Jarvis Cocker, Owen Pallett, SebastiAn and more discuss what made their creative partnerships with the French polymath so fruitful
Dazed will be publishing a series of articles with Charlotte Gainsbourg throughout the day – head here to read more.
It’s hard to say whether Charlotte Gainsbourg has a talent for finding the right collaborators, or whether those collaborators are unconsciously drawn towards her. The actor and musician’s storied career – which has spanned nearly three decades now, since she dueted with her father Serge Gainsbourg aged 12 on the notorious “Lemon Incest” – has been defined by a series of creative partnerships that have been far more than the sum of their parts.
When she released her second album 5:55 in 2006 (her first since Charlotte For Ever, released when she was a teenager 20 years earlier), she teamed up with French duo Air, Jarvis Cocker, The Divine Comedy’s Neil Hannon, and Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich. Since then, her collaborators have been as distinctive as they have been numerous, from Beck to Connan Mockasin in music, and from Todd Haynes to Lars von Trier in film.
Rest, Gainsbourg’s first album in seven years, is her most personal to date, marking the first time that she’s written her own lyrics and addressing themes like the death of her sister Kate Barry and her father, as well as her relationship with her mother Jane Birkin. To realise her vision, Gainsbourg assembled a strong cast of artists, including producer Sebastian Akchoté-Bozovic (aka SebastiAn, best known for his work with the Ed Banger label and more recently with Frank Ocean), Sir Paul McCartney, and Daft Punk’s Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo, with Owen Pallett providing string arrangements.
Here, we speak to musicians from both Gainsbourg’s past and her present to find out what it’s like to make music with the creative polymath.
SebastiAn: Working with Charlotte has been a global process. It wasn’t just about the music, but about being part of her world and her everyday life. Together, we created the project without deadline pressure, taking all the time we needed to translate what she really wanted to express through music. The composition was, however, fast, and my response to Charlotte’s lyrics and ideas came quite naturally. We share many references, movie soundtracks we like and life experiences we have in common. It really helped to make our respective universes compatible.
The lyrics and atmosphere – the links between these factors – demanded more time though. Charlotte needed a certain period to live with the songs and let them grow. Over the space of a few years and many seasons, we had the chance to listen to the project and make it evolve step-by-step with different approaches, different lights, moods, and even a little bit of snow.
From the very start, the record was going to be very personal, and she wanted to dig very deep into it. I let her have a lot of space in the production, so that she could could go wherever she wanted to with it.
After all, I have the feeling that my part in this has been to encourage her to come up with the project, and to serve the role of midwife for the record.
Owen Pallett: I went to an apartment Charlotte had rented in NYC and sat and spoke with her and her producer Sebastian for an afternoon. We discussed the lyrics and listened to the tracks. The lyrics were extremely moving, very personal. I agreed to score the project, and spent the next few weeks working on parts while on tour. We ran the string session at the now-defunct Magic Shop in NYC. Working with her and Sebastian was easy – they gave me free rein and were open to my ideas, and the sessions went very smoothly. As many songs on the album dealt with Charlotte’s relationship with her father, I worked some inflections of Jean-Claude Vannier into the arrangements as a tribute.
Jarvis Cocker: ‘The Operation’ started out as a fairly romantic song about a lover trying to atone for his past sins by mending his former lover’s heart. Charlotte found the idea too ‘soppy’ and suggested the story take a darker route. I followed her suggestions and the song improved immeasurably as a result.
Conor O’Brien: It was a pleasure to work with Charlotte. I missed my flight to Paris, so I was pretty late for the recording session, but she was just super chilled and it went really smoothly. There’s a certain type of cool detachment in her voice which suited the song really well and gave me an angle from which to write it. It was fun to hear the version she toured with Connan Mockasin and his band – it’s always rewarding to hear other musicians’ interpretations of your music.
Neil Hannon: Working with Charlotte was a wonderful thing for me. She is an angel. I was brought on board the 5:55 album project by Nigel Godrich, after he, JB (Jean-Benoît Dunckel) and Nicolas (Godin) had already made most of the music. I won’t lie, it was quite hard to attach lyrics that both suited the music (which was awesome) and meant something to Charlotte. I maybe succeeded a couple of times, and those efforts made it on the record. My favourite lines were the ones about the ‘woman in a bath of hundred dollar bills’ on ‘The Songs That We Sing’. That was pretty cool!
I think I have something in common with Charlotte. We are both quite shy, and a bit awkward with people we don’t know. I tried to steel myself to talk to her, in order to better write for her. It didn’t help the lyrics, but it did leave me with a better understanding of her.
Charlie Fink: We recorded ‘Got To Let Go’ at a beautiful old studio in Paris owned by Jacques Revaux – who had written the original French lyric version of ‘My Way’ (later popularised by Frank Sinatra). I had spent three days previously preparing the track at Konk studios in London, where they have an incredible CS-80 synthesiser that pretty much all the sounds in the track are taken from. However, when I arrived in Paris I realised I had the track in the wrong key for Charlotte’s voice. So we ended up re-recording Charlotte’s vocal to a piano in the studio and then building the song around that.
I hadn’t met Charlotte until that day and was so excited and nervous to be working with her. She was incredibly easygoing and kind, and as soon she started singing it was magic. She sings so naturally and her voice is so unique and so cool.
Rest is out November 17 via Because Music