An article-interview on French chanteuse Chantal "Kelly" Bassi, by Alex Astro Hussenet with questions by Matthew Meek and aditional questions by Alex Astro Hussenet.
Ever since I co-founded the Swingin' Mademoiselle's fan page on Facebook a coupla years ago with my friend, the actual creator of the sub-genre, mr. Sasha Monnet who launched the compilation series of the same name in the early 00's, I've had the privilege to meet some actual swingin' mademoiselles. It started with Françoise Deldick of "Hm! Hm!" fame (who happened to be living in my mother's neighborhood, in the suburbs... in my own backyard, incredibly!), then french sixties model and actress debutante, part-time singer Laura Ulmer, later Clothilde, one of the absolute Queens of the genre (the other two being Stella and Christine Pilzer...) with her two masterpiece 45 EPs (produced by Vogue DA genius Germinal Tenas, whom I also interviewed!)... and now the cute brunette of French Swing : Chantal Kelly; how lucky! If only I could start earning good money with all this digging... Well, anyway, it's a chance I'm doing this primarely out of passion. So, one day Laura Ulmer kept insisting I should come to the anti-bullfight demonstration taking place in front of the National Assembly in Paris which none other than Chantal was leading so I could meet her and arrange an interview that fans of the genre were waiting for on our page. It all came pretty natural despite the FREEZING early February cold and they embraced me both, Chantal, Laura and family, husband & friends, as if I was now part of their own; hence the lenghty interview here...
Now, I don't have to introduce you lot with the charms of Chantal Kelly; most of you would already know her Killer in the Swingin' Mademoiselle genre anyway : "Notre Prof' d'Anglais", first widely introduced on the mainstream massive comp' "Pop à Paris" Vol.1. A few others too, like the Yéyé close-second : "Interdit au moins de 18 ans" and the classic femme Pop of : "Caribou" her first record. but, I bet like me, most of you won't be familiar with the second part of her career during the Punk/ New Wave era when she came back to singing in the late seventies and early eighties! Here she lets down with some fascinating stories about the Paris Punk milieu that led her to launch that second career...
Born April 8, 1950 from a Corsican family, Chantal Kelly (real name : "Bassignani") grew up inheriting from her folks a deep passion for singing. And without further ado, here's from the horse's mouth the full lowdown : ... Ladies & Gentlemen, mademoiselle Kelly!!!
1. First of all, please tell us about your family and early childhood - you lived in Marseille at the time, what was it like to grow up there?
I grew up in Massilia (city on the south coast of France; ed.), more exactly in a near suburb called Pennes-Mirabeau, quite left on my own since my parents constantly commuted between the suburban family home and the bar they run in the heart of the city. I had then the pleasure of growing up in a big garden full of flowers and animal pets, but on the weekends I was at the bar...
When my parents thought I was quietly asleep, me thru a peeping hole in the wall I would spy what was happening in this funny place : adults, conversations, overdoings when the alcohol would make people change in a funny way... or badly! I wouldn't lose an inch. I think I learned a lot, seeing without beeing seen. In this bar, one would also throw parties, where children were allowed. There was music, people would dance and have fun, happiness seemed unaffected and a natural thing.
Music has always been very much a part of my life since my father was an excellent singer and musician himself; he played mandolin.
2. Who were your favourite singers and influences growing up? Were you a fan of fellow yéyé stars like Francoise, Sheila or Sylvie?
In the sixties, when I was ten I gave up the music of my brothers to chose mine, so much that the change was radical. Johnny (Hallyday; ed.) came on, with his evil guitar and angel locks, he was my idol from 9 to 12 years old. I was waiting for school's out where I was diligently boring myself, to run back home and listen to SLC ( "Salut Les Copains", famous French sixties radio program for Teenagers; ed.), we had a beat-up radio, I had to stick my ear on to listen but, I didn't care, I knew all the songs by heart.
I loved the classy modernism of Francoise Hardy, but the arrival of the Beatles, Stones, Dylan, Sonny and Cher, etc. brought once again new revolutionnary blood! There was so much currents : Rock, Rhythm 'n' Blues, I adored James Brown, Otis Redding, everything that came out of Motown had fabulous creativity and talent. France was always way behind the times, the order of the day was : "Being Commercial", if your thing ain't commercial, we don't want it... That's what we were told at record labels in France.
