Lou Doillon, the French model, actress and singer, made her first foray into music in 2012 with “Places,” an album she wrote in English. The album was so well received that Doillon won best female performer at Les Victoires de la Musique, the French equivalent of the Grammys. She makes her New England debut at the Institute of Contemporary Art with a performance presented by World Music/CRASHarts and the ICA.
Doillon comes from what could be termed an “artistic dynasty.” She is the daughter of actress and singer Jane Birkin (as in the eponymous Birkin bag by Hermès) and French director Jacques Doillon. Her half-sister is the actress and singer Charlotte Gainsbourg, daughter of Serge Gainsbourg, the legendary French singer.
In a phone conversation with Doillon who is in her native Paris preparing for her international tour, the singer is quick to dispel any notions of entitlement. In fact, she has struggled with being the daughter of famous parents, saying, “In France, there’s a huge hatred for daughters of and sons of [celebrities].”
One would think that making the leap into music would be a huge risk for Doillon. By all appearances, her career has been a success. She is the face of Givenchy, and has appeared in 80 films.
“It was quite the opposite,” she says dismissing another rose-colored misconception about her. “I’ve always done movies but not the ones I wanted to do. The miracle movie never happened for me … I was always told I had too much character or was too weird.”
“I was feeling at 26 or 27 that my life was over.” She felt lonely and turned to drawing and writing songs. About that time, she was encouraged by French pop musician Étienne Daho to record the songs that she had been writing privately.
Doillon says that music has been a second life for her. “It is such a relief, not to speak other people’s words or be in other people’s clothes …. The pressure died.”
Atypical of celebrities who spend so much time, as Doillon puts it, “telling us they’re perfect,” Doillon strips herself of all veneers with “Places,” a deeply autobiographical album about love, loss, jealousy, and nostalgia.
In the opening track of her album “I.C.U,” Doillon speaks of longing for an unrequited love with lyrics reminiscent of the emotional landscapes painted by Joni Mitchell:
“I see you, in every cab that goes by, in the strangers, at every cross road, in every bar. It takes a glass or two, for it to settle down, for your shadow to stop following me around .… Cause all that’s left now are my dreams and memories / But I’m glad you came through my life / And put your stain on me.”
In “Jealousy,” Doillon writes about embracing the ugly emotion that everyone has felt at one time or another, while “Hushaby” is about love and trust: “Take my hand, And please don’t hide when you’re down, Close your eyes, I’m here yes just by your side, And I’ll take care of it all, I’ll catch you if you fall, For you boy, this hushaby.”
The smoky gravel of her voice suits the soulfulness of her lyrics. The musical arrangements reside somewhere between rock, jazz and soul. Doillon sings at a languorous pace, at times slowing down to the point of almost speaking—a style similar to Leonard Cohen’s, one of her many musical influences.
Doillon also singles out Patti Smith as her “spiritual mother,” not so much for her musical style, but her persona. Doillon admires Smith’s “strangeness” and for “being free from seduction,” or the usual trappings of conventional female beauty. Doillon sees Smith and, by extension, herself as, “absolutely romantic and womanly,” while at the same time, possessing an inner fortitude.
As evidenced by “Places,” Doillon courageously lays bare the rawness of her deepest emotions and convictions. She embraces her own self-professed “weirdness” and wears it boldly. The singer has found her place with “Places,” which begs the question, what’s next? With a joyful exhilaration in her voice, she reports that she’s already working on the next album, and plans to return to the studio straightaway after this tour. “Now that I’ve gotten this first taste, I want more.”
Mara Littman, an arts marketing professional and foodie culture enthusiast, creates date night itineraries by uncovering unique arts events and pairing them with restaurants for her website BostonDateNight.com. She has worked for the Cambridge Arts Council, Boston Lyric Opera, and Boston Center for the Arts, and currently runs the Cambridge Arts Marketing Network. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter@BostonDateNite.
This program aired on October 13, 2013. The audio for this program is not available.