STAL: Baptism By Fire

Pierre Maulini, the frontman of STAL, never separates sounds from natural beauty. The cinematic, post-pop aura of STAL reflects the world outside of the studio. Pierre learned to blend the natural with the electronic while on tour with M83. He became close with Anthony Gonzalez, the mind behind M83, and jumped into a side of music he had never experienced. After tour, Pierre teamed up with longtime friend and drummer, Renaud Rodier, to form STAL. A fusion of electronic influences and Pierre's post-rock roots, STAL looks to break out with the release of their upcoming EP, Fresh Blood.

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Still Beating

“When I realized what happened, it was violent,” says Pierre. “He left out of nowhere.” Pierre Marie-Maulini, the frontman of the cinematic post-pop group STAL, lost his cousin two years ago. He died of a heart attack at 35 years old. Stricken by his passing, Pierre struggled to talk about the tragedy. “For me, the best way to speak about my cousin was making music,” he says. Pierre wrote the song ‘When Words Are Not Enough,’ channeling his grief in the studio. The track will appear on STAL’s upcoming EP, Fresh Blood.

Before Pierre wrote his own music, he strummed the guitar strings at 15 years old. The first song he learned to play was ‘The Ballad’ by the Scandinavian skate-punk band Millencoin. He watched videos of Millencoin on loop. He honed in on lead guitarist Erik Ohlsson hammering his Gibson SG. “I fell in love,” says Pierre. “The look of the guitar, the aesthetic drew me in. It wasn’t about the sound at first...more about the imagery.”

DIving into the late 90’s landscape, Pierre and his older brother scanned record stores, scooping up vinyl ranging from Slipknot to Sigur Rós. They soon started a band with a few friends called A Red Season Shade. On tour with the band in 2005, Pierre heard an infectious dream-pop melody pulsing through a backwoods bar. That melody belonged to Anthony Gonzalez, the multi-instrumentalist mind behind M83.

Pierre promptly picked up an M83 CD and messaged Gonzalez on MySpace. “We instantly connected,” he says. “He [Gonzalez] loved the post-rock music we were making.” Living a few miles away from each other in Nice, France, they started to hang out. Gonzalez attended A Red Season Shade’s rehearsals. Then, three years later, Gonzalez needed another live musician to join M83 on their Saturdays = Youth tour. He asked Pierre to play synth, guitar, and sing backup vocals for the band.

At The Altar

For the next two years, Pierre trekked the globe with M83 opening for Kings of Leon, Midnight Juggernauts, The Killers, and headlining their own tour. “I remember our first concert with Kings of Leon,” says Pierre. “I was on keyboard and backing vocals…the nerves had me so tense I could barely sing.” The rigor of tour hit heavy, but Pierre adjusted. “With A Red Season Shade, everything was on the ‘do it yourself’ side...still professional, but not nearly as demanding,” he says. “M83 was like baptism by fire - awkward, but amazing.”

Anthony Gonzalez and Pierre Maulini in 2008 (photo: Rama)

Anthony Gonzalez and Pierre Maulini in 2008 (photo: Rama)

The first time Pierre stepped onto an arena stage he watched the crowd vanish into a sea of darkness. He heard thousands roar but saw only waves of shadows. “The lights blot everyone out,” says Pierre. “It’s like playing in front of a black screen.” In larger venues, the gap between the band and the audience can feel miles wide. “I love the small club vibe when it’s hot and sweaty, people are just dancing,” he says, “but nothing matches the energy of a stadium.”

Working with Gonzalez, Pierre dove deeply into electronic composition. “M83 forced me to learn keyboard and synth inside-out,” he says. The band spent hours rehearsing and exploring offbeat sounds. On his own time, Pierre experimented with the synth on his computer. He watched YouTube tutorials on plugins and software. Scouring channels like DubSpot and Synthtopia, he learned how to treat vocals and build beats. “Every time I opened my computer, even when I didn’t have my synth, I started working on a new song,” he says. “I had access to all of these tones and IDs at my fingertips.” This universal library allows producers to craft beats in solitude. “When you’re alone on your laptop, it’s harder to tell if you’re making shit or something good,” says Pierre. “In a band, you can bounce ideas off of each other in the moment.”

On tour with M83, Pierre introduced fresh ideas to the band and grew close with other artists. He would grab drinks with Kings of Leon to unwind between shows. “In LA, we drank sake and made a game out of eating sushi,” says Pierre. “From Paris, I’m new to sushi. I ended up eating a piece with liver in it and threw up everything - it was quite fun.”

