Behind the piano

Behind the piano: Francois Mathian

Where are you from? And where do you live?
I was born in France, raised in Burgundy then lived in Paris for a while before moving to Australia where I spent over 10 years, to the point that Sydney now feels like my “home”. Currently I live in Vietnam, where I find a great energy to create.

How long have you been playing the piano, and do you play other instruments as well?
I started learning music with piano lessons when I was a kid, and although I switched to violin as my main instrument after a few years, I could never go without having a piano around. It is a fundamental part of my composition process, along with the violin.

Tell us about how you started playing music. 
I started playing music at the conservatory in Burgundy, and as soon as I started learning the violin I could become part of the student orchestra, which was such a great learning experience, and a lot of fun. 

How long have you been making piano music?
I had been improvising on the piano pretty much since I started music, but I did not put the effort into structuring my ideas until a few years ago. However it is only since a few months ago that I have started releasing solo piano tracks, I have found they allow me to express calmer emotions. 

Tell us something about that moment you realized you could make songs yourself!
I was a teenager at the time, and the piano was part of this process. I remember writing some melodies and showing them to my violin teacher, but to be honest my knowledge of harmony was still quite green and I’m glad I took up harmony classes later in my life.

What are your favorite artists in this “piano genre”?
I really enjoy the modern composers: Nils Frahm, Ólafur Arnalds, Yann Tiersen, Peter Cavallo, especially because they also excel at arranging piano with strings and create these deep experiences. For piano solo, Dominique Charpentier, Ludovico Einaudi, Ron Adelaar, Elliott Jacques, are wonderful inspirations.

Is there one song which you play over and over again as soon as you sit down by a piano? Your own or someone else’s? 
Most of the time when I sit on the piano, it is to improvise or work on a new piece of music, so it feels more like a white canva. 

What rules (in making music) need to be broken?
I would say some harmonic rules still make a lot of sense in the neoclassical style, although to break them repeatedly with intent can create a more “electronic” vibe to the music. Also, in our current streaming and playlists world, we tend to constrain ourselves to create shorter and shorter tracks, but I hope there is still room for longer pieces to come through.

How do you record your music? Yourself? In a big studio? Etc.
I produce and mostly record myself in a small studio, currently based in Ho Chi Minh City, where the mixing and mastering are also done. If I need to record a real piano, I would however hire an external studio. 

What’s your take on sampled instruments?
I do find some of the sampled piano quite realistic, although I must say for solo piano works being able to record with a real piano changes significantly the emotional and authentic impact of the music. For piano and strings, being able to use sampled instruments can be an advantage, especially during mixing, with the ability to fine tune the best matching sound and minimising the use of post-processing.

Anything else you want to share? 
Apart from neoclassical, I also find the piano to be a very versatile instrument, and recently have enjoyed creating more electronic ambient and lofi pieces with it as well. 

The last question is asked by my 7 year old son:
Where do all your songs come from? 

The music I produce comes through me from a desire to connect and express authentic emotions.

Thank you for sharing Francois!

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