Call her a loser and she’ll glow with pride. Lou Doil­lon is not just a blue-blooded mu­si­cian but also a philoso­pher who em­braces her in­ner schmuck.


Like fin­ger­nails dug into skin or a leaf fos­silised in stone, French mu­si­cian Lou Doil­lon can’t help but leave an im­print. It’s not be­cause of her beauty, al­though she does have that – she’s from a fam­ily of muses; the daugh­ter of six­ties icon Jane Birkin, and half-sis­ter of Char­lotte Gains­bourg – in­stead it’s the spell of words that rush past those trade­mark Birkin fam­ily teeth that cap­ture you, es­pe­cially when she’s say­ing how her favourite kind of peo­ple are the ab­surd, pa­thetic, silly, and an­gry ones – those who she, with crush­ing af­fec­tion, la­bels as losers. Does she count her­self among them? “Well I think that I would pre­fer to,” she says. “We all do things that we think are so ex­cep­tional and then when we talk about them we re­alise that they’re ex­actly the same as other peo­ple, and I find in a so­ci­ety that’s some­times dan­ger­ously fas­ci­nated by the elite, and by per­fec­tion, and by what’s flaw­less, I find that it’s very far from hu­man­ity and I would much rather fo­cus on what makes me ter­ri­bly hu­man and to say out loud spe­cific sides of hu­man­ity that are not al­ways the beau­ti­ful sides – that we’re jeal­ous, that we’re fright­ened, that what we don’t know scares us, that we tend to think about our­selves more than any­thing, that we tend to pro­tect our chil­dren more than other peo­ple’s chil­dren, those sides – I find that if we talk about them and if we em­brace them, then we can maybe move away from them and by ac­cept­ing our shal­low sides, which we all have, it makes us bet­ter peo­ple, it makes us stronger peo­ple, and maybe we get closer to he­roes, in a way. But the ba­sic def­i­ni­tion of a hero is some­thing that fright­ens me, to be dif­fer­ent from other peo­ple. I love the idea of be­ing the same as other peo­ple, I find it very, very im­por­tant.”

A philoso­pher dis­guised as a mu­si­cian, Doil­lon has a voice that’s deep and rich, making her feel like a clas­sic artist from way back when even though she’s only been in the game for three years. Her fa­ther is French film di­rec­tor Jac­ques Doil­lon so it was fate that she first stepped into the lime­light as an ac­tor, making her film de­but at the age of six and be­com­ing a recog­nis­able face in Euro­pean cin­ema and the­atre un­til 2002, when she gave birth to her son Mar­lowe at the age of 19. Doil­lon and her part­ner split within a year, leav­ing her as a sin­gle mother with her ca­reer in neu­tral. She made a re­turn to film, and mod­elled for the likes of Givenchy and Lee Cooper, but for a long while she moved like a com­pass with no north, un­able to es­cape the dizzy­ing feel­ing that she was more than an ac­tor or more than a model. It was only at the age of 30 that she fi­nally plucked up enough val­our to stop the ar­row from swing­ing; she de­cided to share her mu­sic, de­spite her fear of be­ing just an­other anointed celebrity daugh­ter on her next leisurely whim, loathed by the French pub­lic. But when she re­leased her de­but al­bum Places in 2012 she needn’t have braced so hard. It stunned crit­ics, earn­ing her the Vic­toire de la Musique for best fe­male artist of the year. Her sec­ond al­bum, Lay Low, has re­cently been re­leased and is an­other blow to the old ticker, beau­ti­fully mus­ing on love, mem­ory and hon­est, all too hu­man fail­ures.

Her at­trac­tion to song­writ­ing and phi­los­o­phy makes ab­so­lute sense when you re­alise Doil­lon has spent more time with books than a spin­ster li­brar­ian. She loves lit­er­a­ture, and in con­ver­sa­tion ref­er­ences it of­ten, al­ways with pas­sion and elo­quence but never so pre­ciously that she won’t blow her nose down the phone line while talk­ing about Ber­trand Rus­sell. She’s in­cred­i­bly re­flec­tive, an out­sider born in the ‘in’ cir­cle, and this Jan­uary – steamy weather per­mit­ting – she’ll take to the stage in a tuxedo to sing her smoke-hazed songs to Aus­tralian au­di­ences.

