Interview: An Afternoon with Mélanie Pain

Melanie Pain
Image Courtesy of Mélanie Pain

On a most beautiful and sun drenched Parisian afternoon in Le Marais, Janine Estoesta met with Mélanie Pain (a front woman for Nouvelle Vague) to discuss her latest album and recent tours. Pain already reaching critical acclaim for her new album and her work as a solo artist, talks of her past work both as her own and with her previous collective.

Janine Estoesta: So, Bye Bye Manchester – you released it last year?

Mélanie Pain: In Australia, yes. It was the first release and I don’t know, it always happens. It was like when I released my first album, I am very close to my producer in Australia and he’s really quick to release things. I send him the album and he says, ‘yeah, it’s OK, I’ll release it in six months.’ And, it’s different timing in Europe, it takes more time and I’m recording more songs and you know, tour a little bit before releasing the album. So, it’s kind of – I release my album one year ago and the same album will be released in France and the UK and in Canada in September. One year apart. In between, it was released in Germany and in Asia.

JE: What is your fan base like in Asia?

MP: It’s good, like, I’m doing really good, but every time I play in Singapore I’ve got a bit of follow up and, I don’t know. It’s just people that like French music and these big events and I really like going there. They’re really receptive to the culture.

JE: So, you’ve kind of just been touring this year – it’s kind of like huge blocks isn’t it?

MP: Yep. I’ve been touring non-stop ever since last November, I think. So, I’ve been in Australia in January – great tour – and then, I’ve been to Singapore and then to England and then I don’t really remember. It’s just – I’ve been touring a lot. And, I’ve been to the US for five weeks with Nouvelle Vague. So, on the road non-stop.

JE: So, you’re collaboration with Ed Harcourt. Amazing. How did that come about – did you guys just want to work together?

MP: I’m a big fan of him and I think he didn’t know me (laughs). I’m a really big fan and I just sent him a message on Facebook like, ‘hey. Here I am, I really love your work, I’m in Manchester writing my new album, I don’t know. Maybe, I can come to London and we can meet and we can work together?’ And, he instantly asked me if I wanted to come and spend three days in his studio in London. So, I went there, I didn’t know him, so he picked me up at the Metro station. It was really weird, like, I went from Manchester to London and I got out of the Metro to wait and thought, ‘is this really him? Maybe it’s a joke, maybe it’s a Facebook – maybe, it’s a trick or something.’ I was waiting and suddenly I just saw this guy, all tattoos everywhere, big sunglasses, on a bike and he said, ‘hey! Are you the French girl?’ (laughs) OK, so that’s the real one. And, we’ve been working in his studio for three days and we wrote three songs and we did a duet called “Black Widow” and I invited him to sing with me at a jazz cafe in London in April and we keep kind of trying to work together. He invited me back in a pub to do a support of one gig and he comes to south of France for holidays so we’re probably going to try and meet there. It’s amazing how Facebook – I still can’t believe I just messaged him on Facebook and then meet the real person out of the Metro, he picked me up and then straight to his studio. And, he is a genius. He is a genius.

JE: He is. You guys really compliment each other really well. Was there anyone else that you wanted to collaborate with?

MP: Yeah, I wrote all the songs and then I asked this guy called Albin de la Simone who is kind of getting big in France now. And, he helped me find the sound of the album and everything, he just produced it. I’m really happy to work with him, he’s really famous in France too. He’s a kind of genius as well (laughs). But, on this album, Ed Harcourt was the only one that I wanted to work with as a vocalist because I really wanted “Bye Bye Manchester” to really be my kind of baby. The first album was written with a lot of people, with a lot of “featurings” on it and this one was really more, ‘OK, I’m going to be in a bedroom and write all the songs myself,’ and Ed Harcourt was the exception (laughs). But, I really wanted it to be all personal, because I’ve been working with Nouvelle Vague for ten years, my first album I worked with five or six different people. So, this time was like, ‘OK, this is my album, this is me.’

JE: So, that’s why Bye Bye Manchester sounds so different to “My Name” – with all those influences from other people, is this album definitely Mélanie Pain?

