Name: Clement 'Tamal' Thouard
Occupation: Producer, sound engineer, songwriter
Current release: Tamal and Marcus Gad team up for Brave New World, available via High Records on November 5th 2021.
If you enjoyed this interview with Tamal and would like to find out more about him, visit him on Facebook. You can also read our Marcus Gad interview to find out more about his collaborator on Brave New World.
Where does the impulse to create something come from for you? What role do often-quoted sources of inspiration like dreams, other forms of art, personal relationships, politics etc play?
I like to put myself in a creative situation, it is my way of feeling good, my way of living. I listen to a lot of music, that's where I get some of my inspiration. Music from all eras. But above all, I try to create an environment, to put myself in a vibe that allows the creative flow to run free.
Depending on the day, depending on the projects I'm working on, it can vary. For Brave New World we drew inspiration from the general vibe of the moment - an urban vibe, dark, fitting with the current context. The exterior therefore influenced the creation, but in the process I would rather say that it was something very introvert, almost intimate. Creating is a necessity for me, it sets the pace in my life.
Anything can inspire me. But above all, creating is a bit of a need, a necessity for me. I wake up in the morning, I go to the studio, that's all. Either tackle a new creation, listen to a mix again, or listen to new releases, other people's work. All of this can inspire me. What matters is to create a vibe conducive to creation.
For you to get started, do there need to be concrete ideas - or what some have called a 'visualization' of the finished work? What does the balance between planning and chance look like for you?
Sometimes I have a concrete idea, I'll talk to artists about it and come up with that basic idea. I find that things get a lot easier when it's there, this basic vision. It comes suddenly.
But what I find most important in the creative process, when we create together, when I collaborate on a creation, is to have long discussions with the artist with whom I work. We need to be able to align with a vibe, to capture what the other expects of us, that the other can also understand our ideas. You have to create something common, that's the engine. It's what gives the vision, what inspires, what puts us to work. I can spend hours on the phone with a musician, a singer, discussing a concept. It stimulates me, it motivates me to create and I can start working, exploiting ideas.
As for chance or planning it's hard to say, I would rather say that in music you might think you have planned everything but there is always a great deal of the unknown. With the current tools and technologies we have enough to be precise in the realization of our ideas, but despite everything there remains an unmanageable part, and typically we cannot predict how the music that we make will be perceived by the listener.
In creation itself, I think it's more a story of energy. There are no coincidences, but something of the order of a favorable environment, linked to what surrounds us, to how we feel. In fact, that's what I love so much in the studio, this kind of protective bubble that we make to promote creation.
Do you have certain rituals to get you into the right mindset for creating? What role do certain foods or stimulants like coffee, lighting, scents, exercise or reading poetry play?
I have too many! But some, I can not speak about … ! (laughs)
I have a certain "routine", and I think it's very important to have these rituals. In fact, I spoke at length about creativity with a hypnotherapist friend who was doing a study on the subject, who advised me to create and raise awareness of my routines, which can put me at ease to trigger the creative process. So yes, it's not obsessions but little rituals.
Like a lot of studio guys I drink a lot of coffee, and I need a clean space. I get up in the morning, I make myself a coffee, I listen to the versions I made the day before, I take a tour of the projects I'm on at that time and I decide what I'm going to get started on for the day. And then, here we go.
What do you start with? How difficult is that first line of text, the first note?
I have no rules for this. I am in favor of not having a precise habit of starting an instrument. I'm convinced that having different approaches, being able to start songs in different ways, enriches my productions. It depends on what inspires me at that precise moment. I can be playing an instrument, when I'm sitting behind the keyboard or if I'm playing the guitar, I play a melody like that and the melody will inspire me, I will find chords that go with it and it will project me into a song. And then I'll start producing this song, instrumentalize it, put on a beat, a bass all that.
I can also totally start from a beat, if I want to do a song with a lot of energy. I'll find a bass drum that grooves well and then I come to arrange arrangements, find parts. Or we'll listen to a guitar part for example and that can be the starting point.
I like not having precise rules. It gives me the opportunity to explore. I think it depends a lot on the projects as well. But creating from different places, starting with this or that thing / element can take me to different places. I like to let myself be carried away by that.
When do the lyrics enter the picture? Where do they come from? Do lyrics need to grow together with the music or can they emerge from a place of their own?
It depends on the projects I'm working on.
On this album with Marcus Gad, on most of the tracks we worked on the instrumentals first, and the lyrics came second, once the instrumental vibe was established. For some tracks Marcus already had pre-written lyrics. For "Tempo", we talked about pictures, words, Marcus showed me pictures of places he was describing, he was writing his lines while talking to me about them. It reminded me of an ambiance, images for the arrangements.
More generally, I leave the question of lyrics to the artists. I am focused on the music, on the instrumentals, that's my part. I attach a lot of importance to the message conveyed by the singers, but also to the musicality of the texts. And you have to be able to highlight the lyrics with the instrumental, that's how I work. The instrumental must be at the service of the lyrics, even if they were done before, in anticipation of the place they will take in the piece.
The idea is to create a combination, a fusion. In my compositions, I don't want the instrument to stand on its own, but rather for it to come together with the lyrics, once the vocals have been put in place.
What makes lyrics good in your opinion? What are your own ambitions and challenges in this regard?
I love working with artists who have lyrics that speak to me, a conscious message, a form of poetry. With music you convey messages, so you can't afford to say just anything. It's important to try to convey positive, or profound, things that make you think. I attach great importance to the musicality of the lyrics, the message is important, but it's not the only important aspect. It has to sound great as well!
Once you've started, how does the work gradually emerge?