How did you feel start­ing work on a sec­ond al­bum? The great dis­tance be­tween the first and the sec­ond al­bum was that I had dis­cov­ered [play­ing] live, and the plea­sure I had taken be­ing on tour, so there was for sure that as­pect on the new record, where we can feel much more of the at­mos­phere of what’s go­ing on in the stu­dio it­self, of want­ing to keep some­thing of the essence of how albums used to be made. I had learnt a lot on the record­ing of the first al­bum, and for the sec­ond one it’s true that I knew bet­ter, so I could put my­self in the process more and take more re­spon­si­bil­ity and there­fore have more fears and more panic. This al­bum, I really had to carry it – not by my­self, I was work­ing with Tay­lor Kirk of Tim­ber Tim­bre who I adore, but he was more like a side­kick in a way and also he was in Canada so I was the one who had to con­front my­self with re­al­ity, with the la­bel, with expectations of peo­ple around me, and it was a great ex­pe­ri­ence.

What were you think­ing about while you were writ­ing it? It’s al­ways kind of hard [to know] in the sense that it’s a long process; some of it was writ­ten at the end of the last tour, more was writ­ten when I was back home and kind of alone, and then more was writ­ten in the sum­mer when I had rented a house and I was with loads of friends. I guess that it’s look­ing around and look­ing at my life and other peo­ple’s around me; I love to find re­cur­rence and things that just loop, one way or an­other, on them­selves, so I guess that I can al­ways see how re­la­tions work be­tween two peo­ple and that’s kind of slightly ob­ses­sive with me. There’s a French au­thor who I love, Roland Du­bil­lard, who writes di­a­logues be­tween char­ac­ters called One and Two and it’s al­ways dif­fer­ent re­la­tions but al­ways the same idea of be­ing One and Two and how that works out. So I guess that it’s true that it al­ways re­volves around that – we kind of hope some­times that we’re more univer­sal than that, or wider or taller than that, and we man­age to get into re­la­tion­ships that have noth­ing to do with our life, our child­hood, our panic, but I don’t think we do. I think that even our ca­reers, pol­i­tics, nearly ev­ery­thing has to do with how you see your­self, how you want peo­ple to see you, your pan­ics, and we al­ways come back to: how do you love your­self? How do you love other peo­ple? Are you scared? To what ex­tent are you scared? And does love calm you down, one way or an­other? So those are al­ways the sub­jects that tend to come back.

Are there cer­tain times of the day or places where you

write bet­ter? Ab­so­lutely. I tend to like writ­ing when it’s not too sa­cred, so there’s ob­vi­ously the mo­ments at night when you’re by your­self and a bit lonely and I guess hurt; night-time seems to be a mo­ment that works, but oth­er­wise I love to write in the kitchen when there are peo­ple around ac­tu­ally, there’s some­thing – when it’s too re­spect­ful, what’s go­ing on around me, I feel wor­ried be­cause sud­denly I re­alise that I’m sit­ting down to write a song, which is never a feel­ing that I enjoy. More than any­thing, I love it when you’re cook­ing and kids are talk­ing to you, or your friends, or that peo­ple don’t really care that much and sud­denly like a lit­tle mouse you can quickly get a piece of pa­per and things com­ing out, and sud­denly you take the gui­tar, no one seems to care, and when you man­age to write in those sit­u­a­tions of­ten it sticks bet­ter than when you’re writ­ing by your­self, and you kind of get all con­vinced you’re do­ing some­thing really good and the next day you lis­ten to it and you’re really dis­ap­pointed.

What’s the most mul­ti­task­ing you’ve done while also writ­ing? I guess it was cook­ing for ten peo­ple and writ­ing a song and try­ing to teach kids math­e­matic prob­lems in the sum­mer – poor lit­tle things.

