interview by Michael McCarthy
The following interview with French American singer/songwriter Ariane took place last Thursday on the 12th of March 2020. Not long after many people in the United States had finally started to feel the gravity of the COV-19 (coronavirus) pandemic. I think both she and I felt a little strange doing an interview about music at a time when the world is filled with so much uncertainty, but one does have to go on living and try to get some enjoyment out of life and making music, and writing about music, are things we love to do and so we proceeded. This Thursday on the 19th of March, Ariane will be releasing her luxurious new single, “Inconnu,” which happens to be her first track in French. And I do mean entirely in French. With its bouncy disco beats and silky melody, it’s as spirited and tasty as any French pop morsel you’re likely to hear anytime soon and it’s my favorite of her songs to date. Lyrically, it’s basically a kiss-off, putting a boy who’s been stressing her out in his place. She just wants him to leave her alone instead of occupying her every thought as she passes his house on the métro every day. Regardless of whether or not you’re fortunate enough to speak any French, you should still be able to slip into it like a warm sweater on a cold winter’s day. Just let her voice wrap around you and soothe your soul for a few minutes as it instigates you to get up and move around.
MM: Thank you for still taking the time to do this today in spite of this virus that has everyone in a panic.
A: I know, I know. [Laughs]
MM: So, I know you’re French American and your publicist said you live in L.A. but where were you born?
A: I moved to the U.S. in 2014 to go to college. I went to Berklee College of Music. And then I moved to Los Angeles.
MM: Whereabouts in L.A. do you live? I only ask because I lived in Glendale for a few years myself many years ago.
A: Oh, nice. I live in Hollywood kind of close to Franklin Village and The Capitol Building down around that area.
MM: Do you come from a musical family at all?
A: [Laughs] Unfortunately, no. But my dad does dabble a little bit with guitar and piano. And my mom just started taking drum lessons so I think I might’ve inspired them.
MM: I know you graduated from Berklee with a degree in songwriting. What year did you graduate?
A: I graduated May 2018.
MM: Do you have any Boston stories or memories you could share with us since we’re based out of that area?
A: Boston stories? Um, I’ve done a couple summer semesters there and I love Boston in the summer because all the students are gone and it’s just beautiful. I can’t really think of one story. I just know I love the summers and the fall there. I’ve never experienced the whole turning of the leaves and all of that and, wow, it’s magical. I love the fall there.
MM: What were your favorite places to see concerts when you lived in Boston?
A: To see concerts? Well, I was underage most of the time so sometimes that caused a problem for like some friends and stuff but I really liked the House of Blues. I went to see James Blake there. I think that was the last concert that I went to see in Boston. But that was an incredible show. Their production was right on the spot.
MM: Yeah, that’s probably my favorite place to see concerts in the city, too.
A: Yeah, it’s more relaxed.
MM: Did you do much performing live when you were in Boston?
A: I didn’t. I honestly was really into the studio and I was a little bit intimidated by my peers because I was surrounded by so much talent. It’s funny, when I loved out here to L.A., I started performing again and regained my confidence and that.
MM: I guess the problem in Boston is with all of the Berklee students you’re surrounded by geniuses. That could be intimidating.
A: Yeah. You see people in the crowd and they’re like “she’s flat” and it’s terrifying.
MM: What are some places you’ve played out in LA?
A: I’ve played the Hotel Cafe and the Viper Room. I’ve played Space 15 Twenty recently. Where else have I played? The Study. The Peppermint. The Mint. More places – I just can’t think of them.
MM: What’s your favorite place to play out there?
A: I really like the Hotel Cafe. I love how intimate it is. It’s also scarier. Performing for a smaller crowd is always a much different feel but it’s a little bit scarier because you also have to connect with people more. But I also really like that.
MM: Are there any particular places that you haven’t played that you daydream of playing someday?
A: Actually, I really want to play The Fonda in LA. I go to a lot of concerts there and I really, really like it. Obviously, the Hollywood Bowl is cool, too. I love the outdoor feel. But one step at a time.
MM: Have you done any performing live in France?
A: I have, but a long time ago. I kind of want to do a little tour soon once the corona calms down.
MM: Yeah, you definitely want to wait on that. Have you ever gone out and done an actual tour yet where you’ve experienced life on the road?
A: I definitely want to do that soon. That’s kind of like the next step.
MM: Would you rather headline small clubs or be an opening act on an arena tour?
A: Hmm. Probably an opening act because I feel like you would experience a lot of things that you could never otherwise.
MM: In a perfect world, if you could pick anybody to open for, who would you go on tour with?
A: Lana Del Rey. Hands down.
MM: Your new single, “Inconnu,” comes out here in the States next Thursday on the 19th. Is that the day it’s being released worldwide as well?
