Singer and songwriter.
THE INSPIRATION TALK
BONJOUR VANILLE ! TELL ME A LITTLE BIT ABOUT WHERE YOU GREW UP AND HOW YOU ENDED UP WHERE YOU ARE NOW…
Hi Lisa! I grew up in Paris but I was quite often near Bordeaux, on the Dordogne riverside. Very close to nature and horses. My entire family on my mother’s side works with horses.
JUST TO PUT THINGS IN CONTEXT, YOUR DAD IS A VERY FAMOUS SINGER IN FRANCE, JULIEN CLERC. SO HOW WAS IT TO SHARE THIS UNCOMMON PARISIAN LIFESTYLE ON YOUR DAD’S SIDE WITH THIS QUIET NATURE LIFESTYLE ON YOUR MOM’S SIDE?
My father is not really in the star system. I experienced only good stuff from him, nothing fancy. It was only about music like going to his concerts or other artists’ concerts like Alain Souchon or Renaud. But I was lucky to have both because when you grow up only in the city sometimes you forget about the nature. Actually, kids only raised in cities don’t know shit about nature. I think it is very important to have your feet on the ground, to be balanced. I think you always have to connect somehow with nature. For me it was through horses. Horses are fearful and defenseless animals; when there is a danger they just run away. It’s a fascinating animal. He will give you what you give him. He makes no difference who you are, your background, your race… if you fuck up with the horse, he will put you on the ground. Being around horses was my school of humility. I was very lucky to be raised around both those universes.
I KNOW MUSIC CAME LATER IN YOUR LIFE SO WHAT WERE YOU DREAMING OF DOING WHEN YOU WERE YOUNG?
I wanted to be a radio anchor.
I also wanted to be a school teacher. To yell at others (laughs).
AND WHEN DID YOU FINALLY DECIDE TO PURSUE AN ARTISTIC CAREER?
It was very late in my life. Most people start music very young.
DIDN’T YOU LEARN AN INSTRUMENT AS A CHILD?
No but I think I always had this thing for music in me. I grew up with it. But to finally admit to myself that I really wanted to do this, was a difficult process. I was thinking that this spot was already (and very well) taken in my family. So I went on studying production and Latin languages (Spanish and more recently Portuguese). I lived in London and in Spain for my studies. It was great, it opened my horizon. In London, at 21, I decided to teach myself the guitar. Around 23 years old I started writing. At first in English because it was easier for me since I was living in London; I guess it was also a way to hide my emotions. But quite quickly I started writing in French and I discovered something very special for me… I was never bored again! From that point, any emotion I felt, even the sad ones, if I worked on it, could be turned into something good, poetry
WHEN YOU STARTED TO BE SERIOUS ABOUT IT, HOW DID IT HAPPEN? DID YOU ASK YOUR DAD FOR ADVICES? HOW DID YOU CONFRONT THAT NEW PASSION OF YOURS?
I worked a lot alone until I had something ready to show him. At first he was very anxious, he knows the music business is very difficult, very competitive. When he understood that I was determined, he encouraged me but always with a distance. It is his personality not to interfere with his children’s life.
So I started to play in bars in Paris and Bordeaux, to learn. There are a lot of music cafés and small clubs in Paris where professionals go. This is how I met my publisher. When I signed with him, we first worked on building my repertoire. It was a lot of work, I had to grow up musically.
IN ORDER TO FIND YOUR MUSICAL IDENTITY?
HOW DO YOU GET TO THAT POINT? I ALWAYS WONDER HOW ARTISTS FIGURE THEIR GENRE OUT…
For me it was very difficult because I started so late. I was only making music with my guitar and my voice. When you start thinking about producing a song, any small decision can lead to something far away from what you had in mind, and then you don’t recognize your song anymore. We tried a few directions but none of which worked for me, like I didn’t feel it was « me ». So I ended up doing all the demos myself. For a beginner like me, to do all the vocals, the beats, the instruments… it was crazy!
Ever since I started to write, I use personal feelings in my lyrics. My melancholic side that I always try to combine with a lighter music. When I discovered Brazilian music, I thought “this is my thing!”, you know? This kind of happy and light melancholy, this is life and this is what I wanted to tell. And like that, I ended up doing my demos in Brazil, with my French touch obviously. When I listened to the combination; my voice and those Brazilian percussions, I finally felt I was on the right track.
HOW DID YOU MANAGE TO BE TAKEN SERIOUSLY DESPITE STARTING LATE IN THE BUSINESS AND BEING A “DAUGHTER OF”...
It was very difficult. But when you have a dream, to embrace it, is already making things move forward. It was difficult also to deal with impatience, everything was taking so much time. To the point that I was sometimes ready to agree on things even if I wasn’t so sure about them…
UNTIL YOU HEAR THE PERFECT THING, IT’S NOT THAT CLEAR...
Exactly! I was often in doubt. But also life happened. Some people in my team had to leave which lead to some stuff not going through. At first you’re disappointed but after a while you just realize that it was for the best because it brought me to finding the right thing after all. And when you’re doing the right thing, you know it.
