Written by Andrew Pogany.
Lou Doillon is more than we can ever know or hope to describe. She’s literary and wild, soulful and articulate; a talented actor and avid dancer in the dark; a songwriter and impressive singer with a unique, rich alto that’s drawn comparisons to Marianne Faithful and Chan Marshall.
The daughter of French director Jacques Doillon and iconic actress and singer Jane Birkin, Lou Doillon’s musical career first began to take shape in the early 2010s, with the release of her debut, Places, a critically acclaimed album that ended up going double platinum. Her most recent release, Soliloquy, is her third, and equally as compelling and personal, though the folk and jazz influences of Places has evolved to include a harder rock and electronic edge.
Here, Lou Doillon—clearly the spiritual heir to chic French bohemia—kindly addresses JMM’s increasingly unconventional survey:
Jacques Marie Mage: You’ve lived and worked in many places around the world. How does a sense of place influence your creative practice?
Lou Doillon: I have roamed around since I was born, but have lived in the same house for the last 18 years, I moved in when I was 18 and pregnant with my son. I think I can balance the life of touring 200 days a year for music or my projects by having a nest, a womb that doesn’t change. Most of what I’ve created was done in my house, in between my office and the kitchen. I have always been proud that I gave my self a “room of my own”, in the Virginia Woolf sense, and feel that one needs a place of gathering, walls to pin out what’s hidden within. On the other hand, I need to travel, and see the world, to have something to bring back. I go hunting for feelings, and then untangle them in my box.
You released your 3rd album, Soliloquy, in February 2019—can you please describe the inspiration or overarching theme(s) of the album?
There is a thread behind my albums that I generally understand long after it’s released. There is what you believe you’ve made and then the realization of what you’ve actually done 😉 It’s a year old now, so that process has begun. I think it has to do with the voice hidden, the self deprecating one, that bullies us since day one. The understanding, that comes with age (ha!), that you are the only one that can tear yourself down, or pull yourself up. One tends to victimize ourselves, in our youth, and Soliloquy for me is a kick in the/my butt! Everything you’ve lived is yours, and you may be held accountable by your own self. From there on, the world, your world, is at peace. The poor choices, the harmful relationships, the goofy-awkward decisions…All of it is yours, and it’s a beautiful thing. Everything you do is your choice.
How, if at all, have the songs of Soliloquy aged or evolved over nearly a year of performing them at venues around the world?
It’s a strange thing we do, nowadays in the music industry. Record songs that have never been heard, that are barely known by the song writer him/herself and the band, then go on the road and actually discover or understand them with the audience. Back in the 50’s, it was the other way round.
I actually enjoy that process, and have seen the songs evolve… take life, live in every sense of the word. What’s particularly thrilling, for me, on this tour is that the songs on Soliloquy demand an energy that I cannot cheat my way around.
Thus the performances have become much more pagan, wild and earthy. The band on stage is strong, and dominant, two lead electric guitars, a very tight and loud drummer and my sidekick Nico playing keyboards, piano, synth bass.
It’s a powerful band, my only choice is to step higher every night, to take over. I think I set myself up, and it’s the best self-present I could give.
Of all the places you’ve performed, which town or venue most happily surprised you?
A gig for a Blues festival in Ottawa, last July. We only had a 45-minute set, in the middle of the afternoon, on a little stage far from the main venues, and 5 or 6 people 30 feet away lying in the grass. The Techs on stage were unfriendly, I knew no one was expecting us to be good or bad, as no one had ever heard of me. The band playing before us played longer than expected, the change over took longer that planned, thus the festival’s stage manager decided to crop our set list, and take 15 minutes out. I understood that 1 minute before getting on the tiny stage, and was so enraged, that for the first time, I pushed myself through the team on the side, ripped the set list, got on stage and had the best time in my life!
No expectations, nothing to loose, no more background stories, no time to think, not even a set list to follow, I was free, more than I had ever been. By the end of the half hour, we had a little crew of maybe 80/100 people all dancing and tripping. I was beaming. We left the stage dripping with sweat, I danced like it was the first day in my life, and all the stage techs were suddenly sweet with all of us, saluted and gave us some loving!
We paraded passed the row of trailers and caravans, down the dusty road, to load our gear back in the van. I was 5 feet above the ground.
Can you tell us the story of the last time you felt “out of your comfort zone”?
Hopefully every single night 😉 It goes with the fun, otherwise touring can be extremely tiresome. Physically it’s a lot of pressure, so one has to counterbalance it by using the opportunity of a stage, to go out there and find yourself, free yourself from your self control; and that is always out of the comfort zone.
I have spent my life being stuck in between things: born half English, half French-Alsacien, half aristocrat, half peasant, half of a famous couple, half popular glam, half intellectual independent underground… and it goes on and on….a somewhat uncomfortable place, and for a long time I really wanted to fit in. But I never did, I tried, but never managed. After some time, I learned how to appreciate and maybe even cherish that isolated I-land. Now that anti-comfort zone is my home, it’s my own.
What song would you choose to dance to at 5 in the morning?
I dance anytime, but at 5am, I like to hear “Il est 5 heures Paris s’eveille” by Jacques Dutronc, and trip at the back of a car cruising through Paris. Otherwise I love “Mind Your Own Business” by Delta 5, Golden Years David Bowie’s an other one impossible not to dance to.
What is your longest standing obsession?
I collect stuff, lots of stuff. I’m obsessive about books, diaries, drawing stationery, art supplies, hats, trinkets and odd bits (coins, shells, chapelets, bones, dried flowers, stones and crystals), and vintage jewelry and clothes. And everything I make, miniatures, paintings, drawings, sculptures, lino, etc. I live in a little museum with piles of things I gather to the joy of some, and despair of others 😉
What is your favorite erotic image?
I love Egon Schiele’s nudes and drawings of girls touching themselves. Helmut Newton nudes too, all the vintage erotica (from Betty Page to the 70’s) and Araki’s Japanese bondage.
Which do you find most (real and/or metaphoric) value in: a window, a mirror, or a prism?
A window, because it can become all of these things, sometime when it’s dark looking through the window you can only see yourself, at other times, you see the world go by with or without you, sometimes the sun hits in a way that suddenly reveals a prism, and all the images overlap.
Describe your scariest encounter with an animal.
A tarantula of some sort in a jungle in Cuba. I was there to make a short movie for a French brand, in the morning we drove a couple of hours to a beautiful part of the jungle. We walked through the thick vegetation to shoot some images of me running around. I was so excited to be there (and either too devoted to my job or just plain stupid) that I started improvising: climbing up dead trees, jumping about, hanging upside down, giddy and clearly in denial of who was there with me too! In a little pair of open sandals, tank top and mini skirt.
Next thing you know a local assistant very calmly came close to me, and whispered “move now.” I look in the direction of his eyes, down my leg, and discovered a hideous huge tarantula, thick hairy-legged, salt and pepper coloring, climbing up my calf. With a stick he softly pushed her while I jumped, and then threw it a couple of feet away, where an other man, trapped it in a card board-box, to release it when we’d finished the scene. Needless to say my mood radically changed, as I could not believe that she didn’t have some family still crawling around! And it took me sometime to calm down. Of course, I have arachnophobia.
What are you most looking forward to in 2020?
To keep on being surprised, live adventures, and grow. There is so much to discover and so little time, a life fulfilled is always too short. Makes me think of these lines I love from Sylvia Plath’s journals: “I can never read all the books I want, I can never be all the people I want and live all the lives I want. I can never train myself in all the skills I want. And why do I want? I want to live and feel all the shades, tones, and variations of mental and physical experience possible in my life.”