Dreaming in Blue
For me painting is a way to create the imaginary world of my songs.
Claire Laffut is in a Blue mood. The young Belgian artist rose to fame in 2018 with her EP ‘Mojo’. Today, she opens the pages of her diary with this very personal first album. The result of three years of work, ‘Bleu’ is not a destination as such, rather the witness to the evolution of an artist who does not hesitate to intertwine the passions that drive her. Music, painting and dance meet in this opus where Claire Laffut shows her sensitivity and the tension between strength and fragility that characterizes her. From ‘Hiroshima’, the song in which she talks about a past toxic relationship, to ‘Tombée dans un rêve’, which takes us into her imaginary world, Claire Laffut lays the foundations of a beautiful career…
How long have you been working on this first album?
From my first song to today, it’s been four years. The title ‘Bleu’ kind of sums up my state of mind and the fact that it is my first album. It contains all the stories of my youth, my first love, the fact that I left Belgium for France at 19. At the same time, it also allows me to assume my status as a ‘junior’ artist; this is a first work that does not pretend to be the apotheosis of my music. I am very proud of the tracks on the album, and I really consider them as laying the foundation of my career. ‘Bleu’ is a way of affirming my fragility, my youth, and maybe my somewhat clumsy, naive side. When I was in Corsica during lockdown, my fiancé wanted to offer me a fish. We went to a pet shop and I chose a blue one. From that moment on, I became obsessed with everything blue, even to the point of dyeing my hair! At the same time, the title of the album refers to a Belgian expression, “je suis bleu de toi” which means “I’m in love with you”.
What evolution do you see between this first album and your EP released in 2018?
My journey has not been a straight line at all. Whether modeling or creating ephemeral tattoos, I’m convinced that all my projects led me to music and painting. Today I really consider myself as a musician and visual artist, and I would say that my evolution is more about my own style. When I started music, I didn’t know what I was getting into. I was immediately immersed in the a professional context, and it would have been good for me not to swim in the deep end right away. My voice was a little younger. In four years of doing concerts and digesting my musical project, I now dare a lot more, and my voice takes off more. Today, I’m confortable singing, and that’s the true evolution for me. As for my influences, they are still quite the same: percussions, warm sounds inspired by soul music… I like when it grooves, to feel the fever.
Claire Laffut, © Charlotte Abramow, 2017
It seems you also have a real taste for writing and poetry.
I love it, it’s something that allows me to survive. I like to look for beauty in words, actions and what surrounds me. It’s an escape.
You were dancing a lot when you were younger, and you came back to dance for the music video for ‘Hiroshima’, the first single of the album. At the same time, we also know you for your work as a painter. Has music always been part of your projects?
When I was a child, I took piano and music theory lessons but I never really got hooked. I didn’t like the classical teaching, having to learn pieces by heart… I don’t come from a family of artists but my parents liked to go out, they listened to techno, house music… I was immersed in music thanks to my father, who is a vinyl fanatic. He made us listen to Fela Kuti as well as Berlin techno music. I grew up with that. So when I started making music, I already knew the color I wanted to give to my sounds even if I didn’t have any great notions of composition. Then I had to work hard.
‘Hiroshima’ is a very personal song. Why did you choose it as the first single of the album?
‘Hiroshima’ is indeed very personal and I even find it hard to sing it today. It’s about a toxic relationship and the whole rebirth that takes place after a disastrous story. We chose it because we thought it was strong, and at the time I needed it because it represents something I had buried inside me. I needed it to come out so I could move on. With the pandemic, it wasn’t easy because I couldn’t see people’s reactions anymore. We all saw each other through our phones, and with music we need physical feedback and human connection.
How did you get back to dancing, which you had to stop because of an injury? Can you also talk about your collaboration with the choreographer Nick Coutsier?
I always loved to dance but I got injured in school. That’s when I started to draw. I met Nick through mutual friends. He had continued dancing and joined contemporary dance companies. We started dancing in schools in our village in Belgium, and we never really let go of each other. There’s always a strong tempo to my music, especially ‘Hiroshima’ which has more of a military feel, so I wanted to have a choreography that was a bit ‘badass’. Then we came up with the idea that each dancer would represent an external force helping me be reborn. For me, Nick was an obvious choice because he is the only choreographer who really knows my music. And I think it’s so cool to work with someone you’ve evolved with.
Was it the first time you worked on such an important production for a video?
Yes, and I thought it was crazy! I suffered so much in this relationship that it was almost like therapy to do this video shoot and sublimate something that was eating away at me.
Do your music and your painting come together, and how?
Totally. I like to intertwine everything. For me painting is a way to create the imaginary world of my songs. It’s like creating a dream around the song. It’s not just the video, but really a dreamlike painting.
So your songs can be born from a painting?
Yes. The album cover, for example, embodies the song ‘Tombée dans un rêve’. It is a photograph of Charlotte Abramow.
I heard hat this song was born from something that happened to you at the Villa Noailles…
The story is this: The first time I went to the Villa Noailles, I played for Chanel. I am allergic to pollen, and sometimes I can’t sing in summer because of my allergy. This time I had taken cortisone. The day after the concert, I went back to Paris and had a drink in a bar. I fell unconscious. I wrote this song like that – first the painting, then the song – from that feeling.
