FRANCO POP STAR
Byline: Robert Murphy
PARIS — Bertrand Burgalat, a pop music provocateur in the French tradition of Serge Gainsbourg, says he’s happier when it rains. But you’d never suspect his melancholic streak from listening to his translucent tunes. The melodies are light and frivolous, the kind of music perfect for cruising in a convertible in sunny Saint-Tropez.
“If you try to be intellectual, your music is called heavy,” contends Burgalat. “But if it’s not pretentious, then it’s music for airheads. I want to make happy, shiny music and turn it sad. That’s my thing.”
You might call Burgalat France’s most unlikely pop star. He favors lush orchestrations, but his lyrics are slyly dark. He isn’t conventionally handsome, but there’s something intriguing and edgy in his dandyish mien. His musical tastes range from Maurice Ravel and Igor Stravinsky to Leo Ferre and Roxy Music.
Sound peculiar? “I call it idea-driven music that can meander across genres,” he says. “Today, the music industry giants aren’t spontaneous. It’s big business. You know, they have to pander to a market segment.”
Three years ago, Burgalat, 38, founded Tricatel. As head of the small independent recording label, he has produced an array of albums by more than 20 artists, including renegade writer Michel Houllebecq (France’s most controversial novelist), German cabaret legend Ingrid Caven (a book about her won France’s top Goncourt literary prize) and American chanteuse April March (a descendant of poet William Blake). Meanwhile, he just released an album by British writer Jonathan Coe.
“It remains music for connoisseurs for the moment,” he says. “We haven’t broken the 20,000 mark. But to sell more albums than that, you really need to get radio airplay. That’s monopolized by the giants.”
As a musician — he has worked with everyone from Air and Depeche Mode to Nick Cave — Burgalat is also on the rise. With his newly formed band, AS Dragon, he just released a self-titled album. He has played live at fashion shows, including one for his friend Christophe Lemaire, was hired to headline a Louis Vuitton party and has a track on the new compilation album from the famous Paris store Colette.
“I’m getting a trendy image,” Burgalat acknowledges. “But I’m really an outsider. The music I do and produce is not flashy. It’s hard to put in a box.”
Critics of Burgalat’s style say he only repackages music from the Sixties or Seventies. Others call it lounge music. Burgalat insists he’s trying to give them a new twist. “Lounge has a soporific connotation,” he says. “I think my music’s really rock with wry humor. I have a fantastical vision of pop.”
“I’m not trying to make or produce music about the moment. For me, it’s more about research in music, making music that expresses a certain state of mind. I mean, I can go back to something I produced three years ago, right at the beginning, and still listen to it today. It’s not out of date. And it’s still pop. That’s my thing.”