She sings in her wistful French way about heartbreak, lost love and loneliness, but Francoiz Breut says all she can see are reasons to be cheerful. She spoke with Craig Doolan.
Via an interpreter, down a telephone line and across vast tracts of ocean, Francoiz Breut proves difficult to draw on the question of where, outside her native France, she is most succes...(展开全部) She sings in her wistful French way about heartbreak, lost love and loneliness, but Francoiz Breut says all she can see are reasons to be cheerful. She spoke with Craig Doolan.
Via an interpreter, down a telephone line and across vast tracts of ocean, Francoiz Breut proves difficult to draw on the question of where, outside her native France, she is most successful. Britain? I ask. "Not really." America? "Not really." Asia? "No, not at all. In Japan they're scared of French songs."
In fact, Breut is not exactly a huge pop star anywhere, though the fact that she has any sort of appeal to English-speaking audiences is fairly remarkable. After all, she sings a peculiarly down-at-heel brand of pop music and she sings it almost entirely in French. "French pop or rock music isn't very exportable," she acknowledges, "because people want to understand what we are singing about".
And yet, Breut has broken into Australia, thanks in large part to the slow-burn appeal of her second and most recent album, 2000's Vingt a Trente Mille Jours (Twenty To Thirty Thousand Days). A national tour, which brings her to Melbourne this week, is likely to keep those fans happy for a while longer in the absence of another album.
It's not altogether surprising that Francoiz Breut's output has been on the slow side, as she is rather busy. After tours of France, Spain, Britain, Poland and Russia she took time out for the birth of her second child, Michka, in August 2001. She has also maintained her other career as an illustrator of children's books, her most recent coming out last year.
Breut is not her real name (reportedly, she adopted it after her rather chilly stage name, Francoiz Brrr, was misreported in reviews).
She grew up in the north of France and began singing in a band while studying fine art at university. In 1992, she illustrated the cover of the debut album by the French musician Dominique Ane. They became friends, lovers and co-performers. "He asked me to sing on his second record, then his third," she says. And, in 1997, Breut released her own self-titled debut album, a collection of songs written specifically for her by Ane.
"I don't really occupy myself with (success). I think if it stops, it stops and you do something else."
She and Ane, who had a son, Yourie, in 1998, have since split (he is not the father of her second child), though he again contributed lyrics to her second album. This time, so did others. "I need to be surrounded," says Breut of the musical process. "It's not a job I could do alone, whereas my job drawing is very lonely."
But if Francoiz Breut is primarily an interpreter of songs, they are songs united in feel by a kind of cool despondency: sparse drum beats layered with sad, reverberating western guitars and eerie Hammond organ, all capped by her lilting, breathy vocals.
The style and sound of her songs has attracted comparisons with the likes of Nick Cave, Tom Waits, Marianne Faithfull and the Cowboy Junkies, as well as her compatriots Serge Gainsbourg, Francoise Hardy and France Gall. While the comparisons please her, she rejects any claim to such esteemed company, and considers herself, relatively speaking, a novice. "After all, you can't become an author from one day to the next."
She says making records gives her pleasure, though it's not screamingly obvious how. Collectively, her songs paint a sombre, brooding picture. Themes of longing, possessiveness and stagnation pervade the poetic lyrics.
In the song L'Origine du Monde (The Origins Of The World) from Vingt a Trente Mille Jours, the narrator and her lover are trapped in a dead-end relationship that they are powerless to change, although the reasons for its failure seem to be staring them in the face. In La Nuit Repose (The Night Rests), the night is characterised as heavy and suffocating, and as a competitor for Breut's lover's attention.
Breut insists that the songs, though written for her, do not necessarily express her point of view. In fact, she says, what the songs are actually about is not important to her at all.
Breut is given to such matter-of-fact statements. She tells me that her first experience working with an orchestra (the Budapest Symphony) was "very short" and she chose that orchestra "because they were cheapest"; religion, she opines, is "good for those people who are a bit lost"; she has no idea who her fans are, no opinion on whether other French artists such as Air and (the Anglo-French) Stereolab have opened us up to French music; she is unconcerned with how her records are selling in other parts of the world.
She shrugs off a question about her current level of international success with the same languor. "I don't really occupy myself with that. I think if it (success) stops, it stops and you do something else. There are so many interesting things to do that it doesn't really matter." Only a French woman, you suspect, could make a world full of possibilities seem so rich in ennui.
But back to the lyrics. For the purposes of this interview, I had the lyrics on Vingt a Trente Mille Jours translated. The translator enclosed a note with the lyrics. "A very sad depressed little chicken - not very happy songs." Take this, for example (from L'Affaire D'un Jour/The One Day Affair): "My love, do you see something in me that you no longer want or that doesn't work?/If it's the case you can tell me, it doesn't bother me as in you I see worse/Love I know it's a one-day affair/And the affair, you pay for in the days after".
Or this (from Si Tu Disais/If You Said): "If you said let's go/If you were so sick of being here/I'd listen to you, believe me/I wouldn't hesitate/And whether it be for a town or a village/a forgotten piece of earth, believe me/It wouldn't bother me/I have been ready for a long time/But you don't say anything about all that/You don't decide anything/I don't know if you have any idea what we could do/I wonder why you are here".
The intensity of the words is magnified by the fact that the stories are often related by Breut to a lover directly in the first person, so that it feels like she is addressing you, the listener, with her reflective indifference and despair.
"It's not at all what I think," she says. "For example, when I sing that love is a one-day affair, I don't think that at all, it's someone else's idea."
And that someone else was Dominique Ane, with whom she was going through a bust-up at the time. "The stories about separation are what I was living at the time and I felt like singing about that theme. It was difficult, especially as we were working together at the time and we already had a child and it's all hard."
If not from the lyrics, then, perhaps it is possible to gain a better insight into what makes Francoiz Breut tick from the interactive animation she created to accompany Si Tu Disais. There are four concurrent animated stories: a couple sit motionless in their car in a supermarket car park watching other shoppers, cars, planes and the rest of the world go by before driving home; a woman tries to help her lover escape from prison, then takes off in the car of another man after her attempts prove futile; two little birds escape from their cages and set off on holiday with suitcases before being detained by a customs official; items of rotting food escape from a refrigerator and embark on a last fling around the house before being relegated to the bin.
There's a strong sense of time ticking away in these little vignettes, consistent with the "20 to 30,000 days" of the album's title. Only, Breut insists, things are not so gloomy as we might imagine. "Well, 20 to 30,000 days is the span of a human life," she explains. "I liked the idea, although it is true that it is scary to see numbers like that and to think, 'Ooh la la, I only have that many days left to live!'
"But at the same time, there is a side that is a little, a little exciting, and you have to say to yourself that you must make the most of every minute . . . I think it's quite a positive idea."
· · · · · ·
• Ma Colere
• Rue Ne Te Reprendra Pas
• Everyone Kisses A Strange
• Femme Sans Histoire
• Don D'ubiquite
• Apres La Nuit
• My Wedding Man