Lou Doillon has dabbled in many things over the years–acting, modeling, designing clothes, donning top hats. But from the sound of her debut album Places, a smoky, soulful compilation of Southern-tinged folk songs, singing is clearly her forte. Produced by French pop musician Etienne Daho, and mixed by Philippe Zdar (Phoenix, The Rapture, Beastie Boys, Cat Power), the album, which will be released in the U.S on Tuesday, June 18th by Verve Records, has already earned rave reviews in France, where it debuted last September. And no one is more surprised by its success than Doillon, who, by virtue of her famous family, has received rather unkind press in past years. Here, over a glass of ginger soda and a succession of American Spirits at the Bowery Hotel, she discusses winning over her critics, her tour attire, and her aversion to Kanye West.
Your album, which is fantastic, is notably un-French.
Well, I don’t feel French or English or anything for that matter. I just feel odd in general. I thought maybe that oddness could travel a bit.
But where does its blues sound come from?
As a little girl, my father [indie filmmaker Jacques Doillon]–who doesn’t speak a word of English–would only listen to American music, and funny enough, musicians who wrote great lyrics, like Leonard Cohen and Nina Simone. I spoke English as a little girl and I remember crying in his car at age 9 or 10 to Leonard Cohen’s “Famous Blue Raincoats,” thinking that you could write nearly a love letter to a man who betrayed you by having an affair with your wife. I was thinking how wonderful and pure music can be for explaining situations. I listen to a variety of music. The only common point is strong lyrics; I’m more obsessed with lyrics than music. I need to hear a form of truth and if it’s a hard truth, even better. I picked up the guitar very late, in a very pagan way–I didn’t know how to play, but I knew I had to. I drew and I had a diary, but it wasn’t enough; I needed to express more. As soon as I learned two notes, I started to tell a story, which is why, I guess, my music resembles blues or folk. I guess that’s why it’s closer to the origins of music in America.
Many of the songs on the album were written years ago, in the middle of the night, in your kitchen. They’re personal, not necessarily intended for the world’s ears. Did that give you any pause?
I’ve been boycotted by the French press for 15 years–they hated me–so I’ve become a tough cookie in that I don’t care what people think. So, no, I wasn’t scared. But I was scared thinking, Shit, the only way I’ve survived all this hostility was by having this private little garden of music, so suddenly if I share the music and people hurt me, how will I calm myself? I was scared also of being a victim of other people. As an actor or model, you’re a consenting victim. Music was the only place where I was my own chief. And I thought, If I have to go through a process where I’m eaten up by an industry that tells me what to do, I’ll go bonkers. But the fact is, people were so convinced the album was going to be a disaster, they left me alone.
But in fact it’s been a great success! You won Female Artist of the Year at Les Victoires de la Musique, which are like the French Grammys.
I’m super surprised by the positive reaction! I could feel hints of it when my girlfriends would come over and ask me to sing the song where you like your dog better than your husband, or the one about that girl who makes lists, or when you drink late at night and get real smart. They’re like these little girl mantras.
Now it’s being released here in the U.S–the same day as Kanye’s album.
I can’t listen to his music, like a majority of music today, because of that bloody auto-tune. I can’t even listen to the lyrics and think, Do I like this music or don’t I? because my whole body goes weird; its absolutely repelling to me.
So what do you listen to?
A lot of Van Morrison–all day long. There are two albums, one called TB Sheets and one called Street Choir, which are absolutely beautiful and very far from what I’m doing. I try to not listen to all the girls I admire musically–like Nina Simone–just so I don’t find myself imitating them, even if it’s subconsciously. Funny enough, Patti Smith isn’t one of them–as much as people think she might be. She’s like a mother to me in a very strange way. I’ve only met her once, but I’ve always admired her person even more than her music, so I actually don’t listen to her music that much. I find it hard to relate to so many women today because they’re all so scared–scared of aging, of not being what they used to be. As a woman you’re drawn to people who aren’t that scared. In that respect, Patti’s at the top of my shrine. Her and Louise Bourgeois. I’m not scared thanks to them.
What’s on your rider?
A bottle of rum. I drink it with hot water, honey, and lemon. It’s grog, but with more rum.
What have you been wearing on tour?
I’m a bit of a contrarian, so I like the idea of going on stage without makeup, without the hair being done, in the jeans and shirt I’ve been wearing all day. At first that was an issue, because I didn’t want to be disrespectful. I didn’t want people to think that there wasn’t an effort, when in fact I was so scared to go on stage that I would wear a huge Chanel coat that I love because it makes me feel secure. I’d take it off, and leave it at my feet, and as soon as I felt a little bit fragile, I’d put it back on again. When I’m really scared, I have a lovely Saint Laurent tuxedo that I put on. I did a gig in London the other week, and that’s what I wore. I had all the guys dress in black too. I said, ‘We’re going to be hated; the English are really hard. It’s our own funeral.’ And it was true. The crowd was just standing there with their arms crossed and it was back to square one. It’s too easy now in France; we arrive in front of a crowd of 6,000 people who are screaming and know all the lyrics by heart, and you think, This is good. Then you arrive in London with a crowd of 600 people who don’t give a shit. But at the end, there was a standing ovation.
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