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Air’s Nicolas Godin & Xavier Veilhan on Finding the ‘Great Gift’ of Inspiration

Air’s Nicolas Godin & Xavier Veilhan on Finding the ‘Great Gift’ of Inspiration

Veilhan’s infatuation with music is obvious, even via a video call. An extensive vinyl collection, which runs the gamut from electronica to funk, peppers his bright, spacious studio to the east of Paris, where he’s finishing up work on Autofocus, a new exhibition that runs from Nov. 3-Dec. 23 at Perrotin‘s Lower East Side gallery in New York City. The enigmatic pieces he’s created for Autofocus play with ideas of perception and transference. “When you see something blur, it’s not that the object is blurred, it’s that your focus is bad,” he explains. “[In Autofocus], I want to include this blurriness in the object you’re looking at.”

Coincidentally, Veilhan notes, Godin had also considered “Autofocus” as the title of an album, totally unrelated to his exhibit. The two French artists clearly have a lot in common, including the aforementioned love of architecture – “Nicolas’ father was an architect, and quite a good architect,” Veilhan points out – and, of course, music. Though Veilhan isn’t a musician himself, Godin is quick to mention that “it’s a big list” of artists who have worked with his friend over the years, and an impressive one at that: Daft Punk, Laurie Anderson and Brian Eno, to name a few. “I think you’ve worked with more musicians than I’ve worked with [visual] artists,” Godin muses.

Similarly, Veilhan is an enthusiastic supporter of his friend’s work. When Pocket Symphony – the 2007 Air album which features Veilhan’s artwork on the cover – is mentioned, Veilhan lights up. “It’s a great Air album,” he raves. “It’s very fresh for me.”

Godin, on the other hand, is less keen about his own music as a rule. “It’s a torture because I want to fix things that I think I should have done differently,” he admits. “I like making (an album), but it’s not something I want to (revisit). It’s like looking at old pictures – it’s too hard.”

He does, however, return to Air’s discography when preparing to go tour – an experience Godin sorely misses. “I thought touring was hard sometimes but now I’d give anything to get back on tour,” Godin admits. “When you hear the audience and the first chord of the music, it’s such a good moment.” Although the COVID-19 vaccines have permitted live music to return in some capacity, Godin says the complications of “taking planes with 20 people every day” amidst the lingering pandemic means that Air’s return to the stage isn’t exactly around the corner.

Still, Air’s return to the stage is significantly more likely to happen before the duo logs any studio time. While Air delivered some of the most celebrated electronic LPs of the late ’90s and early ’00s, Godin is skeptical about following them up. “For any band, it’s hard to do magic albums for 30 years,” he says. “When we play live, we can escape from this problem because the songs we did in the past are still cool and people enjoy listening to them. But if we went back in the studio, we could do great songs — but would they be magic songs? It needs something more than being ‘good.’ All my favorite bands have like three to four great albums, max. I thought because I knew about that problem, I’d be able to avoid it,” he sighs. “But it’s more like a fatality or a curse — it’s hard to avoid.”

If Godin is worried about Air growing stale, it’s certainly not a sentiment Veilhan shares. After Godin waved off the idea of giving Pocket Symphony a spin, Veilhan — like a true friend — gently insisted: “You should try. It’s a great album.”

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