At the same time I was interviewing Serge and Janes daughter for Vice I was also asking her some straight stuff for Playlouder.
Were you to be born of Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin it would be of great general cultural disappointment were you not to create in the fields that genetically you would seem so obviously pre-disposed to. Luckily for the perceptive public Charlotte Gainsbourg has continually created work of consistent integrity that places her as solidly in the lineage of great Gallic talent as her infamous father, who requires little introduction, and unique acting stock of her mother who starred in Antonioni’s defining 1966 film “Blow Up”.
Having made her screen debut at 13 opposite Catherine Deneuve, Charlotte went on to release her first solo album at 15. What did you get up to before doing your GCSE’s? Despite a consistent run of critically acclaimed screen performances, including a turn in fellow French talent Michel Gondry’s brilliant “Science Of Sleep” last year, this summer is most notable for the arrival of Gainsbourg’s second solo record some 20 years after her debut. A versatile and beautiful record of considered balladry and deft melody it features contributions from the French production duo Air as well as Jarvis Cocker, The Divine Comedy’s Neil Hannon and Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich. We caught up with Charlotte in an intimidatingly posh West London hotel to discuss the record.
You were born in London but bought up in Paris by parents from both countries. Do you feel English or French?
France is certainly home. The only reason that I used to come here was because my Grandmother lived here so it is filled with those happy memories of childhood but they are bittersweet, as she has now passed away. I have always been intimidated by London; perhaps I will be able to find a new angle to approach from at some point. It is a culture that I only half know, that I am only semi-familiar with yet when I am in France I can see that I am an outsider there also as I have an English side that in that context can seem very strong, I do not fully belong in either culture.
Considering the climate that you grew up in do you feel that doing something creative was inevitable?
It’s true that it was certainly encouraged and the impression was given that a career in the arts was perhaps the best career one could have but all three of my mother’s daughters are artistic. Just going onto my mother’s sets or into my father’s studio was an incredibly inspiring experience at such a young age. Going back to record this album evoked all of my childhood memories of being in the studio with my father.
You recorded “Lemon Incest” at 12, was that something that your father suggested or was it a conscious decision?
He proposed the idea and I said yes. It wasn’t like he forced me. I think I only did three takes. I would do a take and jump and the swimming pool and be pulled out to do another. At a similar time I started working on my first film (“Paroles et Musique”) and although I don’t really remember my mother later told me that she thought that it was a very good idea for me to have something on the side other than the singing. That as well as having this adventure with my father I had something of my own.
At that early age did you immediately favour film?
With film I was not so sure what I was doing as often the direction would not be so clear but the enjoyment came very swiftly through the work. At that age I never considered myself a singer. My father was closer to a conductor; he knew exactly what he wanted me to do. It was very similar to being directed.
Did Jarvis similarly conduct you on this record?
Not so much. It was interesting working with him because I did not know him personally. He stepped into the studio by accident one day. What he wrote he wrote from a perspective of what he thought I would want to say or think. He would also express more of an end idea or emotion that he wanted to achieve and my first takes were always trying to be very close to what he had bought in and then from there I would develop it as I did not necessarily feel close to the images he created but as time went on we would work more closely together. We became very open. Perhaps he directed me but not in the same way as my father. My father was doing everything, musically, lyrically and directing every word. Perhaps Nigel was closer in that respect as the producer. He was very important to the project from the beginning.
There has been a considerable gap between albums, was there a single reason for this?
Most specifically the fact that my father was not there and I was so unsure of myself as a singer. The idea of making an album intimidated me. It was only when I met Air that I felt that I could perhaps make another record. I met Nigel at a similar time about ten years ago now and we all had the same idea, we knew that we wanted to make a record together, it felt very instinctive. We just wanted to get in a studio and see what happened. I was very intimidated by the whole process of going back into the studio. They all encouraged me to allow the process to become spontaneous.
How did the writing process work?
Air did all of the music. Everything. All of my references come from film so all of my explanatory language come from film and I would discuss the music with them in those terms as opposed to musical terms and I would be there in the studio as they created. From a perspective of curiosity it was wonderful to watch them creating, as I was there I would have ideas and they would attempt to express them musically. The lyrics came slowly, I worked with Neil Hannon and Jarvis but I also had a lot of time to consider how I wanted the lyrics to fit together. The subjects work almost like a story, linked to one another: dreams, the night, and fascination.
Did the inspiration come naturally or was it an enforced preconceived aesthetic that that you had envisaged for the album?
It came naturally to an extent but I was heavily influenced by films that had affected me as a child. Specifically: “The Night Of The Hunter”, “The Wizard Of Oz” and “The Shining”. As much as for the general ambience and sensations they caused me as a child as for the specific musical feel of those films.
You filmed some stuff in a studio with Air, is there a future for this record live?
I am very puzzled and undecided about live performance. If I were to be performing it would have to be a whole tour with Air. They are completely integral to the project. Also, were I to perform live, I feel I would have to find a new sound. Something else that is there in the music that can be bought out live. Originally I thought I would just want to reproduce the record but that is not interesting. You need to find a new angle. Also I am not a professional touring musician. I went out and did a few songs with Air and again the whole process is very alien to me, it is not something that I am used to. Maybe if I were then the live show would be easier!