Thomas Meluch, better known by his stage name, Benoit Pioulard, is a Michigan-born singer-songwriter/multi-instrumentalist who dabbles in writing and photography. He talks with us about his start in the business, his background in comparative literature, and what his spirit animal is.
MG: How has being born in Michigan—or, the Midwest in general— influenced you and your music?
BP: I don’t know if any of the things that I consider my most major influences are specifically Midwestern, but I have had some of my most intense streaks of productivity during frigid and prohibitive winter months. I also grew up with a forest as my backyard and am to this day deeply appreciative of all the little sounds that keep silence at an asymptotic distance: bird chirrups, trees bending, twigs crackling and so on. They are their own music, to be sure, and I know I could never create anything so humbling.
MG: How long have you been making music? Can you tell us about how you got started?
BP: I began on piano at the age of five and developed a compulsion for recording anything and everything around my house and my neighborhood not long after. As for writing original pieces and arranging them into actual ‘songs’, I think that began around age 14, and various inspirations have emerged in waves of varying magnitude ever since. Being from a pretty small town, my social options in high school would have either involved drugs or sports, so I went the other way & isolated myself with sounds and notebooks for the most part.
MG: Your music has a very dreamy quality to it, and has been described as a cross between ambient, shoegaze, and folk—how did you refine your unique sound?
BP: Everything seems to have happened quite naturally, and like most people – I assume – I combine, through conscious and unconscious processes, the elements of my favorite artists that resonate most deeply through my personal sense of aesthetics. As for refinement, I don’t know; the last time I went back & listened to what I was making at the age of 16 I felt like I was hearing the work of someone with more or less the same perspective from which I’m making things now, 10 years on… It’s just a matter of using slightly more technology now and having access to more instruments than I did back then.
MG: You have a degree in comparative literature—has that influenced your music? Do you have a specific genre or subgenre of writing you find yourself particularly drawn to?
BP: I definitely spend as much – if not more – time on lyrics as I do on the melody & structure of a given piece, so certainly words and their orientation are very important to me, and I’m sure all of this ties in to my former academic pursuits. I would say I’m more drawn to nonfiction than fiction, though genre-wise I wouldn’t know just how to characterize my affections; I like biographies and stories about little-known and unsung figures whose influence resounds through the everyday. I just read “The Professor and the Madman”, for example, and loved that – it’s about W.C. Minor, who contributed more quotations to the Oxford English Dictionary than any other single person, but was also a schizophrenic murderer.
MG: You’re an accomplished photographer and a fan of the Polaroid camera—what was your reaction to its discontinuation? Do you think this says anything about the state of where we’re at in this Digital Age?
BP: I seriously feel as though I’m missing a part of myself now that I can’t get a hold of actual Polaroid film, but I’m also grateful for the efforts of The Impossible Project, who are making variations on the different types of film that have otherwise gone out of production. I understand some of the justification for discontinuation – mostly that the chemicals they used are quite toxic – but I know I’m not the only one who is profoundly disappointed in this turn. Digital formats have their place, most definitely, but I side with those who champion things analog.
MG: Do you wish you could go back to the days of lo-fi and four-tracks? (From what I understand, you had your start with this technology.)
BP: Oh, one can always return – in fact I’m presently releasing a single that was recorded on a beaten-to-near-death tape recorder I found at Goodwill last year. Also, I would say that 60 or 70% of the elements in a given Benoit song produced on the computer are run through tape at least once or twice before being worked into the arrangement.
MG: What is your spirit animal?
BP: Regrettably, I have never seen a shaman or anything of the like, so I don’t know yet. My wife’s is the fox, and I’m pretty envious of that.
MG: It may not be necessarily true for music, but in regards to writing, there hasn’t ever been a big regionalist push for Midwestern authors/writing—one of the reasons why Midwestern Gothic was founded. Do you feel in music/writing/art in general that there tends to be a certain degree of disregard for the region? If so, why do you think that is?
BP: In terms of those who immerse themselves in what I would call ‘serious art’ I think Kid Rock and I.C.P. are two good reasons for any disregard that one might acknowledge… Barring any harsher words that I might have to say about some of the more well-known products of Michigan, Ohio and others, I would guess that most people consider various places on the east and west coasts to be the centers of artistic fervor and it’s perhaps a bit locked in that way. This is one reason that I’m immensely appreciative of the efforts of people like my good friend Forest Juziuk in Ann Arbor, who is by my estimation the only person in Michigan bringing performers like Jon Mueller, who might otherwise skip the area altogether; Forest also hosts and promotes events at the marvelous Burton theater in Detroit and is quite the killer DJ. As for others, I believe that no matter where you’re from, true talent shines and will earn its due in recognition… There are indeed places like Portland – where I currently live – that foster eccentricity (sometimes to the point of detriment) and draw people out from the center of the country, it bears mentioning. To that end, the joke is that you’re a bit of a weirdo if you actually grew up here.
MG: Do you believe in ghosts?
BP: Sure, but I don’t know if they believe in me.
Find out more about Benoit Pioulard at his official website, and make sure to check out his latest album, Lasted, released by Kranky in 2010.