Santa Barbara, prepare for liftoff. On Saturday, June 24, the French electronic music space cowboys known as Air will rocket our way to the Santa Barbara Bowl with special guest Lo Moon. Ever since the group’s 1998 debut album, the down-tempo masterpiece Moon Safari, Air has endured as one of the top acts in its field, the band’s spacey soundscapes acting as a soundtrack to everything from Sofia Coppola films to museum exhibits to the inner lives of its listeners. I was fortunate to speak to cofounder Nicolas Godin about music, nostalgia, and being cool.
How is your 2017 going?
Uh, well it tends tends to be an embarrassment [with Trump]… We have had a lot of hard times here —when you go on tour you can get away from that sometimes — but they were very dark times, because of this horrible thing that happened at the Bataclan. But… we are going forward with dignity and it’s nice, we are turning a page right now.
Yes, I can imagine… do you ever consider you music as being especially French or identified with France?
No, I never thought of that. Actually, when I do music, I try to make music that has nothing to do with no one. I try to put elements not related to reality. I consider music a spaceship to forget about anything that could happen. It’s a parallel world, and that’s what I like about it… I will never make a protest song.
I love your new album, Music for Museum. It’s more… serious or monumental, in a way. What was the creation process for that like?
It’s basically… we did this exhibit at this museum [the Palais des Beaux-Arts de Lille], and we had to do some sound design for some paintings and sculpture. “Land Me” is the only ‘song,’ the only one with a melody. The music was played in the museum all day long, so you can’t put a melody in. We did a vinyl like a catalogue, and you can go home with the catalogue, but it was not a goal to make an album out of it. That was pretty surprising that you can find an album in that context, because it was not our goal. The music was meant to be on site, not meant to be listened to out of the museum, and the only track that we thought was listenable was “Land Me,” and that’s why we’re surprised.
Are there other songs you two have made where you were surprised with listeners’ reactions?
Yes, I think that is the story of my life. Songs I love, people don’t like it, or something I do in five minutes, people love them.
How have your relationships changed to your music over time?
I think when we did any track, it was very stressful. I was so scared when I was recording that it would not age well. I was very worried; there was a lot of hesitation. Now I feel good in my life. I look backwards and can listen to this music and it still sounds good. It’s cool, it means I did a good choice. I did good decisions. It’s a rewarding confirmation that all this time, 20 years later, people love the music and they love show. So it’s a really cool time.
How have you managed to still get along after all these years? Do you guys argue?
Oh yeah, we’re like an old couple. … No, I think in spite of us, we still are teenagers when we are talking. That’s how we learned how to behave towards each other. That’s the magic of music. It’s the only job that requires you to be a teenager, so it is a great job. You can still be, in measure, a kid, and still make a lot of money, which is amazing.
How have the live shows been?
We stopped touring for a long time, and when we came back I was kind of worried about the response of audience. But there was all this love, and I was like, wow, I should have gone back on tour earlier. That’s such a good moment.
Your music has a very nostalgic quality, especially the Virgin Suicides soundtrack. Are you a nostalgic person?
Yes. I’m a very nostalgic person, that’s the problem of my life. I’m very nostalgic. I wish I could not be nostalgic. It’s an uncomfortable feeling,
Does your music help take you back to a particular time?
Yeah, music helps me to place myself somewhere that I can feel is there, but I don’t know how to describe it, and when I make music it puts me there, and it’s a really strong power, that ability to put you somewhere else, to live a different life.
Your music lends itself well to soundtracks; is it ever inspired directly by visual imagery?
Our music is very cinematic and we would be good at soundtracks, but to do a soundtrack is a real job, and we’re not specialists for that thing. It’s more like… when I see something visual, I can describe it in sound. I look at something and just transform it into sound.
You guys celebrate your 20-year anniversary as a band this year. Did you ever expect you would come this far?
We never had any plan. Basically, I live my life day to day, and I never thought of anything. I don’t plan anything. It’s just not my type of behavior, I never thought about it when I began, and I don’t think of that even now.
Were there any big lessons or surprises over that time? Or maybe not that long, but more recently?
Let me think… I think what surprised me the most is, I didn’t realize at the moment you are doing things — when you’re in the moment that you’re doing them, you don’t realize about the consequences it will have later. That’s what surprises me the most when I’m making music. When you’re in the music, you cannot tell how your life will be so much commissioned by what you’re doing… and I look at the past and the 20 years, and I’m here because I think when I was doing them I couldn’t really understand the importance of them. …That’s what’s really surprised me, the huge consequences of small moments.
If you could travel to any planet or moon in our solar system, which would you travel to?
Um… I have no idea, I don’t know if I can answer to that. My thought was, I can travel in my own imagination, it’s really strong. The ability to travel in a small room, and when you have that, you feel like you’ve been everywhere already.
Beautifully said… but you’ve never thought about space travel? Really?
You know, when I was a kid, I thought about traveling in space, and it didn’t happen, so it was a big disappointment. I really thought, when I was seven, that I would be in a spaceship. I really sincerely in my heart was believing that when I was a child, and it didn’t happen. …Maybe that makes me nostalgic, maybe that’s the nostalgia of my music.
My friend wanted to me to ask… How do you guys stay so cool?
How do you guys stay cool… Because I don’t know, I don’t think we were meant to do that, the ‘cool’ thing. The cool is that you have to be cool before you have success. I really loved my life before I had fame. I had a good life, I had my friends, I was dating an amazing girl… Fame didn’t change anything in my life, and that’s how you stay cool.
Air plays the S.B. Bowl (1122 N. Milpas St.) on Saturday, June 24, at 8 p.m. For more information, visit sbbowl.com