MP: Well, “My Name” is really different. It was two completely different processes. You know, I wasn’t a singer ten years ago. Then, this guy from Nouvelle Vague – I sung a demo for my boyfriend who was looking for a singer for his project, he was a musician. I was always surrounded by musicians, but never really take a mic or played an instrument. And, I recorded this demo and he gave this demo to everyone saying, ‘listen to this track, I’m looking for a female singer.’ And, the guy that was doing Nouvelle Vague at this point called him and said, ‘who’s that girl that was singing on your demo?’ And, he said, ‘oh, that’s my girlfriend! But, she’s not a singer.’ Then, he said, ‘but, I like her voice, can she come?’ That’s how I became a singer, this guy just liked my voice. I came and I recorded the first Nouvelle Vague album with him and then six months later, he called me and said, ‘OK, there’s one gig in Paris, do you want to do it?’ and, I said, ‘yes!’ And then, six months later he said, ‘OK, there’s a tour in America, do you want to do it?’ and I said ‘yes.’ You know, I began like this and while I was touring with Nouvelle Vague people were come with songs for me saying ‘why don’t you sing my song?’ That’s how “My Name” was created. People were coming to me with great songs and I loved it, I wanted to sing it. Then I asked, ‘can I change the words? Can I write my own lyrics?’ and that’s why I think “My Name” is really, lots of musical references because all the people were coming and saying, ‘oh, I see you doing folk, kind of sixties style,’ it was hard with “My Name” to keep a musical direction. It was kind of, I just sang all the songs that I really liked and I wrote two or three songs on the album at the end. But, it was not really, you know – compared to “Bye Bye Manchester” it was so different. I went to Manchester and didn’t listen to any music and I played with my little keyboards and played with what I can, which is nothing – because, I’m not a musician. I kind of found my sounds and my way of writing, just by myself, without any reference or musical knowledge (laughs). It was really on instinct, I was like, ‘OK, that’s what I want to sing.’ Because, I was frustrated at the end of “My Name,” to sing other people’s lyrics and other people’s songs. I need to sing something that is deep inside me, and I’ve been doing that with Nouvelle Vague for years, so I was ready now. I don’t know, I think in the future, I think “Bye Bye Manchester” is the first stone in my career as a writer and singer. Because, it’s the first time I really own all the songs. So, we’ll see how it goes, but I’m really proud (laughs). It’s hard for me to sing my first album songs live and everything.

JE: So, that’s why there were that three year hiatus between My Name and Bye Bye Manchester?

MP: Well, I had a baby as well. Took me a bit more than a year (laughs) and then it took me a big year to get really confident about my writing, because it was hard. And, I kept touring all the way during this period. It was hard for me, that’s why I really felt the need to go into one place without anyone, just in my bedroom with the stuff I bring from Paris and that’s it – I got to write. Ten or fifteen songs and just go. That’s how I did it because it was so hard to be on tour, have a baby, come back, be on tour again and find time in between stuff to just concentrate on writing songs. I think I just had really high expectations. Everything I wrote for six months, I just threw in the bin and thought, “you’re never going to be a writer.” Yeah, I lost faith at some point. I don’t know, I wrote one song, I wrote “7 ou 8 fois” and that’s what I want to do, I found a base that I can build on.

JE: So, what’s the kind of story behind Bye Bye Manchester?

