I like to create an atmosphere and set the scene.
Since the release of her first EP three years ago, Alexia Gredy hasn’t stopped writing. From “L’Habitude”, we remember the titles “Diabolo Menthe” or “Paradis” – with a video clip directed by French photographer Mathieu César. In the unprecedented context of 2020, the singer, a Parisian girl by adoption, took the opportunity to refine her first album. The record may be a new introduction to her multi-layered universe guided by her musical encounters, and carried out by a soft voice and sometimes dramatic, always poetic atmospheres. Often compared to the icons of the past Françoise Hardy or Marie Laforêt – one of her references – she remains no less preoccupied by the themes of the present… While the first single is set to be released later this April, Say Who sat down with Alexia Gredy to talk about her creative process.
How did you experience 2020 on a creative level?
Quite well. I am lucky enough to be in an environment that allows me to create. I took this as an opportunity to learn how to play the piano, to write new songs, and to finish up my record. I like to rework things, to take my time and really be happy with what I do. Obviously, it was a very anxious and complicated time to manage for everyone.
In this context, have you found new ways to write? Has your creative process changed since then?
It mostly gave me time to learn the piano, which opened me up to a totally different writing process. I’ve also tried to write without music, and it’s not that easy!
Can you tell us about this first single?
I released an EP three years ago and I’ve been working on this album since then. I had already written some of the songs at the time, and others came more recently. I really took the time to write, it was important for me to give the album a coherence, to treat it as a whole. I feel like my EP was a draft or an experiment, and I didn’t think I would ever have the opportunity to release an album. I asked myself what sounds I wanted to give it, what stories I wanted to tell. What to say? How to say it? It took me a while. I made some attempts, I met people… Music is also about the encounters you make. I write songs at home and it is by confronting them with others, by enriching them with their vision that the process becomes interesting.
Which of the artists you met had an impact on your music?
When I started doing music, I was driven by the different artists I met. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do, so I worked with a few directors who took me to different ways of working. My first studio experience was with Baxter Dury, Geoff Barrow and Billy Fuller in Bristol. The idea was to play music together, in the most organic way. It gave me a taste for live music, for something playful and imperfect, and the desire to make it an integral part of the album. Each of my encounters also determined the album’s progression and that’s why it was important for me to take my time. Relationships are not created overnight. I’m quite shy, so finding someone you get along with and who understands what you want without having to talk too much is pretty rare.
Who did you collaborate with on this album?
I worked with Benjamin Lebeau from The Shoes and Alexis Delong from Inüit. I tried a lot of things, duets in particular. I met a lot of people but there was often something less instinctive, it wasn’t exactly what I was looking for. It was a long process. When I met Benjamin and Alexis, I immediately felt that it would work. Their work process was very instinctive, somewhere between control and playfulness. We got along very well right away and we worked for almost a year and a half on the album, trying a lot of different things.
How would you describe this album? What story does it tell?
It is very personal because the songs speak about many subjects that touch me: desire, fantasy, abandonment. It goes from darker to happier feelings, in any case strong emotions. They are above all instinctive things.
Can you tell us about this first single?
It’s a song called Vertigo. I like it a lot because it gives a glimpse of the album’s universe, like a doorway.
You’re very much inspired by cinema. Is this passion represented on the album?
I like to create an atmosphere, set the scene. I was very much inspired by movie soundtracks. These are atmospheres that I love and that create an ambience. I wanted something quite contrasted between my voice, which is quite soft, and strong ambiences. I think of incredibly beautiful soundtracks by Ryuichi Sakamoto, or John Carpenter’s somewhat strange, sometimes disturbing and violent compositions.
It seems your music is infused with nostalgia. Is it true to say so?
I don’t know, because I want to evoke very contemporary themes, human relationships. It’s not nostalgia, but I like to use references from the past to live in the present. To speak only about the past is not very interesting.
Since we’re talking about the past, who are the artists who made you want to be a musician?
One of the first names that comes to mind is Leonard Cohen, whom I listened to a lot. His writing and interpretation always fascinated me. It was like a letter addressed to you, even though I didn’t necessarily understand everything he was saying at the time. He was a fascinating person, he had an incredible aura. I also listened to Marie Laforêt a lot or Modern Lovers with Jonathan Richman. I loved this contrast between candor and intensity. My parents listened to Bashung a lot, and it obviously had an impact on me.
You started writing in English. What made you want to go back to French?
I didn’t really know how to speak English, so I was writing stuff that wasn’t interesting to me or to anyone. When I started allowing myself to write in French, it was like a liberation because I could play with words, I wasn’t hiding behind the language anymore. Little by little, I allowed myself to say things. In English, you can say everything and make the words flow into the melody, like a fluid material. On the other hand, French is quite rough, but I like it! Writing in French also allowed me to find pleasure in writing, to write songs that I like and that in the end seemed to come to me naturally.
Is fashion important for your image as an artist?
I sometimes feel more legitimate in the studio when I don’t care about what I’m wearing, when I’m in my jeans and sneakers. I’ve been dressing like this for a long time, and I feel more comfortable when I’m like this than when I’m more dressed up. However, I’ve always been sensitive to women who had real silhouettes, like Charlotte Rampling. For me, fashion is about silhouettes, attitude, more than clothes.
Do you think about your stage outfits?
I do. I need to set the scene, a character, also out of respect for the people who came to see a performance, to have an experience. It’s important for me because I’m quite shy in my daily life, so I need to be able to put on my character on stage, to impersonate the character who is going to sing. The clothes help me to get into that persona.
You are often described as a “Parisienne”. Do you recognize yourself in this description?
I grew up in Alsace so I don’t really know what it is to be a Parisian girl. I don’t really recognize myself in that because I can’t make sense of it and fathom what it means. If this is about a kind of nonchalance, then yes, you could say that I am.
How did you experience not going on stage for a whole year? You did share a few videos on social media.
I love the stage, which is paradoxical because it’s also a huge source of stress for me. The feeling I get from performing is pretty crazy. It’s something I’ll never get tired of, being able to play my songs and share them. That’s why I wanted to try to share my songs on social media, in an immediate and nonchalant way. But I found that it was something I was much less comfortable with. Instagram live can be nerve-wracking, people can react directly, they are here but not really here, and I’m at home so I’m not in my stage persona… I’m completely lost (laughs)!
Interview: Maxime Der Nahabédian
Portraits: Jean Picon
Alexia wears footwear by Solovière