Scanning The Mind Of Charlotte Gainsbourg (NPR)


Charlotte Gainsbourg is interviewed by NPR, listen to the audio sound online

February 21, 2010

Charlotte Gainsbourg is a cultivated enigma: The French actress and singer has hardly missed a step in a long career that began in adolescence. Her voice is luscious, magnetic, haunting and a bit breathy. The daughter of the late French singer Serge Gainsbourg and the British singer-actress Jane Birkin made her music debut at 13 in a duet with her father. Since then, she’s become an award-winning actress, starring alongside the likes of Willem Dafoe and Sean Penn.

Now in her late 30s, she’s released her third album, IRM, which is the French acronym for MRI, or Magnetic Resonance Imaging. As the victim of a water-skiing accident, Gainsbourg has undergone numerous brain scans, and her test results were not always encouraging.

« I actually had a hole in my head, » Gainsbourg says. « Straight after going through the surgery, when I realized I was still alive, I was relieved, of course. And it’s true that you look at life in a different way. But that disappears after a few months.« 

Gainsbourg says the idea for the album came while listening to the sounds of the MRI machine — an idea that her producer, singer Beck, loved.

« We went into many different directions that had nothing to do with that, but then I called the entire album IRM, because it was the most personal thing that I had put in this album, » she says. « So it made sense.« 

In addition to producing IRM, Beck co-wrote Gainsbourg’s lyrics. Gainsbourg says she was impressed by Beck’s ability to write a narrative that she could relate to.

« I have the impression that he was able to see through me, » she says. « The album is very personal. It’s very intimate.« 

The album is in stores now, and has received a great deal of critical acclaim. But Gainsbourg says the real reward comes from journeying into the unknown — from pushing herself.

« I was entering [Beck]’s world, his culture, his words, » she says. « That’s what I’m excited about: the discovery.« 

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