What’s your big­gest fear on stage? Well, there’s a stupid thing that I think comes from my the­atre years of be­ing wor­ried that I’m go­ing to forget the di­a­logue, un­til I re­alise that I’ve writ­ten it and that, at worst, you know, I can say some­thing else or start again. But there’s a kind of lit­tle school-girl panic of get­ting the lyrics wrong, es­pe­cially when peo­ple like the songs and it’s al­ready hap­pened to me, to go to see gigs of peo­ple that I adore, know the song by heart and re­alise the singer is get­ting it wrong, which is al­ways quite con­fus­ing for all the peo­ple in the au­di­ence, so I guess that’s the panic. And un­ex­pected things; you won­der are you go­ing to cough, are you go­ing to faint, are you go­ing to man­age to pull through, is there a bug on your arm? All those kind of weird things, and that’s what’s beau­ti­ful with life, that it’s ex­cep­tional how wor­ried we are and how we man­age to ac­tu­ally do it ev­ery night. And also the big fear is to won­der to what ex­tent you’ll be able to con­nect with the au­di­ence. Some­times you’re too tired and you don’t feel it and in fact it’s there, and some­times the au­di­ence is more shy than the one the night be­fore so it takes you time and at first you’re a bit vexed and you won­der if peo­ple care or not, and it’s kind of scary.

What have you been draw­ing lately? As you can see by now, I’m the ob­ses­sive type, so it’s hands and legs and feet, it’s the limbs that I see, just be­cause there’s some­thing very re­lax­ing in draw­ing for me, and some­thing very hard in draw­ing hands and per­spec­tive and I al­ways have my­self un­der con­trol, in a way, whereas other peo­ple tend to move and, you know, stay in the pose for five min­utes and then get bored, which I com­pletely understand, but I’m shy and I don’t want to tell peo­ple, “Could you please not move for 45 min­utes?” My dog is a pest; each time I try to draw him he just kind of has the sec­ond sense where even if he’s passed out he will just sud­denly move, so my legs and hands at least don’t move at all.

Is there a po­etic at­trac­tion to limbs as well? Oh there is, it’s ex­actly like the mu­sic, I’m learn­ing what to hold on to and what to let go, and I saw a beau­ti­ful doc­u­men­tary that broke my heart, seven or eight years ago, by a di­rec­tor called Agnès Varda a movie called Les Gla­neurs et la Gla­neuse ( The Glean­ers and I), and she just films her right hand for five min­utes in the sun, and says [para­phras­ing], “That hand that’s lived with me for so long,” be­cause she’s in her eight­ies at this point, and say­ing, “We’ve kissed to­gether and we’ve held lovers and we grew up to­gether and we buried lovers,” and you’re de­stroyed to think that yes, this is go­ing to be our lit­tle tes­ti­mony, our hands. It’s a very strange thing, ev­ery­thing that we do with our hands, so I’m very moved by hands or even other peo­ple’s hands – my son’s hands, and the idea of ev­ery­thing that we’re go­ing to go through. And that’s the last thing that we hold onto; all the peo­ple who have died around me, it’s the hand that sud­denly lets go and it’s over.

What was a tough time in your life that you’re now glad hap­pened? Love’s dis­ap­point­ments, I guess. Be­cause they’re, strangely enough, the ones that strip you of

ev­ery­thing. I mean, I’ve had very tough mo­ments, like ev­ery­one, of peo­ple you love who die or ac­ci­dents or spooky things, but they don’t strip you – they take you out of life, but they don’t take you out of your­self. It’s love’s dis­ap­point­ments that tend to – you lose all of your value; it’s not only about pain it’s about be­ing worth­less and it’s true that I had a ter­ri­ble love story with some­one who was really, really dev­il­ish and who stripped me bare of ev­ery­thing and god I lost a lot of time climb­ing back up, but to­day, ev­ery­thing that I do is linked to that so I’m very happy. I went from giddy-eyed and ‘I love life’ to sud­denly, at 26, life just kind of stops and it takes un­til you’re 30 for you to lit­er­ally have your chin back up. It took ev­ery­thing away from my lit­tle world, but maybe my lit­tle world wasn’t worth much. Sud­denly it all went down the drain and I had to re-cre­ate and re­build, and to­day I sit on those foun­da­tions and I’m very happy.

What pulls you out of a bad state of mind? It tends to be Alan Watts on YouTube, just be­ing ex­tremely calm and his laugh and his way of talk­ing about the world and all those kind of very mel­low ideas from the ’60s and ’70s and so he really, really grounds me, and of­ten wise peo­ple do. There’s Ber­trand Rus­sell also, who I love. His books just ground me. And oth­er­wise there is hu­mour. So, Dorothy Parker is my favourite poet and she cracks me up, and to have her book in my pocket is al­ways a form of saviour be­cause at least I’m not alone; there are two of us, and maybe even more. But that’s a great re­lief.

