With a voice as calming as the tranquil seas of the Mediterranean, and songs that speak directly to the heart, Nicolas Michaux is a mesmerizing presence in the music world. A curious mix of the old and new, his music embraces both his heritage and his visions of the future.
Our interview took us on a journey through time and space: from the idyllic Danish island of Samsø, where Michaux resides with his family, to the sun-kissed shores of Ibiza, where he shot the video for the enigmatic ‘Chaleur Humaine‘. We delved into his songwriting process, which he likens to decoding an initial spark of inspiration. He opened up about the labor of love that his songs represent, not least ‘Chaleur Humaine‘, which evolved through different demos and iterations before settling into the version we hear today.
From the remote tranquility of his Danish island home, Michaux has found the space to cultivate both his garden and his artistry. Here, he has wrestled with his demons, learned humility, and found beauty in every season. However, his journey is far from over. He’s currently preparing for a new album, scheduled for release in early 2024. But more on that in our interview as well.
photography by Valentina Riccardi
‘Chaleur Humaine’ has turned out to be a wonderful song. You mentioned that it came to you in a matter of minutes. How often does this happen in your songwriting process?
Thanks for your words. It doesn’t happen very often to be honest. Most of my songs are triggered by a brief moment of inspiration like a line or a melody that pops into my head while I’m playing guitar or sitting at the piano or something. But most of the time It’s just an initial spark on which I have to work a lot, trying to decode what this first line has to tell me in order to build a proper song. This process can be very long and I sometimes spend long hours trying to find the right words, something that sounds lifelike and true.
On Chaleur Humaine, things were different, I was on vacation, playing the ukulele on a patio just for the fun of It and the song literally came to me. Not just the beginning but the whole song with the chorus and everything. In one hour or so I could sing the whole song. I guess It was heaven sent.
“Living on Samsø teaches you humility and a certain openness to what life brings on your plate.”
The recording process also seems to have been an adventure. Can you tell us more about the different demos you tried before landing on the final version?
Yes. Once I had the song, I kept singing it into my head and loved it. I thought It would be easy and quick to nail a good recording of this one. It turned out to be the most difficult song to produce. I worked on a first version in studio a few years ago with Congolese musicians and the band sounded great but the overall result wasn’t quite right. There was something missing and aesthetically It was kinda blurry, as if there was too many brush strokes on the canvas. It should have been on one of my previous releases but I had finally decided to give it up and leave It aside.
Until last year, during the days preceding the birth of my second child, I decided to give It a try again, just alone in my small home studio. And then things really fell into place, I could find the right mood and the right tempo. The recording you can hear today comes all from that session of two hours where I recorded everything myself. This is the first and only vocal take I did. The drums twere recorded later by my friend Morgan Vigilante who elegantly replaced the samples I had used to build the rest.
What made Ibiza the perfect location to film the music video for ‘Chaleur Humaine’?
It’s a story of friendship and of personal admiration for the south. Because of the title and the mood of the song I knew I had to shoot this video in Mediterranean landscapes.
I have Italian roots myself and the Mediterranean environment has always been where my soul and body feel the most at home. I knew Ibiza a little because I had already directed a music video there for the great songwriter Turner Cody. I had loved the experience and the fact of working with a local team on Ibiza had been liberating. I wanted to work with the same team again and Chaleur Humaine was the perfect occasion. Lara Carreter is an awesome Director of Photography and Valentine Riccardi who is also a great photographer was of great help to produce this with me, providing great locations and actors. Claudia Reig Martin, the great dancer, was amazing during the whole shoot. It was an honor to film her dancing. It was very interesting as well to work with a feminine team.
At the end of the day, I just love Ibiza and Its people. I might move there someday.
“The Mediterranean environment has always been where my soul and body feel the most at home.”
Do you find writing in English or French brings out different aspects of your songwriting, or is the process largely the same regardless of language?
I would say It’s different in the process but the trade and the ambition remain the same : writing a good song. France and the English speaking countries have different traditions and uses when It comes to songs, words and music… I was raised listening to the great French singers like Léo Ferré, Jacques Brel, George Brassens, Barabara but very early on I was interested in the great songwriters from the UK and US as well. I was reading nerdy books about the The Beatles songwriting process when I was 10 and then I dug deep into Bob Dylan, The Velvet Underground, The Doors etc… Which means I’ve been analyzing and experimenting with songs in both English and French for a long time. I see these two languages like tools that are at my disposal when I want to write songs. But in every case the goal remains the same, simple and hard: trying to write something meaningful and groovy at the same time.
You reside with your family on Samsø, a Danish island, where you spend your time growing vegetables and writing songs. What is your favorite part of living there?
My life has changed recently. I still spend a lot of time on the Island but less than before. It’s been 6 years now that I’ve been on Samsø and I’ve spent beautiful years up here. It really allowed me to precise my style and to confront old demons of mine. Living there teaches you humility and a certain openness to what life brings on your plate: may it be dark long winters or the most gorgeous springtime. On one day, you can feel like a king and the other day, you’re just a frail animal looking for a shelter.
I decided recently to spend more time in Brussels again. I’m more and more involved in Capitane Records, our artist-run label and The Free House, the recording studio we have launched with some friends from the Brussels scene. It’s really exciting. Being back in the city with the capacity to contribute to my musical community is exhilarating.
“I want my next record to be uplifting and to celebrate life force without eluding the big issues of our time in any way.”
If you could spend a day with one of your musical heroes, who would it be and why?
I’m bid admirer of Bob Dylan but I think I would choose someone easier to hang out with (smiles). I guess I would choose Mick Jagger. He’s a very smart guy and I’m such a fan. I could learn a lot from his experience in life, music and music business. We could listen to old blues records together and I could show him a rare Russian edition of a Rolling Stone LP I have at home. It would be a great joy no doubt!
I notice that there’s minimal information about your private life available, and your Instagram page also seems to maintain this discretion. Is this a conscious choice on your part?
I guess my point of view is kinda old-school but I think that what is public should be public and what is private should be private.
I have the pretension to think that my work is worth of public attention but my daily life is not. I shared pictures of my daughter or my house in the past though. But It was always driven by artistic reasons. I’m not against disclosing personal content but It always has to have an artistic or political value of some sort. It has to be potentially useful for someone somewhere other than me.
“Success for me is to remain in capacity to do my work and to develop my potential.”
How do you define success?
Leonard Cohen used to say: « Success is survival » and I can totally relate to that. Success for me is to remain in capacity to do my work, to develop my potential and to be of some use for the people who have the curiosity and kindness to pay attention to what I do.
I’t’s all about weaving meaningful relationships and building a community around the music I make and the music I love. That’s why I’m so involved in Capitane Records these days whose moto is « from music makers to music lovers and back ». I want to build something that lasts beyond me and contribute at my own level to a more united and fair cultural world.
Can you give us any hints about the overall theme of your upcoming album?
I’m working on the songs right now. I want my next record to be uplifting and to celebrate life force without eluding the big issues of our time in any way.
My working title for the record is « Vitalism ». It’s definitely going to be the groovy side of what I do that will express itself. I want to make something meaningful and danceable at the same time. Like on Chaleur Humaine where I was able to dug into my roots to build this little groovy and joyful song about climate change and apocalypse. I want the record to be like a last ecstatic dance before doomsday.
Thanks so much for your time!