City of Angels

Two years ago, Pierre moved from Paris to LA. He lived in Paris for ten years. In LA, time slows. The sunshine stains the landscape with a ferocity Paris will never know. “Paris is like NYC - it goes fast,” says Pierre. “Where I live in LA, it’s cars, no distractions. I read and write without the city noise.” When Pierre does hop in the car, he blasts music. Lauv, Lo Moon, and Ella Vos have recently cycled on repeat. “I drive to the desert and listen to new songs...then the beach,” he says. “I love the dynamic of nature around the city.”

Santa Monica Pier (photo: Cédric Dhaenens)

Santa Monica Pier (photo: Cédric Dhaenens)

Settled in LA, Pierre and Renaud Rodier, the other half of STAL, started working on demos for an upcoming EP. The pair met in Paris nearly a decade ago. Renaud had been drumming in a few hardcore metal bands before joining STAL back in 2011. “We come from different backgrounds, but never clash,” says Pierre. “He [Renaud] plays quite loud...there’s a rock, metal influence that mixes well with the electronic side I’m bringing.” Pierre and Renaud then linked up with Jeff Di Rienzo, who plays guitar and synth for STAL during live performances. A sound engineer, Jeff owns his own studio in Paris. Pierre, Renaud, and Jeff recently recorded a live session for the song ‘Fresh Blood’ [same title as the EP] in The Office/The Artist [Jeff’s Studio]. “That place is like my second home,” says Pierre. “A bunch of creatives hang out there, so performing in that space felt natural.”

Pierre and Renaud (photo @renaudstal)

Pierre and Renaud (photo @renaudstal)

Back in LA, Pierre and Renaud channel the natural aura of live performances into their records. Pierre writes, sings vocals, and harnesses an acute electronic ear refined by his M83 days. Renaud fortifies the melody with an energy of rock at every strike of the drum head. The two soon joined forces with acclaimed producer Eric Palmquist. Eric has produced for bands like Bad Suns, Mutemath, and Night Riots. “We needed feedback from someone else,” says Pierre. “Eric helps us push past our limits.” Eric produced STAL’s upcoming EP, Fresh Blood. He dissected STAL’s demos and learned their sound. To kickstart the production process, Pierre, Renaud, and Eric listened to music for three days in the studio. They played nothing. “We sat there, studying different charts and influences to get a feel for the structures, the sounds...what’s working, what’s not,” says Pierre. After internalizing sounds from indie to mainstream, they rebuilt the demos. Weird ideas reigned in the recording process. “We started with the drums and bass vocals - there was something not logical about that, but I loved it,” says Pierre. “Eric taught us not to be afraid of doing what we wanted to do, and using sounds that we normally wouldn’t pursue.”

Sunny Side Of Life

Pierre, Eric, and Renaud (photo:@stalofficial)

Pierre, Eric, and Renaud (photo:@stalofficial)

Rather than rework a demo, the three built the last song on the EP, ‘The Crime,’ from scratch. Eric sat down at the piano and found the chords. Pierre laid down the top line melody on synth. Renaud infused the euphoric melody with an intense, steady pulse on drums. The metallic vocals cut with a human touch. At first, the track favored the electronic elements, but then Eric suggested stronger guitars. “It felt like we were writing a rock song,” says Pierre. “We played the guitars loudly with reverb.” Eric took the reverb and cut the ends off. “He made something sharp, but ethereal...more than just a simple, post-rock guitar.” Beyond the production, ‘The Crime’ comments on the selfishness of society and relationships. People rarely gaze upon their partner through a long-term lens. “I’ve been with the same person for 13 years,” says Pierre. “We’ve gone through some shit.” ‘The Crime’ dives deep into a man and woman's connection that breaks down over ego. Pierre sings:

My girl from my hometown,

Her kisses burn me down,

How did we fall apart,

Oh oh way oh

The push and pull of facade and seduction rips the seams. Touches on skin turn to isolation. “Not long ago, if a couple had one reason not to give up, they were trained to push themselves forward,” he says. “Now, people break up at the first sign of struggle.”

When Pierre is not writing electro-pop tunes like ‘The Crime,’ he produces music for commercials and films. He recently composed a song for Nestlé and wrote the soundtrack for a short animated film. Painting space with sound, Pierre has always bridged the audible with the visible. “When I write, I see landscapes, sunsets," he says. “Natural beauty should never be separate from the sounds that we make.”

Jeff, Pierre, and Renaud (photo: @stalofficial)

Jeff, Pierre, and Renaud (photo: @stalofficial)

Listen to STAL's most recent release 'Magic' and the rest of their repertoire on Spotify: 

Watch the Live Studio Session for 'Fresh Blood' by STAL: