“We’ve got nothing against using A.I. as a tool” – Bon Jour

Photo of Bon Jour
Bon Jour (c) Bon Jour

Bon Jour is an alternative rock band founded in 2022, whose identities have been hidden behind computer-generated 3D heads. Their first single, “Blue Moon”, propelled them straight to number one on the FM4 charts, and their first live appearance was opening for alt-J at Vienna’s Metastadt to an audience of 5000 people. The Vienna-based band, which has just released its debut EP And So We Met Again, is the ultimate insider tip ­– and to add to their air of uniqueness, the video for their song “All I Know” was produced with the assistance of artificial intelligence. Considering the furor surrounding that subject at the moment, it’s no wonder that it dominated the interview…

Can I ask about your identities, or do you want to keep them a secret?

Bon Jour: What does ‘secret’ mean? It’s not our concept to stay incognito. A lot of people in our bubble already know – it’s not like we play concerts in disguise. It’s more about the self-presentation, and there are two reasons: first, we were (and are) all involved in different projects, and we wanted Bon Jour not to be influenced by that at the beginning. The other reason was that we went about starting the band with a certain attitude of lightness. Everyone left their ego at the door of the practice room; it was really nice. And then we wanted to take this “kill your ego” thing as far as we could – in short, to be faceless. With new bands, in particular, the first thing that happens is that their faces get plastered everywhere; that didn’t seem right to us in this case.

To avoid the narcissism typical of the music industry?

Bon Jour: Totally. Usually there’s a good reason for it. In the studio, we were worrying about everything except how to present ourselves, and then we gave some thought to how we could continue to avoid it; that’s how we got the idea with the 3D heads.

Obviously we’re not going to keep our identities secret forever, but we don’t want to advertise our music with our faces. That way, more focus is automatically placed on what’s important. Everyone knows you can’t do that 100%, but it’s an attempt to divert attention from us as people.

Video – “Blue Moon”

Is it possible that it might even stoke interest in the band?

Bon Jour: It’s too early to say. Our original aim wasn’t to get attention; it was more an interest in new media and technology. And definitely the sort of competitive ambition to see if this utopic ego-dissolution is even possible. Can we do it? In any case, our first interview with the animated 3D heads was pretty funny to watch.

“You go viral, but nobody notices.”

Speaking of new media: do you use TikTok?

Bon Jour: No. Not yet. For various reasons: we do everything ourselves so that we can react more quickly. Every additional platform that you use means a lot of extra work, if you want to do it right. We’re a small team, and the data that we have from Spotify tells us that our target audience is between 25 and 35 – that speaks against TikTok. Also, I suspect that some music gets a lot of clicks on TikTok, but no one knows what the song is called or what band it is. You go viral, but nobody notices.

Besides, we’re all fans of the album format. It tells a story; it all hangs together. That’s not something that TikTok really supports; at least that’s my feeling. Maybe you’ll find us there someday – but not with the goal of having a ‘TikTok hit’.

You made your video with the help of artificial intelligence. Were your expectations fulfilled?

Bon Jour: It’s always hard to say whether you’re satisfied with a video, or even with your own songs. What we do like, though, is that you can always discover new details. You can lose yourself in the visual excess, which also corresponds with our concept of music production. For all our catchiness and simplicity, if you listen over and over again little details get revealed. We were interested most of all in what you can do with new technology with limited resources. We know now that we can make videos with the help of A.I. in a short time…although the term ‘music video’ maybe isn’t exactly right. It’s more of a visual accompaniment; in the best case, something that captures a feeling that matches the song.

Video: Bon Jour – “All I Know”

Has A.I. become part of your music production?

Bon Jour: Not yet. But we haven’t tried it out yet. We’re not going to have AI write a song for us, either – but we’ll definitely be trying it out as an assistive tool soon. For instance, “create a beat in the Motown style.” You can get inspiration from something like that, create initial sketches. But in music, it’s really about not losing…I’m going to call it the human touch. And that’s the problem with A.I. at the moment: it can only draw on things that already exist. New interpretations work pretty well, but that certain something gets lost.

Everyone knows you can’t copyright a style. Advertisers have been using that to their advantage for a long time now: they commission “sound-alike” productions – a song that imitates a specific artist’s style, in order to avoid paying the expensive licensing fees for the original. With A.I., that will likely take on a new, probably unmanageable dimension. Do you think we need an update to copyright laws? Especially in the light of the recent Drake / The Weeknd imitation single “Heart On My Sleeve”…

Bon Jour: You can’t copyright chord progressions; otherwise there wouldn’t be much new music at all. Similarly, you’re not going to be able to prohibit style imitations that use A.I. We desperately need something like a digital watermark – that’s even more urgent right now, with the creation and use of pictures. Pictures have a strong documentary value. They’re evidence. But the market has always been quicker than the regulating agencies. It’s absurd how easy it is to fake pictures now; you could mount the worst smear campaign imaginable against anyone. It’s already been proved that an A.I.-generated song can go viral on TikTok, but there are still going to be a lot of things in the future that AI won’t be able to do, I’m sure of it. Live concerts, for example – and that’s one of the most important aspects of the music business.

Video: Bon Jour – “All I Know” (live at Metastadt Open Air)

Would you make your music available for free to train an artificial intelligence, without feeling that your copyrights were being violated?

Bon Jour: Yes and no. Depends on the context, of course, and who does it. What’s the aim of the A.I.? There will surely be organizations soon that I’d make it available to, if I know what they’re doing with it. If the goal is supporting super-capitalist organizations, then obviously not.

I think an independent, nonprofit musicians’ collective to develop a sketching tool would be really interesting. A tool that benefits people working in this branch. You could feed songs in to get rhythmic inspiration or sounds; that would be interesting. To give all your songs to a company in order to automatically get new songs back…that’s pretty weird. But generally, we’re not at all against this technology as a tool to create new things.

Aside from the album production, have you experimented? Apparently there’s already artificial intelligence that uses the memory-efficient MIDI format to create arrangements – Spotify is one of the main supporters.

Bon Jour:  No, not at all. Our studio is a kind of safe space at the moment. We’re still very motivated to write songs of our own, so much so that it wouldn’t even occur to us to bring AI in. Maybe sometime, when we’re looking for new inspiration.

“You need creativity to direct an artificial intelligence, too.”

What part of songwriting would you most like to outsource? The most likely option at the moment is probably lyric writing.

Bon Jour: Yes, the first part – after the initial idea has been established, I’d let the A.I. create a first draft. Like a preset that you develop further and bring your own ideas into. Especially if you already know what you want to sing. You need creativity to direct an artificial intelligence, too. If you put boring stuff in, you’ll get boring results. That way, you become like a creative director; you don’t have to realize the vision yourself. There are already so many terrible pictures that were made with the help of A.I.; the good ones were made by people who spent a lot of time thinking about the input. Up till now, there’s been a mistaken impression that every time you tell an AI to create a work of art, a work of art comes out.

What prompt would you have to input to get a Bon Jour track out of an A.I.?

Bon Jour: Obviously I have to say especially good things now. Not that I’m comparing myself with it… [laughs] “Create a Motown-inspired groove…” – ‘groove’ will definitely be in there three times – “…with a playful, grooving lead bass that has a slightly psychedelic touch, like the band Tame Impala. With the catchiness of Hosier.”

Do you do everything yourselves?

Bon Jour: At the moment, yes. For the time being, we want to use our motivation and do our homework; no label can do that for you anyway. A big label wouldn’t really do us much good at the moment.

Dominik Beyer, translated from the German original by Philip Yaeger.