Meet award-winning hip-hop composer HELMAUD

Self-taught Parisian pianist and composer HELMAUD has shared his new single ‘Hey Boi’, featuring the feisty and vivacious vocals of a long-term friend and singer DIXIE. The single was mixed by Geoff Swan (Ed Sheran, Mahalia, FKJ) and mastered by Alex Gopher (Sebastian Tellier, Phoenix, Mr Oizo). HELMAND was the winner of the Jazz à Saint-Germain-des-Prés festival in 2008, and since has worked with renowned Parisian artists like My Melody, Because Music, and Pain Surprises.

Soon to release the ‘Hey Boi’ single at the end of this month, we chatted with this rising musician about the music industry.

Tell us about you, how long have you been producing music? What did inspire you to start?

I started producing music around 6 years ago. It was Thierry Durepaire, CEO of MUSIC BOX PUBLISHING – SOUL MAKOSSA, who first asked me if I could record some piano for the catalogue. Later on, I tried to work with Ableton, but the dashboard was too rough, so I jumped on logic. 1000 hrs of Ableton tutorial. I really started to dig the software and started producing some electronic music with some more advanced friends at the time like Isabel (Pain Surprise) or Emile from Uto (Pain Surprise).

To suddenly be able to recall your ideas is very satisfying. Took me 4 years and plenty of commissions to really be able to make any sound I hear or I’m looking for on any kind of gears and analogue synths like Jupiter 6 which I’ve used a lot !! The electronic sound is very satisfying too, in a way, the main matter isn’t to note the note or the line anymore, but first of all, a sound that would lead to, or bring an emotion. It really opened up my ears and definitely made me a better piano player with this permanent « sound-mindset » as a background landscape for any kind of instrumental, piano, drums.. interpretation.

The music industry is super competitive these days, was there a moment in your life that you wanted to give up on music? How did you manage to stay focused and achieve what you want?

Maaaaaan, it’s funny cause I spent a big decade full of energy, so at this point, you don’t really care, but then you get a bit older, you got to gather energies to maintain your direction, and it request so much of this energy to move mountains on a daily basis that sometimes you really wanna give up. It happened to me a lot in the last 4 years. But then, like says the song: « Many times I thought of cuttin’ out but my heart won’t buy it » so you keep going, knowing that at some point, you’ll be « riding high in April, shut done in May ». You just got to move mountains every day to change that tune. Persistency is of great value.

Also, I’m lucky to be able to work with great brands that provide me nice jobs. It definitely helps maintain a certain lifestyle here in Paris.

I also lost my dad a year ago, and it definitely helped balance out all of my wants and needs. Started to focus more on what’s important to me. Doing music is a big part of it.

Reading philosophers like Seneca* or Marcus Aurelius also helps zoom out. They think and say with such wiseness, things that are so actual and modern (event tho they wrote that 2000 years ago for Seneca), that you realize that, your questions, what’s happening to you or general human being behaviors are all the same for the humankind since ever. It helps taking it easy.

How would you describe your creative processes? Who writes the lyrics to the songs? Are the music and lyrics written in conjunction, or separately?

The creative process can be very different grading the project, the song, the commission, the gender, and the people you work with.

With Dixie, she writes the lyrics. More generally with her, rather she starts with an acapella proposition that I instantly and instinctively bounces off of (Lost and Found, Strive, In the Way), or, I will share a prod/beat that will inspire Dixie to write (Thx You, Brain, Cupid) too. This process, as simple as it may seem has been nonstop and has turned into organic mechanisms for both of the musicians.
But, through all this activity, jamming has always been our main creative motor, giving life to songs such as Hey Boi, Stalk Me, Wander, or End of Summer. Songwriting-wise, Dixie is always in the process. I would tell her about my life and cycles, then she’ll write down a few lines that will give “End Of Summer” tune. It’s an ongoing process for both of us.

When I start a prod without knowing where I‘m going, just for the love of music, it often starts to hear some drums or baseline, singing it and laying it done. It has to bounce.

Where the inspiration comes from?

I think inspiration is everywhere anytime. Keith Jarrett say once « Music is either in the air and you find it, or it’s in the air and you don’t find it »** I think he’s right. Physically and allegorically speaking. You just need to make things go in a direction that will allow inspiration to be here. Zone & place, time, elements, and your inner relation to all of those is the key to make it happens. And when it’s there, you need to keep the energy and the focus to maintain the flow running and not lose it.

Sometimes it turns to a « trance » when you’re only driven by your instinct, with 100% of your sense open & connected to what’s happening, (jazz impro when at its best)

What’s your favourite track from the upcoming album and what other bands/artists are you listening to right now?

I like a lot « Lost & Found » (which isn’t out yet). It’s a soul song, with this funky electronic bounce et rock energy. Dixie kills it. It wasn’t easy to make the tune keep go up in terms of energy. This is where the guitar solo comes in !! Big shouts to my homie Mathieu Des Longchamps. We did a great job on the guitars in this tune.

Those last days I played a lot of hip hop, guys, like IDK, Earthgang, JID, Spillage village, Bas, Denzel Curry. IDK’s album « Is he Real » is dope! Earthgang keeps on killing it with tracks like « end of daze », « Bank », Curry’s « Shawshank », « Ricky » is really cool too. Would love to work with some of those cats.
H.E.R covering « Ed Sheeran’s « Make it Rain » is just stunning. Playing it in repeat. The arrangement is just F L A M E. I think Zo Harris is H.E.R’s musical director. If he did those arrangements, the guy is a killer. He’s also a fantastic piano player. Great sound, beautiful line. Huge shouts! The interplay in the band is Dope too!

Played a lot of Errol garner recently. « The classic trio recordings. 1949 ». With his two trios. The ballads are just so beautiful. Ther rare kind of guys that the next bar is more beautiful than the previous one all along with the tune. His swing and right-hand delay is just so Chic. Le classe!

What’s next for you?

« Hey Boi ! » music video is coming.
Some more singles to come. « Stalk Me », « Lost & Found ». Finding a good management.

Listen to ‘Hey Boi ! feat. DIXIE here.

* Moral Letters to Lucilius
* * Keith Jarrett – Interview + Speech at NEA Jazz Masters Awards 2014