Inspired by his father’s lasting handprint on musical culture and style, Lulu Gainsbourg’s debut album presents a reinterpretation of the songs that made Serge Gainsbourg a legend. Collaborating with a collection of distinct and interesting artists on each track, From Gainsbourg to Lulu includes the eclectic voices of Scarlet Johansson, Iggy Pop, Johnny Depp, Rufus Wainwright and more.
Although his sister Charlotte never hesitated to follow in her father’s footsteps as an actress and musician, Lulu’s path was less certain, despite music always being in his life. At the age of two, he joined his father on stage in front of thousands of fans before performing the classic, “Hey Man Amen.” Only three years later, his father passed away when he was five, around the same time the young Gainsbourg began playing piano. As the musician shares, the pressure from the industry and his father’s fans always weighed heavy on him, preventing him from pursuing a career in music, until now.
Living in the afterglow of a legacy can be daunting, but as Lulu Gainsbourg’s shared during his FILLER interview, working with his father’s cannon was meant to be a means of freeing himself from the pressures of the industry. And, by doing so, enabling him to harness his own distinct passion for music.
We caught up with Gainsbourg before the North American release of the record to talk about his decision to make a tribute album to his father, and how the recording process allowed him to explore his own artistic path.
What inspired you to make this tribute to your father now, at this point in your life?
When my dad passed away I was only five, and I didn’t really have a chance to…so this is basically about my father. I wanted to make it a really special musical, so this is why I am working with all of these great guests. I think that he would be proud of who he became as an artist. When he was alive, he said that he wouldn’t cross the ocean, and now he’s all over the world. I wanted also to make peace, to make an interest in a new generation of people. I’m sure that a lot of people didn’t know who my father was. He’s well known here but…
On that note, can you talk a bit about the recent Time biopic about your father’s life? How did you and your family feel when you heard about the film? Did you see it?
I saw the movie, and I kind of liked it. I was the only one in the family that liked the movie, but no matter what I like or I don’t like, I give much respect to all the people involved, those who participate in this tribute to my father. That means a lot for me. If you like it, or if you don’t, someone spent a lot of time making it, and that’s the biggest thing.
But your family feels differently than you?
I don’t want to say that much because it’s…I mean…the movie is a bit different…it’s something that is not an autobiography that he wrote, it’s more a biopic. Its different for me because I just spent five years with my father. All the others, I mean my mom spent thirty years, my sister spent twenty years, or nineteen, but it is very different for me.
That makes sense. Well, I certainly think your album will act as a door into your father’s history, and bring his songs to a new generation. Did the people you worked with have a special relationship with you or your father?
Every featured guest that is in this album means something to me. This is all new that came out from my pulse. I started writing down a lot of names that either I loved their music or their work, and asked them if they are interested in collaborating for this album, and there were many that couldn’t do it. Everyone means something to me because I am grateful to be able to work with them.
They’re quite the collaborations.
I put together 16 songs, one is my own composition, but the 15 others are like a page in a book for me, and every song is a piece of the book. I like the whole book, I like every collaboration that we did, with every single artist. Every collaboration means something different for me. I mean of course I loved working with Scarlet, but they were all equal because I learned so much working with all of them.
What was the driving force behind the decision to collaborate with North American artists, and people outside of France?
The reason is because I wanted this project to be an example to people to travel around the world. I wanted to do something new with my own musical knowledge, so I tried to create something fresh with his songs. My father is well known in France, so of course he has a great following and a lot of people love what he did, but I wanted to get people interested who didn’t know who he was, who don’t know his work. A new generation of people outside of France especially, with all of these great artists that I admire.
The artists you have chosen have that reach for sure. You’ve been living in the States for a good few years now. How does this album connect you to your life in France?
I have been living in New York for a year and a half now, and I was doing my studies before doing my studies at Berkeley College for music in Boston, and before I was in London, so I left France about seven years ago. But I still love it. Right now in New York I feel like…wow, its home. I really enjoy it, and the city is full of great tradition, great shows, great everything. It is one of the best cities in the world.
It sounds like you’ve really built a connection to the city’s cultural scene. Has living there further connected you with your desire to make music?
I listen to music every day. I actually grew up listening to all music from the 70s, 80s, 90s, and a lot of recent music. From Michael Jackson, Bob Dylan, James Brown, U2, and my father as well. But right now, I am trying to find my own. I am working on my next album, and trying to put my own stuff together. I am in the writing process at the moment, so I am really excited to put that out soon.
Yes, no covers! The music will be written by myself, and the lyrics I am working on as well…I may have some collaborations.
Was that always the plan? Release the tribute, then follow up with an original album to show off the spectrum of your talent.
I didn’t plan like, now I am going to do a tribute album, and then I will put out my own work. At first I didn’t want to do music at all, because of the world, and all the pressure. I didn’t want to have people saying this and that…it was people waiting for me.
I can imagine the pressure was high, how did you overcome it. Just passion for music perhaps?
I always loved doing music, but it wasn’t until this album came out that I wanted to do music for a living. I thought about doing like a tribute or something, so it was something different, and it works in history as well. But when you think about it as long as you love what you do, it doesn’t matter what people think. You will always find people who like what you do, and people who don’t like what you do. It is the way that an artist becomes an artist.
It’s especially hard when the opportunity to compare your work to your father’s is there.
A friend of mine told me, no matter what you do, you will always compare with your father. He’s an artist, he’s a songwriter, I don’t know what he didn’t do. There is nothing he didn’t do, he did a lot of stuff. So its hard to find something that…I have to do what I love to do, which is music.
Was there a big emotional release once the album was finished?
That was really peace for me because when you start doing something that you have always wanted not to do — music — then you think about doing a tribute album, and a tribute album to your father, especially when you relate it to the way you want it… it’s a lot of pressure. I want people to enjoy my work, and it’s a lot of pressure. Talking with my friends, it’s like I put [the] pressure on myself, but it’s only about one thing…really, I am doing it for my father. Basically, he gave me the strength to go on to do this, first in the US, and now all around the world. It is something that is relieved, that fear, and now I am over it.
I imagine that then allows you to focus on the main goal of the album, no?
I hope that every person wants to pass the songs, and I hope the fans of my father will like what I did. My achievement is done, and I hope this will go to the people and the new generation that will respect, and not only respect, but also understand why I did that.Published December 4, 2012