There was however Dutronc and Ferrer, saved by the quality of their lyrics. Fortunately, Gainsbourg was biding his time smoking his fag.
3. In one article it is stated both your mother and brother also sang - they did bare much influence on your path?
Like I already said, it was mostly my father who passed on to me the taste of music. He was a passionate whenever he took on his guitar or his mandolin, he was transformed. I would think when I looked at him that music really makes you happy. I inherited from him something that I would appreciate later : Opera, but also pre-war and post-war Popular songs, realistic or risqué lyrics by Vincent Scotto like for ex. "Ce Soir Lina Si Tu Veux (Tonight if you want, Lina; ed.)". It was evocative but never vulgar.
4. Is is rumoured too that you received vocal lessons from Cris Carol's mother - is this true?
When my mother came to understand I was lost for studies, she busied herself finding me a school of Showbiz, sort of a "Star Academy" before it's time (a popular Variety TV show in France ... and other countries, like Eurovision; ed.). It was called : "L'Institut Girard de la Roche" where we would teach you how to place your voice, work on your stage show, but there too, France was backdated. The rehearsal teacher was Cris Carol's mother who was making a good career for herself as lead dancer at Vegas alongside Line Renaud. One day, she got hold of the tape on which I was singing a song from Richard Anthony (one of France's first and foremost Teenage Idol; ed.) : "Et Je m'en Vais (And I'm Going; ed.)", a French adaptation of the Crystals' "And Then He Kissed Me". She called my parents saying : "If you aggree; I'll make her record in Paris"! My mother was crazy and adventurous enough to say : YES. She believed in me! A few months later the whole family was up in Paris and I signed a contract with Philips.
5. Speaking of Cris Carol, she wrote many of your songs, what was she like to work with, especially consider her role as a female writer?
Cris Carol was a very voluntary person. She had an incredilble energy on. She was one of the first women I saw that would live by herself.
6. Your debut Caribou is a fascinating song, and even today still stands up as a great piece of pop. Were you proud to have it as your debut EP?
When Cris Carol made me listen to "Caribou" on the piano, I was won over. The author, Charles Level was present, he had written the lyrics in a few hours. It was with this song that I signed on Philips. I was moved when I heard Claude Bolling's (Famous French Jazz arranger; ed.) arrangement of the song; he succeeded in giving to the almost childish song a solemnity without altering it's freshness. Today still, it's the song I prefer, I have real tenderness for this little Caribou. When I sang it the first time in the big studio along the backing track, I wouldn't get it round the first takes, trying to catch this state of grace finding myself between childhood and adultness like I were, and after a while I found it and I was happy.
7. Your real name is Bassignagni (sic; ed.), tell us how you came to be called "Kelly"?
In fact, somehow the answer can be found in your question : because Bassignani, and not "Bassignagni", nobody would write it correctly. So "Kelly" (Kelly as in "Gene Kelly" in reference to American musicals that were popular then; ed.) was thought up by someone in the spur of the moment; we had to find a name quick to print on the record covers. This one came in but, it could've been anything, like "Astaire" or something other... hey, "Chantal Astaire" is not bad actually!
8. There's a fascinating story tied to one of France Gall's iconic hit songs :"Bébé Requin"; this song was originally written for you... can you tell us about it?
I liked the work of Joe Dassin (famous French Pop singer; ed.) before he sold his soul to commercialism, he made very beautiful songs like : "Ca m'avance à quoi (in fact a French adaptation of the We Five's "You Were On My Mind"; ed.)", with a beautiful bass part I adored, "La Marie-Jeanne", etc. On top of what, he had a beautiful warm voice and was a cultivated young man; I remind that he was the son of Jules Dassin, the mythical filmmaker of "Never On Sunday".
One day I met Joe on a Tv stage and ask him to write me a song. He agrees and promises me to make me hear a number quickly. Lo and behold, a few weeks later Joe calls me and makes me listen to the song : "Je n'ai jamais pleuré (I never cried)", beautiful but I was a bit disappointed because I was counting on him for the powerful title I needed to follow up on "Caribou". While his song was only good as a B side; for that matter it was "Le Prof d'Anglais (the English Teacher)" that hit as the A side of that 45 (...her Best, most Swingin' Mademoiselle uptembo song; ed.). I regretted that missed opportunity ... But, 12 years later I learned that Joe Dassin had in fact written "Bébé Requin (Baby Shark)" and not "Je n'ai jamais pleuré" in the first place!