MP: I realised when I was writing all the songs, they were about going somewhere else. Start a new life, kind of this sort of stuff. I called my album Bye Bye Manchester because Manchester is really a city where people are so proud to be Manchurians, you know, Manchester people. They are really proud. Everyone wants to go out, they want to leave Manchester because, the weather is shitty, maybe it’s too strong of an identity city, and sometimes you really feel like you just have to go away and that’s why all the things in my head were gathering in Manchester. And, that’s why I called it “Bye Bye Manchester” because you have to say “bye, bye” to everything you know to kind of, of course, a bit later come back and be strong about where you are and everything. Every song is about this fantasy to go away and you only want to go away because you will be able to come back. So, the song “7 ou 8 fois” it means “seven or eight times I tried to do this, I tried to,” I tried to just move on. It’s this eighth time it worked and I can kind of come back to it. So, it’s kind of this feeling that, deeply, you want to go, but in fact, you don’t want to go – you just want to be happy where you are. I don’t know. Manchester was great for this – my dream was to go into Manchester and write an album. Because, I am a big fan of Morrissey and The Smiths and all these new wave – Joy Division and Buzzcocks – everything down there. To write good music, you have to be English and live in Manchester or Liverpool. And, it’s all about this ambiguity all the time, you know? Why do you want to leave? Why are you really sick of where you are? All the songs are talking about this, and I don’t know. I just realised that I completely said goodbye to my other life, becoming a singer and the fact that it was really important for me to do that and I didn’t know. The fact of deciding this strengthened everything else, so voila. It was all about these feelings. But, it was not really conscious, I really wrote all these songs and at the end I said, “Oh, my God. They’re all talking about-” This song called “Ailleurs” is meaning “Somewhere else” and “Bye Bye Manchester” obviously, “Je Laisse Tomber” means “I quit everything.” And, all these lyrics, they were all talking about the same thing and how important it was for me to take all these big decisions in my life. I was living in South of France and decided to go to Paris, then in Paris, I decided to quit all my work and everything and become a singer and then when I was a singer, I decided to write my own songs. And, all of these decisions are not enough. I have to change to recreate my life and everything. So, that’s it.

Becoming and singer and writing my own lyrics and own songs was really important to me. I needed to find my way of communicating with these people that were coming to my concerts, so I was, “OK, I have to be true, I don’t want to sing other people’s songs all the time.” So, yeah.

JE: And, that’s obviously how it was in the beginning with Nouvelle Vague?

MP: Yes. I really learnt everything with Nouvelle Vague, I’ve been doing with them a thousand shows, I think. And, everything I know, all the confidence I have on stage is from this experience. As well as all the traveling I did with them, we were traveling all the time everywhere. It was really important. I never traveled before Nouvelle Vague and then suddenly, I was never in Paris. The first five years, when it was really successful, I was just flying everywhere and that really opened my mind about what I really liked. I didn’t want to stay in the same place, I really liked to meet people and be in danger all the time in different environment and different cultural challenges and stuff like this. So, yeah, I think this was really the big impasse for me, to travel and to make my own stuff. So, it’s good.

JE: Bye Bye Manchester really blew my mind away, it was so different. But, now it makes sense, because it’s really you. Which is another thing because you’ve always been this strong female and feminine presence in music. Having major influences like Smiths and Joy Division, would you say that that’s where you’ve gotten your stage presence from?

MP: I don’t know. What was amazing for me, going on stage for the first time in my life, with Nouvelle Vague ten years ago – it’s going to be ten years next year. I never went on stage in my whole life, I never did theatres or anything. And, when I was on stage, it was really natural. I just had to sing the songs and talk to people and make them laugh and just tell them how I feel. I was like, “oh, my god, it’s quite simple.” Like, for me, it was kind of – I was very shy at the point, I wasn’t the person that I am now. I had this strength that I didn’t know about. I could go on stage and be completely comfortable and look in the eyes of the audience and try and see what they want. I was completely okay with them being bored or super happy, or talking, I’m really interested in that. I really like when I sing a song to see, ‘oh, this one is bored, this one is happy (laughs).’ I really like that, I’m not scared if they don’t like me or, shit, I’m not dressed up or whatever. I don’t really think about it, I’m just sharing this unique moment with people and it’s unique. I do a lot of shows, this day is Tuesday and it’s ten-fifteen and this guy is yawning, it’s unique and I’m never going to live that again. I’m like this and I don’t know about having any role model of artists, I just like people that come on stage and you can really see their personality and they are themselves, they’re not building a character or whatever. Oh well, they’re building a character but it’s actually them, but kind of, a stronger version of them. I’m a big fan of Nick Cave and PJ Harvey, all these guys they just go on stage and you just want to look at them. And, you’re like, ‘I just want to go and have a beer with them afterward,’ I don’t like people coming on stage and you just don’t know who they are. I don’t know, I really like people where you can really feel their personalities. And, I realised that I could do that, that I can actually do that and be exactly the same. I really remember when I was having my baby, I was touring with him – he was like two months old – and, I was just breastfeeding backstage and just giving the baby to my sister and just going on stage and I was exactly the same person. People were saying, ‘Don’t you need some time to be -?’ and, I was like no, I don’t want to be another person. Like, if I could go on stage with my baby on my breast then I would go. Because, for me music is – well, I’m not this kind of artist where I just want to hide, I just want to be myself.

