Voyou, also known as Thibaud Vanhooland, is the French artist and songwriter taking the pop music genre by storm.
Vanhooland began his musical journey at a young age, learning how to play the trumpet from his father and eventually studying at a music conservatory. Beyond his classical music roots, the trumpeter continues to explore a number of vastly different genres, including alternative pop, jazz, electronic, Latin rhythms, and French variety. For years, Vanhooland gained experience playing live in a number of bands, releasing his first solo project, an EP titled On s'emmène avec toi, in 2018. The EP saw widespread success, with hit song "Seul sur ton tandem" reaching over six million streams on Spotify.
Voyou's bubbly and playful signature sound has since taken off, with each new track highlighting the multifaceted nature of the artist's talents as a composer, instrumentalist, vocalist, producer, and visionary. Within each song, the lyrics tell at least two stories: one that is literal and one told in metaphors symbolizing poignant social issues. Voyou seamlessly blends electronic beats and synthesizers with live instrumentation, creating a distinctive, colorful musical aura. In 2021, Voyou appeared as a feature on Brazilian star Manu Gavassi's single "Eu nunca fui tão sozinha assim" playing the trumpet and singing. The two artists' combined vocals form a melodious musical conversation, tied together by cheerful trumpet lines and a mellow beat.
We spoke with Voyou about his childhood, influences, songwriting process, collaborations, and more. Read the full interview below and let us know what you think. Find all the latest Voyou updates on his IG.
How are you today?
I’m doing really well. I’m writing a lot at this moment, so that has been really cool.
Where are you from?
Originally I’m from Lille, in the North of France (close to Belgium). Then, I moved to Nantes. I’ve spent time in a lot of really great countries, and I’ve been in Paris for about four years.
At what age did you begin playing music?
Actually, there’s a debate between my mother and father about that! One says at about age three and a half, while the other says at age four. Regardless, I started learning trumpet with my father when I was very young… He taught me how to breathe with the instrument. I have memories of him putting a dictionary on my belly and saying, “okay, now breathe, breathe!” I showed a huge interest in playing the trumpet, so he really wanted to teach me everything.
Who or what first inspired you?
I think it was my father who first inspired me. He was a trumpetist, so the first musical sound I heard was his trumpet. It gave me a lot of inspiration; the texture of that music, as well as all the music of Northern France was very important for me growing up. My mother played a lot of African, South American, and classic French music, so I was really surrounded by music when I was young.
There’s also L’Orchestre d'Harmonie, where you can come as a young musician, as an adult who has forgotten how to play an instrument, or even as an advanced musician. It was always a big mix of people from different walks of life coming together to play the same songs. The sound of this was quite cacophonic, but I think that's really cool.
"The sound of this was quite cacophonic, but I think that's really cool."
What type of music did you first play?
I went to a conservatory, so it was a lot about classical music at first. When I was about six years old, my grandfather had a tiny house in the Southwest of France and there was a guy taking tourists around the town in a horse-drawn carriage. One day, he saw me playing the trumpet–he had a son my age who played the guitar–and he stopped the carriage and told me I had to meet his son, who played jazz classical music. That was the first time I played anything outside of scores. We learned classical jazz songs and played them for the tourists in the town… I’ve never made so much money!
What songs did you play for the tourists?
The first one was “Sweet Georgia Brown”, then it was “Les Copains d'Abord” by Georges Brassens. We played “Take Five”, as well as a lot of New Orleans jazz standards. At home, my father was listening to a little bit of jazz as well–mostly Miles Davis. At this time, I also learned that I didn’t have to just play songs written by other people…I could play things I came up with. It helped make me feel free playing music.
How would you describe your sound now?
My sound is a big combination of a lot of different genres from different time periods. I eat the music, then I digest it and make my music. I’m influenced by everything I listen to; it’s French variety, Latin music, African rhythms, electronic, pop music… I can’t really define it.
How did you come up with the stage name “Voyou”?
