Ancient Champion may be a frequent and enthusiastic contributor to Outsideleft, but he's surprisingly reticent when it comes to talking about his own music. It's unfortunate, particularly as he's just delivered the enchanting 'Sunset Conversation Early in the AM'/ 'Cacophonie Nocturne sur Sunset Blvd' and we need someone to talk about it...
Today, that honour has now fallen to Lewis Tulpa, the masked director of the accompanying video. This is the second time that the musician and the video maker have worked together and whereas their previous collaboration was relatively straightforward, this is a significant move forward. Tulpa has woven together a tale of a missing musician, his anxious wife and a weary private detective. Oh, and it's in French!
When I met up with Tulpa, we talked at length about his work with Ancient Champion as well his own personal story and influences.
So, here then, is his take on the splendid 'Sunset Conversation Early in the AM'/ 'Cacophonie Nocturne sur Sunset Blvd'
OUTSIDELEFT: So why work with Ancient Champion? And why now?
LEWIS TULPA: The music was crying out for a visual interpretation! I'd heard Ancient Champion's work before and it was, you know, okay. But the last couple of pieces, I adored. The piano on this tune felt like something from an old, noirish detective movie. It's rather dark and mysterious. So that's the angle I went for in the video.
Ancient Champion's whole description of his music as 'easy listening for difficult people', may sound like a comfy little soundbite, as media friendly as 'the new wave of new wave' or some other long forgotten nonsense, but I honestly think that he's onto something. I genuinely love his stuff.
OL: Why the French theme?
LT: Well, obviously, one of the versions of the piece has a French title so that was the initial spark.
I'd decided really early on that, in this video, I'd get round Champion's reluctance to be on screen by creating a story where he had gone missing. But it felt really tactless and insensitive to use spoofs of genuine missing posters and news articles. That might upset people. So, with the idea of Champion's French title, we magically moved the story to France, those posters look less distressing when they're in another language!
OL: Were there any obstacles?
LT: I got Jason (who plays Stephane, the detective), to try and speak French for the first time since he was at school. That took some doing! We were using up precious daylight hours waiting for him to get his lines right and it was early evening before we nailed it. So, its a fluke that his opening scene has that fading light and atmospheric feel. We inadvertently captured something quite beautiful.
However, when Guilaine came on board, everything just fell into place. She's from the French speaking island of Guadalupe. She's a fabulous artist, her work has real depths. She really conveyed the desperation of the wife. She was essential to the mix.
OL: It's obviously not filmed in France though is it?
LT: I was flicking through some eighties pop videos. One was supposed to be set in Paris, but it was filmed in Cambridge. I can't name the culprit but it was so risible, with condescending stereotypes...but it triggered something in me. Let's film it here - but with none of the clichés. We flypostered parts of Bearwood with those "Disparu" (Missing), posters and put a sign in French outside the Why Not café...
... I'll admit, that there are a few shots of a famous Frenchman's house blended into the video. You'll have to figure that one out for yourself though. There are clues!
OL: You do put little cultural references into the video don't you?
LT: Yes but they're not just there as dumb little in jokes, they are my inspirations. I'm paying homage to my favourite films and, however naive my version may be, I think that they work.
The only actual joke was the inclusion of the Proust novel. I'd just finished reading a book where one of the characters is reading 'In Search of Lost Times'. I tried to read it, but...well, I'll go back to it one day (laughs). That's why that is there.
OL: As we touched on earlier, was Ancient Champion's reluctance to appear in the video an obstacle?
LT: Not at all. I was watching a promo for Scott Walker's last album... now, there was a recluse! In those five minutes, you only see the back of his head, or he's out of focus or you see the tip of his baseball cap. It's wonderfully shot and cleverly edited. That's always been my approach to working with Ancient Champion.
And, of course, both Scott and Ancient Champion have a neat collection of baseball caps to hide behind (laughs).
OL: Why wear the mask?
LT: That's another cinematic salute that I won't go into (laughs). And I really like the idea of masks, how you can reveal part of yourself when you're hidden behind a disguise. Or, at the other end of the spectrum, how some people wear their own masks without knowing.
Relationships can crumble when a partner suddenly realises that they've been concealing who they really are for years. I'd like to investigate that a bit more, maybe in another video...
OL: Which brings me to, what's next for Lewis Tulpa?
LT: There's another Ancient Champion video in the pipeline, for a future single called 'L.A. Proved Too Much For The Man'. You'll recall that line as the opener from Gladys Knight and the Pips' Midnight Train to Georgia. Throughout the rest of the year I'm shooting a series of 5 minute documentaries about underground artists, beginning with Guilaine, she's a fabulous painter. And Jason wants me to film some of his 'performance poetry' too. It's going to be busy....
OL: Thanks for your time
LT: It was a pleasure!!