It was one Franck Thomas, an author of huge hits, who told me the story : him, Colette Rivat (songwriting partner of Cris Carol; ed.) and Dassin were about to make me listen to that song when France Gall's producer who happened to be "passing by"... asked to listen to the new song written for "la petite Kelly" which they were so proud of. And he was reported having said : "But that's a number for France Gall! It's a sure-hit, it has to be sung by a confirmed artist and not a beginner"; that's how I learned that my path could've been different if I had had that song instead, a song that was however originally written for me. The most disturbing is that each time I heard the song at the time, I instinctively thought : "That was rather for me".
I have to add though that France did a remarquable job with "Bébé Requin".
9. What would a typical recording session be like?
When the musicians would arrive in the studio, most of them didn't have a clue of what they would have to play, but the arranger had his special "crew", session musicians whom we would give the charming name of "Studio Sharks" because they would play their parts at the the tip of their hands but, one couldn't ask for a minute over their payed time. They had that petty "civil servant" attitude who won't allow themselves doing over-time, all this at a time when Music was reinventing itself like streaming water, and not like a sleepy river anymore.
10. Generally speaking, what was your time as a recording artist like? Did you get to meet many any other performers in the business? If so, please do spill!
When a record would do well, we had a heavy schedule : interviews and press coverage, photo sessions, cocktails, radio and TV promotions... there was always somebody to meet or to greet. People were really showing-off with celebrities (just like today), confirmed stars of course but with beginners like me too, because they had that potential of success, so a promising future. When we crossed paths with other artists it was generally in the corridors of a radio or on the set of a TV show, and of course during tours. I knew all the performers of the time in more or less good fashion, whether happily, with indifference, having affinities or admiration for the other, the ones I'd prefer not necessarely being the more forthcoming. I have a wonderful recalling of Greco (Juliette ; ed.) : we were giving performances in the same theater and she absolutely wanted to say hello to me, I was paralyzed at the idea of meeting her that I would hide. One could see this great Lady trying to reach the little shit that I was, it was like turning the world upside down!
I was quite friendly with Michèle Torr (fellow singer with a couple tunes in the Swingin' Mademoiselle genre; ed.), she only had a few years more than me but, she had great maturity. On evening she told me : "I'm awaiting a child", I said : "Ah!!!", she went on saying : "Christophe (famous French Pop singer and Teen Idol; ed.) is the father", and I said : "Oh!!!"; one could sense a strong, firm personnality not easy to shake in her.
I was very friendly with Laura Ulmer (part time actress and model, Yéyé singer and a Swingin' Mademoiselle favorite; ed.). Other than that, I would tour more with the boys than girls since I would open the shows; I toured a lot with Jacques Dutronc, and especially Michel Delpech (later a huge French M.O.R. singer of the seventies, then an aspiring Popsong chanteur; ed.) with whom I got along really well.
11. Did you enjoy the publicity work too associated with your career? You appeared in and on the cover of many magazines - not only in the Francophone world - but also in Spain, how did you career fare over there?
I would also do Fashion coverages; designers would lend us model dresses that most of us couldn't afford otherwise. One day entering the offices of a big magazine, I had to pose with a Dior outfit. France Gall was there too wearing a sumptuous siren gown and I thought : "I never imagined she were that tall!". In fact she had under her feet a few telephone directories... But, she was still ravishing.
When I was selected for the Philips cassette player ad campaign (her most famous photo shoot; ed.), I didn't realise then how significant it turned out later. The photo shoots were very boring, and to top it off they would play me some Erroll Garner as background music thinking it would make me at ease while I hated it. When I saw the posters covering all the walls of Paris with my face, of course it made me feel funny, but I wasn't the type of getting hot headed over it, I was much too aware for that and what made me silently laugh is when I would take the metro sometimes : the looks of people would go from the posters to the girl who was seated beside them ; some were wondering if I was that same girl and others acted as if there was nothing.
Then there was BELLA dolls; the managing director invited me at the factory and I came back home with a truckload full of dolls, that I offered to people until still not so long ago.
