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Lou Doillon: “Music Comes from Heart Rhythms and Everyone’s Beats a Different Way”

The award-winning singer (and daughter of Jane Birkin) returns with her new record—a work of deliberate, glorious imperfection.

“I wanted an album that moved and songs that moved within themselves and instruments that moved,” says French chanteuse Lou Doillon. “It’s quite hard to do today.” Lay Low is the 30-year-old singer-songwriter’s second record, a follow up to the accolade adorned 2012 debut Places. It was a record that saw her push away the qualifying labels—actress/model/“It Girl”/daughter of Jane Birkin—to be an acclaimed creative in her own right. For its follow up she wanted to make an album that was raw and flawed: she banned Auto-Tune or any song-perfecting technology that might take away from the crookedness of the tracks. For her, there’s a real beauty in them. To bring her vision to life, she enlisted Taylor Kirk of Canadian melancholy folk-pop outfit Timber Timbre for production, honing in on vintage sounds while maintaining a natural ethos to her music. Last time we caught up with Doillon she was unflinchingly honest—whether discussing cheating boys or heartbreak and so we recently caught up with her again, this time at The Standard Hotel in New York, to discuss the magical age of 30, being overshadowed by her mother’s fame, and her true passion.

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Noisey: Can you tell me a little bit about how this album is different than your last one?
Lou Doillon: Well, the process was very different for me in the sense that the first album Places was produced by a man, who since then has become a great friend of mine, but one who is extremely protective and fatherly and one that protected me from the whole hassle of what can be the process of making an album. For the first album, I was in a complete innocence where I sang and played, but didn’t have the whole rest of having to carry an album—to have to deal with everyone, the label, your expectations, your fears, and the musicians. Lay Low was very different because it was the first time I had to carry a project. It was a long time for me to already find with whom I wanted to work. When I did find Taylor Kirk of Timber Timbre, with whom I co-produced the album, I was working with a peer so it had that lovely side where we were in the shit together and working for the process. Very quickly when we recorded, he was out of the process and I had to fight that album with myself and spend months editing, reworking, taking things away, confronting myself to the label. It was wonderful because I loved learning, but it was a fight and the first one was done in complete innocence. I didn’t realize the struggle it could be.

Do you feel like your mom ever overshadowed you in any way, or do you feel like you’ve stood on your own in your career?
Well, it depends: she’s above me in the sense that she’s my mother, so I consider anyone above me where I look to her and look up to her. She was always very giving, generous and very motherly of letting us be and letting us do. She’s a wonderful doer so she taught me to do and not really care about other people’s expectations or judgments—to free yourself and that’s a great gift. On the other side, I’m sure the press has always been there to invent a pressure that they put, more than the family actually puts, but that’s fine. I took time to realize what I wanted to do. I started working when I was a teenager and it took me 15 years to create a rhythm that I love now, which is creating in my own world and every couple of years going on tour and having a process of sharing what I’ve found. I like that rhythm I think more than the rhythm that I head when I was younger of the acting process, which has so much to do with other people and dependency. I’m not a very good dependent person—I’m much happier now depending on no one or myself. I find it much healthier for my way of working.

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Jumping off of that, which passion has been closest to your heart: singing, modeling, or acting?
I guess that modeling and acting for me were the same thing in the sense that I was never in the real modeling process. I was called by photographers who wanted a performance in one way or another or someone to incarnate more than a plastic beauty. I’m not very easy to shoot and I have crazy angles all over the place, so it’s more of an exchange of personalities in the acting or modeling business. What’s wonderful about music is that it goes through what I love in acting. With acting, my favorite is the theater because of the work process, which I love, and the relationship to language, which I love. To work dialogues is my favorite part, along with being with people and the relationship to the public. Those things I can find with music. When I find my musicians and start working and playing together to record, it’s exactly like when we start rehearsals in the theater. It’s very similar.

