With a passion for music ignited by frequent visits to the studio during his childhood, Max Dindinaud Ferrère, French composer and producer, now spends his time nourishing this lifelong sonic love with his two bands, Midnight Tracks and Salmone.
In a conversation with us, Max shares his appreciation for the communal aspect of music, his projects with his family, friends, and commercial works for Nivea, Jean Paul Gaultier, and the iconic Notre-Dame de Paris for its restoration after the fire in 2019.
This interview took place over the phone between Ella Jayes in New York and Max Dindinaud Ferrère in Paris. This interview was edited by Duc Dinh.
EJ: How did you get to where you are today?
MDF: I grew up around music because my father was doing music, and my brother, John Ferrère, who is six years older than me, is also a musician. When I was 12, I started hanging out with him and his friends in the studio—that was my start.
At the end of high school, I created a band called Holy Craft with two of my friends, Hendrix Harris and Philippe Galtier—we formed the band when we were seventeen and did it until we were twenty. With them, I learned to produce music and how to write songs. We would jam for hours, all of us three together, and then from the sketches came the creations of the songs.
After my baccalauréat [French post-high school exam], I went to music school in Paris to learn all the music theories, studying classic blues, Bossa Nova—styles I liked at the time.
Before you were studying theory and Bossa Nova, were you self-taught or did you have lessons?
I started with a guitar teacher. We had an hour together once a week. And like I said, I was also going into the studio with my brother’s friends a lot. They taught me how to play rock 'n' roll with them, and how to jam and improvise.
Did you learn how to read music?
No, it was mostly by listening and watching the others. I tried to learn [reading music], but I'm not really good at it still, to be honest. I was more into learning the theory than reading.
But after Holy Craft, I started a band called Salmone with two friends from New York. We met in Paris, they’d come to Paris during breaks in the spring and summertime. In the beginning, we were mixing all of our influences—one had more psychedelic rock, '90s post-grunge influences, and I had the Bossa Nova influences.
What instruments can you play? What would you say are your favorite ones?
Mainly, I started with guitar, and then it brought me to bass. With learning music, I also learned to play a little piano, but I'm not a great pianist. It helps me use synths and compose melodies. I also like to use drum machines.
When you write music, do you write lyrics as well? If so, are they in English or French?
I write melodies but I don't really write lyrics yet. If I want to do it, I want to do it well. For now, most of the songs that I made have been always in English, few really in French. As to writing French, I don't know, you can't really write those songs in French. It doesn’t sound good to me.
Can you tell us more about your project with your brother, Midnight Tracks?
My brother and I have been making music for a long time because we always hang out in the studio together. But it took us some time to create a band together as we both had our own bands before—he had a band called Saturne while I was in Holy Craft. We were also producing for others, and when we stopped that, we decided to create Midnight Tracks.
For Midnight Tracks, you two collaborate with different singers?
Yes, we didn't want to commit to one singer all the time. With our experiences combined, we knew a few singers, and after we made a lot of songs with different singers, we just wanted to release [them] as our own project. So the band is just us producing music featuring different singers.
What does the collaboration process look like?
We do the instrumental production, and if the singer is there while we are doing it, sometimes they write the lyrics as they're getting inspired by what we have. It really depends on the singer, and it also changes with the style of the song and the singer’s personal touch.
How do you ensure cohesion within Midnight Tracks’ body of work?
I hope and think our touch remains on every song, whatever the style that it will be. We often choose singers that we know or personally like, people that we’re drawn to—that help create a tonal string throughout.
A lot of the time, they’re people we already worked with. For example, the singers of my other band, Salmone, will be featured on our next single. Sometimes, I discover some people and they start singing with us. Sometimes, people that have never sung before come into the studio booth with us, and they realize that they can sing.
That's beautiful. You've also produced for different artists, can you walk me through that process?
It’s always different for each artist but usually, they ask if I want to produce for them based on a composition that they already have—it can be just a guitar chord. Sometimes, we start by recording with just a guitar and a drum machine, at times with bass, and then they put their voice on it. When I have a strong base, I can add some synths, change the drum, get a real drum, think about arrangements—changing chords or adding some more melody, more textures to the song.
Basically, they're coming to me so I can help them develop the raw idea in a theoretical way.
What makes you excited about working with someone else?
To me, music is an exchange. It's a conversation between people, a shared dialogue. I think the most important thing in music is to really listen to others and what they can tell you, bring you, and teach you.
Now, let's talk more about the different commercial projects you've done.
My first commercial was for Nivea, I think, around four or five years ago. There was a competition in ours and a few other studios. I did it with my brother really not thinking we were going to get it. And within a few hours after we had sent it in, like two hours, they said, "Hey, we love it!"
I'm sure it’s a different process to write for something like that versus writing a song for an album?
Yes, it is because you usually have the image directly—it can be 30 seconds or one minute, most of the time. You have to create a few parts of a song in 30 seconds in a catchy melody for them to be happy.
It’s pretty different but it's pretty fun. Honestly, I like it. It’s a challenge. You have to be quick because they usually want a fast turnaround. They’d ask you to make a huge production really fast, like, “Make a song like Quincy Jones for tomorrow, please!” [laughs]
What are you trying to bring out with the music you produced for commercials?
I try to put my style on it but sometimes, they’d ask for a random style that they had in mind—some poppy, catchy stuff. I try to follow their inspiration. Sometimes it’s easier than others. For example, someone asked for some psychedelic beach rock. I was like, “You realized that this is more my vibe?”
How do you usually get your hands on the projects? Do those people reach out to you or vice versa?
