interview by Michael McCarthy
Recently, one of the publicists who consistently sends me great music — James at I.M.P. — sent me a press release about Juliette Jules, a young Parisian singer who was celebrating her 16th birthday by giving away her first EP, Black Crow. Being a big fan of French music, I immediately gave it a listen. For about ten seconds I was disappointed that it wasn’t in French, but as the first song, “Johny Was,” continued to play I was mesmerized. I couldn’t believe that someone so young could have written it. I was also impressed by Juliette’s vocal abilities. Her voice had personality and texture, sounding more mature than you’d ever expect a 16 year old to sound like. As the EP continued with the title track, “Black Crow,” I was even more impressed. Her songs were wise beyond her years — or at least wise beyond the years of most 16 year olds. They were also quite clever and poetic. I felt like I was listening to the next Carole King. And, you know what? I very well might have been. One listen to Black Crow and you’ll certainly see what I mean. Her songs are instant classics, evoking feelings you might not have experienced in years while awakening new ones all at once. Like when you read a poem that hits home in such a way that it changes your life. Or when you read a great novel that you immediately relate to. The fourth song on the EP is a cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” and she more than sells it. If you asked me if I thought a 16 year old could sing that song and not sound silly, I would have said no, that it’s one of those songs you have to be thirty or older to really grasp and sell to an audience. But, wow, Juliette sells it. And her version instantly became my favorite cover of the much-covered song. Perhaps you’re thinking that all of this sounds too good to be true? I wouldn’t blame you. If I read a review that made such claims about the music of a 16 year old I’d probably have a hard time believing it, too. But, as I said above, Juliette is giving her EP away FOR FREE. So, all you need to do is download it and give it a listen and then you can decide for yourself whether I was right or wrong about her. And let me know, either way. I’m always curious about what my readers think about the music I write about and I’d be especially curious to read reactions to this one, considering that, yes, it all sounds too good to be true. And yet she’s even better than I’m making her out to be.
1 ) I understand your manager, Peter Karroll, discovered you when he heard
you singing in a park in Paris. Were you just singing to yourself
acapella or were you singing for friends or… what were the
circumstances that found you singing in the park that day?
Juliette Jules: It was a sunny day of June, I was with my friend and I decided to take my guitar with me, and to sit in a park next my house to talk, drink a lemonade.. I played and sang a few songs, and just before i was about to leave, Peter came to talk to me. I thought I was just dreaming.
2) What park was it that Peter heard you singing in? Just curious because
I’ve been to Paris four times and quite love it there. (I think Jardin
du Luxembourg might be my favorite place in Paris.)
Juliette Jules: This park is called the ”Square des Missions-Étrangères ”, situated in the rue du Bac, on the 7th arrondissement of Paris. It is a very small park where parents in the neighbourhood take their children after school and people who work nearby in the shops go to have their lunch it is a perfect little park. Jardin du Luxembourg is very grand by comparison.
3) Have you always lived in Paris? If not, where else have you lived? Where
were you born?
Juliette Jules: I have always lived in Paris, since I was born.
4) I understand your mother had you start taking opera vocal lessons when
you were 14 a couple of years ago. Do you intend to become an opera
singer at some point? I was surprised when I read about this in your bio
because opera seems so different from the sort of singer/songwriter
material on your Black Crow EP. For example, opera is very over the top
and loud but your songs are soft and subtle.
Juliette Jules: Haha, no I never thought about becoming an opera singer. I just wanted to have a classical formation, which I think is the best for singing. I wanted to improve my vocal technique and expand my range so I study every week with my teacher.
5) Are you still taking opera lessons today?
Juliette Jules: Of course, I do. And I love it ! I hope to continue as long as my schedule allows.
6) You’re focusing your high school studies on the literary section of
things. Who are some of your favorite authors and why? Do you think
you’ll write novels at some point or are you reading all of these
remarkable authors to improve your songwriting?
Juliette Jules: I only read because I like it. Of course, it gives me inspiration sometimes and it’s good.
I love Albert Camus , I love his philosophy, his accessible writing. I’m also found of the writers of the Surrealist era (I am fascinated with these notion of dream and subconscious) and of Proust, because of the beauty of the french language. Fortunately, I have still so much authors to discover !
7) What are your three favorite novels?
Juliette Jules: ”Nadja” by André Breton, “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” by Kundera, “The Myth de Sisyphus” by Camus.
8) When you read American authors at school, are you reading French
translations of their work or are you reading them in English? I’m just
curious because you’re writing songs in English and it’s obvious from
your superb lyrics and your pronunciation of English in your actual
singing that you must be fluent in English or pretty close to it.
Juliette Jules: American and English literature are read in French most of the time at school, but in high school our english teachers give us the chance to read in the original language. Of course the quality of my English comes from school ( In France, we start to learn english at the age of 6), but also because I’m influenced by so much British and American music, English movies, in short, British and American culture. English is everywhere !!
9) How old were you when you started studying English?
Juliette Jules: At the age of 6.
10 ) Do you ever write songs in French?
Juliette Jules: Not yet, I wish I could and I’m working on it. It’s so much harder to write in French : there is a tradition, French lyrics must be like poetry, otherwise it sounds unacceptable to the french ear. Maybe my love for French literature makes it even more difficult, it makes me feel that I am unable to write beautiful songs in French, for some reason it just seems more difficult for me to write lyrics in french than it is to write in english.
