatment and 10 days later we were in L.A. shooting. Music is really about the moment, especially today, so I didn't want to wait.
Is summer your favorite season?
Actually, I've never released a summer song, ever. This is the first time.
Does your obsession with music videos carry over into feature films?
When I started my previous project, it was not going to be an album, it was going to be a short movie. Eventually, it became a music video -- which is what "Hello" was extracted from -- and then it became an album. I'd say that in the past few years, I've spent as much time, love and energy working on the image as I have working on the sound. And to me, it's two sides of the same creativity and process. So, yes, I'm very interested in movies and am quite obviously very influenced by what I would call the American "indie" movies, like all the Wes Andersons and the Coen Brothers and maybe a little bit of Quentin Tarantino and Paul Thomas Anderson. Of course, those guys are all masters and feature film directors with all the awards and everything, but these are my kinds of films.
I also like the old movies a lot, particularly French old movies from the '60s and '70s all the way back to the Nouvelle Vague [the French New Wave] and a lot of big studio classics from America.
The music video had fallen from grace but seems to be making a comeback, especially since Billboard has changed it's chart algorithm to take YouTube streams into account --
Ah really? I didn't know about that. OK, that's interesting.
Well, hopefully you'll see a bump.
I never really worked on videos thinking of a certain payback, but more as an extension of my music.
Right -- what I was going to ask is about the golden age of MTV, when music videos were really a prominent part of music culture. Are there any videos from that era that really stand out to you?
Ah, yes, of course! It's true that most of the very cult videos were shot in the '90s by the likes of Michel Gondry for Bjork or The White Stripes or by Spike Jonze. I'm also a big fan of Chris Cunningham and Mark Romanek, and I also appreciate the huge productions by Francis Lawrence, like the ones he does for Gwen Stefani and Beyonce. Actually, from the eyes of a Frenchman, that's really how I see the big productions from Los Angeles and America in general!
The spectacle of it all?
Like anyone else, I love it when there is a lot of hype around a video. Like all the ones from OK Go, and especially the first one, when they are just in their backyard doing their choreography. It's all very ironic and funny and second-degree for a rock band to be performing some king of cheesy choreography. But it's very efficient and probably cost a couple of thousand dollars and it was seen 50 million times. Of course, I love the concept videos like that, but I have nothing against videos like "What Are You Waiting For," the Francis Lawrence video for Gwen Stefani, which is like "Alice in Wonderland" and probably required them to shoot for a whole week with a feature film staff. I'm a big music video freak. I could watch videos for a whole evening, and when I like one, I can watch it 100 times.
One of the criticisms of the brand of dance music that's become very popular is that it's a bit one-dimensional. Would you say your broader artistic vision helps you evade that problem?
Well, I would say that it's getting better in dance music. It used to be catastrophic, with few exceptions. I think the Benny Benassi "Satisfaction" video is the cutting edge of cheese and genius at the same time, because it's so creative that it's funny. But it's really on the artist and everyone involved in the management process -- I remember discussions with U.K. A&Rs five or six years ago where the only thing they would say about videos is that they have to have "tits and ass and dancing girls in Ibiza" because the only places videos could be played were fitness clubs. I heard that from A&Rs! And I'm sure that the same A&Rs wouldn't say that today, and I think that with the development of electronic dance music artists -- and artists that have a proper image, like Swedish House Mafia and Calvin Harris -- videos that make sense and connect with that global image are necessary. There is still a lot of progress to be made, but I know that there is a profound motivation from all these guys.
It's quite a new thing, because music videos belong more to the pop and hip-hop worlds, and dance music used to be so underground and live without an image. Now, that's not possible anymore, and everyone is getting there. But it will take another couple of years. I'd love to direct some music videos for other artists and why not dance music artists?
Living legends like Giorgio Moroder and even Nile Rodgers are really getting introduced to a new generation of fans who are familiar with their work but may have never heard of them. You're a guy with an extremely long and rich career, but to new "EDM" fans, you might be taken as the same as someone new, like Afrojack. What do you think about that?
That's a great question. I have a straight answer for this. The percentage of fans who have knowledge of the full spectrum of what I have done within 15 years of music production is very, very small. And I know that. I'm also a guy who loves living in the present and a little bit in the future, so I tend not to look back too much. I'm not very nostalgic, and I believe that what I did 10 years ago is what I did 10 years ago. When I enter a stage on a festival, I try to act as if I just started last year. I think people know maybe a couple of my songs and it's going to be a dialogue. Of course sometimes I will drop a very old piece of my music from like 10 years ago, but my answer is that most people appreciate my show stage on my last couple years of production.
And that's fine with you?
It also depends on the type of show that you're doing. I remember that in 2008, I did a tour of live shows in Europe. Those were strictly solo shows in relatively small venues, and these are the places you meet guys who have been following your whole career. I decided that this is really the moment that America is not in the "discovery" time anymore, but in the "embrace" stage. It's still quite recent here, so you only get the development or the years that you've spent in the U.S. But I'm very cool with this, and sometimes younger guys discover tracks that I did some time ago and there is a bit of that curiosity and it's very exciting, but I'm cool with the idea that with "Hey Now" and all the new music I'm releasing, a lot of people will be discovering me. They maybe even have forgotten about "Hello," which was a pretty big success just two years ago.
Your sets definitely don't adhere to some sort of big-room, EDM-only rubric. What do you make of acts like Avicii trying to marry live instrumentation to electronic components and DJ'ing? Would you say that's a necessary development?
Obviously the mix of organic or real instruments and electronic instruments is always very interesting. It's a lot more difficult than doing straight "EDM," as they call it now. In terms of research and creativity, this is what brings you interesting experiences. For example, the way that Phoenix has been working with super basic rock instruments -- bass, guitar and drums -- in the last five years is something that's very inspiring for an electronic producer like myself. I've always had a lot of guitars in my production, and of course they've been very influential.
Now, is it compulsory? No, it's not. I don't believe in rules, and I believe in diversity. Some of the things we need [in dance music] are diversity and personality in the sound. That doesn't mean it has to be symphonic or that you have to bring two or three instruments. The guy who brought the most personality in the past two or three years is Skrillex, and he did it mainly without any instruments. What's interesting is to experiment always and to feel the sound moving. I know Avicii tried something very courageous and complicated, so I want to salute the effort to try and bring some new ideas on stage.