Your album kicks off with a song entitled "Comment certains vivent" (How Some People Live). It takes a hard, some would say even unsympathetic, look at the lives of your fellow men …
It's a song about resignation, about people who give up on life and refuse to help themselves, who just drift into this situation where they blame fate for everything that happens to them. I've observed a lot of people leading their day-to-day lives, and it's a feeling I've picked up on a lot. But, don't get me wrong, part of the song is also aimed at myself. I always think it's a bit too easy attacking other people, I think you've got to be able to criticise yourself in the process.
Basically, with "Comment certains vivent" I wanted to do a song which wasn't constrained by notions of being "correct". By that I mean I wanted to get away from this automatic response of compassion, which is how people often react when confronted with other people's failure. Compassion isn't always the best response.
You seem to balance your harsh attitude in "Comment certains vivent" with another song later on the album, "Pères" (Fathers). This song is full of compassion and understanding for parents. It even appears to have a certain empathy with the notion of the family …
Yes, "Pères" comes from a position of empathy and understanding. But it's not a 'personal' song, in the sense that it's not an autobiographical song based on my own experiences with my father. "Pères" is not an Oedipean thing or a song where I'm trying to bring my father to account in any way. It's more about the idea of one generation handing the torch on to the other. It's also based on this vision I had of these mothers standing by their husbands' graves and trying to conjure up an image of the men they'd lost. It's a song which is based more on twists of imagination and 'fantastic realism', rather than making any attempt at social realism.
Why did you choose to record your new album in the USA?
Well, the main reason I went to the States was because I'd been getting into the sound of this brass section I'd heard on old jazz recordings. I really wanted to try and get this old-fashioned jazz sound into my own work. You know, have this wonderful, slightly out-of-tune brass section in the background every now and then. Anyway, I started listening to a lot of avant-garde stuff from the 60's - people like Coltrane, Pharoa Sanders. That wasn't exactly the old-fashioned jazz sound I'd been thinking about, but it was interesting. Basically, I decided I wanted to introduce these breaks, like breathing-spaces into my work, and I wanted a brass section to come in and monopolise these breaks.
So that's why many of the songs on your new album - I'm thinking of tracks like "Je suis une ville", "Avant l'enfer" and "le Détour" - have a strong acoustic feel to them …
Well, originally I wanted all the songs on the album to sound like these tracks. But you know how it is, you never know how things are going to work out when you get in the studio … In actual fact we ended up getting rid of some of the original stuff. I felt the sound was getting a bit too soft, you know, with the very mellow ambience on songs like "Avant l'enfer" and "le Détour". I wanted to do something a bit different on the rest of the album, so we ended up recording most of the other tracks in a country house in Brittany and then a few tracks in Nantes.
In a recent interview published in the French newspaper 'Libération' you said that your songs are written from the viewpoint of "a narrator who observes a certain situation - the moment of depression and dejection which comes before action." Can you explain what you were trying to get at here?
Well, you know, so many people came up to me and started saying how they thought "Remué" was this really dark, depressing album. Well, OK, everyone's entitled to their own opinion, and it's true that a lot of people have got a bit of a mental block about what I'm trying to do in my music. But the thing is they've totally misunderstood the album if they think that! "Remué" is not an album about death and depression, it's a life-affirming album, an album about standing up and reacting to your situation.
OK, I guess it's true that the characters in certain songs can seem to be a bit depressed - I'm thinking of songs like "Encore" where the narrator is being really fatalistic about life, and asking for more misery to be heaped on his head. But what's interesting about the song is that you listen to it and you feel that, yes, the character is in total despair at this very moment but he's just on the verge of sitting up and acting. I really want to insist about this - "Remué" is not a depressing album about giving up and giving in. It's a life-affirming album about being strong and reacting to your situation. I guess the problem is that I'm attracted to the latent content of a situation - I prefer to examine the mood which leads up to the crisis, the explosion, rather than the moment of explosion itself …
You're notorious for taking a very cynical approach in your songwriting. What do you think about the fact that cynicism and irony are so much in fashion in the music world right now. I mean when you look at the success of this new generation of young singers like Holden, Alexandre Varlet and so on …
(Dominique A smiles). Well, I don't think Holden and Varlet would be too happy to hear you putting them in the same category, but still … As for this thing about my cynicism, well I'm going to sound like a bit of a coward for not sticking to my guns here, but too bad! Recently I came across this very interesting theory about cynicism put forward by a Swedish author called Stig Dagerman. And what he said was this: "I'm not a cynic, because to be a cynic you have to be absolutely certain about yourself and the world around you." And he's right! Being cynical means having this distant, detached view of the world. It means being free of any illusions, being totally blasé about everything. And I really don't think I'm like that at all. There have maybe been times in the past when I have been a bit like that, but these days I can assure you I'm trying to be a lot less cynical!
To get back to your question about Alexandre Varlet and Holden - yes, I think there's a bit of a 'generation' phenomenon. You know, you have all these singers emerging on the music scene at the same time and they've obviously got a lot of influences in common. You know, you can have a whole bunch of artists who want to do their own thing. They break away from the whole 'showbizz' thing and so they end up getting lumped in the same 'alternative' category. Miossec and I sometimes felt that sometimes with us people couldn't see the wood for the trees! Basically, what I think is that you have to take people for what they are and not in relationship to some sort of 'movement' or 'generation' thing.
Your press dossier refers to you as a singer who has 'marked his era'. Has that been one of your main aims throughout your career?
Well, I think that particular statement refers more to my music than me. I'd like my songs to have a certain staying-power, yes. It would be great if people listening to them in ten years' time enjoyed them and got something out of them. And it would be great if maybe my songs could encourage people to start writing their own stuff. Basically, I think that the songs which do have a certain staying-power from one generation to another, songs which do stick in people's minds tend to be sad songs rather than happy ones. That is, apart from Charles Trenet classics, perhaps!