Interview: Olivier Lété

Tuning - Olivier Lété © Tuning - Olivier Lété

Olivier Lété introduces us to his experimental world of creating music, realised through his fascinating new solo project, TUNING.

Dash Majesty: Tell us a little about yourself.

Olivier Lété: I started music late, around the age of 15, as an autodidact with the electric bass. My father, Christian Lété, is a drummer and has enjoyed a successful career playing jazz and french variety music (Dexter Gordon, Jean Ferrat etc), but he did not push me into a conservatory, we just listened to a lot of music and played together.

As an adolescent, I joined groups in high school – then I joined the jazz conservatory, then the classical one, playing the contrabass, where I graduated. I no longer play the contrabass, but the rigor demanded by the bow greatly influenced my work on the electric bass, especially with the plectrum.

In 2000, I met Claude Barthelemy – that was an important moment for me. In 2002, he was nominated as director of the national jazz orchestra and he invited me to join. I met a number of musicians, many of whom I still work with today, such as Philippe Lemoine, Eric Groleau, Jean Luc Landsweerdt and Emmanuel Scarpa. I have also played in the bands of Dominique Pifarely, Vincent Courtois, Michel Godard and Louis Sclavis, who I accompanied for 5 years.

Today, I play a wide variety of genres, from contemporary music to French songs, free jazz and contemporary dance. I do not belong to a collective, but I have very important affinities and projects with musicians who belong to several collectives, such as Trig and Coax, whose inventiveness I admire very much.


DM: What’s the concept behind this album? Talk us through it.

OL: I have been exploring the solo universe for many years. As a music student I was already composing pieces that I played alone in my room. Later, I discovered the effects pedals that made it possible to transform the sound of my bass. At that time, my solo concerts came closer to electronic music.

With TUNING, I wanted to go back to making something more “pure” without artifices. I immersed myself in the workings of the instrument, looking for new techniques, using different objects and atypical tunings. Then, by adding a second amp with reverberation, I was able to enrich the spectrum of sound and accentuate my style of playing.

Tuning - Olivier Lete
© TUNING – Olivier Lété

DM: Are there any non-musical artists you draw influence from?

OL: I am interested in the different things that have made a mark on my life, as these things have subsequently influenced my musical personality. I could quote quickly the likes of Eric Rohmer, Jacques Demi and David Cronenberg from the world of cinema and Isaac Asimov and Michel Tournier in literature.

There are also plastic artists, photographers and writers of my generation who inspire me, such as Thomas Bernardet, Christophe Blanc, Damien MacDonald, Jocelyn Bonnerave and Muriel Pataroni – I highly recommend their work.

DM: Could you tell us a little about your thought process when writing a new suite? Where do you begin?

OL: For solo pieces, I mainly work by recording my ideas on a Dictaphone, starting with an improvisation or certain concept. Afterwards, I re-listen and then rework and repeat them again and again, until I have a base malleable enough, and which satisfies me enough, to improvise over.

For groups, I mainly write whilst thinking about the musicians I will be playing with. This is very important to me because I work with people who I love and, collectively, their musical personalities are the driving force behind my compositions.

I like this style, that is, to take the essence, which to me is the energy of a genre or work, and build my compositions from there.

Tuning - Olivier Lete - Album Art
© TUNING – Album Art

DM: Why have you selected improvisation as a style?

OL: Because improvisation is a great tool for meeting other people, in music, theatre and dance etc without any barriers.

Improvisation is present at all times in the history of music: jazz, baroque music, psychedelic, church organ etc. I would say that improvisation can be a style or a state of mind, but it is also just a technique.

DM: Do you prefer the composition process or live performance?

OL: It’s difficult for me to separate them completely as one does not go without the other. It is wonderful and essential to work both alone and as part of a group.

DM: Do you have any upcoming projects that you’re particularly excited about?

OL: Yes I have! I just did a session with my friend, songwriter and sax player, Patrick Ingueneau, for a new repertory of French songs (with Toma Gouband on drums and Julien Padovani on keyboards). We will officially create the show in November, which will be named Big Rubato.

With our jazz band, -ion, we’re working on a tour for the Autumn (Samuel Silvant on drums, Philippe Lemoine on sax and Aymeric Avice on trumpet). I also have a new concept trio with my old friends, Christophe Lavergne and Gilles Coronado. We work on at least one original piece every month, naming the pieces after the month in which they were completed.

Olivier Lété spends some of his time pretending to be human on Facebook.