When I start a composition, I try to create a universe, a vibe. It's going pretty fast actually. I'll explore new horizons, new rhythms, new sounds, I love it. Then I let it rest a little, then I listen to it again. Some songs survive, others don't! I propose those who pass the selection to the singers afterwards. If the artist is inspired, he writes his lyrics and we'll record the additional vocals. From there I have a concrete visualization of the piece, I fine-tune the last arrangements. With Marcus, we worked a lot on the backing vocals for example.
In the next phase, once the arrangements and the production are finished, I go to the studio to record the final lead vocals, using pure vintage microphones and pure gear. Once all this is done, I tackle the mix, and I fix it definitively before sending it to mastering. 5 steps: - creation, selection - singer collaboration and voice recording - arrangement finalization of the piece - mixing – mastering.
I work a lot as an arranger or director on other projects, and here the process is not the same. In this case we are not starting from a blank page. I come to arrange things, put myself at the service of a universe that already exists even if I bring my "touch" to it. The steps are different from collaborations and creations where we're starting with a blank page.
Many writers have claimed that as soon as they enter into the process, certain aspects of the narrative are out of their hands. Do you like to keep strict control over the process or is there a sense of following things where they lead you?
It really depends on the projects and the albums. But yes there is still a part of me that lets itself get carried by the sensations the music will evoke in me. As I said, I like to let myself go.
At the same time, it may seem paradoxical but I think I always try to keep an objective look (as much as possible anyway), to maintain what would be a vision from the outside, that of the future listener who will discover my music. It is very important for me.
You have to know how to let yourself be carried away by the ideas, the vibe, while keeping a form of control so as not to get lost!
Often, while writing, new ideas and alternative roads will open themselves up, pulling and pushing the creator in a different direction. Does this happen to you, too, and how do you deal with it? What do you do with these ideas?
Again it depends a lot on the projects. Typically I have two examples in mind from my two collaborations with Marcus.
For the production of Enter A Space we created songs, and then I used all the possible versions and arrangements. I experimented with a lot of things on each of the songs, but ended up keeping only the essentials. So there may have been some big changes, transformations compared to the basic instrumentals – as for example on "River", which doesn't sound the same at all as it did originally. On each track I went looking for everything that was possible.
For Brave New World, on the other hand, it was totally different. The exploration was done on different instrumentals, and we then selected the songs. I explored a lot of styles on different songs to come up with the selection of 12 tracks. After this selection I stayed in focus, I fine-tuned the arrangements without questioning the general direction
There are many descriptions of the creative state. How would you describe it for you personally? Is there an element of spirituality to what you do?
The creative state is a state of well-being, a state where ideas flow. But at the same time, it is a state of ultra sensitivity, in which the outside world can appear aggressive.
As for spirituality, I think it's there anyway when we make music, when we create. I can't say that there is something spiritual directly in my work, in doing studio production in front of a computer, but at the same time in the creative process there is something that is beyond me, so can be spiritual in itself.
Especially in the digital age, the writing and production process tends towards the infinite. What marks the end of the process? How do you finish a work?
I wouldn't know exactly how to describe it. I'll listen to the song at one point and I'll know that the creation stage, in terms of composition and content, is finished and that the moment has come to proceed with mixing, effects, sound textures. In short: The improvement from that point moving forward is for me in the sound itself.
So when do I tell myself it's over? Difficult to describe, a feeling of satisfaction, a consistency of all the songs. Hard to describe the feeling of a good mix, of a finished mix! It just sounds good! And then, what's left is the mastering. But this is no longer my obligation, even if I remain very involved in this step.
Once a piece is finished, how important is it for you to let it lie and evaluate it later on? How much improvement and refinement do you personally allow until you're satisfied with a piece? What does this process look like in practice?
I let my songs rest, I like to take a step back, listen to them again, take some time, refine them even more. I'll listen to a song many times, in different situations, and I'll come back to it as often as I need to.
I am an extreme perfectionist. Some of the beats in the projects I release are sometimes several years old. I'm not the type of guy who has a catalog of beats and tries to shove them back at all costs. I need a connection, a meeting, it really is a collaboration.
What's your take on the role and importance of production, including mixing and mastering for you personally? How involved do you get in this?
For me they're of seminal important. And besides, it's a big part of the fun.
I mix all my projects. I'm a sound engineer, which is what prompted me to do production. I am passionate about the studio, about sound and quality gear. I'm also a tour engineer, but it's the studio that fascinates me the most.
I had the chance to learn my skills at the famous Davout studio in Paris. Mixing is an integral part of creation for me. In fact a mix can be creative, just as much as a production. I try to add something more with my mixes. The studio environment must be of the highest quality, it directly impacts the quality of a project. I am located at the Stéréobox studio in Paris. It's the same with mastering, it can change a whole project. I work a lot with Alexis Bardinet. Over the course of many jobs, we get to know each other well, we talk a lot when I send him a project, we explore versions. He's a master's master owning a beautiful studio in Bordeaux, Globe Audio, which has wonderful acoustics and great gear.
After finishing a piece or album and releasing something into the world, there can be a sense of emptiness. Can you relate to this - and how do you return to the state of creativity after experiencing it?
I've never known this feeling of emptiness, luckily or unfortunately I don't know. But so far every time I've released a project, the phase after it ended has been very intense. I always have several projects going on at the same time. So there isn't really any time to experience this emptiness.
I will say that the moments of finishing a project are moments that generate work for me. Whether it is production work, or mixing. And I hope it goes like this after the release of Brave New World!
Creativity can reach many different corners of our lives. Do you personally feel as though writing a piece of music is inherently different from something like making a great cup of coffee? What do you express through music that you couldn't or wouldn't in more 'mundane' tasks?
I know people who are raving about coffee, for whom it is an art! (laughs) But for me, composing music, doing production, that’s my means of expression. It's at the center of my life, the goal towards which I direct all my energy.