06.05.2022 #music


Chaos & Soft Madness

“It’s time to show my true self and embrace my weaknesses”

Elegant, funny and charming, Owlle, or France for close friends, changes her hair color every time we see her and never goes unnoticed. Known for her electro-pop songs in English, the French singer comes back into the spotlight performing in her native language, for the first time in her decade-long career. We meet Owlle at the new ephemeral exhibition of Théorème Editions. Pure, graphic and colorful, this space mirrors her visual universe: before dedicating her life to music, she dreamed of becoming a visual artist. Owlle tells us the story of her third album “Folle Machine”, her most intimate so far, that she produced under her own label. A new chapter of her journey, where she finally takes charge. In other words, Owlle is stronger than ever before, and now she is hardly afraid of anything. “You don’t have to suffer to compose, but it’s true that when you’re happy, you just don’t have the need to tell things. You feel emotions when something is not ok in your life”, she says, smiling. Owlle will be back on stage on June 9 at Le Consulat in Paris, meanwhile, she shares her story to Say Who.

Your name is France, but everybody knows you under your nickname Owlle. What’s the story behind it?

I was looking for words for a text, I opened the English-French dictionary, and I saw the word “Owl” – “Chouette” (meaning both owl and cute in French, ed.note). I thought to myself that the definition of “Chouette” in English was beautiful. I see it written and I notice that it is beautiful, this “Owl”. When I created my Myspace page, I wrote “OWL-LE”, like “ELLE” (“She” in French). Voilà! It stayed and became my stage name. At the very beginning, when people asked me how to pronounce it, I didn’t know how to answer. It’s complicated when it’s made up! But I find this wordplay lovely.

You studied scenography and then visual arts in the prestigious Beaux-Arts de Paris art school. Today, do you practice other forms of art ?

It’s true, before music, I was into all forms of art. But as soon as I started composing professionally, there was less room for the rest. When I was younger, I focused on installations and worked with materials like silicone or ceramics; that’s why my art pieces were always a bit hybrid. I also started doing videos, but it was never easy and a little clumsy. When we walked through Théorème Éditions’ exhibit, I had a feeling that I want to get back to making things with my own hands because I used to do something very similar. I’m thinking of taking advantage of the summer to try to recreate objects, maybe I will install an art studio in my parents’ garden and I will take up ceramics once again.

Why did you call your new album “Folle Machine” (Crazy Machine in English, ed.note)

For me it was an ideal title, because in my head, there was this whole idea of chaos. “Folle Machine” summed up my state of mind when I wrote it: I launched myself at 200 km/h, I had the impression that everything was going crazy, but in the right direction. “Folle Machine” is also me: often I’m so extra, even if it’s hardly visible. But it is not a murderous kind of madness, rather a soft madness, which does good. When I say “Folle Machine” it’s also cynicism, because in life I don’t care about the fact that I make mistakes and that I repeat them, without learning anything. Also, I changed a lot of things on this album: there was a break with the past, I changed my team and my personal life changed too. For me, “Folle Machine” represents renewal. You can see a shift in this album, even if you take its cover. Besides, even in the style, you feel that there is not a song which resembles the other one. I let myself create with no limits, and all the collaborations came up in a natural way. 

You mentioned your album cover. Created by the duo of visual artists Gourau & Phong, it’s a masterpiece, between futurism and realism. Where does this idea come from?

It’s funny, but it really comes from the lockdown. As on every album, as soon as I start working on the images, I immediately think of a photographer, who can bring me into his universe. I also ask myself, how I can bring this photographer in my story, and we collaborate. The first confinement was the most complicated, any travel was impossible, and the international talents, with whom I was already in touch, would never make it to Paris. So I started to look around. When I accidentally came across Gourau & Phong’s work on Instagram, I knew they were the right match for my album, because they mixed the digital aspect with something hyper sensitive. Until now, I didn’t like the 3D universe at all, I had a rejection of its coldness, of its very “clinical” side. But when I saw their work, I realized that we can do crazy things together, we can make people travel all around the world, because with their technology everything is possible. 

How much time did it take?

I spent a day in their studio, there was no set, nothing, everything is the fruit of imagination. They just scanned me in a 3D machine, and then they reworked those scans and built the set around them. It was a wonderful experience, even if the visual work on this album was the longest I’ve ever had to do. It lasted six months between the first scan, our first ideas, and the moment when we chose the final creative direction… It was a long work, but at the end it helped us tell a great story.

On the cover there is a lovely cat, is it yours?

No, I don’t have a cat, it’s a cat of a very good friend. I keep it when my friend goes on vacation. I love this cat so much that we became friends. Her name is Rumi. I dedicated this album to Rumi, and I offered her a vinyl.

In your artistic universe, videos are very important. Often they tell a story. And for the first time you directed the video for “Le Goût de la Fête” yourself!

That’s what I wanted to do for a long time, but I didn’t necessarily have all the keys to produce it by myself. I was also afraid to start: it’s not my job, my job is to make music, and to think about many things. But when I gave it a try and loved it. It felt so natural! And now I would love to keep on. Maybe I will make a documentary about my life in relation to my job: how I’m aging, how I perceive it, all that I am living through, my positioning and how to make pop music in France. Even if I don’t have the success of an Angèle, I have something to say too.

The video of “La Flemme”, created in collaboration with the duo “I Could Never Be a Dancer”, is the manifesto of a free and independent woman, who is not afraid to be different. What is the story behind it?

