Charlotte Gainsbourg was nervous. She had never toured before, and no one knew what to expect as she took to the stage last weekend, at what must have been the most crowded concert to date at the Hiro Ballroom. But as the show went on, Gainsbourg’s confidence grew, aided by cheers coming from the crowd, in both French and English. On IRM, Gainsbourg’s new album written and produced by Beck, her ethereal voice wafts and wanes over eerie melodies reminiscent of Beck’s own Sea Change. It’s no surprise then that Gainsbourg’s sold-out appearances at Manhattan’s Hiro Ballroom and Brooklyn’s Bell House drew such attention. She’s one of the most interesting artists working today — giving a heart-stopping performance in Lars von Trier’s film Antichrist and creating one of the most beautiful albums released in the last year. And to top it all off, she is simply one of the nicest, most gracious people we have ever interviewed.
Your new album, IRM, with Beck, is amazing. Did you approach him, or vice versa?
I hadn’t worked with him in the past, but I didn’t really meet him until I shook his hand in order to start work on the album. I called him. It was a very easy decision. I have always admired his work. We started with five days to see how things turned out and we ended-up with three songs. He was working on releasing his own album, so I waited three months to get those songs back. After that, I asked him if we could continue, and he said yes! So I was going back and forth between LA and Paris. It was good, actually, to have the distance in between.
You played three sold-out shows in New York. Were you nervous?
The Hiro Ballroom was so crowded — I didn’t really expect it. People were right up against me! I have a lot of fright and you have to get used to the fact that you wake up being scared and stay scared. I imagine you get used to it over time. When Hiro came up, it was less traumatizing than the Bell House. I started in Paris doing small showcases, with about nine songs, and it was really terrifying. You don’t really want to play in your hometown, and Paris [is] well known for not being the nicest audience. Even though the people were really sweet, I was so nervous. But there is something very exciting about being with musicians that I love. That’s why I wanted to tour.
How do your approaches to your music and acting careers differ?
You’re always personal — no matter what, but there’s a camouflage with film because you’re using someone else’s words. It’s always in disguise. I felt very naked in Lars’ film. It was very personal; you show yourself in a personal way. With the music, it’s completely different. I don’t write. I participate because I’m there but [the] only thing I can bring is to be as intimate with the music. They are Beck’s words; there are references that are his. That did put a little distance, and in that way it’s like acting. Even in singing, I could hear a difference from what I have done in the past — like another persona revealing itself.
Did your own experience as a mother come into play in your performance as a woman who loses her child in Antichrist?
I don’t even want to think about how they relate. I refused to think about my children in terms of a sense memory while I was working on the film. I didn’t [want] to think about myself as a mother at all; it was completely outside. It was too painful to imagine myself as a mother. I didn’t focus on the mother side. For me, the character was going mad because of a loss she couldn’t deal with and I didn’t want to personalize that. I had to learn how to cope with my emotions from the role separately from my personal experience. It’s almost a superstition — you don’t want the two worlds to interact.
As an artist who has lived a very public life (being the child of two very famous people), if your children wanted to pursue a career in acting or music, would you encourage them towards that kind of a public existence?
My son is exactly at the age when I started working. We live in France so we’re very well protected. It’s been easy to stay private. They don’t suffer. Of course I would love for them to do something creative and encourage it. I love the work and I think that’s what my husband and I show them, so why not? I remember looking at my mother [Jane Birkin] and she was always having fun and as a child you can see that, and you can feel that. It wouldn’t be a surprise if my children wanted to do the same.
Do you and your husband, Yvan Attal, discuss your work at home?
We do discuss things a lot because I need his advice. We don’t read each other’s scripts, but I do talk to him about the things I want to do, and he does the same. On a day-to-day shoot, when we’re apart, you don’t want to be too attached. You talk about your day’s work, not sharing every detail. That’s boring for the other person!
Can we expect an artistic venture from you in another medium? What are your future plans?
I feel like I’m still in the process of making music. I did an album when I was sixteen, and then the album with AIR, and now this album and a tour. It’s a beginning and I hope to expand. I’m very happy if people like this album. I’m very proud of it, but I don’t consider myself as a singer. I’m in the discovery phase — which is lovely.