It’s a Friday afternoon in the corner of a Parisian bistro. Despite being suited up, Benjamin Paulin has made himself comfortable; he does not compromise on style. With the view of the street blurred by the rain, he orders a coffee which arrives with a chocolate on the side - he looks for someone to give it to: ‘Chocolate?’
What a Frenchman sings about today
The singer, born in Paris in 1978, has an air of confidence about him. He has just finished recording his single Dites-le avec des flingues (‘Tell her with bullets’), mixing elements of French crooning legend Serge Gainsbourg and Swiss American musician Dorian Gray. Amongst the other singles on the album is the equally positive sounding Notre futur n’a pas d’avenir (‘Our future is hopeless’). Is Benjamin Paulin a pessimist? He sips his coffee, runs a hand through his hair and leans forward to answer. ’I am more of a realist than a pessimist. Living in the time that we do, there isn’t a lot that is positive. It’s quite bleak. You just have to look at the return of extremists. However, through my music I aim to strike a balance between happiness and sadness. But I also use a lot of irony and my lyrics do have a certain light heartedness.’ He looks for inspiration in everything, including the present. Nevertheless, society’s problems and current affairs are not his style. ’I prefer to talk about things that time doesn’t change, that are constant in history and humanity.’
Paulin has a background as a writer. He left school at sixteen to dedicate himself to literature. ’I was part of a hip hop group,’ he confides. I am baffled: the bling and bimbos typical of the music videos of this genre seem worlds away from the refined looking man I have opposite me. But Benjamin Paulin is not joking. ’In rap it is possible to say so much: things which you can break into pieces and put back together much better.’ The artist does not conform to genre boundaries. ’My music is a sort of hybrid of different styles: rock, pop, ballads, rap… I mix in a bit of each. But I try to create something new. My music and my lyrics combine established points of reference with a modern interpretation.’
The Modern Man
Why is the album called The Modern Man? ’Essentially, everyone is a modern man, including you,’ he says, leaning over and observing my scepticism before laughing and continuing. ’The modern man is the postmodern man. He lives with his contradictions, accepts them and wants to express himself.’ These conflicts are presented explicitly on the album’s cover, which has Benjamin closing one eye to aim a gun, a bunch of roses in his other hand. In another photo in the album sleeve, he seems to be trying to decide between the gun and the flowers. The impression is that his image is important to him; is he trying to convey a specific public persona? ‘Unfortunately, currently we have this need to put people into categories. We look to caricatures in order to place people,’ he replies.
'I consider myself more as a human than a European'
’I don’t see myself from the quintessentially ‘franco-français’ point of view and I consider myself more as a human than a European. These days, lines blur, whether in terms of communication or political borders. I don’t feel attached to any one place.’ This said, he is very European. ’My mother is Polish and my father was half Italian, half German.’ The latter was the seminal designer Pierre Paulin who was known for his eccentric furniture and who died in 2009. Perhaps this is where Benjamin gets his aesthetic tastes and love for the unconventional. ’I travelled a lot with my father. I went to America, Japan, Korea - but never Germany,’ he politely adds, saying that my ‘charming accent’ has not escaped his notice. We go back to his new album which has just been released, but Paulin does not want to talk about success. ‘I have completed one stage. A career is full of them. To suceed is to die before you throw it all away.’ Really, there are times when Benjamin Paulin is more of a pessimist than a realist.
Images: © Paul Kemler/ myspace.com/benjaminpaulin; Video: (cc) clipetzik/ Youtube