Otherwise, I would travel quite often, to Belgium, Switzerland, Luxembourg... but mostly to Spain as they loved me there. And I was delighted because I loved Madrid, weren't it for the language barrier; one day in a restaurant I saw a dish coming with 40 chicken thighs and I still wonder what I said to the boy that made him think I had such a horse appetite!
12. You had been one of the godparents of the Dugstore Publicis (mythical rallying point/ mecca for French Minets - the French equivalent of Britain's mods - in sixties Paris where luminaries like topmodel and scenester Zouzou, Pop singer Ronnie Bird and futur Skydog label boss Marc Zermati - who later helped relaunch Iggy Pop's career in the seventies - would cater, located at the top of the Champs Élysées; ed.) when it opened in 1966... cand you tell me how you came to do that and with whom, how did it happen and how it came to evolve later... if you would hang out with this famous minet crowd and follow the evolution of the scene?
We were very much called upon for all sorts of activities, that could go from the opening of a night club, to an autograph session in a supermarket, up to the launching of a new magazine. Who would know today that I inaugurated that concept-store so innovative that would call itself "Le Drugstore" (Publicis; ed.)! On that day of the year 1966 I became one of it's godmothers, one of the other being the great Amalia Rodriguez (famous Fado singer and Portuguese actress; ed.), I confess I don't remember the two other godparents... It became the headquarters of the "Blousons Dorés" gang in parallel to the "Blousons Noirs" (nicknamed that way : "Golden Leathers" in direct contrast to the notorious Black Leather boys or "Blousons Noirs", French rockers from the working class suburbs; ed.), the first ones that we also called "minets", that were immortalised by the song of Dutronc ("Les Playboys"; ed.) because they came from a more upper-middle class environment, wearing tight Shetland pullovers that gave them that androgynous figure. Of the gang, I knew Manset (Gérard Manset, later famous singer-songwriter; ed.) with whom I was working, but he was already very atypical, in the midst of minets he was the aristo-cat... Other than that, one musn't forget I was a minor; my dad only allowed me to do that job at the condition : "that you don't hang out too late at night", he said. And like everyone knows, interesting things often would start late enough. It sometimes happened that two cocktail parties would take place on the same premises, to celebrate which or what event; one evening that I was bored in one, I wanted to go have a look at the other party. There was a door with a window thru which hung a curtain that prevented from watching what was happening inside. I knocked on the door, a man's hand opened the curtain and I found myself face to face with the mask of Cocteau's beast in "Beauty and the Beast", in flesh and blood, the so beautiful face of Jean Marais ( cult French actor; ed.) was smiling at me as if it had always known me, making me feel as only greats would know how, that they were waiting only for myself.
13. Do you have any favourites from your recordings?
As I already said : I have a special tenderness for "Caribou"! After that, it's difficult to be objective : I don't hear it as a simple listener, I would only notice the defects. One must also say that from the third 45 : "Interdit au moins de 18 ans (restricted under 18)", I started having big ENT problems and it handicaped me a lot; that way I sang Gérard Manset's beautiful song : "Toi, mon Magicien (You, my Magic man)" with a stuffy nose ... so much that I have a lot of difficulty to bear listening thru it now, and that ain't the only song! "Le Prof d'Anglais" had a beautiful energy, I loved to sing it on stage; I also loved the pastoral universe of André Popp (world famous Cult French music arranger; ed.).
For the '67 edition of "La Rose d'Antibes" (a famous festival that takes place in the city of Antibes ; ed.) I introduced : "C'est Toujours la même chanson (always the same old song)"; it was a good song I think. On the 45's flip there was "Les Roses de mon Jardin (Roses in my garden)"; no chance it would ever be a hit but I liked it. It was my weakness a bit that I would often become infatuated with songs without seeing if it had commercial potential or not. It's very difficult to pick out 4 songs amongst the titles we would propose; today I guess I would make a different choice, about which song would have made a better hit than the one I had chosen then.
14. What other artists did you enjoy listening too? Did you prefer the home grown talent from France or those from other shores?