What’s lovely and not in the acting business that I miss is the desire to please—it’s kind of like the father figure you have acting-wise where you have someone who bounces back and tells you about that world. In the music world, I have no boss, so that’s very liberating. It’s true that that’s lovely because there’s a little girl thing in it. I’ve been stuck in my universe for the past three years defining my image, the sound and what I meant to say. After two years, you’re kind of fed up. I can’t wait to be working in someone else’s project and surrender to their own imagination in a way and to their own responsibility. Suddenly it’s their fault and not mine. But with my process, it’s mine, so it’s a heavy burden.

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With this record, what kind of inspired you the most?
With the first album, I had written thinking I’d never be heard and with a process to calm myself down with very passionate relationships like one has in their 20s of living everything for the first time and being extremely pure and very like Antigone—something very out there and Joan of Arc-ian in a way. When you get to 30, you’ve tasted everything once, so you think, to what extent do you pretend that it’s the first time when in fact you’ve already loved and stopped loving, you’ve already said goodbye to things that are important. I’m at an age now where I’ve loved, I’ve buried people I’ve loved and seen things come around. Suddenly, it all seemed like a crazy cycle—I could suddenly log onto the cycles in my life and other people’s cycles. So, the writing process started there. I thought, isn’t it strange how things keep popping up? You start recognizing patterns in your life. It’s kind of like a sense of vertigo: I felt like I was stuck in these circling processes. The writing came from there and the desire to be stripped bare and honest, I thought I could work on that with Taylor [Kirk] who has the same process of recording with old machines. What I love about old albums is that music comes from the heart rhythms and everyone’s beats in a different way.

I find that often today, we’re so obsessed with computerizing everything, and everything is on the same beat. It loses its sense of anonymity—maybe it’s pagan or wild. All of our work with Taylor [Kirk] featured sounds that were living: every app was a very different vintage app—some of the apps had a buzz in them we didn’t change, and some of the guitars we didn’t tune to be together. Every echo that was played was a real one. There were no computer effects. It’s crooked, but that’s what I love. It’s alive. I would rather have a non-crooked brain surgeon, but with pictures, music and movies, there should be a rhythm that resembles life. I wanted an album that moved and songs that moved within themselves and instruments that moved. It’s quite hard to do today.

What are you listening to right now that could be seen through the record?
I was listening to a lot of oldies in a way. I was listening to very different things. I went from having a complete country phase with Bobbie Gentry and Dolly Parton and loving it, but I’ve always had a major disappointment of not being as rock ‘n’ roll as I hoped that I would be, so I re-listened to a lot of PJ Harvey. I listened to a lot of Nick Cave and Timber Timbre. Then, my boyfriend is much more on the page, so he listens to every new, cool kid in the back, but I’m very old school. I love my old vinyls. I’ve been listening to a lot of Al Green, Leonard Cohen, and Glasser. There were a lot of Canadian sounds I was into. It’s complicated. When you’re recording, you try not to listen to too much as not to impress you or over-influence you. It’s good—I was very impressed by King Krule. I was like, “Maybe I should do something like this?” But then I was like, “No, no.”

You brought up turning 30. Was 30 a daunting age for you? It seems to play a big part in this record.
It was actually quite beautiful. The base of your consumerism is based on age. Subconsciously or not, people are playing with our nerves 13 hours a day and our self-esteem. It’s such a fucked up society. By the age of 25 you feel like 95—that your life is over and you’re nearly going to be thrown in the dust, especially as a woman. All the 16-year-old beauties are arriving and you think you’re done. You get to such a state of panic that 30 is wonderful because you thought you would be dead by then. It’s kind of a new birth: you’re your own friend, the passion dims down, the fear dims down and the hysteria dims down. You realize you’re only going to live once and it’s for yourself. For me, they’re beautiful years. I’m much happier today than I was 10 years ago. I think that’s what the 30s are for—there’s something in bloom in a way. It’s something calm.

Lay Low is out now on Maison Barclay.

Ilana Kaplan is a writer living in Brooklyn. Follow her on Twitter.