That depends. Sometimes, the director asks for us or clients ask us directly. Other times, they reach the studio company in which I work for. They’d ask for a certain kind of music and the music composers of the studio that fit the project. So we usually work on them and try to get the commercials.
On average, how long do these projects take?
On this one [for Nivea], it took a couple of hours. But on some others, they can ask for a lot of changes and you can work for hours and hours, maybe a few days.
You recently composed a project for the Notre-Dame in Paris. Can you share that with us?
They reached out to the studio and asked for us directly to do the music for a video that will be playing in the crypt of the Notre-Dame. I was glad to do it because the studio where I work is only five minutes away from it. I remember I was in the studio when [the fire on April 15th, 2019 at Notre-Dame] happened, I went out randomly and got some ash coming down on my head without knowing what had happened. I then received a notification saying that the Notre-Dame was burning...I looked up, saw some black clouds, and I went straight to Notre-Dame to see.
I was there, but I was in Montmartre where I lived so I could see the smoke but from really far away.
It was really scary to see...I remember seeing the spire falling down. It was a really weird feeling.
I know you’ve lived in Paris since you were little. Was it an emotional process for you to compose for this video?
Yes, I’m from Saint-Germain-des-Prés. So it’s just around my house, and I've seen this church all my life. I made the music with my friend Justus [Raym], who plays the piano. He’s from the same area. It was emotional for us because we used to walk around this neighborhood together a lot.
We started structuring the song with this repeated loop sound of the Notre-Dame bell. Then, we put some organs and added a few examples of what they had wanted. For me, the main thing was this bell ringing...to remind us of Notre-Dame.
Now to switch the gears to fashion, you've also worked with Jean Paul Gaultier for a commercial. How was that project?
That was for Midnight Tracks. This one was one of the songs that we already had—we sent them a few propositions and that was one of the ones they like. We made a few transformations to fit it better for the commercial.
This project was easier to make because we already had the song. It's different from the Notre-Dame one, where we just went from nothing. We really did it for the video.
You’ve done a variety of projects. What do you want to put your energy towards going forward?
I really love creating music, no matter what the project is... whether it's fashion or a video for Notre-Dame or anything like that. I don't want to downplay those, but what I really want to do, for sure, is music for feature films—it’s one of my main goals—and continue to do more music for commercials, fashion, and others. To be honest, it's just fun for me to do music like the ones [for commercials].
It's almost like it's like an assignment or something.
Yeah, it's really like a fun homework assignment.
What does an average day in the studio look like for you?
I usually start making music around late afternoon, into the evening, and sometimes all night. That's what I do, mostly. That's also why we call our band Midnight Tracks because we usually meet during nighttime. My brother works at his art gallery during the day, and we have fun with music at night.
An average day is recording. Sometimes, we have some friends [in the studio]. Sometimes, the studio has commercial works that they have me do. At times, when I have nothing in particular, I just start from nothing and use the studio with the person I'm with—anybody, a musician, or a friend.
Before going into the studio, I like to practice my instruments. I also work on more of the commercial aspect of the bands, promoting them—half of it is actually doing the producing, getting inspired, and jamming, and the other half is the more business side of it.
Do you have any advice for people that are looking to do something similar to you?
I’d start by learning an instrument, whatever instrument, just one that’d allow you to play with other people. In the beginning, that's really all that I wanted to do. So that's the first thing, playing with people and just enjoying music. I mean, music is made to be shared. That's how I enjoy it the most, I think—by sharing.
What programs do you think are really important to learn?
I use ProTools. I just learned by watching the people that were working in the studio. I’d be watching them for hours...At the time, I was not using it, I was just observing some engineers and musicians.
It’s all about sharing it with the community for me. With my father, we have a music project with Dennis Berry, a legendary French-American director from the ‘80s. He always has such crazy stories about his youth, what he did, and so we just decided to bring him into the recording booth. While we jam with him, he’d come up with stories and tell them live—in a Beat Generation way.
If someone were to take one step or one piece of advice on what they could do right now, what would you say?
Hmmm, I remember when I was younger, and I read this book [Here, There and Everywhere: My Life Recording the Music of the Beatles] by the sound engineer of The Beatles, Geoff Emerick. He was describing how the Beatles worked in the studio, the old techniques, the things they tried to do that didn't work, or the experimentations they had. Everything was really interesting to me.
You’ve mentioned how important the community aspect is to you in music-making. How has COVID-19 impacted your work?
I mean, it's great that today, even if we're alone, we can do and produce music from A to Z and we can release it without a record label. You can just have your music playing anywhere in the world by making it alone in your room and have it listened to by anybody.
However, it's hard not to produce music and make music the way I used to. During the first lockdown in Paris, it was tricky for me to work. Even with the mood, it was hard to get inspired or even to want to make music. I just didn't really have the energy to do it—sometimes you get that energy from the other people. When things were safer [before the recent lockdown in Paris], I saw some singers and collaborated with them.
What do you want to accomplish in the future, besides making music for feature films?
Next year, I want to release an album with Midnight Tracks—it means a lot for me to be able to do music with a member of my family.
If I can, also, an album with my other band, Salmone. I have a lot of songs on my hard drive. I want to release what I have to make [my head] clear because sometimes you spend too much time after making the song thinking about it, how you could make it sound better, newer. But I think my goal is really to put the music out. I can't wait to see [my band Salmone] again. I don't know when I'll be able to go to America or when they'll be able to come to France, but I can't wait to work with them again when all of this is over.
Take a listen into Max's world of inspirations:
This interview was edited and condensed for clarity.
Images Courtesy of Dana Boulos + Max Dindinaud Ferrère
Special thanks to Polaroid