Kavinsky is a zombie, explains Vincent Belorgy of his undead alter ego after several tumblers of whiskey. He crashed his Ferrari Testarossa sometime in the ’80s and now he spends his days cruising the streets, playing electronic music and drinking copiously without fear of liver damage (after all, you only die once). Kavinsky was already heavily engrained in the French electronic music scene—touring with Daft Punk and Justice and working with SebastiAn—but it wasn’t until his song “Nightcall” reverberated through movie theatres as Ryan Gosling evaded the Los Angeles police in the opening sequence of Drive that he achieved mainstream, international success. At long last, his very first LP, Outrun, comes out later this month and we couldn’t imagine a better soundtrack to an ’80s movie about a lovesick party zombie. We sat down with Kavinsky to chat about the undead, the first time he saw Drive, and shoplifting.
My understanding is that Kavinsky is a zombie.
Yes, he is.
A dangerous zombie?
No, a cool one. He’s not like a zombie who walks like this (makes grunting noise and does zombie impression). He’s the coolest zombie ever. He can do the moonwalk.
Where would you say that Vincent and Kavinsky converge?
The coolness. Actually he’s just me but a little bit grey-blue. I put on my gloves and my varsity jacket and that’s it, I’m Kavinsky. It’s the real me, or maybe who I wanted to be. I really needed to create this character to make music. I started to create the story and it was easier for me.
I read the narrative of “Nightcall” is that Kavinsky is going to visit his old lover?
She thought that he was dead. One night he comes by her house and she’s now married with kids. When he died he took a lot of time to think about how it would be when he rings the bell and she sees that he’s dead and a zombie. He wasn’t ready for that and he didn’t think she was ready for that. It’s difficult for a zombie to be loved by a human.
It makes sense that your music has such a narrative as I read that it’s inspired by film.
Films, cartoons, videogames.
Are there any specific films you find particularly inspiring?
It’s the stuff I used to watch when I was young. I’d always watch the same movies on VHS. I had maybe ten movies on VHS. I think that’s why now, everything is imprinted in me from that period and that’s why it came back when I started to make music. It would be worse if I were a big fan of Titanic or some shitty movies.
Then you’d be making love songs.
But “Nightcall” is a love song.
It’s a dark love song.
The whole album is not gay music… not gay like homo, gay like happy music. It’s not a very happy album, it’s quite sad.
Since you are inspired by film, how did it feel the first time you saw “Nightcall” featured in the film Drive?
I was jizzing in my pants.
So you were excited then.
Really, really excited. I was in the cinema for the first press screening, I was seeing the movie at the same time as everyone else so I didn’t know where my music was. When the opening titles begin I was like, “What the fuck. This is not a gag, this is real.” I was in the first row at the theatre, with Skrillex. We had met two hours before. We were chatting on Twitter and he said to me he’s been a big fan since 2005, can we meet, I’m in Paris. So I said, yeah, no problem, of course, I’ll come to your hotel. The hotel was five minutes from the cinema so I asked if he wanted to see the movie with me. It was a very special day.
I knew the song before the film came out but now they’re inextricably linked. Was it strange to see a song that you had put out a couple years prior achieve such mainstream success?
When I did that track with Guy-Manuel from Daft Punk we didn’t decide, “let’s do a hit.” We wanted to make a ballad, something very slow, so not a hit. In the ’80s you can make a hit with a ballad, but now it’s done. Except Celine Dion, maybe she can do that. I was just lucky. I’m a fan of Nicolas Winding Refn’s work. I was a fan of his Pusher trilogy. So at the time the guy asked me, I would have paid him to do it myself. I was so happy, but I didn’t even know that after the movie it would be as big as it is.
Your whole career as an artist seems to be linked to cars. Are you a car enthusiast?
I’m into many things. I love cars, I love beautiful girls… stupid things.
Things that guys like.
Yes, it’s just like that. I’m not especially a Ferrari enthusiast. It’s just at one point I had to decide I’m going to get a car… it’s just like that. But now I’m very happy with it. And yes, I love to drive.
There are so many wonderful French electronic artists. Justice, Daft Punk, Brodinski. What is it about French people and electronic music?
We are lucky, we are talented. Maybe both. You don’t live in France, but there’s a lot of shitty music as well. If you are a foreigner, you only see the good things.
So let’s talk about Outrun. Why was it finally time to release a full-length record?
I couldn’t release an EP again because even my friends are saying, “oh what, you’re going to release another EP?” It was kind of a joke. I decided to work with SebastiAn, which helps me a lot to see the work through different eyes. My producer and manager were saying to me it’s time, choose some tracks and it will be done. That’s what I needed SebastiAn for; to tell me it was done. Without him I don’t know if it would be finished. He’s my best friend. I can’t work with somebody, even if they’re talented, who is an asshole. I don’t do stupid work for money or build a relationship with someone for an album that I really don’t like. That’s why it was SebastiAn… and of course because he’s really talented and I’ve loved his work for a long time.
Havoc of Mobb Deep is on this record. How did that collaboration come about?
It was because of A-Trak, he’s a good friend. He was the link for me to get any guy in the US because he’s the man. You just say a name and he pulls it out of his hat. But Prodigy was in jail for gun possession or something. That was a little bit disappointing, but we thought maybe Havoc would be interested and he was, because rappers are always interested. He really did a nice job of getting the story and writing lyrics for it. I think it’s a good track. It’s kind of old fashioned, it’s the way I like to listen to rap and it’s one of my favorite rappers. So… Mobb Deep forever!
Surface to Air did the album artwork, how did that come together?
For all the photos, the cover, the concept, the lobby cards…. We have lobby cards like they did in old cinemas. You used to just see a few pictures and that’s how you would decide if it’s a cool movie. So Marcus Herring did the music video and all the photos and afterwards we gave everything to Surface to Air. I’m so proud of the cover that they did, it’s a cover I would have wanted to put on my wall if I were a kid.
So what was on your wall when you were a kid?
Woah, so many things. I used to have an entire wall with maybe 2000 pics of friends, parties, magazines and graffiti everywhere. My mom was really cool, so my room was a big mess.
You mention graffiti and I read that you once stole a Mobb Deep record. You sound like a mischievous kid. What was the worst thing you ever did?
(laughs) That’s something I can’t say now! (puts on evil voice) I’ve killed someone, but he’s buried somewhere, you won’t find him!
I knew it!
No, no, no… stealing things, like CDs. I used to have an army jacket that could fit like thirty CDs, so each day was a big day. I was not so rich, my mom wasn’t rich. With no money, if you really want it you take it. I don’t do that anymore.
How did you feel about being featured in Justice’s documentary A Cross the Universe?
They didn’t tell me I would be in it. I just discovered it in the cinema. They said they put me in but they wouldn’t explain which part. I knew there were so many images of me, so I was freaking out over which one they would use. And then of course it was the worst one. I was really fucking drunk.
Would you say that video is an accurate depiction of how you conduct yourself on tour?
Yes… that’s the Kavinsky I don’t want to show to people, when I’m truly a mess. My best part is when I play saxophone on a vase, with Gaspard, in my underwear.
What would you be doing if you weren’t making music?
I already did enough shitty work. I didn’t graduate. I quit college before the end because I knew there was nothing for me in it. When I had to find work to make money I wasn’t qualified for anything.
What was the worst job?
Selling clothes. I painted, I did dirty work, but the worst was being cool and nice and clean and selling clothes to people.