Portrait of an explorerTo discover the article in French
Mathieu Saïkaly is elusive. While a ready-made path of "La Nouvelle Star" (french TV-show) was holding out its arms to him, he preferred a return to independence. While his intimate pop-folk had seduced many, we find him on ever more convoluted musical paths. One constant in his career: the extreme sincerity, in the approach as in the artistic rendering. And a hair evolution as a temporal reference point...
"17 years old, dubious haircut, but good will".
It is about ten years ago that the first public traces of Mathieu Saïkaly appear. The young musician apprentice arms himself with a microphone, taped on a camera stand, a tape camcorder and creates a Youtube channel, where he presents some covers, then his own compositions. By passion of course, but already with an idea behind the head.
"I already knew that I wanted this to be my job. That or acting. I started playing guitar when I was 9, and I was already singing."
As his style became more refined and assertive, Mathieu Saïkaly discovered what resonated with him, and thus tried to make himself known to a first audience.
"I didn't really know how to start in music. Youtube could be like a kind of portfolio of me on the internet. I thought it could help in approaching labels."
As is often the case, the beginnings are made from his bedroom, but the sonic explorer in him couldn't stay locked up for too long. If you're going to go out and see the day, you might as well not go halfway, and in this little game, Mathieu Saïkaly hit hard.
"At 20 years old, he leaves his room. The world exists!"
On the advice of his family and friends, Mathieu Saïkaly signed up for the Nouvelle Star, without any pressure. From the shadows to the light, without transition.
"It was a way to explore a lot of things, without really setting limits to what was fun for me. It was a great confidence builder for me. Because in her room, on YouTube, all you see are numbers, there it confirms you feel like you're going in the right direction."
His style contrasts with the standards of the genre, yet he ends up "winning" the show, and sees a multitude of doors open wide. That of a career made of success for example. He signed with Polydor, and released a first album - "A Million Particles" - in 2015. The commercial success is there, with for example more than 4 million listens on Spotify of the track "From Glass To Ice". But the success is also critical, this adventurous and bright pop-folk album surprises and charms. The subtlety of the chords and melody is already omnipresent, the musical personality is already very marked. The explorer had taken care to leave some clues about his real universe, so the surprise was not to be total.
"On the first album, it is sure that some did not adhere to the style, but I was already careful during the show to say what was important for me, as well as this intimate side, my guitar... I was already thinking about the aftermath, so that people would know what I was getting at. After the show, I quickly started to do columns on France Inter, that already allowed to open the field on these labels. I also met Nicolas Rey, with whom I did two shows afterwards."
His presence at Polydor can also be surprising musically. Already independent at heart, Mathieu Saïkaly knows exactly what he wants artistically, and does it thoroughly. Like two very different worlds that meet and get to know each other on the job.
"With Polydor, it took a little time for them to understand me, I wanted to tighten the angle on what I liked. In the middle of our collaboration, I changed DA, and it went more smoothly. Overall it went well, but you could say that we were sniffing each other out a bit, we didn't know each other! I think the hardest part for them was grasping the dynamics of the album."
"At 24, haircut no less ambitious."
2016 marks a new turning point for Mathieu Saïkaly. The adventure with Polydor ends, without marking a stop for the artist. Just a step in his winding path, as an obviousness paralleled with his creativity away from the symbol of the straight line.
"In 2016, there were movements within the label. The D.A was fired, others left, a new boss arrived, changed everything, made a mess and then left... The separation was done without anger, quite calmly. Now I found myself with my ass on the sidewalk! But I already had a manager that I had met outside Polydor. With him we concluded that the quickest way would be to set up my own label. There I found myself in the open air, but in the end I was much more of a driving force behind my projects, no longer solely on the artistic aspect. There were all the external steps, clips, etc. to manage, it gave me a different relationship to my projects, closer."
This new start gives birth in 2019 to a second album, where his style continues to assert itself. The dominant is pop, folk, and the emotion is on the skin. "Quatre Murs Blancs" captures maturity and intimacy. To give and share emotions, it is exactly where Mathieu Saïkaly excels, the reception of his public follows the movement.
"It is full of flaws with hindsight, but also full of emotions, and that is something precious to me. It reflects the strong emotions that I experienced, and that I managed to capture. I'm happy to see that the people who follow me were able to feel that emotion."
The freedom that Mathieu Saïkaly allows himself transpires from this album, even in its structure and in the limpidity of its listening in one go.
"I had about fifty tracks for this album. And naturally, some tracks stood out. I had noticed that the English and French tracks had their own emotions, like successive chapters. Hence this feeling, this idea that it is composed of two sides. Besides, I have this idea in mind, why not release it on vinyl, it would lend itself well to that."
"At 27, it's the big hair jump"
A year later, a new hair evolution marks a new change, less radical certainly, but just as exciting musically speaking. Always in search of new sensations and sound perceptions, Mathieu Saïkaly offers two tracks, raw and intimate, "My Pride" and "If It's All a Choice" in 2020. Like two beautiful musical snapshots, these pieces announce more and more assumed risks. The exploration can continue...
"I continue in the exploration. I changed my way of producing. My two albums were recorded in studio, I observed a lot the sound engineers, learned a lot. Today, I feel able to translate my music, to make things sound the way I want. And that unlocks other ways of creating. Alone, you have no time limits, unlike in the studio."
In terms of limits, Mathieu Saïkaly has broken barriers again on his latest track. "Plus Jamais te Revoir," released in February, is a sonic punch, a sharp and vibrant work that opens up to a more electronic, somewhat post-rock universe.
"It is a creation from my "home-studio", I wanted to simplify my way of creating, to keep only the essential, to be as close as possible to the emotions I wanted to translate. Emotions that can speak to the person who receives it."
His voice is treated almost as an additional instrument, the texts reduced in a very minimalist approach, is integrated into a musical "whole" conducive to provoke the shivers.
"My voice is already rarely hyper frontal, these are things I had already explored, especially on my Youtube channel, where sometimes I do instrumentals. There's a lot of work on vocals, with backing vocals, but not necessarily with lyrics, texts."
This new open door obviously announces a fascinating sequel. As always with Mathieu Saïkaly, you can expect to find him where you don't necessarily expect him, where his boundless inspiration will take him.
"I'm going to continue to explore, without settling into one genre. It's true that I'm going electronic a little bit, but I'm mostly looking for sounds that speak to me, I'm working with my voice as a musical arrangement."