For someone whose life is so full – born into fame, a multidisciplinary artist since childhood – French pop musician Lou Doillon is interested in nothing.
“It’s in the second before the tear / It’s in the echo of your laugh / It’s in the things we forget to say,” she sings on her track, Nothings from her third album, Soliloquy. Each verse is one long breathless phrase, but the power is in the pause, as the guitar, drums and piano rest for a beat before she inhales and plunges into the chorus: “Yes that’s what holds it together.”
Following her globally successful albums Places and Lay Low, Soliloquy is Doillon’s most personal and powerful yet; it confronts pain, grief, love and death – recurring themes in her life. Doillon will be bringing this gamut of emotion to Australia in January, joining the likes of Nouvelle Vague, Corine, Tété and Philippe Cohen Solal at So Frenchy So Chic in Melbourne and Sydney.
As the daughter of French director Jacques Doillon and British music and style icon Jane Birkin, Doillon was exposed to fame early, acutely so when her mother’s former lover Serge Gainsbourg (or “Papa Deux”, as Doillon has called him) died in 1991 when she was nine-years-old.
Coming from a creative family, all members of which are extremely dedicated to their work, she says, Doillon’s artistic quests have always overlapped and informed one another, from designing her own album covers and drawing tattoos to match her songs, to painting in her music videos and sculpting in her spare time. But for her third album, drawing became a vital escape from the music.
“When I draw I am just by myself, I don’t have to compromise anything, I don’t have to talk to anyone else,” she tells Broadsheet on the phone from Paris. “So after a year and a half of making an album I was sick and tired of humans and if I hadn’t had a month to just draw … I would’ve gone mad.”
As a singer, songwriter, poet, actor and artist, Doillon says that in any medium she’s obsessed with the thin line between creating and letting go of your work.
“I think the day you become an artist is only the day you know how to say stop,” she says. “That’s why I love poetry. There are millions of words to write, so why do you choose that one? Why do you stop exactly there? And drawing is all about keeping empty space, and music for me is all about working with silence.”
Doillon admits that she hesitated to pursue a music career because of the heritage that follows her, but among the noise and self-doubt she has always known her own voice. Soliloquy raises the volume of her deeper self, sometimes through upbeat electro with dizzying synths, sometimes through forceful, earnest rock that grounds the breathy, barefoot singer with driving percussion.
This is the first time Doillon has worked with a mix of producers, rather than just one, which included The Shoes’ Benjamin Lebeau, Dan Levy of The Dø and Cat Power. It was an exercise that frightened Doillon at first, but paid off because she remained strong in her captaincy.
“It was a bit like an elastic. I think that trying to reach out and find the common playground meant that I had to be very aware of, where was my ground? It really was like letting go [and] bringing it back, and the more it went the more I found myself in a very first-degree kind of way.”
The result is a record that crosses genres, moods and styles, with nods or more to soul, reggae, techno and trip-hop, taking inspiration, she says, from artists with power: Patti Smith, Nina Simone, Nick Cave, PJ Harvey and even Alice Cooper.
The cryptic and self-described “loopy” 37-year-old says anyone will get to know her better by listening to one of her songs or looking at one of her drawings than spending a whole month with her.
And it could be true. By surrendering to Soliloquy through headphones or watching Doillon perform – as So Frenchy So Chic punters will have the opportunity to do soon – her immediacy and presence are as avoidable as gravity. Her music is an open door to a complex life, and it’s hard not to be sucked through.
But perhaps the place you really hear her is in the quiet moments when the music stops.
So Frenchy So Chic is on at Werribee Park in Melbourne on January 12 and in Bicentennial Park in Sydney on January 18. More information here.
Broadsheet is a proud media partner of So Frenchy So Chic.