A: Yes, that’s correct.
MM: Has the song been getting much attention already? For example, do you know if Spotify is going to promote it on one of their playlists or anything like that?
A: I’m not sure yet. They’ll usually sneak up and put you on a playlist when they do. So, it’s waiting until it’s released and you kind of see with the Spotify thing. I’ve had a couple blogs contact me so that’s cool. It’s more blog attention.
MM: When you perform live where you’ve only released a handful of singles so far do you have other original songs that you do, too, or do you do some covers?
A: I purely do originals because I love to go out and watch people perform. When I go see people do a show, I want to hear their songs. If I want to hear Beyoncé, I’ll go and see Beyoncé. I want to know your story, Beyoncé already told hers.
MM: I can appreciate that. Speaking of people telling their stories, it’s very common in pop music today that you’ll get a new album like the new Selena Gomez and Halsey albums and you look at the credits and some of the songs took eight people to write. And I feel like the artist’s message must be getting diluted with all these cooks in the kitchen.
A: Definitely. Speaking of Halsey, actually, I am obsessed with her album Badlands. I think it’s an incredible album. And there are much less people involved in that process. I definitely think that sometimes when you’re under a label and under intense pressure sometimes it does get a little watered down because you’re trying to please a lot of people who are holding onto their wallets and hoping that you’ll make them fatter. So, yeah. But, for example, there are a lot of artists who still manage to be themselves. Again, I’m gonna say Lana Del Rey. I’m obsessed with her. I think that with every album she stays true to herself. I love that so much about an artist. You’re here to create an atmosphere and create a world for your listener and I think she does that really well. And I think she’s managed to do that so well for so many years now.
MM: You sound like a fan of albums in particular. Are you working on an album yourself now?
A: Kind of. The way that I’ve been releasing things, it’s been single by single, kind of testing out what works best. But I am working toward making songs that can all coincide together. My songwriting has evolved a little bit, becoming a little happier and a little more care free. So, it might turn into an album, but right now it’s just making sure they all go well together. And we’ll see.
MM: Do you feel like you’re taking a big risk by releasing “Inconnu,” a single that’s entirely in French right now?
A: Definitely! I feel like that could potentially alienate a lot of people that don’t speak French. But I also feel like it’s important to me to release it because I really felt connected to my roots, doing that. So, this song is kind of for me.
MM: I can’t speak French very well, but I can read it and write it quite well. So, as soon as I had the lyrics in front of me, I understood it all. But there’s one lyric that I translated in my head as, “I think you’re biting my fingers.” Is that correct? Or is that slang for something?
A: Yeah. No, it’s kind of not really said but instead of saying biting my nails I said biting my fingers. It’s just a little quirky thing. But, yeah, it doesn’t technically make sense.
MM: I also liked that you mentioned cassette tapes in the song. I thought that was a nice nostalgic reference.
A: Thank you.
MM: Are you a fan of cassette tapes?
A: God, I haven’t used one in so long. But I remember putting them in. My parents putting them in, in the car. When there were still cassette players in cars. [Laughs]
MM: I remember those days. And now they’re coming out with some new cars that don’t even have CD players.
A: I know. I still have a CD player. [Laughs]
MM: I read that you’re the sole writer of “Inconnu.” Do you prefer to write alone or do you do much co-writing?
A: I absolutely love co-writing. And I think that’s because, again, not too many people in the room, but just enough where you can bounce off each other and feed off of the energy. It’s the bouncing off each other I really, really like. When I wrote “Inconnu” I wrote it with my producer Elliott Marchent in the room and I wrote all the lyrics and the melody myself, but he worked on the production. I thought it was cool with me focusing on the lyrics and having someone in the room who didn’t speak French because he could tell me if he didn’t like the melody because that’s the only thing he could understand, really.
MM: Do you remember how old you were when you wrote your first song?
A: Yes. I was sixteen years old and I went to Burgundy with my best friend and we wrote this super pretentious song quoting Lord Byron or something. [Laughs] And then my cousin was kind of dabbling in Pro-Tools and he recorded it really bad. So, it was a bad Pro-Tools song. But that was my first experience writing and it was fun.
MM: What was the song called?
A: It was called “The Endless Night.”
MM: How many songs would you say you’ve written in your lifetime at this point?
A: I honestly don’t know, but I would say a couple hundred.
MM: When you’re writing, what do you usually start with? Is it a title or a chorus or does a producer start making beats – how does the magic happen?
