The Comeback Album
After a seven-year absence on the recording front, Mireille Mathieu is back in the spotlight with a brand new album entitled De tes mains. The popular star will be touching base with French fans when she performs in Paris at the Olympia (19 - 24 November 2002) before kicking off a major national tour. RFI/Musique catches up with the most French of French chanteuses.
You've got to hand it to her, Mireille has always had a touch of class! Ensconced in a luxury Paris hotel, the singer - sporting sunglasses, an elegant scarlet blazer and her famous black bob – looks totally at ease as she greets journalists who have come to interview her. Sipping hot lemon with honey (a pro's trick for mellowing her voice in preparation for her upcoming run at the Olympia), Mireille answers media questions with spontaneity and sincerity and seems to take genuine pleasure in the idea of making a comeback on the French scene.
The new album
: "I got together with EMI and we decided it was high time I brought out a new album. After all, on November 21st I'll be celebrating 37 years in the music business! This is my 37th studio album in French, you know, and this week will be my 7th run at the Olympia. I felt very strongly about making this album, and what I was especially excited about was working with the number 1 producer Mick Lanaro (renowned for his work with Patrick Bruel and Claude Nougaro on the album Nougayork
). Mick put together a sort of 'pre-selection' of songs that he sent along for me to listen to. He deliberately refrained from telling me who the songwriters and composers were, because all too often you can be influenced by a famous name. So, as I said, I wasn't responsible for choosing the songs in the 'pre-selection.' They were all a complete surprise to me. But I was the one who made the final choice as to what we would keep out of the 'pre-selection.' And that choice was made very much on a basis of instinct and gut feeling.
Interestingly enough, on my new album we ended up with six songs written by the same person, Caroline Cabat. And I must say I'm delighted! Caroline's a complete unknown as far as the general public are concerned, but maybe this will help her make more of a name for herself on the mainstream. Caroline's someone who's been immersed in the show-bizz world from a very early age. Her father, Léon Cabat, was director of the Vogue record label in the 60s. I really love the way she writes! I did actually pick up the phone and ask one particular songwriter to get involved – and that was Francis Lai, my first accordionist. Francis made my very first album with me so we go back a long way. I absolutely insisted on doing a track with him this time round!"
: "Gérard Presgurvic's song La solitude
(the opening track on the album) was one of the first songs I listened to and I thought it was absolutely marvellous! The lyrics are so powerful – just listen to the line "Un homme qui vous ment /un ami qui vous vend
" ("A man who lies to you/ A friend who betrays you")! Personally, I hate the idea of solitude. I can't stand being on my own, it makes me really anxious and unhappy... The new album has a sort of general palette tinged with sadness, melancholy and yearning after happiness. That's the overall colour or emotional tone of the new album really, the experiences of life. I'm aware that this album's not particularly upbeat or gay, but when I listened to the songs they all really moved me in some way. And I have to say I'm very pleased with the result!"
The trials and tribulations of TV
: "Well, there's one thing I certainly couldn't be accused of and that's monopolising the French audio-visual world! Variety shows just don't work on French TV these days. And the reason for that is because people are bored of seeing the same old faces miming to playback! Let me tell you, when I appear on television in Italy and sing duets with other artists, it's always live. We never do playback!"
Thoughts on touring
: "I haven't toured in France for 16 years now. Do you realise? I've spent more time on the road abroad than I have in my own country! I'm going to be at the Olympia (the legendary music venue in Paris) up until November 24th, then after that I'm straight off to Belgium. I'll be back in France performing up until December 19th, though.
That's something that's extremely important to me, you know, getting back in touch with France every now and then. People often turn round and say, "Oh, Mireille Mathieu, is she still alive
?" It's important to prove I'm still here! There are very few French artists who are lucky enough to go right round the world, you know. At the start of January I'll be performing in Rome and later in 2003 I'll be heading back to China and Russia, too."
"I'm in the lucky position of being able to travel all over the world and be received as a guest in some very privileged conditions. So wherever I go I always sing in French, but I make sure I also sing in the language of the country I'm in as well. Audiences are very sensitive to that. I'm proud to be French though, and proud to be a singer too!
There's one country where I'm treated as a real VIP – and that's China. I first went there as part of a cultural exchange organised between France and China. And these days I'm often greeted by government officials. I do my bit for French public relations, you know, speaking about the TGV and Airbus! (Mireille laughs.) But things always ends up with a song!"
: "My website's run by an American man called John Hubert. He's a priest who teaches French to students. And thanks to John I know that when I perform at the Olympia there'll be a lot of American fans in the audience, not to mention Cuban, Mexican, Brazilian and Malaysian fans too. And that's why I've decided to put together a special sort of 'pot pourri' of languages. That's my way of saying thankyou to all the fans who've turned out to see me – because I'm really very touched by their support!"
"I sing in nine different languages and, let me tell you, I put in a lot of hard work for all nine! When you sing there's a special kind of osmosis between the music and the lyrics. But talking's generally more difficult. The language I've had the most trouble learning to date has been Finnish. I've spent entire days studying it, learning the words by heart from morning to night! No matter what language I'm working in though I never use a prompter. When I go into the studio things have to be as natural as possible for any real emotion to come out of a song.
I think the first foreign language I sang in must have been German. It was a bit tricky at first, but as I'm someone who knows how to articulate well that made picking up the language easier for me. I put it down to having a good ear and putting in a lot of hard work, but also to the fact that I really love what I do. I don't think there's any secret to it!"
The modern French music world:
"Things just aren't the same these days. I was lucky enough to have the greatest manager, Johnny Stark. But young singers launching their career now are catapulted straight in front of the spotlights – they don't learn to sing first or anything! I think that's the first thing you've got to do if you want to launch a singing career.
When I was just starting out I went off on tour with Hugues Aufray and Sacha Distel and I got to sing three songs as a warm-up act. And it was thanks to that that I learnt how to establish a rapport with the audience and move on stage. I've always worked hard at training my voice – and I still do these days! I'm lucky enough to have one of the best singing teachers around, in fact. I work with Madame Jeannine Reis who taught Maria Callas. They don't come much better than that! For me, the learning process is something that continues your entire life."
: "I'm a secret, introverted type really. I'm not the sort of person who opens up easily, but I can show my emotions under certain circumstances. In fact, I'd say I have a high daily dose of emotion and I give 100% of myself when I'm up on stage. In those moments I express myself fully, I don't cheat or hold back in any way. And that's when I feel the best. That's the most wonderful moment of all really because it's at that moment that you establish direct contact with the audience."
"The longer I go on in this profession the worse stage fright I get. It's got to the stage now where I get to a venue four hours before a show. The longer I go on, the more doubts I have. In fact, I'd say these days I've got more questions than certainties.
I'm never blasé, you know, I'm always full of amazement. For me, audiences are like love - you have to give the very best of yourself and live up to their expectations! When I first started out in my career I had Maurice Chevalier as my godfather. And wow! when I saw the respect Monsieur Chevalier had for the audience... Honestly, if God and my public are willing, I'd quite happily go on singing all my life!"
Translation : Julie