Camille – Interview

January 13, 2009 § 1 Comment

Published: The Vine, January 7, 2009.

Parisian songstress Camille has never approached music from anywhere even near a conventional angle. Best known as the lead vocalist of Nouvelle Vague, her skewed, feisty and theatrical take on pop has made her one of the drawcards of contemporary French music.

Released in mid 2008, her elastic third record Music Hole pushes the boundaries of popular music even further. Drawing on abstract, layered vocals, beat boxing, sub-bass rumbles and bizarre, bodily percussion, it sees Camille bouncing, grunting and squealing her way along the track list like a Bjork on uppers.

On the eve of her Australian tour, we spoke with the uber-diva about her peculiar take on instrumentation, the shape of pop music and negotiating the French-English divide.

Hey Camille, how are you?

Oh hello! I’m at home in Paris so I’m good, I’m good.

What’s been happening? You’ve been on tour yeah?

Well, I’ve been resting for only one day, but otherwise yeah, I’m on tour with my band. We’re on tour in France right now, but we’ve been to Japan for part of the autumn – it’s winter here you know – and we’re going to Belgium in the next little while.

I guess it’s probably a question you’ve been asked a lot in the last year, but how do you feel Music Hole has been received in France, considering the amount of English content on the record? Has that been an issue at all?

Oh yeah! I think it’s been an issue, yeah. Most critics would ask me ‘Why English?’ but wouldn’t ask me about the meaning of my words. The whole English thing is a big issue, because I think French people are still quite touchy on that. English is still the language of the invader, if you know what I mean. It’s not like Spanish – Spanish is cool, it’s Latin, you know. But English is kind of like commercial or something. The French are fascinated by Anglo Saxon culture and music, but at the same time they’re still reluctant. But to me, I’m fine with that because I feel that I’m very European. I share lots of different cultures and languages.

Do you feel like it has affected your audience?

In terms of the fans, I think those who don’t really understand English, some understood that I was working on sounds and it’s like a new sound-scape in continuity with my work. Others thought it was just foreign and they couldn’t understand and felt left out a bit. But now I’ve toured for a year and they’ve seen me onstage, I think they feel fine about it.

So what was the impetus behind the shift towards singing in English? Was it more about exploring your voice and the kind of aesthetic of different kinds of vowel sounds or something?

Yes, yes! I feel like the more languages you speak the more musical you are. Your ears and your spirit and you mind opens in a different way. For me it was also an exploration of my subconscious through words, of course, but yes, the sounds were very important. It’s just starting in a way. There’s a lot more to do, with English and with other languages.

There seems to be a really performative aspect, even to your records. Like, there’s a real physicality and expressiveness to the actual performance. Would you say that’s a really planned thing, or does it just happen that way?

I think it’s everything together. I like to do some research – I like the laboratory thing, I like to conceptualise – but at the same time, what pushes me is to express myself and my deep needs. After I’ve done that, then I can intellectualise it, like, ‘Okay, I want to do this, I want to explore this’. I think art is really about that – it’s about relating research and expression and feelings.

At the same time, you don’t seem to take yourself too seriously, if you know what I mean. You seem to inject a lot of humour into your music…

For sure. Often, people seem to separate the normal vocal tone from humour, so immediately, if something’s in a certain tone, they won’t think of it that way. Humour is a position, a form of distance. It’s kind of a balance and at anytime you can fall. I think it’s a lot deeper than making jokes.

Sometimes things are put in niches when they shouldn’t really need to. I’m a mixture of things; I like theatre, I like to say things, I like music. So it’s a mixture of all that. I think it means something as a whole, and I don’t really care about what form it takes or how people are going to define it.

Tell me about the idea behind your instrumentation – the looped vocals and beat boxing and body percussion and so on.

Well, I think pop music has become a standard. It has become industrialised. Like most things man has continuously created, it’s sold, then it becomes a recipe, then it becomes a brand, then it becomes a chain and then it loses all spirit. And I think a lot of pop music has lost its spirit. Now pop music is just linked to sex and being sexy and all that, and it doesn’t have to.

The best pop music has kept things that are genuinely musical and expressive and working on sounds in a way that most artists don’t, and this is what I feel I am trying to do. When you go back to Elvis or the Beatles, their pop music was a revolution, you know. People were just discovering that sound and to them it sounded very modern and new and that’s what it should be about. It should be about surprise; to surprise the people and stimulate them.

Do you feel like you achieved that with Music Hole? I ask that because it’s so different to your earlier work.

What I had in mind, I still haven’t reached. To me, it was more of a stage project and a band project. But the band was not ready at the time, so I recorded it at as a kind of laboratory, as a starting point for that project to emerge. I had very clear things in mind, like I wanted to work on sub-bass and hyper-trebly vocals, and the mixture of French and English, and the sound of body language. So it was a start. I worked on these things on the record but not so much onstage. But now I’ve been working with my band for a year, it’s starting to get there, but there’s still a lot more work.

Tell me about ‘Money Note’ where you sing about Mariah and all these other divas. I haven’t been quite sure how to take it, whether as an outward critique or a kind of homage.

Well it’s both (laughs)! We were talking about distance and irony and humour before, and I think when you’re French and you’re singing a disco tune, it’s hard to do it without humour. You can’t help but sort of mock something that isn’t quite your musical culture. I am not American and I cannot do a disco tune with a straight face.

It was actually a friend of mine who introduced me to the term. We were doing some recording and she said ‘It’s just like Whitney Houston, when she hit that money note’. And I was just like ‘What did you just say? Money note?’ (laughs), and then she explained to me that it was an American expression for the big note in a song that was going to sell it.

So the song is kind of looking at the way Americans have this drive to be the best talent and the best record seller and all these things, and have no complexes about it. In France it’s very hard for us to say ‘I want to make money, I want to be the best’ – you would just laugh at yourself. Like, I was reading some of Madonna’s early interviews and she was just like ‘I want to conquer the world’, and it’s just amazing! It just wouldn’t work in France. People would be so shocked.

Dan Rule

Camille – Australian Tour

Melbourne – Wednesday, January 21

Sydney – Thursday, January 22
Recital Hall,

Sydney – Friday, January 23
Recital Hall,

Brisbane – Saturday, January 24
Brisbane Powerhouse,

Brisbane – Sunday, January 25
Brisbane Powerhouse,

Sydney – Tuesday, January 27
Becks Festivla Bar,

Music Hole is out through EMI


§ One Response to Camille – Interview

  • Natalia says:

    Hi. I really like Camille, she is a very expresive, honest and cautivating artist…
    I love this interview… i dont speak english very well beause is not my native languague …. I am from latinamerica,so…
    I apreciatte this interview. Very good congratulations.

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