11) Why did you decide to release an EP entirely in English?
Juliette Jules: Because I have not written french songs yet, and english music is the major influence of the young musical culture even in France, it’s natural for me to sing in english.
12) Who are some of your favorite French artists (musicians), if you have
Juliette Jules: I am in love with Serge Gainsbourg.
13) Who are your favorite artists from outside France?
Juliette Jules: Actually, I cannot answer this question easily. There is too many different types of music that I love : Bob Marley, Billie Holiday, Knife Party, Angus & Julia Stone, Sixto Rodriguez, The Black Keys… I have a hundred favorite artists, and I listen to everything !
14) Have you performed live, playing actual concerts, yet? If so, what sort
of venues are you playing? Night clubs, coffee houses or …?
Juliette Jules: I play guitar and sing in the street sof Paris when it’s sunny, I have never played concerts, or clubs, I try my songs out on people who are walking by, tourists are a great audience and Paris is one of the top destinations in the world so people come from every country. This is how I met Peter my producer / manager just by playing my guitar in public .
15) What is your favorite way to listen to music these days? Do you prefer
listening to vinyl records, for example, or do you prefer to listen to
mp3s on an iPod or something else entirely?
Juliette Jules: I’m always listening to music, with my Ipod when I go to school or to somewhere else, in the metro, everywhere ! But at home I prefer to listen to some jazz or blues on vinyl records. I also spent a lot of time on the internet to discover more and more artists !
16) Since you play piano and guitar, I was wondering — do you play all of
the instruments on your Black Crow EP?
Juliette Jules: Yes on the Black Crow EP I play all of the guitar, piano, synth and strings, except on The Game and Johnny Was, where Doug Fury plays the bass guitar and Flavio Cirillo played the percussion.
17) I know you only recently started giving away the EP recently on your
birthday, but I was curious as to what the reception has been like so
far? Have you been offered a serious record deal yet?
Juliette Jules: I am very realistic about the music business. With Peter producing and writing with me I am able to develop my personal sound based on what I like. He is very supportive of this and there is no pressure to go out and sign to a record company. I love being able to write songs, work on them in the small studio in Paris. We shoot photos, make videos, record songs, and release them all ourselves completely organically. This is the way I think music should be created and I love that people are discovering my songs this way. I’m not writing for commercial success or radio hits I am writing what I love. At some point perhaps there will be a record company who is interested but this will hopefully be a natural part of the progression.
18) Your EP features a cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” which is
easily one of the best songs ever written by any artist ever. And there
have been quite a few covers of it over the years. So, it was very brave
of you to cover such a beloved song but I think you did an amazing job
with it. Were you nervous about how people would react to that one?
Juliette Jules: Oh, I redden… (blush) My producer and I were very attached to this song because it was the song that I was singing in the park when Peter discovered me. So it was inevitable to cover it for my EP, haha ! This was recorded in a very organic easy and natural way. I sat on chair in a living room and played the guitar tracks two or three times then sang the vocals on the same day. After I went home to do homework for school, The next Sunday I came back and recorded the keyboards and strings. We mixed it the next time we got together. Peter is always asking me what I like and how I listen to music, what I hear. He is very concerned that I influence the music and sound from beginning to end.
19) It’s funny — “Hallelujah” is the sort of song that’s written from the
point of view of someone who’s lived many years and made all of these
insightful observations. So, I would never expect that a 16 year old
could cover it without sounding silly, but you’ve totally pulled it off.
I think part of the reason it works so well is because your voice sounds
a bit older than someone 16, more mature. Are you often told that you
sound like someone older than 16?
Juliette Jules: Yes, quite often.. 😉 Singers are always compared to other Artists, I have been compared to singers from the 60’s and 70’s. I don’t try to emulate them I think it is a natural sound of my voice.
20) Listening to your songs and your lyrics it seems you’re much more mature
than a 16 year old not just in terms of how your voice sounds but in
terms of the observations and stories you convey in your songs. How old
do you feel like you are? Do you relate more to adults than people your
Juliette Jules: If I listen to my mother who often tells me : “Grow, a little !” I would say that I feel like I am 4, haha ! But seriously, I am told by others that I have experienced a lot in my life, I have had my share of personal pain and also much joy. I would not say that life is easy for my mother and I but I feel very lucky to have so many opportunities for music, school, friends. I see so many kids my age who have very little in life and I work hard and do my best. Like many 16 year old girls I have experienced lost love on many levels so I guess life experience plays into my songs in a major way.
21) How will you be spending your summer vacances this year (assuming you’re
going on vacation this year)?
Juliette Jules: I finish school in 5 days ! 😀
I’m going in the South of France with my best friend : sea, and sun !
Then I’m going to Vancouver to work with Peter on recording more songs hopefully we can release a full album.
After I spent a few days with my mother to discover Lisbon.
At the end of the summer I am going to a rock festival in Paris, I’m going to see Portishead, Arctic Monkeys, Cage The Elephant..
A big summer, full of music, is waiting for me !
Download Juliette’s EP, Black Crow, here: http://juliettejulesmusic.bandcamp.com/album/black-crow-ep