French producer and DJ Kavinsky has provided a song for Grand Theft Auto IV, shared the stage and studio with members of Daft Punk, and amassed over 30 million YouTube views for “Nightcall,” which scored the opening credits to Nicolas Refn’s 2011 film Drive. That’s a pretty impressive CV for a 37-year-old man who goes by Vincent Belorgey by day, admits to producing only four singles in a decade, and still doesn’t think of himself as a musician. “I don’t know how to play piano. I can’t read sheet music. A true musician can do that,” he tells me in the second-floor lobby of the Soho Grand over a glass of Balvenie whisky. “Logic is just a big trick. Everybody can make music with that kind of software.”
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Belorgey wears sneakers, a jean vest, and blue jeans, and his arms are covered with tattoos both self-referential (his moniker and song “Dead Cruiser,” off his recent debut full-length OutRun, are spelled out in ’80s brush paint on his right inner arm) and fanboyish (the logo from Survivor’s Eye of the Tiger and a profile of the deceased, beloved French DJ Mehdi on his left). He does not sport the driving gloves he started using, for the record, before Ryan Gosling. Except for his stubbled cheeks and graying blond hair, Kavinsky could pass for an extra in a retro ad for Casio keyboards.
The youthful quality of his appearance extends to his gloriously bastardized Italo-disco techno, which is rooted in the movies he watched and video games he played growing up in a suburb of Paris. “The Pong, all the Nintendos, all the Segas. The Goonies, G.I. Joe, the Spielberg movies. I’m truly a sponge. When I watch something and I like it, it stays inside me. And at one time it comes back.” It came back nearly 20 years later when Belorgey’s friend and director, Quentin Depieux– who goes by Mr. Oizo– gave him his first Macintosh computer in 2003. “It’s very late for a 30-year-old man,” he admits. Depieux was about to throw away the old Apple when Belorgey offered to take the computer instead. Maybe he could make music with the Logic Audio software inside, he suggested. And thus, Kavinsky was born.
Until that point Belorgey had been working primarily as an actor for friends like Mr. Oizo’s films. Even though his last movie, Steak, featured Kavinsky’s primordial songs with his new/old computer, eventually there wasn’t enough incentive for Belorgey to act anymore. “I knew I couldn’t do casting because I can’t be in front of the camera and try to be good between one guy before me and one guy after me. ‘So, tell me how good you are.’ I was always bad at that, so I quit,” he says. Belorgey then made “shitty music” for a couple of years that elicited reactions like the “space face”: the smile and nod. “Even I couldn’t tell if it was really good or not,” he says, “until I met [Marcus Herring], my producer. He was the first to say, ‘This is good, this is not good. You have to do things that way.'”
Some of Kavinsky’s earlier songs — like “Nightcall,” relentlessly jackhammering “Testarossa Autodrive,” and “Grand Canyon,” which creeps around a central ARP 2600 synth line — did make the cut for OutRun. This time, though, Belorgey insists the songs are more serious. He enlisted Daft Punk’s Guy-Manuel De Homem-Christo and French producer (and fellow Steak alum) SebastiAn, who helped Belorgey know when to be satisfied with a previously existing song and when to make a new one.
The result is a seductively strange concept album. Opening track “Prelude” explains that in 1986, a teenager crashed his Ferrari Testarossa, fusing his soul with the vehicle’s at the moment of impact. After emerging from the wreck a man/car hybrid zombie, he now roams the streets, “invisible to everyone but her.” In this case, “her” is played convincingly by Lovefoxxx of Cansei de Ser Sexy, whose flat, velvet croon provides the foil to “Nightcall”‘s harshly distorted voice and thumping beat. Mobb Deep’s Havoc even makes an unexpected cameo appearance on “Suburbia,” somewhat undercutting OutRun‘s noir ambiance with lines like, “I cut these fools like pizza pies with extra cheese.”
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Kavinsky half-explains the premise: “It was for me better to invent a story or something to create music about. It was truly helpful for me to imagine this like a movie, to have that kind of idea in my head and what kind of music I can do for it. It’s boring for me to make music from nothing just like that.” So far, his approach seems to be working pretty well for people like Refn and the team at Rockstar Games, who may commission “Nightcall” for the Nightride FM station on this spring’s Grand Theft Auto V. “The station is called ‘Nightride’! Come on!” Belorgey growls. “They have to use it!”
No word on that or whether Kavinsky will make a cameo appearance on Daft Punk’s upcoming album, but Belorgey will say that he’s already started thinking about his own future record. Right now, his primary inspirations include Vangelis and John Murphy, who composed the soundtrack to Danny Boyle’s 2007 sci-fi thriller Sunshine. And he wants the record to be “real life,” not just on a computer with plugins. “It will be really cold. Cold as ice,” Belorgey says. “Something to smoke weed on, I think.”
Kavinsky’s album release party is tonight at Webster Hall. Doors are at 10 p.m. 19+.