If you’re a jazz enthusiast and love music by greats such as Billie Holiday and Nina Simone then you would be familiar with Madeleine Peyroux. With her jazzy voice, she writes her own music and interprets classic songs; giving them a unique twist and making you forget that the song ever existed before her. I was lucky enough to catch-up with her and get all the latest info on her upcoming music and tour.
TGN: So you started your career as a teenager touring Europe with The Lost wandering Blues and Jazz band. How has your music evolved in the last 20 years?
Madeleine Peyroux: Well that’s a great way to start me off, because compared with the blues and jazz band, I have really been able to explore a lot of different things. Well first of all my repertoire includes a lot more poetry and drama then we necessarily had in the days when we were doing party songs and entertaining people. At the same time I notice that the very essence of just being able to support myself as a soloist and singer who doesn’t have a lot going on behind me is really where it become the most powerful thing. But I think my repertoire is really varied and more modern and I think that the arrangements and the way that explore the sounds underneath the vocals has definitely gone to a lot of different areas so I feel more comfortable in all kinds of styles and I now notice that with the right kind of approach and attitude you can morph into characters which you normally wouldn’t have though you could be. That’s the hardest part.
Yes I would definitly think so, with the experience you have now, you must be so much more confident in doing different styles.
Yes, and no matter what you do, each time you’re learning something new about yourself, hopefully. Otherwise it’s really not that interesting. So overtime it becomes worth the challenge because you do grow. So it’s confidence but it’s also more of an understanding of how technique is important and the centre of everything is just you and allowing yourself to be there without expecting anything but honesty and in the end it becomes an exploration of being multi-dimensional as a person and ofcourse that depends on whether or not you believe that anybody really is. So some of that is really about your philosophy too.
Wow! That’s a really great answer.
Really? Thank you!
So when I listen to your music, I think of greats such as Billie Holiday and Nina Simone. Who would you say has influenced your music the most?
Living or dead?
It can be anyone you want it to be!
That’s a very hard question because I wouldn’t like to really say it’s just one person. I mean today it’s Ray Charles, I just worked on a new project in which a specific record of Ray Charles was the focus. So that’s going to be out next year. So it will be my next record and we just finished working on that. I am going to be coming to London to play in Shepherd’s Bush in August so we wont be performing stuff from the new record this summer. So when thinking in that perspective, my greatest influence is perhaps Billie Holiday because she uses the human voice as a singer, an instrumentalist, a dramatic artist. She’s just somebody who knows how to transmit emotion through conversation as much as any kind of musical construction. Her singing is based on being focused on and being at the centre and in all of its idiosyncrasies and all the weird things that happen in the human voice when we are not even paying attention. So she does that by simply singing the words. So I guess it would be Billie Holiday in that sense.
So you grew up in New York and Southern California and then Paris right?
(laughs) pretty much!
So how do you think all the travelling has influenced your songs?
Well that’s a really good question. I think the centre of my musical world is American 20th century popular songs. The first half of blues, early Jazz, folk and country. The second half was really folk rock and rock and roll and some experimental types of jazz and classical. So it’s funny how music from a certain place can be so influential. I think southern- American music is, even though I didn’t grow up in the south, my father being from new-Orleans had a big impact on my understanding of American music and culture. I grew up in Brooklyn so I felt like there wasn’t anything at hand and I didn’t really go to concerts or anything like that. I didn’t hear live music until I was working as a musician. After I had made a record and was invited to go to festivals I was given the opportunity to hear other artists live. But when I went to Paris, the irony is that I met a lot of American musicians and people who wanted to play American music. So there was much more of that in Paris than anywhere else.
Well that must have come as shock.
I think so! I wanted learn music terribly and really couldn’t find many places where I could do that with French people. But that’s partially due to me being such a foreigner in the first place and having to find something that I could just understand and grasp easily so that I can just do it. Music feels like something which you have to be doing, you have to be in the midst of doing it and it’s in motion and it’s a locomotive medium and I don’t know how you can just sit back and wait for the right thing to come. You have to just do what’s there and whatever is there. You just have to find a way and be a part of it. It’s an active thing. Okay I have gone off on a total tangent! What was the question?
(laughs) the question was how has the travelling influenced your music?
I guess I can say that in the end that it has to with trying to fit in with whats around you and making a connection with whats around you. But the more you travel the more you have to be creative with who you are. So I think it’s a good thing. I think I feel very comfortable living on the road these days, or for the last few years. In the sense that I managed to do it. And musically it means that I don’t feel that hold to anybody so it gives me the opportunity to be a bit more adventurous than I normally would. Being able to be adventurous and willing to fail and fall. I’ve learnt how to fall quite well too. I’ve become resilient, things don’t have to go the right way for me for me to see the goals.
So you must have fans all over the world. What do you love about your English followers?
I think the English pop music culture is probably the most advanced and I think the English know that and I think everybody else knows it too. The English pop scene is really open-minded and willing to embrace and explore and try something new. Even to the point where the English forget that something retro might have ever existed before. Sort of like this is new and exciting which is ironic when it comes to jazz. I’ve spoken to some radio presenters that spoke of jazz as if it were from another planet and totally new to them. But I admire that attitude and spirit and more than anywhere else I think it’s in the UK. I think it’s encouraging thing for the world. It’s an essential thing and I appreciate that. It’s difficult for some people to accept the fact that there has been a british invasion of so many different sorts expecially musical. So we can see what happens next and I like that too.
If you had the power of invisibility for an entire day, what would you spend the day doing?
That’s a hard one right?
Yeah. Yeah that’s a really good question. Do I get any other super powers at the same time?
Well okay you can have power of speed aswell.
Speed! Yes well you need to get to several places that day, since you only have one day. I might infiltrate the UN. I don’t know what I would do there. I don’t know how I would change anything. I would try and make it a day where I change a lot of things and be influential in the political scene. How does being invisible make someone influential, I’ve never heard of that before.
well it could work for you.
(laughs) what you mean for the purposes of this question? Okay I would just infiltrate the UN and I would create some agreements between the big five nations.
so you’re going to do this whilst invisible?
(laughs) well I would want to be in the UN and I would want to be in power over the decision over the couple of the major players. Is that grandiose enough?
yes that’s pretty good. Okay now for the question that everyone wants to know who’s the most famous person you have slept with?
(laughs) I don’t believe it! I haven’t slept with anybody famous except myself. I am the most famous person I have slept with. I just don’t have that much energy. (laughs)
Okay fair enough. So you’ve achieved a lot in your career, what do you hope to achieve in the next 10 years?
I like to think that in the next 10 years I will be able to do something that makes me feel much closer to having accomplished something. It’s sort of a legacy based idea I guess. In my private life I would like to work on something else like writing or drawing.
And finally if you could only listen to one song for the rest of your life, what would it be? Lets say you were stuck on a desert or something!
A recording? Hmm that is very hard! It’s probably Beethoven fifth. The slow movements.
Thank you so much for doing this Madeleine.
Madeleine will be performing at the O2 Shepherds Bush Empire, in London, on 18th August so be sure to go check her out!
By Ramya Nair