TALKING ABOUT HOW LIFE ALWAYS FINDS IT’S WAY... YOU HAVE AN OTHER PASSION, ASTROLOGY. I KNOW THAT BECAUSE WHEN WE MET, WE REALIZED THAT WE WERE BORN ON THE SAME DAY AND RIGHT AWAY YOU ASKED ME TONS OF QUESTIONS ABOUT MY PLANETS, ETC. I SAW YOU WERE SOMEONE THAT REALLY TRUSTED THE UNIVERSE. TELL ME A BIT MORE ABOUT THAT.
Of course I think that everything is linked. We are all linked to the universe. You can see it with what is happening with our planet. Not being conscious is destroying ourselves. For me, astrology and tarot cards are linked. It taught me that you always have to trust things. By nature, I trust that the good is always coming.
HOW MUCH OF THIS HAS HELPED YOU IN YOUR LIFE TO TAKE ALL THOSE DIFFERENT STEPS?
Sometimes you want to give up. I mean, a lot of artists have talent. But today I think the difference between a successful artist and another is perseverance. Even when you have your album ready, you still have to promote it and this can be very very long. You have to be patient, wait for your moment. You have to believe in your dream, be persistent and work hard towards your goal.
SO WHEN YOU’RE IN DOUBT, YOU FIND THE STRENGTH LOOKING AT YOUR CARDS?
Yeah! And also playing music. I know I really want to do this when I play music. Until my music career is not a total failure, I know I have to keep going.
YOUR MUSIC IS CENTERED AROUND TEXT, WHICH IS NOT THE EASIEST GENRE TO PROMOTE. YOU WERE SAYING THAT YOU HAD TO USE MORE TRADITIONAL MIDIAS LIKE RADIO WHICH IS OBVIOUSLY MORE DIFFICULT AND TIME CONSUMING THAN SOCIAL MIDIA…
My luck is that I have partnered with a label called Label Six& Sept. It’s a small team but very motivated. They really like and believe in my album so they really work for its promotion. My part of the job is to be available, to be ready to do whatever they need me to. Of course if I feel I’m selling my soul, I can refuse (laughs). For now, we are starting with some radio showcases and it’s been good so far!
BUT DO YOU FEEL THREATENED BY ARTISTS THAT USE SOCIAL MEDIA AS A NEW FORM OF PROMOTION?No, it’s just not my path. Everyone has his own. I chose to sing in bars, I found myself this way. It’s true, since I’m doing something very personal, it is a little bit harder to sell. I also think the audience takes longer to find but is, in the end, more faithful. With social media things can be very short-lived.
SO YOU WILL LAUNCH YOUR FIRST ALBUM SOON. I KNOW YOU ALREADY RELEASED A SONG FROM THAT ALBUM THAT IS DOING WELL. HOW DID YOU FEEL THE FIRST TIME YOU HEARD IT ON THE RADIO?
Very excited! My song is called “Suivre le soleil” (to follow the sun), so I try to stay in that state of mind (laughs). I’ve been waiting so long for this day to come. I am proud of the work I’ve done. It is honest, the emotions are true so I definitely feel more excited than anxious. But I’m telling you this now maybe closer to the release date of the album it will be different.
WHO DO YOU LOOK UP TO IN THIS BUSINESS? WHO INSPIRES YOU?
João Gilberto. He started to sing popular Brazilian music with a strong voice tone. He wasn’t very successful at first, but he managed to reinvent himself. He totally changed his way of singing and created the bossa nova, with this light and soft voice we know now. He turned out to be an example for an entire generation of singers that I admire as well like Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, etc. This story was very inspiring to me. Also because I don’t have a strong voice… He taught me as well all the different tones you can bring while performing a song like stressing a word, singing a sentence in a lower tone…
I ALSO KNOW YOU LIKE TO WRITE POETRY...
A little bit, yes.
DO YOU HAVE ARTISTS THAT INSPIRE YOU FOR WHAT THEY HAVE TO SAY?
Barbara, Jacques Brel and Serge Gainsbourg. I love french music. Gainsbourg was very poetic, very creative, using puns. And Brel and Barbara… They were all about feelings!
THOSE THREE WERE NOT VERY LIGHT PEOPLE...
In their text the feeling of love is magnificent and very heavy. But love is not something light.
WERE THESE THE SINGERS YOU LISTEN TO GROWING UP?
Not really, it was later on. I started to listen to them on my own.
THOSE ARTISTS HAD SOMETHING TO SAY. WHAT ABOUT YOU? WHAT DO YOU HAVE TO SAY?
I think I have to talk about my experiences, my feelings, about people I love, I have to try to be as honest as possible. I want to talk about relations between humans. Of course love is an infinite subject. And what is there more to say than to speak about love. This is life, isn’t it?
