Hello Gillian how are you?
I’m fine Derek, how are you? We’re living in stranger than strange times. It’s important to do everything you can to make yourself feel good. Writing lyrics has always made me feel more in control of certain situations cos you create the perpective you want to give to a situation yourself when you write. It isn’t dictated to you.
I’m good thankyou for asking. I agree with you that we are living in some strange times!
You are a singer songwriter with an interesting history how did it all begin for you?
Singing has been part of my life since I was a kid. I was in all the school and university plays, particularly the ones involving music. I went into daft talent shows at holidays camps when I was a kid singing the pop hits of the times! A few years after settling in Paris, I got a great opportunity in 1992 to form an acapella trio, Les Amuse Girls, with 2 other English girls who also spoke French like me and during the next 15 years we put together 3 shows and toured in France, Switzerland and Germany. We only did covers but completely changed the songs with our own arrangements. Our repertoire ranged from Edith Piaf and Serge Gainsbourg to the Beatles, Elvis Costello and many blues and musical comedy classics. It was a fab experience but when it finished (when my children arrived) I felt the need to continue with songs but without the performing and being on the road. In 2008 I wrote my first songs for a French TV film and then a few more followed. In 2013 I co-wrote an album, Juliet Balcony, where I wrote words and tunes and my collaborator did all the music and arrangements. Many pieces from that album have been used and are still used in TV series in France. It would seem my songs evoke images! I keep a notebook in my bag at all times and write lyrics constantly, on public transport, in bed, on holiday…
You like to focus on lyrics first in your songs, who are your favourite lyricists?
I have so many that I could write 3 pages or more, so this is by no means exhaustive but rather the names that come to mind immediately:
B.Dylan, J.Mitchell, Patti Smith, Lou Reed, D.Bowie, B.Ferry, E.Costello, Neil Hannon for Divine Comedy, Fiona Apple, Van Morrison, Leonard Cohen, Lennon/McCartney, Gil Scott Heron, Hal David (for his work with B.Bacarach), S.Sondheim (for his work with L.Bernstein), Tom Verlaine, Nick Cave, Marvin Gaye, KD Lang, Lana del Rey… (I’m sure i’ve missed some that I love!!)
What 3 lyrics have had a deep impact on you?
3 lyrics the have marked me…
That is such a tough question cos so many of the lyrics of the writers mentioned above have has an impact on me. I’ve decided to give examples of lyrics from people unmentioned above to broaden horizons and I’ll explain why they moved me:
1/ As you turn to walk away
And the door behind you clo-o-o-ses
The only thing I have to say
Its been a good year for the roses
Country and western can be cloyingly sentimental but Good Year For the Roses paints so well the end of a love story by picking up on something that has nothing to do with that story to create a really effective counterpoint. It’s like ‘life goes on’.
2/ And if a double decker bus crashes into us
To die by your side
Well the pleasure and privilege is mine
Take me out tonight
Cos I want to see people
And I want to see lights…
Classic use of bathos by Morrissey! I LOVE the expression of love here via such down to earth images and also the plea to go out and see life eve if it does just mean driving round in a car. Small pleasure can be massive pleasures and that’s what these lyrics say to me.
3/ As I walk this land of broken dreams
I have visions of many things
But happiness is just an illusion
Filled with sadness and confusion
What becomes of the broken-hearted… (Jimmy Ruffin)
These very simple lyrics combined with a soulful tune and hauntingly melancholic tone made the local fairground such a poetic place. It was a grotty venue once a year that often ended in fights but this song always seemed to come up at some point while I’d be watching the dating couples hanging round the Waltzer and it aroused so many emotions.
You live in Paris, what’s your favourite thing about the music and arts scene out there?
Music-wise, I’m a big fan of the ultra talented Serge Gainsbourg for his lyrics and music, and totally suave voice and manner but he has passed. In terms of what is happening now on the French music scene, I’m a bit disconnected because I listen to English lyrics way more and always feel Im going back in time when i listen to the greats of the past like Brel, Aznavour and Piaf cos they were working in a totally different era. Daft Punk are French and excellent (listened to their last album a million times) (Me too!) but it’s all in English so doesn’t seem French when you listen to it, and it was produced by Nile Rogers. Of course there’s tons of talented people here doing French pop (I could cite Etienne Daho who has been doing electro pop since the very beginning) but it’s impossible to listen to everyone and I have this overriding preference for songs written in the English language. However, what is great on the French arts scene on a more global level (before the Covid) is that there are tons of cafés and bars with small stages for live gigs that happen on a very regular basis. You pay nothing to get in and they pass the hat around at the end so the artists get paid something and the atmosphere in these dark candlelit places is something else. It can be music, stand-up comedy… With the trio I mentioned earlier we performed thousands of times on places like this in Paris and always sang with no mikes, and had a great time. In terms of theatre, the French have a reputation of being very intellectual and perhaps pretentious but there’s some great stuff out there, well was before the Covid. The problem, and it’s the same in the UK is the price. Going to the theatre costs an arm and a leg, and there’s something fundamentally wrong with that. On the contrary, you can listen to incredible jazz in so many bars in Paris where the entrance is free and you just have to accept that the drinks are expensive. Fair enough! Generally speaking, bars have more ambience I’d say in Paris than in London because they are real bars (not pubs) that stay open really late (before the Covid!) and that in some cases incorporate culture.