My admirations were quite numerous and various; I have generally a very "Fan" attitude, my enthousiasm has not changed. I never was narrow-minded, all the while being a girl of my time, I would listen to traditional French chansons that I'd find very rich : Brel (Jacques), Brassens (George), Barbara, Gréco (Juliette), Piaf (Edith), all those were sacred. Then, there would be the little "Swingin' Mademoiselles" of France and beyond, with the three graces to be reckoned with : Francoise (Hardy), Sylvie (Vartan), France (Gall). Of Francoise I would love all : the songs, the voice, the look; she had an innate instinct for good taste. Sylvie was so glamourous!!! But what she sang after her mariage didn't interest me at all. France with her voice of sweet tangy was very attractive, she had magnificent songs like "Christiansen", and then all what Gainsbourg made for her. I was a great fan of "Poupée de cire, poupée de son" that is a jewel, as much musically as lyrically.
I loved Marianne Faithfull, Marie Laforêt, BB (Brigitte Bardot) and a lot of forgotten girl singers... like me! (laughter)
I listened a lot to the British scene; for me they are kings, whether it be Rock or Pop... I always loved British music. And Black music of course, I talked about it earlier.
Movies would take an important place : "West Side Story" stayed on the marquee for years in the cinemas of the Champs Élysées. But, for example me in the sixties, I discovered American musicals and was blissful with admiration. One must also replace things in their proper context : we hadn't access to all like today, we would discover the films, the fads, the artists sometimes twenty or thirty years late. When TV would offer us a festival, Garbo or the Marx Brothers, what a gift it was for people who would watch them for the first time (I was 16, 17 then...) and afterwards we would go to dance the Jerk...
15. Were you aware of how progressive and ahead of their time many fellow "swinging mademoiselles" from France were?
Aware?... Of living an era of big changes? Yes! Everything changed very rapidly around us : girls' skirts would shorten 20 centimeters almost overnight!!! Bodies, souls were liberated. And music always, irrefutable reflection of a society, it has swept a generation, one could say even all past generations like a new wind's blow.. or "Nouvelle Vague". There is a before and after the Sixties; one could not say as much for the other decades. Even if each brings evolution, not all brings revolution. To sum it all, I'd say that the tea-dances of our mothers were replaced by our parties and bashes. Advertising was replaced by Publicity.
After that, one must put it into perspective... reverting to girl singers, some were more avant-garde than others. For me, the one that embodied that era was Francoise Hardy; she was "now, today" in the zeitgeist. Her style was copied and she had strong numbers! "Tous les garçons et les filles" (her first hit; ed.) was as Sixties as can get... the others were "Yéyé". It's a bit derogatory, I thought Sheila (famous French Teen idol; ed.) was a "Yéyé" singer, Francoise or France (Gall) were "mod".
Me anyway, I was never satisfied, when I would hear some songs like "La maison où j'ai grandi" (one of Francoise Hardy's biggest hits; ed.) I would think : "Why didn't we offer me such a number?!"; I found my songs cute of course, but I was aware of not having found THEE song that would transport you, the one everybody would hum. That is a fantasy that has nothing to do with fame, it's just a recognition which every artist aspires to. Nothing is better than to hear one day in the street a song that you are the author of, being hummed.
16. Your direction changed twice after your yé-yé period, firstly to South American folk then to New Wave in the 80's. Did you feel you had to distance yourself from your earlier period with these records?
After my last 45 ; "C'est toujours la même chanson", I was lost, tired. I didn't know where to go; in my record label they had other lemons to squeeze. The "Yéyé" wave was gone. I wanted to explore other musical horizons, I went to listen to new artists. I knew I had to move on, only I didn't know how. I lacked experience, I was still too young to face and deal with this ruthless business. Along the way I located some youngsters, a girl in particular that was doing songs with a sound so new; there was two missed appointments, either by me or her, I don't remember... That girl was Véronique Samson (famous French singer-songwriter of the 70's who at one time was married to Stephen Stills of CSN&Y and of course Buffalo Springfield; ed.). Beautiful lyrics always appealed to me and, I worked with a young author, Boris Bergman, who was also about to shake up the world of French lyricists, with a rock language, virgin emotions, and a way of making words sound that no one besides Gainsbourg had envisionned in France. And then like a lot of youngsters I was very much attracted to South-American music; one must not forget that it was the years of El Ché! He had just been murdered... His picture little by little replaced the ones of Teen idols on T-shirts, we were entering years of torment, the party was over.