JE: Now, do you have any underground or unsigned musicians that you’re really interested in, at the moment?

MP: Well, I have a lot of friends that are doing a lot of interesting stuff. They’re all kind of getting signed. Well, there’s not this kind of “signing” event anymore. Like, they’re all releasing their stuff, even if they’re doing it by themselves. I really like this band called Team Ghost, electro stuff. I don’t know, there’s a lot of stuff that I know and like, but underground… I don’t know if it exists anymore. Suddenly, they have a website and they’re all over Facebook and YouTube. I remember I went to a Ben Harper show when he released his first album and I don’t know if he was even big in America at the time, but we were like ten in the venue and all sitting down with Ben Harper in the middle. Oh, my god, this was really underground. And, one year later…

JE: Do you prefer doing smaller and more intimate shows as appose to bigger venues?

MP: I like both, in fact. I’m not such a fan of big venues. Even with Nouvelle Vague when we do big venues. Just in terms of space, it’s a really long way to see the peoples faces and you’re like, ‘what is that?’ So, I’m more into small shows and I don’t know, Sydney Festival was in Town Hall and it’s a beautiful, beautiful venue with one thousand people. This is the biggest that I can kind of like, more than this is just ridiculous. In Paris, I do this little club, I did two shows and then I’m going to do three around September, October and November in this small like two hundred sitting little theatre. And, I really like that, people really listen and you feel you have time. You have your time and your space. Really intimate, I like it.

JE: So, I know that you’re still with Nouvelle Vague but, do you miss that constant group setting?

MP: Mmm… Not for the moment. I like being by myself and kind of controlling everything and it’s faster and quicker and more rewarding (laughs). No, more the moment I just miss the fun with Nouvelle Vague. It’s great conditions and when you tour it’s always a lot of people, it’s always really easy. It’s a bit more complicated with my shows., you really have to try and you really have to set up everything. It’s less comfortable and it’s a lot of work and a lot of energy but, really, I feel so happy when I just tour by myself. I can still do both though and get my balance with the collective and the solo. We’ll see. I’m still amazed that Nouvelle Vague is still touring so much.

JE: Um. So, what’s your take on chocolate milkshakes?

MP: (laughs) If ever I taste a good one, I’ll be happy! I don’t know, it’s always so artificial to me. I want someone to make one for me with real stuff, real chocolate, real milk, real ice-cream. But, I love fruit, so if it’s good, I love it!

Sydney Festival Announces 2012 Program

Beth Orton
Image Courtesy of Beth Orton

The Sydney Festival, held from the 7th to the 29th January, has always been friendly to fans of folk, roots, acoustic and singer songwriter based music. And it looks like the 2012 program, announced last night, is keeping up the tradition with a bunch of very exciting musical acts.

We’re not going to go through them all here but highlights for our readers should include PJ Harvey, Beth Orton (above), Taraf de Haïdouks & Koçani Orkestar: Band of Gypsies, Kurt Wagner, Sam Amidon, Fatoumata Diawara, J Mascis, Julianna Barwick, Asa, Fefe, AA Bondy, Dan Sultan, Busby Marou, Frank Yamma, Holly Throsby and many many more.

The famous Festival First Night is sadly lacking in folk this year but will feature performances from Mike Patton’s Mondo Cane, The Jolly Boys, Torcadero Dance Palace and aerial artist Nigel Jamison.

For the full 2012 program and ticket details check out the official Sydney Festival web site.

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