20 Questions With Tchami: The French Phenom on His Debut Album, Working With Lady Gaga & ‘The Communion’ of Live Music

It’s perhaps a surprise that Tchami, who pioneered the future house sound all the way back in 2013, is only now releasing his debut album. That project, however, is well-worth the seven year wait.

The furthest evolution of the French producer’s massively influential future house sound, Year Zero’s 16 tracks bump and glide along on synth and sex appeal, oscillating easily between house, nu-disco, beautifully textured soft rock, deliciously hectic peak time weapons and chilled out afterparty makeout jams. Featuring cameos from Zhu, Gunna, Todd Edwards and more, the LP is out today (October 23) via Tchami’s own Confession label.

The project is a high point of an already high year for the French producer, who tucked global hits under his standard clerical garb with Lady Gaga and Ariana Grande’s “Rain on Me,” which he co-produced, along with a number of other tracks (including lead single “Stupid Love”) from Gaga’s Chromatica. This was his second round of work with the Mother Monster, with the pair first collabing on Gaga’s top 5 Hot 100 hit “Applause” in 2013.

Here, the Miami-based producer talks about working with Gaga, the communion of live music and how Joni Mitchell has helped him get through quarantine.

1. Where are you in the world right now, and what’s the setting like?

I’m at home in Miami right now. I have my studio here and I’ve been living down here for six years now.

2. What is the first album or piece of music you bought for yourself, and what was the medium?

It was a vinyl copy of Method Man’s Tical 2000: Judgment Day.

3. What did your parents do for a living when you were a kid, and what do they think of what you do for a living now?

My father is an architect, and my mother used to be a teacher. She also studied theology in Sweden. They have been watching me do this for many years now so they understand very well the blood, sweat and tears that went into my musical path.

4. What was the first song you ever made?

It was probably a remix of Diddy and Keyshia Cole’s “Last Night.”

5. If you had to recommend one album for someone looking to get into electronic music, what would you give them?

Daft Punk’s Homework. It’s a pillar in French electronic music. It defined a whole new era for French music.

6. What’s the first thing you bought for yourself when you started making money as an artist?

A Waldorf Q, the yellow keyboard version, and an ATC1-X from Studio Electronics. Bought a new computer as well.

7. What’s the last song you listened to?

Romy’s “Lifetime.”

8. What’s one song you wish you had produced?

There are so many… in no particular order: M83’s “Midnight City” Daft Punk’s “Around the World” and A Tribe Called Quest’s “Bonita Applebaum.”

9. What’s the first electronic music show that really blew your mind?

I remember having a great time seeing Chromeo, Sebastian and Carte Blanche in Paris.

10. What’s distinctive about the place you grew up, and how did it shape you?

I grew up in a small village in the southwest of France. I loved growing up in a medieval village around nature and old houses made of stones.

11. How has future house evolved in the last seven years, and what’s your feeling on where the genre is at now?

I think there are amazing producers in future house. It became a genre quickly, and this was not the way I saw things evolving for me at that time. Almost every producer was trying this future house wave. There was a lot to digest. Even today, I think there is more space now to get the genre to a more mature level. Some artists do it already.

12. You’ve worked on some of the biggest songs of the year with your contributions to Chromatica. Are you a longstanding pop music lover? 

I don’t define myself as a pop lover. I like music that is well-made and well-written. The melodic and catchiness aspect is definitely satisfying to my ears, maybe this is why pop is attractive to me. It translates in my music to a certain point.

13. How did you first link with Gaga, and what’s it like being in the studio with her?

Lady Gaga and I first met briefly in Paris around the time I co-produced “Applause,” amongst other songs in her album Artpop. But we really connected for Chromatica. BloodPop did a proper introduction during the making of Chromatica.

14. What messages and ideas are you trying to get across on Year Zero?

Year Zero is a new beginning for me. It applies personally in my life, and I left it open for the rest of us to understand in other ways. I chose the name before the pandemic, but it seems to suit this era we’re living in accurately.

15. Given that we can’t currently go to shows, what’s the best setting in which to listen to your new album? Any recommended activities to do while listening?

I like my music in my headphones, not too loud to appreciate the work. But that’s just my personal preference and everyone has different set-ups where they enjoy music. I also have a vinyl version coming up with two exclusive tracks.

16. What does Year Zero say about where you’re at in your career and your evolution as an artist?

It’s constant evolution for me. There is history and business to be taken care of, but I know I’m at my best when I try new sounds, textures, and song structures. I hope Year Zero will be a milestone creatively, but also not letting go of the past because it will make sense to refer to it musically.

17. What music has helped you get through quarantine?

I’ve listened to Joni Mitchell, RTJ4 and Sampha’s “Process.”

18. You’ve said that you wear the clerical collar because you want people to have a spiritual experience with your music. Is there anything you consciously do on tracks or during live shows to help audiences (and yourself) achieve this state?

I don’t think I do. Everything is in the music and the show around it. I am part of the experience, as well as the public. When there is no energy, you won’t see me vibing the same. So in that spiritual sense, live music is a communion sometimes.

19. Your label is of course called Confession. Is there anything you’d like to confess here?

There are a lot of amazing artists on Confession right now. If you haven’t checked out the music yet, you’re in for a treat.

20. One piece of advice you’d give to your younger self?

Don’t overthink too much. You’re enough for today.