OF COURSE! IT’S FUNNY BECAUSE YOU HAVE THE SAME WAY OF SPEAKING AS THOSE FRENCH SINGERS YOU MENTIONED. PROBABLY PEOPLE HAVE TOLD YOU BEFORE, BUT YOU HAVE A VERY PECULIAR TONE. IT IS RETRO AND VERY CHARMING, IT SOUNDS LIKE YOU ARE AN OLD SOUL.
(Laughs) It would be a bit pretentious to say that I am an old soul, but what I can tell you is that sometimes I see people and I know for sure they are in their first life (laughs).
(LAUGHS) I FEEL YOU! WHAT IS IT THAT YOU WISH FOR YOURSELF IN THE NEAR FUTURE?
I want to play live and full house!
AND YOUR PASSION ABOUT BRAZIL AND BOSS NOVA? IS IT SOMETHING YOU’D LIKE TO EXPLORE? I KNOW YOU CAN SING IN PORTUGUESE. COULD YOU IMAGINE HAVING A CAREER IN THIS COUNTRY?
Yes, why not? Right now I’m focused on France because my label is there and I’m singing in French. But I do a lot of covers in Portuguese so if I had the opportunity to have a career in Brazil, I would grab it right away.
WHAT DO YOU THINK IS THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE IN YOUR WORK?
Working on my image was the most challenging part. I am always very natural, I never use make up. It was difficult for me to look at myself with make up on for the pictures.
ALL THE MARKETING THAT SURROUNDS AN ARTIST IS A LARGE PART OF HIS SUCCESS. IT WOULD BE INTERESTING TO KNOW HOW IT WORKS. EVERYTHING IS DECIDED IN A MEETING WITH THE LABEL AND THEY PRESENT YOU WHAT THEY THOUGHT FOR YOU?
No, we take decisions together, it’s an exchange. Maybe when you are a big star you can make your own bold decisions. But when you’re starting, you have to have your artistic convictions as much as you have to listen to professionals that believe in you. Sometimes big companies want to eat your soul and make you do things totally different from who you are. But I managed to stay true to myself by doing my own demos, by imposing the fact I would record in Brazil, by keeping my songs the way they were, etc. I’m working with people that like my work the way it is.
Of course there are beauty standards and when you are starting you have to compromise a bit. In the end these little modifications I accepted, felt good. It is great to be a little bit different as an artist comparing to who you are in real life. Now I realize that. When I went on tour, I was the opening act for the French singer Marc Lavoine, and having to glam up every night was nice. When you’re on stage you become someone else and it helps a lot with the interpretation. I really understood that during this tour.
I UNDERSTAND THAT YOU HAVE TO BUILD A CHARACTER. HOW YOU CAN ACCEPT THAT IN ORDER TO KEEP YOUR AUTHENTICITY?
The little changes I had to do were not too extreme but they got me thinking about this question as well. Did you see my video clip?
Well in the video clip, I feel « myself ».
AND ABOUT THAT CREATIVE PART AROUND YOUR IMAGE, HOW MUCH OF YOUR IDEAS WERE PUT IN THIS VIDEO?
It was an exchange between my manager, the label, the director of the video and myself. You always have something in mind and then in turns into something different on screen. But I’m very happy with the result.
I FEEL SOMETIMES IN THIS INDUSTRY, AS A WOMAN THAT IS STARTING IT CAN BE DIFFICULT TO STAND UP FOR YOURSELF. YOU END UP RELEASING SOMETHING THAT IS NOT MATCHING WHO YOU REALLY ARE. YOU CAN BE RUSHED INTO SOMETHING YOU DON’T REALLY WANT AND IT CAN LEAD TO A TRAUMATIC EXPERIENCE.
It is very difficult to build an image. I know myself, and I know I can easily appear to be a naive country side girl. This image doesn’t match my writing. So when they « glammed » me up, I felt it gave me a bit more personality, less dull, you know? This is what I meant by « you have to listen to people you are working with ».
AT THE END OF THE DAY, PEOPLE ARE ABLE TO TELL THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN SOMETHING FAKE OR SOMETHING AUTHENTIC. I’M NOT SAYING THAT PUTTING SOME MAKE-UP ON IS YOU NOT BEING AUTHENTIC, I JUST KNOW YOU HAVE A MORE NATURAL STYLE. DID IT FEEL RIGHT?
When I want to present myself as a singer, I like to be more produced. Before the show I will put some mascara on, a little bit of lipstick and I enter the world of « Vanille, the singer ». This transformation for me is important.
TELL ME ONE THING YOU’VE LEARNED SINCE YOU STARTED AND THAT YOU WOULD LIKE TO SHARE.
Before entering on stage, I like to be alone. I meditate for 5 minutes focusing on my breathing. I do singing exercises to warm up and then I get up there with a clear mind. I think it is very important to stop time before a show. My performances improved a lot since I started doing that.
BEING ON STAGE IS SOMETHING ABOUT LIVING THE MOMENT…
Absolutely and it is very difficult to be in the moment. And even more difficult to enjoy the moment. But I guess this is something you work on your entire life, right?
I GUESS SO. THANKS VANILLE.