I saw the newcomers, a lot of the time, funnily, they were older than me, but their guitars didn't sound the same. So I seeked, but I was in great loneliness; one morning I woke up and said to myself : I quit, I don't want to sing no more, I don't want to hear about this trade and it's manipulative people. My come back was made 10 years later, I had to digest a lot of disappointments. In 1980, I made an album which lyrics I wrote. It didn't met with it's audience as we say. Then a single: " À peine inhumaine (barely inhuman)" (a missed hit; ed.) that I love a lot... I loved immersing myself in this Punk/ New Wave; those were also magical years. That was my last experience as a singer, then I wrote songs for other people, children's stories... I still do it, by the way.
17. How would you sum up your experience of the sixties as a whole, especially from the perspective as someone from France? Subsequently, did the student riots of May 1968 have much bearing on you?
When '68 came along (the era; ed.), I was professionally speaking, in the doldrums so, what I was feeling inside matched quite what was going on in the streets but, I was apolitical. I never set foot in college or university, their claims were going a bit over my head, and in retrospect I say to myself that it was a lot of noise for not much doing in the end. Women's lib' didn't do more to me as my mother was a liberated mother well before it's time. Very selfishly, I said to myself that my life was done for and I was not 20 yet... I didn't see no future, it was terrible.
18. After your turn as a yéyé girl, what subsequent adventures did your life have in store for you?
I had to make the road backwards. Erase like with a rubber all that I had lived since it wasn't the real life! I lived a fiction for 3 years... there was the end of the trip : "Terminus, everybody out!". Only... I wasn't too kin on the real world, for me the prospect of getting married and having lots of kids was like : "No Way!". So I had to reinvent myself in a new life : I went to Corsica, this island always gives me the strength when it comes to lack in me. I opened a fashion boutique and forgot about "Chantal Kelly". However, I never had any regrets about this venture, on the contrary it's my background; I'm aware that a few people get to live the same experience, even though I never experienced huge success. I know what it's like, I know how it works and it was pretty useful to me. Evolving in a kind of jungle, one acquires a special sharpness, otherwise you get eaten up. However finally, one doesn't change that much.
19. You made a break from '68 'til the Punk years around '78 at the end of the seventies, during which time you went to Corsica to open a Fashion shop... What made you gradually return to the singin' activity to want to start a second career under your real name shortened to "Bassi"? (Tell us about when you discovered Punk thru listening to Bowie, Iggy and Lou Reed... what made you click when you heard "Horses" by Patti Smith? And how did you evolve in this Parisian Punk milieu around Les Halles' precinct, all the nightclubbing in then hip clubs "Le Palace", "Les Bains Douches", etc.?)
I had to forget "Kelly" to progress. That shop unabled me to earn a living and move on to other things. It happened that we had to raise the son of my elder brother with whom I had a very strong tie, a fusional relationship, and of course that young teenager by the name of Michel was very plugged into music. I would bring him back from my trips to Paris all the newies; we only had like 10 years age difference. It was him who gave me back the taste for music. He would say : "Listen to this Bowie record : "Alladin Sane" that you brought back to me!", I would listen and be knocked backwards. The next was Lou Reed or "Horses" by Patti Smith; those years could have woken up the dead... That's what happened to me a bit, I had the desire to come back. I must say that destiny brought me to have an unlikely encounter : a young Punkette photographer and friend of Alain Pacadis (legendary Parisian journalist writer, nightclubber and original Punk; ed.), and encoutering thru her the Stinky Toys (early legendary French Punk band with future Pop chanteuse Elie Medeiros who was credited of inventing the safety pin look, and Jacno, famous French Punk guitarist and Synth Pop composer; ed.) and all these people that were doing their own revolution. At that time we were in the "No Future" days : these youths were tough, quite cynical and fascinating at the same time. I wasn't really one of the gang, if only for the look I couldn't compete with their orange hair and safety-pins pinned a little everywhere. But it was fun, they looked at me as fascinated as I was by them. They didn't know me of course. I was the alien... With Michel my nephew, we set up in the neighborhood of Les Halles, moving in a little 2 room appartment that was always full : drinking Valstar beer with the bass player of The Cure who had an affair with a girl friend of Michel... a night ride to the "Bains Douches" (emblematic Paris club, equivalent to the legendary "Palace" for the hip at the time; ed.) with the most fashionable Top Model of the time who came to fetch us wearing a fortune on her back and left covered with cat's hair... those were rock'n'roll days, and I loved them.