A: Generally, I like to have a feeling and then maybe start with going back to organic instruments before getting into production. Kind of laying down some chords and creating a melody to that and figuring out if you want it to be happy or sad or nostalgic, etcetera. Then you find a title or concept and kind of go from there. And the lyrics go from there. I’m really trying to focus more on melody. Again, when I wrote, “Inconnu,” because not everyone can speak French, the one thing they could connect to was the melody. So, I want to make sure my melodies are stronger.
MM: Do you write on a particular instrument?
A: Ever since I moved to LA, I’ve noticed that most people here – and I guess me, too, now – we start with a top-liner, which is essentially a songwriter who writes the lyrics and melody then we have a producer in the room and the producer kind of dabbles with a beat and then you write on top of that. But, as of late, I play a little bit of piano. I can’t say I’m good at it. So, generally, I like to have someone on the guitar or on the piano and maybe mess around a little bit with chords and go from there. But, yeah, I generally don’t hop on an instrument because I feel a little uncomfortable working on it.
MM: Is production something you’d like to learn to do in the future?
A: Honestly, I feel like it would be so cool if I could do it. But I feel like I’m better at instigating my ideas to people and my concepts and all of that and having someone carry the weight on that end. Just because I don’t think it’s my forte. That’s why I like collaborations again. Whatever you’re kind of lacking, someone else can help out with that part.
MM: How often do you tend to get writer’s block?
A: [Laughs] Honestly, I feel like sometimes I’ll have a week where I’ll have a session and write a song and it’s like, whatever. I’ve never had full writer’s block where I couldn’t write anything. But I’ve had writer’s block in the sense that I’ve written a lot of crap.
MM: Do you do any type of writing outside of songwriting?
A: No, but I do like to like to paint a lot and I’ve kind of lost it a little bit, but I always used to be into fine arts. So, I used to love to draw a lot and paint a lot. And I think that’s where I found my love for songwriting because it’s me being creative but in a different way.
MM: Who would you say are your biggest influences?
A: Hmm, Lana Del Rey [Laughs]. I also really like Lorde. I’ve been listening to Lorde’s first album again. I love also all old school stuff like Tom Petty and Fleetwood Mac. I always go back to that stuff. I also love The Killers. I kind of listen to everything. I’m not stuck in one genre. But I definitely have to say that, as an artist – not only as a writer – I really like Lana Del Rey. I also like Halsey and stuff, but I haven’t really liked much of what’s been coming out lately. So, I have to go back a lot. The one album that I did like was Lauv, Lauv’s new album. But, yeah, I haven’t really been into much.
MM: Who are your favorite lyricists?
A: Tom Petty, for sure. I think he’s an amazing songwriter and lyricist. Joni Mitchell. Also, I really think Halsey is a good lyric writer. She’s a good writer in general.
MM: Have you made a video for “Inconnu” yet?
A: I might in the future. I might not. But it just didn’t pan out. Maybe one day.
MM: Do you like making music videos or do you view them more as a necessary evil?
A: I love it. Because it’s another way that I can be creative. I’m a very visual person so I always have music video ideas. So, I’m a little bit bummed that this one didn’t pan out, but there is a new music video for my next single. So, that’ll be cool.
MM: What’s that one called?
A: It’s called “VHS.” Like a VHS tape.
MM: In the “Museum” video, you take a rock and shatter a TV screen with it. Did you just have one TV and have to get it right the first time or did you bring multiple TVs so you could do it until you got it right?
A: The actual fun fact is that everything in that music video we found in the desert. None of it was planned. And then we made the concept around that. There was only that one TV set. And I had to throw that rock really, really hard several times because I couldn’t actually smash the TV.
MM: At the conclusion of the video, I was surprised to find yourself looking at what must be a dozen or so nude women on the ground, who I thought were supposed to be dead, but then you see one of them stand up and face the camera at the very end. What is that meant to represent?
A: The whole music video is a little bit ambiguous but what we were trying to do was a little bit of a Black Mirror kind of thing. The “Museum” concept was that this girl was one of the many girls that whoever we’re talking about in the song had and I see the desert of all the past girlfriends and I turn around then this girl that pops up is essentially supposed to be the new girlfriend.
MM: That’s cool. So, do you usually come up with your own storylines for the music videos or do you tend to leave that to the directors?
A: Generally, we’ll sit down and brainstorm and everything is pretty low budget. We kind of have to brainstorm and think, budget-wise, what can we do? And how can we do the best we can with the budget we have.
MM: I was surprised to read in the credits that the “Sweatshirt” video was shot on an iPhone because it looks much better.
A: [Laughs] It wasn’t. My director is a little bit of a dork and he thought it would be funny to put that there. Yeah, false advertisement. [Both laugh]
MM: What are your favorite and least favorite things about the music business right now?