You also created your studio as a visual artist. Can you explain your artistic approach?
I am inspired by my songs, my story. Like Little Poucet, I try to leave little white pebbles behind to remember my moods, it allows me to heal and see that I am moving forward. In painting, I like very intense colors. I am inspired by Le Douanier Rousseau, especially for the plants. I also like Frida Kahlo a lot because she painted her life.
How did you start painting?
I am self-taught, and I’m still learning. Today I would like to learn oil painting because I am beginning to see the limits of acrylic. My painting comes from visions I had for my songs. I started painting small pictures in my room. Today, I always want to create big frescoes because I want to be able to fit in. My awakening to art really occured when I arrived in Paris where I worked for the Chenel Gallery. At 19, when you come from the Belgian countryside and you arrive on Quai Voltaire in this gallery where Roman and Egyptian archeology are mixed with collaborations with artists like Ora-ïto, it opens your mind!
What made you want to leave Belgium?
I felt like leaving because I wanted to take a chance on my dreams. I knew that there was a force urging me to go to Brussels, then Paris. I let myself be carried away, I didn’t really think about it. I come from a village called Moustier-sur-Sambre, in the Namur region. It is an industrial area where coal was produced. I lived next to the railroad. When I was little, I found it horrible. Today I find it has a certain charm… I lived in Paris for five years, and during lockdown I absolutely wanted to find a workshop there but of course it was too expensive. I finally found it in Brussels – it’s only 1h20 by train after all.
You started your career in Paris with modeling contracts, and you’ve never hidden that you didn’t like it at all.
It’s true, because I find this industry to be problematic. It determines who represents “beauty” in the eyes of the general public. As long as there is no diversity and it does not represent all body types, fashion creates suffering. Having been immersed in this system at a very young age, I suffered a lot. At 16, I didn’t really understand why they wanted me to believe that I was never enough. In this profession, you end up developing a form of self-hatred. To start thinking like that at 16, when you’re still supposed to be carefree, is just unbearable. Self-love does not depend on others, especially not on brands.
What is your relationship with fashion? Is your style important to you and to represent your music?
I love fashion! Clothes are a second skin. I like to get into characters and change my style. What is rather contradictory is that fashion is very expensive so it is complicated to enjoy it. However, I find that there is a lot of creativity, and it is often in fashion that we find real avant-garde projects. In music, we often look for authenticity but fashion can sometimes seem inaccessible, so you really have to find the harmony between the two. I am still looking for that balance.
Claire Laffut, Mirage de l’Amour Fini
There’s a new generation of female artists today, like Yseult or Angèle, who carry strong messages. Do you feel part of this movement?
Very much so. We know each other and we exchange regularly via WhatsApp groups. We talk about supporting each other, about defending ourselves when one of us is a victim of harassment. Like Hoshi who was attacked on the radio recently… In reaction, we created a group of about 60 girls, artists or not, and we protect our sisters.
A bit like Piu Piu and Thais Klapisch who created their initiative.
Yes, Safe Place! I think it’s great that they’re going into schools to create a dialogue, and I hope that this kind of initiative will change things. As a woman – and I think my music speaks to young women – I feel like I’m talking to my little sister. I have to carry these messages and help the younger generation to take up the torch.
In painting too, wee see young female talents like Chloé Wise and Inès Longevial coming to the forefront. Do you plan to exhibit your work soon?
Yes, I’m releasing my album on September 3rd and I’m thinking of having an exhibition the following year once my songs have lived a bit.
What will we find in ‘Bleu’ that we don’t know about you?
Both songs from the ‘Mojo’ era that are still unknown to the public and songs similar to ‘Étrange Mélange’. In particular ‘Vertige’, which tackles anxiety, ‘MDMA’ which evokes partying, ‘Sorority’, as well as songs about love and contemporary messages. As for the sound, I worked with Tristan Salvati, Gaspard Murphy and Pierre Juarez. With hindsight, I feel like this is the first time that I’m truly entering my paintings, like on the album cover, and that’s really what I want to develop on stage. I want my paintings to become alive around me.
You mentioned partying. Is it something important for you?
When I arrived in Paris, it was almost obvious to go party. I grew up in a family where we partied a lot. I explored the city through partying, and it allowed me to bond with people and make connections. Plus, that’s how I got to know Say Who!
Your tour started in July and will end in November. Can you talk about it ?
I designed all my concert posters, and I announced I was coming to Le Trianon on October 20th! We started the tour this summer with acoustic live shows and piano concerts. We played on the island of Frioul in Marseille, in Cannes… It’s also the first year that I’m going to play abroad: in Madrid, Barcelona, Turkey and soon in Canada! It’s been so good for me to go back to doing live concerts! It’s like there was this monster inside me that could finally come out! Today I feel that I need to be in contact with people and to share real emotions on stage.
Interview: Maxime Der Nahabédian
Portraits: Valentin Le Cron