COVID 19 has affected the creative industry deeply, how have you been coping with it?
The beginning of lockdown was a good time for me if that doesn’t sound too selfish because I decided to put my songs on youtube wth no production and no budget, for the fun of it and because I really want to raise money for kids that get beaten and mistreated at home, hence the series of 12 I’m doing at the moment. Without lockdown and hearing about the increase in family violence, would I have done this, would I have dared – I’m not sure! I feel the Covid crisis is a good time to dare cos we don’t really know what is happening or what is coming next.My present feeling is : what have I got to lose?! Otherwise, I hate seeing everyone in a mask and I hate wearing a mask. I don’t want this to be the new normal. Nonetheless, it’s obvious this whole saga is going to leave its mark. I’m trying to get on with things as much as possible, work, family, writing..
What artists have you been listening to during this time?
I havent been listening to anybody new during this time. In terms of listening, the Cover has changed nothing. That said, now I’m on Twitter, I’m going to one day (when I have the time) listen to lots of unknown people like me who post their stuff and hopefully make lots of discoveries.
You have been creating videos with the help of your daughter, how did you put the concepts together?
My daughter films me on her iPhone and then does a montage again on her phone. It’s a simple as that. There’s no great artistic process BUT i do like to create a different mood each time and i tell her in advance so she knows where Im coming from. Homecoming (next youtube release) will be the first one filmed outside in the forest behind where we live. I believe you can do a lot with very little and that’s part of the deal for this series of 12.
How do you approach your lyric writing?
My lyric writing depends on whether I’m writing for a piece of music that exists or just writing on a blank page. If the music comes first (when I’m collaborating) it can either be that the tune suggests certain movements that evoke in turn words or the music really evokes a whole mood that I want to capture and express through words. However, as you know already, most of the time, I write words on a blank page from scratch. When I was younger, it used to be feelings about people and places and experiences I’d tried to get them all down on paper. This could be very expressive but was often hard to put into song form cos there were too many words (im a wordy person!). Now, Im more disciplined in that I try to quickly find a musical structure in the words im putting down on paper, meaning that I will see certain cool repetitions that say to me CHORUS material and others that have a change of tack that say BRIDGE material etc. The more I write, the more I am writing with a song structure constantly in the back of my mind. I still have a long way to go though. It took me ages to edit down the lyrics of LA Hills for example..
Everyone has a moment where they hit a brick wall creatively, what do you do to break the deadlock?
I have so much to do in my daily life that there’s too much movement and activity for hitting a brick wall. I’m not working as a professional songwriter (sadly) so the pressure is not there. However, when i get stuck on anything Im writing or trying to put together, a good walk in the fresh air usually does me the world of good.
You like hip hop, especially the early years who’s your favourite MC?
I like hiphop for sure but I must say probably nowhere near as much as i love soul and funk, particularly soul. Northern soul marked my early youth as did Motown. Marvin Gaye, Al Green, Stevie Wonder (and many more) have been on and off the turntable for the last 30 years at least. Back to rap to answer your question. I only really like early US rap, Public Enemy, De la Soul, Cypress Hill etc cos I loved the anti-establishment, militant side oily rap that has been lost through money and the bling bling sexist image of rap these days that uses violent language so gratuitously. I would therefore say favorite MC = Chuck D of Public Enemy and also MC Solar the first French rap artist who is off the scene now but who was really gifted at creating musicality through evocative words and images.
What are you looking forward to next?
I’m looking forward to posting Homecoming to see the reaction and having gotten back in touch with the guitarist, he’s really keen for me to post Ignite It just afterwards cos he’s on guitar again and he feels the two go together. Why not! In the meantime I’ve got tons of good lyrics that need putting into snappier structures before i can call them songs and then some songs that still need the tune honing but whose words I don’t want to change (but might have to). THAT is hard at times – accepting that you have a get rid of a good lyric for the sake of the song cos it doesn’t scan right or there just isn’t room musically for any more words. Since exchanging with people on Twitter, I’d love to collaborate with some of them in the other side of the world. Lyrics are my thing. Why not give them to some musical wizards and then decide who should sing!!