Michel started to write songs, he had a voice, charisma. One night at 4 am, the phone rang : a journalist friend was shouting to me all excited : "I am with Malcolm Mc Laren (producer of the Sex Pistols), he just heard the demo you made with Michel and absolutely wants to produce it!"; I didn't come out of thin air and, with all my acquired experience I turned down the offer (... one can't help to imagine if Chantal hadn't turned it down; ed.); while at 17 I couldn't resist to the call of the sirens, not anymore.
That didn't prevent us from writing more songs; I knew I wanted to sing but, this time it was the French system that didn't match my artistic approach. In France we were at Variety's worse or... the new Punk scene. I was going to 30 and had other wants. I didn't want to do Punk of course, neither Rock but something that was moving out of French Variety and was being inspired by this new musical current that opened a lot of new doors. But when I talked to record labels about Lou Reed, Iggy Pop or Lewis Furey (famous Canadian singer-songwriter with Lou Reed stylings and a classical violinist, that also wrote film scores; ed.), they didn't have a clue!
20. How did the recording of your album "Le Vamp" in '79 came about? What did you have in mind and what came out finally (please talk about the producer who made the album's music...)?
I dug out a young composer called Philippe Cataldo, who had more maturity than Michel (who was still going to highschool), and I wrote with him my first album : "Le Vamp". My mistake was to have it produced by one Jean Musy who came from Variety, but he promised to move in the direction that we had discussed however at length. I found myself in a studio with a musical spirit at the opposite pole of what I wanted and what I had succeeded doing on my demos. The recording went quite bad and instantly my ENT problems reappeared; for days I couldn't sing a note, it was on the last night that, moved by some desperate energy no doubt, I sang 10 numbers. But, I wasn't really satisfied with this record. It didn't came off like I wanted and I had the feeling of having missed something. A little later, singers like Mylène Farmer or Jeanne Mas (... French girl singers of the New Wave chansons; ed.) succeeded in doing what I had been getting under way.
21. One song was extracted from the album to be the hit that never was in 1980 : "À Peine Inhumaine (Barely Inhuman)", where you had however a Synth' Pop sound well beyond the usual Variety sounds of the time, and a forerunner look (which unofficially influenced later chanteuses like Jeanne Mas! ); what happened?
When I met Thierry Vincent, an ex. French Pop singer of the sixties, he became my producer and we had so much affinity in common that it seemed evident for me to let him produce : "À peine inhumaine". Here I was ok with everything, I trusted things completely. But the single bombed, despite support from certain medias who really loved it. And Thierry, this wonderful guy died of an overdose and I was at a loss. To this day it's the work that I'm most proud of, it was towards this that I was gearing, even if it was far from being perfect, I had found in the words and the music to the song my true spirit. Soon afterwards, Philippe (Cataldo) proposed to write the lyrics to another song, I refused; once more, people asked me to wander off from what I liked and that song written by another author became one of the biggest hits of the 80's : "Les divas du dancing (Divas of the Dancing)". France and the Variety genre decidedly had a great love story and that story didn't attract me.
22. You now campaign for animal rights. Has this always been something you have been passionate about?
Yes, I was born with the love of animals pegged to the body. Also, my goal had always been to succeed in singing so I could help out the animals, they are the ones that marvel me most. I feel often more close to them than to my peers, they are my dream of purity. It fills me with despair to see that men are more and more cutting their link with the animal world; it's a mistake that will lose us, that will lost our humanity.
23. What do you have to say for your epilogue : do you have anything to add?
Alain Delon said one day that doing this job was like battling a war! I am not a warrior, I'm for peace. That's the reason why I'm leading this fight to protect animals, so that we leave them alone.
24. Did you know that American indiepop singer April March covered your "Caribou" (she's mostly known today for having covered France Gall's "Laisse Tomber Les Filles" as "Chick Habit" used on Tarantino's grind movie tribute's soundtrack : "Death Proof"... which later was used again for a Renault Twingo advertising clip!)? What do you think of her version and do you know her personally (as you are "friends" on Facebook)?
That's something new to me!!! No, I didn't know that version of "Caribou". April March did request me on Facebook but I didn't know her... Her's doesn't differ much from mine, save for her charming little accent. I'm very happy to discover her cover here.
(View the interview in edited form on the Swingin' Mademoiselle's Facebook page here :
And a short bio in French here: