VIVIENNE WESTWOOD RED LABEL Shirt
A MEETING WITH JEANNE ADDED
By Armelle Leturcq
Rediscover our interview with Jeanne Added from our issue 74 back in 2015. Her new album Radiate will be out on September 14.
Jeanne Added is hands down the top musical revelation of the year. With early training in jazz, she earned her chops at elite institutions like the Conservatoire National Supérieur in Paris and the Royal Academy of Music in London. In 2015 the musician launched her solo career with a debut album called Be Sensational. Produced by Naïve Records, the album offers a subtle blend of electro and hypnotic pop held together by Jeanne’s exceptional voice. For Crash, Jeanne talks candidly about her career and shows her playful side in an androgynous photo shoot.
How did you get started in music?
I started when I was a kid, first by learning violin at the conservatory, then lyric voice as a teen. Then I got into jazz, almost as a hobby. But I left Reims to sing jazz in Paris. So I quit violin and joined a jazz class at the conservatory.
Do you come from a musical family?
Not at all. Music was my thing. My father did theater and my mother is not from the art world. Music was my specialty; it’s what I was good at. It was my own world just for me. After the conservatory I started working right away as a jazz singer. But with original music, not standards, so it wasn’t the kind of jazz you typically think of. I recorded albums, but not in my own name because I was always hired as a sideman working on the leader’s music, as they say in jazz lingo. Strictly speaking it wasn’t exactly singing, since I almost never sang words, but instead vocalized melodies.
How did you make the transition from vocalist to singer?
After my time as a vocalist, I turned into a singer-songwriter. When I started thinking about what I wanted to sing, I realized it wasn’t jazz. Time passed and I wanted to change my audience: to sing in front of people standing up instead of sitting down, people my own age… I wanted the relationship between the stage and the crowd to be more dynamic, and a little less respectful. Jazz is a bit like classical music: people are mostly very polite at concerts and it wasn’t really resonating with me.
Now you compose all your songs?
Yes, and it’s exciting!
How long did it take to make Be Sensational?
I worked on the album with Dan Lévy for about two years. It’s a project that stretched over a relatively long period because I was still working in jazz and he was finishing up his third album with The Dø. We met for two or three days every three months, as soon as I had written new songs. We got right into the studio and worked hard.
And you were performing at the same time.
Yes, we were doing a little of everything at once. I was performing the songs we were recording even though they weren’t totally finished. At the same time I was finishing some commitments I had made in the jazz world so I could earn a living.
How did you feel when you got on stage to sing your own music?
It was a process, like everything else. I’ve been working for a long time and a lot of preparation went into my recent media presence. A lot of times it seems like things happen overnight. But it’s been such a delight ever since I started singing my music on stage, and it feels so much differently than what I was doing before. I didn’t know it was possible to be so happy making music; I didn’t feel that when I was just a singer. I had a lot to be happy about back then, but the level of commitment was nothing like what I’m doing now. It’s incredible.
How did you get in touch with Naïve Records?
They saw me on stage when I was singing with Marielle Chatain, and I had already recorded with Rachid Taha who was on their label. It all happened before they had even heard or I had even finished the album.
What is it like to work with them?
Naïve gives me a lot of freedom. I was really lucky because I arrived at a moment when they had a lot of time for me, and they took care of everything for my album release. I still have my say in decisions. It’s a collaborative process. We were on the same page from the start and they knew it wouldn’t work if they told me what I had to do! It seems like an exception nowadays to give artists that kind of freedom. So when you realize what you have, you appreciate your freedom even more. I don’t think I would have been very happy with a major label. But I don’t think I know everything: I trust the people I work with and I rely on their expertise.
It sounds like everything has gone smoothly.
That’s right, there’s no diabolical strategy behind it all! At least from my perspective things have gone smoothly, even though some things have gone a bit too quickly for my taste.
You are already earning recognition in the industry.
It’s hard for me to tell; I don’t have enough perspective.
What is it like to hear your music on the radio?
I haven’t heard it yet! But friends have told me about their neighbors blasting the album, and that’s amazing to hear. And I know that France Inter has given me a lot of support.
How does success feel?
It doesn’t feel any different. I just notice that people are listening and that we have a lot of concerts lined up. There were a lot of people at the festivals this summer, though I think it’s always like that. Just finishing the album was already a personal victory, so whatever happens now is all a bonus.
Where do you fit into the French scene? There aren’t many French singers like you still around today.
Actually there are a lot. New singers arrive every day. You probably won’t hear another word about me in six months! And there are so many female singers with good voices. It all depends on your style. Personally, I don’t try to project any specific image; I just follow my need to write. You can’t avoid being cataloged and categorized; you end up being integrated into the system even if you don’t exactly fit in. I’m in a few categories on iTunes because that’s how music is distributed. I’m not interested in labels, so I just take whatever they give me. I’ve been called New Wave, even though my interests are more along the lines of R&B.
Was choosing to sing in English a matter of sensibility?
It happened very naturally. I don’t think you listen to English the same way you listen to French, even for English natives. English-speakers don’t listen to their language in the same way French-speakers listen to French. In English there is a continuous back-and-forth between the meaning and the form. It frees you up in a lot of ways when you start writing. Of course, you can’t just write whatever you want either… You have to be aware of the distance you’re taking from the meaning.
Any plans to sing in French in the future?
I’m thinking about it, but I don’t know if I’ll write the songs myself. A lot of artists write in French, but I don’t know if I’m ready to take on that role yet.
You lived in England, which must have given you a leg up in your writing.
That’s right, I studied there for a while. It’s hard for me to say I’m bilingual because I don’t use English every day. You lose a lot.
How do you feel about your reception outside France?
I have no idea. I don’t even know if the album is out yet outside France. But I have played a few concerts outside France: in Canada, England, Switzerland, and Belgium. I mainly did them to gauge the crowd’s reactions. I don’t really want to start thinking about an international career just yet. I’d rather stay in the present moment. But it gives me a chance to try new things, like today’s photo shoot. I’m not good under pressure! I’m taking it day by day, as they say.
Have you started writing new songs yet?
I’m trying to write but it’s hard. It takes time.
How many people are in your band?
Right now there are three of us. Three musicians. I sing and I play a little bass. Anne Pacéo is on drums and Narumi Herisson on keys.
What female artists do you look up to?
My first influences were jazz singers Abbey Lincoln and Ella Fitzgerald. When I was a teen there was Janis Joplin, and then Peaches, who was really important for me. Lydia Lunch is another one of the singers who had a big influence on me. I remember a few concerts that just blew me away.
A lot of strong personalities!
Yes! I like big voices, too. I was watching some Whitney Houston concerts on the web. The way she sings, it’s insane! And Aretha Franklin, Elise Caron…
Do you like fashion?
I like nice clothes, but I don’t know much about fashion!
And yet you seem very particular about your image.
It’s true. I know what I like and what I don’t like. The problem is that I don’t have time to think about it, and I like getting things done fast. I only need to spend 10 seconds in a store to know what works and what doesn’t. But my work allows me to discover new things all the time, just like today. It might be tough to work elegant coats like that into my daily wardrobe, but never say never! I like subdued things: work clothes, uniforms.
Do you have any special stage outfits?
All three of us wear black for now. I’d rather have a low-key look while I’m starting out, something that fits me without being too loud, so the attention stays on my music. One thing at a time.
Just like in real life.
Exactly. Except I don’t wear my stage clothes in real life… With one exception, I could wear these shoes anytime! (shows her J.M. Weston boots).
PETIT BATEAU Cotton Tee shirt, DIOR White gold earrings
G-STAR RAW Jeans, PETIT BATEAU Cotton Tee shirt, J.M. WESTON Shoes
Photography : Elise Toïdé
Styling : Armelle Leturcq
Hair : Asami Maeda
Make up : Aya Murai
Stylist assistant : Maxime Der Nahabédian