A New Tune
Artist and musician Sebastien Agneessens proves that all that Glitters is gold
Story by Eddie Brannan / Photography by Phil Knott
For the early years of the artist, curator, designer, and now singer /songwriter Sebastien Agneessens’ life he lived in Orléans, France. When he relocated to the United States in 1999, the first city he called home was New Orleans. The symbolic significance of that journey impelled the genesis of his new project, an album of songs called Cranes of Glitter, which he recorded under the nom-de-chanson of Seb Leon.
The album came about in a typically organic, inevitable fashion for Agneessens, a man for whom disciplines and roles emerge and interweave as fluid circumstance proposes. For one of his clients, François Girbaud, he had purchased a bunch of vintage American instruments to install in a showroom, and kept for himself a guitar (he had been playing since the age of 12), with which he went on to write and record the entire album. He had been asked by the designer Marc Atlan to write an introduction to his book, but found that nothing would come but poetry, which ended up forming the basis of the lyrics for Cranes of Glitter. And during last year he also worked on a sound installation for a fashion show by the eco-denim line Edun, with Kyle Fischer of the now-disbanded indie rock/emo outfit Rainer Maria and the poet Saul Williams. “Kyle and I really enjoyed the experience of working together,” recalls Agneessens, “and said ‘let’s do another music project.’” Thus, various disparate strands of Agneessens’ creative work intertwined to form a new métier.
The idea that took hold was that Agneessens and Fischer would utilize the instruments of traditional American folk and roots music, instruments that, as Agneessens explains, “you don’t tend to have in French music — the harmonica, the banjo, the lap steel guitar” to create a sound that would form a counterpoint to Agneessens’ Gallic instincts. Fischer (a Texan) plays steel guitar, Agneessens acoustic, and they work with a band with three others. The album contains ten songs, nine of which were written by Agneessens, and a tenth which he co-wrote with his wife, installation designer and Tronic co-founder Vivian Rosenthal. He conceived the album as a vinyl record (and it is released as such), with the five songs on one side articulating one particular mood or feeling, the alternate side’s five expressing another. Plus, for Agneessens, it simply “makes more sense for this music to be on vinyl, given its style.”
Cranes of Glitter was recorded swiftly. “The whole project took three months from conception to the mastering of the record, which is very short,” says Agneessens. “I had many things to say. But it felt like the right amount of time to spend on it, to retain its intensity. Working so rapidly allowed it to be visceral.” This visceral quality is enhanced by the process of recording. Eschewing a studio, Agneessens and Fischer opted to record the album in a church, St Paul’s Episcopal Church, in the Carroll Gardens section of Brooklyn, to be precise. Fischer is a student of theology, and the spiritual connotation of much American roots music is well-served by the choice of locale. Additionally, the ambience of the space lends the album a “recorded live” quality, from which it benefits. The album is released through End-Up Records, a Brooklyn-based co-operative record label that is home to Fischer and several other artists, so we will hear from Seb Leon again soon, as he collaborates with his labelmates on their projects.
Agneessens has transitioned rapidly into this new phase of his creative existence, yet his evolution is as intentional as it is sincere. “I always kept music aside, in a way,” he says, “but I managed to bring that side of myself into my installations, and now to here.” Agneessens sees significance in transition, a meaningful narrative in his journeys, from Orléans to New Orleans, from artist in visual to artist in sound. The opening track on side one of Cranes of Glitter is entitled “Voiceless.” Its creator is anything but.