What was a really good ex­pe­ri­ence in your life that you’re

glad hap­pened? It was a tough road, but my son, who I had when I wasn’t pre­pared and wasn’t ex­pect­ing any of it, and I was a child, I was 19, so to­day to have this teenager around is – we love each other so much and I think it gave him a lot of tol­er­ance to have such a young mum who learnt ev­ery step with him, and I learnt how to be­come a bet­ter hu­man be­ing and a bet­ter woman with him by my side, and I found the job that makes me happy [mu­sic] when he was ten years old; it’s the best thing that ever hap­pened to me.

What makes you laugh? Pa­thetic sides of life. I love hon­esty and I love how pa­thetic we can be, there’s some­thing very re­as­sur­ing in that for me. I adore the peo­ple who kind of spot them­selves in the mo­ments when you re­alise how low we can go. I adore it in lit­er­a­ture, I adore it in com­edy, I love it – that side is what makes me laugh. I tend to be quite neu­tral to grandeur and he­roes and per­fec­tion, it kind of freaks me out but lit­tle, tiny things and petty peo­ple really crack me up. In lit­er­a­ture I find it a lot, in all those kind of beau­ti­ful losers, there is some­thing… like Saul Bel­low really makes me laugh or some­times Dos­toyevsky can make me laugh, or Bukowski cracks me up. John Fante, the same. You fol­low those loony losers. There’s a great book called

Hunger, which is tech­ni­cally one of the first loser books writ­ten, by a guy called Knut Ham­sun at the end of the last cen­tury and you cry of laugh­ter; the guy has noth­ing, has no money and he man­ages to get two coins to get some food and of course his ar­ro­gance takes over and he walks by a beg­gar who’s got more dig­nity than him, be­cause at this point he’s a beg­gar him­self, and he throws the coins in the beg­gar’s face and just this guy, you think, ‘You fuck­ing ass­hole,’ it’s just in­sane and it’s the pride that comes back up and that I love. Move­ments of pride really make me laugh.

What’s your favourite way to re­lax? I love the phys­i­cal side of do­ing yoga. It used to be read­ing Sher­lock Holmes, but be­cause I read it to such an ex­tent that I know ev­ery sin­gle one by heart, it kind of gets worse and worse ev­ery year, so now it would be watch­ing Columbo which would get me to sleep and chill out, be­cause I guess with mur­der sto­ries, one way or an­other, I know that there’s go­ing to be a res­o­lu­tion at the end, that some­one is go­ing to find out who did what, and that really calms me down [laughs].

Who would you love to see in the au­di­ence at one of your

shows? I’ve got a great pas­sion for your artist Court­ney Bar­nett who really, really cracks me up – and they’re the same [Bar­nett and the above writ­ers] – her lyrics crack me up, and her way of putting it down and the sit­u­a­tions and its de­sign, it’s ev­ery­thing I love about writ­ing and do­ing mu­sic and be­ing hon­est and be­ing a beau­ti­ful soul.

You’re a style icon to many peo­ple, but are there any

fash­ion phases you’d rather forget? Oh, none. I guess apart from when I was 13 try­ing to please and sud­denly hav­ing a kind of ‘no look’ of be­ing trendy, I guess the 13 to 14 trendy year is not the most in­ter­est­ing, but all the other ones I’m fine with.

What’s your most prized pos­ses­sion? My diaries. Those I’ve kept since I was 13 and I’ve got a suit­case with them in­side in case any­thing hap­pens, that I can run with my son un­der one arm, the dog, and the suit­case of diaries.

What’s your big­gest gripe about the mu­sic in­dus­try? I guess the idea that peo­ple tend to lis­ten to albums less and less in the sense of the or­der of it – that’s why I love vinyls, be­cause you really had the time to get into an al­bum, from start to fin­ish, and I’m not very into iTunes in the sense of just buy­ing tracks, that’s quite con­fus­ing to me. I tend to want to do an al­bum as a story and for it to have a start and fin­ish, kind of. Lou Doil­lon is play­ing So Frenchy So Chic 2016 in Mel­bourne and Sydney, plus shows in Perth and Brisbane in Jan­uary.

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