A: It’s hard to make a living. It’s hard to make money. That’s what I hate the most about it. And the thing I like the best about it is the creativity. At least myself, being label-free and independent, I’m able to do be as creative as I want and take things in the directions that I like. The other thing that I really like about the music industry is that it really is a community. I always thought it would be more competitive than it is. I don’t know, I feel like everyone is really, really helping each other out and I really like that.
MM: If you could work with any producers and songwriters alive today who would you really want to work with and what have they done previously that makes you want to work with them?
A: Alive. Um, gosh, I don’t remember his name, but the producer who did Dua Lipa’s “New Rules” and he also did Selena Gomez’s “Look At Her Now.” I like his productions a lot. Another producer that I don’t remember his name is the guy who did “Boys” by Charli XCX. That really amazed me. And, honestly, the writers who have worked on Lauv’s new stuff, I would love to work with them. I was told them once but forgot them.
MM: How many songs do you have recorded already that are just waiting to be released?
A: Oh, goodness. I would say I believe seven or eight.
MM: Can you share a couple of titles with us?
A: Yes. I have a song called “Coasting.” “Little Lies,” that’s another one. There are other ones. God, I’m blanking so much right now.
MM: “Museum” kind of advocates for women’s rights. What do you think are the most important issues facing women today?
A: Ugh. What are they not facing? I think, just professionally, and I would say this in the music industry, that there’s a lot of patronizing toward women. I think the music industry is not very respectful of women. And I really want to work with a female producer in the future. I feel like most female producers are not taken seriously because for some reason [people think], why would women want to be producers? Why would they be good at it? They only care about hair and make up. Why would you spend hours on a production? That’s so sexist. I feel like there’s a lot of sexism in this industry and women usually end up doing what I do, the artist thing. There aren’t that many female writers either. It’s a weirdly male-driven industry and that’s the one thing [where] I hope to witness a change in my lifetime.
MM: You should try to work with Linda Perry, who’s done a lot with Christina Aguilera and P!nk. She was the singer in the band Four Non-Blondes, but now she’s a writer and a producer. She might be a good match for you.
MM: She’s just the first female producer who comes to mind.
A: Yeah, there are not many. It’s hard to think of them.
MM: That’s about everything. I guess it couldn’t hurt to discuss the coronavirus a little.
A: Oh my goodness, I went to the supermarket and all the shelves were empty. I went on a Thursday afternoon at 11AM in the morning and it was packed. Everyone’s carts were filled to the brim. It’s like an apocalypse town. I don’t know, I’m Jewish so I wash my hands all the time already. I understand why people are trying to take precautions because there are not even [enough] ventilators in the hospital and you don’t want to infect people it could actually harm, but a lot of young, healthy people are being completely paranoid. I don’t know. I’m also kind of aggravated because I don’t want to be quarantined or be bored out of my mind at home or something. How about yourself?
MM: The thing that I’m nervous about is that I live with my parents because I have some health problems myself and I’m just afraid that’ll get it and give it to one of them because they’re senior citizens now so they’re at a higher risk than I am. So, that’s my big fear.
A: Yeah. I’m glad that my mom is not here. So, I won’t give the disease to anyone. My mom, you know, she’s a little bit older and she has health problems so I’m glad that I’m not [there]. But then both of my siblings go to school in Boston and both of their schools are closed for the semester and they’re both doing their school online now. My sister, I think might fly to LA if there are flights here next week. And, I don’t know, maybe she’ll get an internship out here. But both of my siblings are bored out of their minds because they’re doing their classes online and they’re not leaving the house.
MM: It’s a little scary. Earlier this week, I went to the supermarket and people weren’t buying everything on the shelves here yet, but there are more people in the stores than usual and the aisles were pretty crowded and I left there and I was thinking, you know, any one of those people could’ve been carrying it.
A: Well, they said that most of us are gonna catch it. But that doesn’t mean we’re gonna die from it. I hope they figure it out so everyone can calm down.
MM: It’s especially scary with the economy, too, with everyone selling their stock and everything.
A: Yeah. It’s hurting so much business. It’s crazy.
MM: Do you know how they’re handling things in France?
A: I think that they have been doing some quarantines. If you’re sick you have to quarantine yourself. But then I know that all the schools got shut down. I have cousins that live in Italy and they’ve been out of school for a while now. But my mom says the shelves are full. It’s not like apocalypse town like here. But mom is just washing her hands and being normal, just clean. But this is the one thing that has affected French people is that no one is kissing each other anymore. It’s funny because French people don’t know how to greet each other if they don’t do that.
MM: I’ve noticed even here people aren’t shaking hands at this point.
A: Yeah. Hopefully, they figure it out in the next month so we can all proceed.
Special thanks to Ariane for taking the time to speak with us, especially during these trying times, and to Mavery Ramirez for setting it up!