Voyou means “thug” in English. It’s meant to be kind of silly and ironic because I don’t look or speak like a thug. Voyou is like the thug in a movie that turns out to be the hero, not doing bad things, but doing things with no clear reason of why they’re forbidden. There’s this romantic way of seeing a thug in France–in America, too–where they’re actually the good guys. I had to put a name on this demo I had made on my iPhone, but I’m not good with technology, so I couldn’t figure out how to do it at first. So, I made a SoundCloud and put it all there so that I could listen to it on the street. I chose this name because I posted something on Facebook and a friend commented “you’re a little voyou,” but I just ended up keeping it.
Tell me about your transition from playing in bands to being a solo act.
I’ve been composing music for myself since I was twelve. I was always obsessed with making and producing my own music, but I never thought about actually having a project with it. I started playing in bands when I was really young and it became my job just after Le Baccalauréat. I needed some good friends to tell me, “you have to release that,” and I think I needed my ten years of playing as a professional musician to learn about being on stage and in the music industry. I learned a lot about the mistakes and things that work for musicians, as well as about myself.
What message do you hope to convey with your music?
I hope to always be positive, even when I’m talking about bad things. There are also different levels of comprehension in my songs; I’m telling a story at the surface level, but if you look for the metaphors, you can find a lot of deeper meanings about people, society, and current issues inside the songs. I write a lot about how people treat each other and how we can be very envious or judgemental, but I don’t talk about it outright because I don’t want to impose my thoughts on others.
"There are also different levels of comprehension in my songs; I’m telling a story at the surface level, but if you look for the metaphors, you can find a lot of deeper meanings about people, society, and current issues inside the songs."
What is your favorite part about your job?
I have so many favorite parts… When I’m in the studio I miss playing live, but when I’m playing live I miss the studio! In all seriousness, I think my favorite part of being a musician is the tiny moment when I’ve just finished a song and I get the realization that I just made something super cool and important. I’ve learned so much about myself from writing and I think that those micro-moments are really precious. I also love being on stage, dancing and playing for people (sharing my music).
What is one thing about you that might surprise people?
When I was eight, a camel sat on me. I was living in this neighborhood with a huge supermarket near my house. Between my home and the market there was a field, and every year a circus came and brought animals there. I usually went with my sister and her friends because I was very young, but I remember one time, I was standing there and everyone started yelling for me to run. I was so confused, and then suddenly there was a camel that came over and sat right on top of me. Maybe he thought I was his baby, but it was not comfortable for either of us–he stood up very quickly, but I still have the image of his legs running over me in my mind.
"When I was eight, a camel sat on me."
The same week, an ostrich bit me and a goat charged me in the belly. I had the worst karma with animals that week, but some years later, I went to Egypt and I sat on a camel. It was like, “you sat on me, so I’m going to sit on you now.”
Talk a little bit about “Eu nunca fui tão sozinha assim”.
This was her single, and I was featured playing the trumpet. I love Brazilian music and I love Manu Gavassi’s music, so it was really exciting to be on the project. It was also really nice to get to talk and connect with them during the confinement.
How did the collaboration with Manu Gavassi come about?
Manu’s team reached out and asked me if I would play trumpet on the song. I listened to it and I had the idea that I could sing something in French to respond to Manu–like a cute call-and-response with a French friend. A while later, I was working with a Canadian artist when I got a call from Universal Music Brazil telling me that the song was going to be released as a single, so I had to sign the papers very soon.
Describe your songwriting process.
It’s never the same! Most of the time, I have an idea or a melody and the rest of the composition stems from there. I listen to the atmosphere and arrangement of what I’ve made and that usually inspires my lyrics; I listen to what the music wants to say. My label has some studios in Paris, so I spend a lot of time there with all my instruments very close to me and I just record everything. The songwriting process can take a long time because I want to say something with my music…figuring out what to say and how to say it is like answering a really complicated riddle. The instruments that I play are really running the compositions most of the time and for the things I don’t know how to play, I’ll call someone in to help record.
"I listen to the atmosphere and arrangement of what I’ve made and that usually inspires my lyrics; I listen to what the music wants to say."
What’s next for Voyou?
I’m working on an album right now. I’m recording it mostly in Paris, but I might go to Brazil to collaborate with some artists there for a few songs. We’re supposed to be done in June to release some tracks for people to enjoy during the summer, and then the whole album will be released soon after that.