Soul Survivor

Soul Survivor

Soul Survivor

Heavyhearted Muse Lou Doillon Is Channeling Her Talents Into Moody Melodies That Are Garnering Her Even More Acclaim

Heavyhearted Muse Lou Doillon Is Channeling Her Talents Into Moody Melodies That Are Garnering Her Even More Acclaim

Photography: Karim Sadli

Styling: Beat Bolliger

Text: Alexandra Marshall

“For a long time people didn’t know where to put me,” says Lou Doillon, 30, daughter of Jane Birkin and half sister of Charlotte Gainsbourg, about being an It Girl. “No project I ever did was as famous as I was.” Those projects included indie films, designing capsule collections for the denim company Lee Cooper, and modeling for H&M, French Playboy, and Vanessa Bruno. All that has changed with the release of her first LP, Places, which neared top-download status on French iTunes the week of its release and subsequently has been played on just about every sound system in Paris. The record is no starlet’s caprice: full of melancholy, with lush and grown-up songwriting (all hers) and a surprisingly mature voice, it transcends the breathy, cool-girl collaborations of her mother and half sister, and verges into Cat Power or Feist territory. Over a half-pint at her local, Doillon seems as surprised as the rest of us by her newfound, hard-won success.

How did you discover you have a voice?

LOU DOILLON I’d been playing guitar for about seven years and writing little songs between five and nine o’clock in the morning, because it was either do that or shoot myself. I guess it was via my girlfriends, who would come around and say, “Do that song again about how your dog’s better than your boyfriend.” But it was always just at home. Now that I’m doing live appearances, I’ve learned that it’s absolutely thrilling to have loads of people singing your songs with you. The album came out in early September, and when I did the first gig a week later, people already knew the lyrics. It’s mad.

What got you to bring these songs out to the public? 

LD Well, the rest of my world started crumbling. I wasn’t doing movies, and life was complicated and I had less and less money. I was locked in my house all day long with my guitar. I didn’t have the courage to open up, and suddenly the songwriting started saving me. I couldn’t talk to people, but I could talk to my guitar. Then Étienne [Daho, French pop star] came around and said, “What the fuck have you been doing for 15 years? Movies are fine, but if there’s one thing you’ve really got, it’s this—so let’s record it!” At first I said, “I can’t! These songs were never written to be heard by tons of people, they’re just too personal!” But I agreed, and we recorded at a studio around the corner over ten days. I thought maybe it would be like movies or everything else that hasn’t worked out. But I also thought, This is maybe the best project of your life because it’s so personal. So at least enjoy it, then see what happens.

Who sent Étienne around? Were you friends? 

LD He was a friend of Charlotte and my mother. He’s very moved by fragile people, and for a long time I was everything but that. So I used to freak him out. I’m always laughing when I’m out of my house, but beware of giggly people, it’s almost always a sign of depression. Anyway, at a birthday party at my mother’s place I couldn’t hide it for the first time and I sat in a corner by myself. And because Étienne’s shy, he’s often in corners too. Also my mother had told him she was worried about me. She said, “I love her music because I’ve heard it, but I don’t know if it’s good because I’m her mum. Could you go check it out and tell me what you think?”

Your songs are awfully melancholic. 

LD They are sad, bluntly honest little songs. But I do believe being an artist entails a responsibility to talk about what people don’t want to talk about. And the songs about what’s most painful in life are the best songs, like “Jolene,” by Dolly Parton. I mean, you’ve got to be really fucking honest to write a song for a girl who’s going to nick your man. Or Billie Holiday’s “Don’t Explain.” I think, Shit, I’ve lived that, where you’d rather be with a man who’s cheating on you than be without him. In the modern woman’s world, you’re not allowed to say that stuff, but I think the majority of women have felt absolutely the same.

Have you had that great, satisfying love too? 

LD It’s kind of happened to me in the last ten days! So for the moment I’m being very cautious about it, but for the first time it feels healthy. He draws, he’s an actor. He’s not famous, just a young man with all of life in front of him. Before I always went for very, very uneasy relationships.

Even with the father of your ten-year-old son?

LD Oh yeah. He was extremely cruel, but I deeply love him today. I’m very proud of myself for that, because I can see so many people having trouble sharing a kid. My parents [Birkin and director Jacques Doillon] kind of pretend to get along now, but it’s been 25 years that they’ve been split and they still have almost only shit to say about each other. So many women I know make the mistake of seeing the father of their child as an ex-boyfriend. Anyone would get pissed off if the fucker got a new girlfriend—but if it’s the father of your kid, you think, OK, that will be good for the kid.

Being somewhat well-known, how was it getting signed?

LD Maybe it’s because so many actresses in France went bonkers with records just before mine, but every label told me they weren’t  signing actresses. I had to come with my guitar and say, “Just listen!” And they’d say, “No, come back with new songs.” So I’d go away and come back with five new ones and say, “Come on, sign me!” But in the end my friends who are proper musicians respect me for having gone through some of what they have.

It’s surprising to hear how much you play with your voice, since you’re technically inexperienced. 

LD The fact is I’m a very bad guitarist. So I have to bring out my voice and find different melodies, because I’m always playing the same fucking four or five chords! And there’s also the strange paradox of singing without a mic for seven years—you have to fill the room. Étienne was laughing when we recorded, I’ve got such big teeth I kept knocking them on the mic.

People now see you quite differently than they did before. 

LD Now people stop me in the street and have something to say other than “I love you!”—which, by the way, is lovely, but it’s sometimes a little strange when people will say, “Oh, I love that movie,” and I’m like, “No, I wasn’t in that one” or “No, that one was my sister.” But Charlotte just said to me that for the first time in her life someone stopped her in the street and said, “I love your sister’s voice.” I was like, “Ha! Yes!”

So no more movies? 

LD Music is definitely more pleasurable for me than acting, because when I’m acting I’m more self-conscious. But I did a movie last summer with my father and Samuel Benchetrit called Un Enfant de Toi that should be coming out soon. But what’s really funny is that only now, after the record is out, have I had so much attention from directors! Jacques Audiard (Un Prophète) sent me a lovely note. Michel Gondry, too. How strange that a movie might come through the music. But why not?

This is a story with a happy ending, then. 

LD My mother said, super beautifully, that there’s nothing better than to have done other people’s projects for 17 years and have it not always work out and then suddenly do your own project—and bam! People say, “God there’s something heavy and sad in your voice,” and I think, Yeah, that’s 17 years of hit and miss! I would never have been able to do that at the age of 18 or 20. Right now is a lovely moment to live.

Places is currently out on Universal Music France

Credits: Makeup Yadim (Calliste)  Hair Damien Boissinot (Jed Root Inc.)  Digital technician Edouard Malfettes (DigitArt, Paris)  Photo assistants Antoni Ciufo, Sascha Heintze, Laurent Chouard  Stylist assistants Nicolas Kuttler and Lindsey Hornyak  Makeup assistant Anna Grzeszczick  Hair assistant Yoshiko Haruki  Production Michael Lacomblez (PRODn)  Production assistants Kevin MacCarthy and Guillaume Garnier  Retouching Imag’in, Paris


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