This story is personal: when I was a teenager, I had back surgery, big scars and I wore a corset all the time. To this day I have a lot of titanium elements in me. When I saw the movie “Titane”, I realized that it’s crazy, me, who loves Cronenberg’s “Crash” so much, I’ve never used my personal story in my work. I wanted to embrace my weaknesses, to show that, in the end, what happened to me did not prevent me from doing what I do today. With Carine and Olivier from “I Could Never Be a Dancer” we wondered how to talk about the constraint, about the fact that sometimes when you are immobilized, you can do something smart with your body? That’s what our choreography stands for. As “La Flemme” (French expression to say that you have no moral force to do sth) is about someone who doesn’t want to make efforts towards others anymore. People who don’t deserve us in their lives. We built this choreography and I felt so comfortable. And yet the moves are not that easy! But it was so printed in my story that I felt both beautiful and sexy, even though what we were trying to tell with the moves is the most intimate in my life. When it happened to me, I felt like the ugliest person in the world. Fifteen years later, I feel stronger and free.

You often say that you don’t want to be comfortable in your job. Why?

Yes, clearly, otherwise I wouldn’t be making music. It is not the most comfortable job in the world, there is no stability at any level. When you create, you don’t know how it will be perceived by the audience. That’s the risk of it, and I love it

Your songs are in the soundtrack of the blockbuster series “Emily in Paris” and you also composed the music for “Skam France”. How do you create the link between the characters and your music ?

Before I see the pictures, I read the script, I try to understand the story and the stakes behind it, which character has to express what at what moment. Often in “Skam”, these are stories, commun to all of us. I also talk about what it means to me. I start building with very personal things, then, I layer it and see if it works or not.

Your song “Mirage” accompanies the final of the second season of “Emily in Paris”. Did you know at what moment they were going to play your songs?

No, I didn’t know at all. It was a surprise! I think they had a crush on “Mirage”, which they had asked for as an option at the beginning. Then they discovered “La Flemme”, and then they asked for another song “Sounds Familiar”. Until the broadcast, I thought they would either not keep them, or they would only keep one… Finally, they took all three of them. Each song was fitted at the right place, and “Mirage” in the season’s finale was a cherry on the cake! Then, my album wasn’t even out yet, so I found it very encouraging and touching.

How do you live this success? Is there a before and after “Emily in Paris”?

It definitely creates a link right away, people have seen these series or they know what we are talking about. And then, there are people abroad who started listening to my music, saying that they discovered the project thanks to “Emily in Paris”, and they keep following me. It was a great opportunity. By the way, all the songs are in French, even “Sounds Familiar”, they kept the French version, that’s the funny thing.

You sing in English and in French, but you are mostly known for your English songs. What made you go back to your native language?

Actually, it’s because of the song “Mirage”. There were three of us composing it, and when I came out of the studio, I realized that I love this song so much, I want to keep it. I felt something so cool that it seemed a bit of shame that I excluded French from my work too quickly. I will always continue to write in English, but today I am spontaneously composing in French.

You have a very powerful look. How would you describe your style on stage and in real life?

I’ve never been a fan of big brands. But I do remember taking clothes from my mother, the ones that she didn’t wear, and that were not at all for my age. For example, capes. And I always twisted them. In high school, I knew my style wasn’t popular, but some people saw something cool in it. My mom encouraged me a lot too. Since I had these back problems, I was very thin, and she told me that I could wear anything and it would work out. Singing live on stage is not that different, it’s just that I let myself go a little bit further. I want to be in my character. I like to feel that I’m getting out of the everyday, that I’m not the “France de tous les jours” anymore.

When did you understand that fashion and images have a very strong impact?     

Very quickly, because all the people I admire in music have the looks that go with it. David Bowie, Lady Gaga, Prince, Kate Bush, Björk, they all have a unique approach to fashion. Even with ABBA, these are the references I like, there was always the show part. For me, styling is part of the same message.

You mix the cutting-edge brands well with vintage pieces. What are your favorites of the moment?

Coperni’s latest collection is beautiful, it is very minimal and I think there is a certain elegance. I love Patou, as well. I’ve known Guillaume Henry for a very long time: when he was at Carven, he dressed me for my concerts. When I saw his vision for Patou, I found it interesting, very Parisian. I like when he plays with the traditional French style. Also, I am on Instagram a lot and recently I came across this amazing piece by Merc Aquino from London. It’s a puffer vest, half-siren half-Romeo and Juliet style, and I loved it. It’s just one piece, but I think if he’s done it once, he’ll come up with something else. It’s funny, often people think I have a 10 miles long wardrobe, but it’s not true. In fact, I have few things, but I twist them with new pieces that I will keep for a long time, because I like them. I don’t consume a lot, however, if I have a real emotional connection with a piece, I may break down and buy it, knowing it will serve me a long time.

You’re an independent artist now and you founded your own label. How does it make you stronger?

I have more time to do things and I am surrounded by people, who understand where I want to go. There are less people involved, and it’s easier for me to manage. It’s more like me. I used to work with Sony, but it was just less human, it was way too big for me. I only produce myself for the moment: it’s already not bad to do this job alone, but maybe in a few years if this structure evolves, why not bet on other talents, or create places? I don’t know how I will do it, but everything is possible.

How do you live your return on stage?

It’s been a while and we slightly lost the notion of time, but the recovery is coming. Then, this album has a completely different positioning. And I just can’t wait to go back to singing live this summer.

Owlle will perform live at Le Consulat in Paris on June 9, 2022.



Interview: Lidia Ageeva

Photos: Jean Picon

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