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Romance in the Raw 

Amélie composer Yann Tiersen makes his U.S. debut

In American pop music, there tends to be a pretty clear dividing line between love songs and sex songs. Not surprisingly, no such line exists for the French, which helps explain why a tune called "Fuck Me" works so well as the sweet and innocent finale to Yann Tiersen's long-awaited U.S. debut, Dust Lane.

"For me, it's a genuine love song," says Tiersen, whose romantic classical-folk music first charmed U.S. audiences on the soundtrack to 2001's Amélie. "Normally when you're in love, you have sex, so ... It's nothing more than that, really. It was written for my girlfriend. I think it was a good ending to the album because it's optimistic. It's a good feeling to leave with."

Like most of Tiersen's work, Dust Lane embraces seemingly juxtaposing sounds and moods, and manages to glide from one to the next like a widescreen cinematic panning shot. As a classically trained violinist, Tiersen has the technical chops to arrange complex orchestral flourishes whenever he needs them.

But over the course of six studio albums and three soundtracks, he's proven just as adept at capturing the nuances of working-class minimalism, whether it takes form in a raw, post-punk guitar riff or an accordion-driven French waltz.

The latter approach is what made Tiersen an overnight sensation of sorts. His musical contribution to Jean-Pierre Jeunet's terrific romantic comedy Amélie proved almost as successful as the movie itself, with CD sales even making a surprise dent in the U.S. charts and going platinum in Canada. This makes it all the more hard to fathom why it's taken 10 years for a Yann Tiersen album to receive a proper stateside release.

With Dust Lane's appearance last fall and a lengthy North American tour now under way, Tiersen is slowly reintroducing his music to a fan base that may know him mainly — or possibly only — from a decade-old soundtrack.

"Because the Amélie thing was so huge, it's created some misunderstandings with the people," he admits. "I think sometimes they think I make these soundtracks on demand or something. But I'm not that. I've only done three soundtracks in 15 years, which really isn't a lot. Even Amélie was really more of a collection from my first, second, and third albums. It's been a slow, steady evolution from the beginning of my career to now."

Amélie fans might be particularly caught off-guard by the heavier, more electrified moments on Dust Lane, since tracks like "Dark Matter" and "Palestine" venture closer to post-rock than any folk or classical touchstones. But these elements have actually been a part of Tiersen's repertoire since his teenage years in the mid-'80s, when good ol' subversive rock & roll drew him out of the conservatory for good.

"I studied violin as a kid," he says. "And I'm glad I did it. But from the age of 13, I was really into making my own music, and the revelation was with the post-punk bands in '83 and '84. Listening to that music was more inspiring, while the classical training was quite boring by comparison.

"Music is a question of sounds, and musical instruments are just a way to make sounds," he continues. "But you can make sounds with anything. Sometimes it's just two voices in harmony and nothing else, and it's beautiful. I don't usually like very technical music. Nothing can replace the inspiration itself."

Inspiration came from some difficult places on Dust Lane. Both Tiersen's mother and a close friend passed away during work on the album. But rather than diving into that darkness, he sought sanctuary in the studio and created a record with a surprisingly hopeful and positive energy, best typified by the literally orgasmic closing number.

"I think when you experience a big loss," he says, "the best thing you can do is just enjoy life more and more."

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