Have you ever fallen in love with a voice?
The very first note stops you in your tracks and touches your very soul.. its as if every note tells a story and you just know you must keep listening.
Madeleine Peyroux's is one such voice. Her haunting 2004 rendition of Leonard Cohen's Dance Me to the End of Love is undoubtedly one of modern music's brightest highlights. An inspired, exquisite cover that besides drawing countless comparison's to Billie Holiday's singing, brought the free spirited musician to just artistic prominence.
Soon after her September London performance, Peyroux found time to reflect on her consistently immaculate choice of material, grasping the meaning in Billie Holiday's simplicity, collaborating with Joni's ex Larry Klein and her admirable resilience in the face of commerciality.
Q. Your music and voice have a timeless quality..when did you first get a sense of your uniqueness?
A. The human voice is such an odd instrument. Every one is original, timeless, unique, and has the power to be recognizable, and completely personal, and to communicate what nothing else can. I do believe that it was my chance to commit to it that led to the career path I'm on now, and not because I was born with something different to others.
..I didn't have any expectation of becoming someone that could make a dent in the outside world. I knew I wished to sing, to be in the practice of musical awareness, to listen perhaps is more appropriate a word than to sing, because it is in the state of listening that we make the choices we make whether to believe in this or that, to act or stay still.
A dear friend and musician gave me tapes of early Columbia years with Billie, Prez, Teddy Wilson.. these were quintet recordings, deceivingly simple and powerful, light- hearted and meaningful recordings that I guess now were the perfect fit for my education at the time. I was after all about fifteen years old..I didn't have the mental maturity to really think things through..I memorized everything I could..trying to grasp the meaning in Billie's simplicity..It was by learning her mannerisms that I was learning to listen to my own. It was Billie's strength and bravery that made me feel brave enough to step out..
The recording sound ( of sound engineer Helik Hadar ) on your albums is nothing short of amazing.
A. I've worked with only a handful of people in my life so far in the studio. And every time I enter that realm, I am more ignorant of what is being done. The studio is indeed a magical place.. It is a mystical world, in which I want to have the freedom to ask questions and the freedom to walk away from decisions.
What is the legendary Larry Klein like to collaborate with?
Larry Klein, another formidable force in my life and work..I think that Larry's focus and mine seem to be in the same place, or better, in the same time..
The most powerful moments I have shared with Larry have been in the vocal "booth." We don't use a "booth" actually, when I sing my vocal overdubs after the tracking is done. Larry and I and the engineer, Helik Hadar, are in the same room together. Larry and Helik sit patiently through every single take, and when it is time to put together a composite, they obviously listen to them all over again, without me. But I really get the experience of listening together when we are doing those vocals. I can say that we have lived a few lifetimes together because of this..
Q. How do you stand so resilient in the face of commercially? What do you make of the X Factor phenomenon?
What is it about selling records or one's work and earning money that for artists creates so much conflict? ..we are trying to earn a living by offering something to the audience for that work. And, perhaps like a good salesperson, we want at least to deliver on what we promise. And the promises are sometimes made by someone other than ourselves..and sometimes they promise too much, and sometimes something completely other than what is. To me, that's the biggest insult to the art - not MY art or someone else's but just to ART making it uninteresting, dishonest, un-seductive, and, finally, unpopular.
..I'm of two minds about x Factor type shows. They are based on sensationalism and thereby lower the viewer's standard, but at least they are doing it while allowing some innocent inquiry into what it is to be an artist..
Q. Are you a storyteller?
A. Storytelling is a monumental subject..It can be the cause or effect of every kind of communication..I have never liked secrets..so song has given me a way to explore sharing, listening to the truth, without killing myself doing it..
I would like to always be like the teacher at the end of François Truffaut's 'Monnaie de Poche' who speaks to the class and say openly and honestly what is my truth..
"I, too, had a painful childhood," he says, but he doesn't need to elaborate but share what he has gleaned from the experience. In his case, it made him a teacher. In my case, I think, it made me a singer.