Interview — Mohamed Sqalli
Photography — Charlotte Robin
Interview — Mohamed Sqalli
Photography — Charlotte Robin
The versatile vocalist and songwriter from Asheville released her third album at the beginning of the year, a finely balanced compromise between noisy upbeat songs and lascivious well-crafted ballads.
Hello Angel. Welcome to France ! Is there any artist in French music that inspired you at some point?
Yes, I love Françoise Hardy. She is very sarcastic, I don’t know if she wrote her songs by herself, but I think she had a very dark and ironic side in the way she sang her pop songs. Learning about her personality is very interesting. I found out for example that she really was into astrology …
Also, I had for a while kind of an obsession for Dalida. Not especially for her voice, more for her performances. Her life is also really crazy, everybody loved her and she never came to the US, even if her songs were successful there. She was surrounded by all this tragedy … To me, she’s a truly unique character. I love watching videos of her performances and notice how dramatic she was, even if sometimes it was kind of over the top. But her pre-eighties period was really amazing. All her black and white videos are truly powerful.
What has changed in your life, in your musical career since the release of « Burn Your Fire For No Witness »?
I think there is a definitely projected image of what I am that I can’t always control, especially with the accumulation of press interviews and photo shoots … and Internet taking over. It’s not really up to me what the photographs look like or what someone decides to keep from an interview. Whatever image is being projected is getting further and further away from how I see myself.
I’ve created this album that isn’t me as an identity, though it’s attached to me as identity. That’s kind of crazy. So now I understand why some artists go from performing with their real name to having a band name. Attaching you personal name to something that people will directly relate to you is very strange, no matter the quality of the material. That’s the “alien invasion” part of the process but in another hand of course there are other great parts like “wow, me and my band go on tour a lot and get money from it”. I feel very lucky to do this because I used to work in a café before, and even when I toured with Bonnie Prince Billy, I knew that I didn’t want be a vocalist forever. I feel lucky that this project is going well but who knows what the future will be made of ? The most important now is to enjoy what’s happening to us right now.
Do you have in mind an example of this distortion of your image you’re speaking about?
Yes, I did a photo shoot for a fashion magazine. They changed the shape of my legs, and unfortunately I had no control over that. I was very frustrated because teenagers read that magazine and think that it’s what I look like. But you can’t go out there and tackle every single misinterpretation; it’s not worth it. I would hope that my audience will be intelligent enough to understand it’s different from who I am as a person.
Are you talking about the photo shoot you did for Interview Magazine?
Yes, it’s this one! I hope it gets back to them that I’m not happy with what they did. The photos look great, but they don’t look like me … Looks like Avril Lavigne or something, or that I’m 15 and that I robbed make-up from my mom’s closet. Fashion magazines don’t care of who you are as an artist. They prefer you to look fashionable. I’m sure there are very respectable fashion magazines out there, but in this case, I was really annoyed at them. I thought in the beginning that I would have more control on what is published about me, but I actually don’t.
I watched the great acoustic session you made for French website La Blogothèque. It’s funny because we have the impression in this video that you were very conscious of the emotion you create on the people who were listening to you : you were smiling, looking at people in the eyes, etc …
It’s because, when I play a sad song like Wild Fire, I feel like it’s necessary to break the awkward and superficially deep effect that it can create like “I’m sad and interesting”. It’s just a way to show people that you’re human and that you want to interact with them. And maybe it’s because they got me a little tipsy that night. (Laughing)
Most of your songs talk about love relationships …
You think so? Maybe you have a love relationship that you can relate to? (Laughing)
Okay, let’s turn the question into this way then: to what extent are your songs inspired by your personal life?
All of them are inspired by my life, but exaggerated. When I experience something or have an idea, I take the extreme of that idea and put it into a song. And then it becomes like a vignette, a theme of that idea.
What is different in working on an album in a small label and in a bigger label like Jagjaguwar?
When you’re on a bigger label, you’re able to do some very essential things for an artist. For example, making interesting music videos with people you respect, touring for 3 months, … But having these advantages has a price. Nowadays, people always want you to release new stuff all the time. Generally, the industry pushes the artists to fulfill these needs, even if they are not proud of these releases at 100%. As far as I’m concerned, I’m very happy with Jagjaguwar because, instead of being pushy all the time, they keep on always suggesting me new ideas, which is more constructive. The big advantage in being signed to a label like Jagjaguwar, is that my album is distributed in Europe too, and this is very decisive in the life of an album.
In your album, and for the first time, we can find 3 songs that have more of an upbeat tempo : Forgiven/Forgotten, High and Wild, and Stars. Where does this come from ?
Before I released Half Way Home (her second album), I’ve been working on some kind of upbeat guitar stuff. Sweet Dreams was one of them. We finally decided to release it as a single but at that moment, I began listening to different kinds of music, like Cream, David Bowie or Ashley Eriksson. I also wanted to try my voice on something louder and see what happens.
Your voice is often compared to the voice of Hope Sandoval. How do you deal with such comparison ?
I’m not offended by it but I don’t think it’s necessarily right on. I can see aspects of it, maybe in the quieter, subdued stuff but I feel like we have very different voices, because she never really sings loudly. I’m not telling I’m a better singer; she’s incredibly talented and I’m a huge fan of her. I can relate more easily to June Tabor, Barbara Dane or Jackie DeShannon.
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