You even do a cover of Edith Piaf, “Dans ma rue,” on your album.
I guess a lot of people associate me with Piaf now, but that’s not the reason I chose it. I just like that song. I like story-telling and that one is like a canvas, at the beginning she’s a little girl, and she grows up and she’s a prostitute, and then she dies… I can put myself in the skin of the character, I had the impression of having lived that. I think that in a past life I must have been a woman of ill repute.
Well, I don’t know about that, but it definitely seems you didn’t come up the easy way. And that music wasn’t necessarily your vocation at first…
When I was 21 I was hanging around this community center in Libourne [a small provincial town near Bordeaux], and I never stopped humming. And the dude there said, you can’t just hang around and do nothing, don’t you want to see if you can train as a musician, you seem to be into it. I had had an agitated adolescence. I didn’t understand the world I lived in, and I couldn’t identify my anger from that of others. I had to work on myself a lot. I did a lot of personal analysis, to really take charge of my life. To no longer think of myself as a victim. It’s been ten years I’ve been working on myself, and I’m really glad to have done all this work before getting all this media attention.
You weren’t one of those manufactured stars — you spent a lot of time on the provincial circuit.
Yeah, I joined this little orchestra down in the Basque country. We would go and play in villages, for four or five hours, playing classics and top 40 hits, American and French. These were the “bals populaires,” at village fairs. It was really the heartland. And back then it was even more so. We were really the stars — it was the one thing the village saved up for all year, to bring in the orchestra, it was the highlight of the year. People would tell us great stories. And we didn’t have any roadies, we set up, broke down, did everything. It was a huge learning experience.
It’s also not a common path to stardom to go sing in Siberia. How did that happen?
It was so random. I met the director of the Alliance Française in Vladivostok. And we went, with a pianist, for 15 days in December — I had never experienced cold like that before. But it went so well that we returned, and traveled the whole Russian Far East and Siberia. I went to Lake Baikal, got to do a prayer with a shaman, we took the Trans-Siberian Railroad. We sang Piaf, Charles Aznavour, Jacques Brel, some of my own songs… People had never met a French person before, but they were in love with the French language — France has this exotic side for them, it’s very romantic. There’s this image of France that’s romantic and classy and beautiful. Chic.
Do you feel like you might over-play into that image in a way now? It’s sort of a stereotype, and very old-fashioned…
I don’t really realize it. I do things because I feel like doing them. And it’s funny, in each country you end up having a different image. In Germany I’ve got a whole other image, it’s a little more underground. In the end, probably the least fun image I have is the one in France. Because we’re very critical in France. It’s either black or white, people put you in a box and judge you. They don’t necessarily try to know you.
You’ve got a chance to shape it here in America at least. What would you like to do as you get more involved in this market — or in general?
Oh wow. I’d love for Quincy Jones to produce my next album! So I’m putting it out there, an appeal to Quincy Jones. And Bobby McFerrin — I’d love to do a workshop with him. And so many others… Recently I sang for the film Hugo — we recorded at Abbey Road studios, it was just amazing. There are so many crazy things happening in my life, and I get the feeling this is just the beginning.