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preparing for a phone interview with Charlotte Gainsbourg

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Charlotte Gainsbourg

I’m conducting my first phone interview in … I don’t know how long. Certainly this year. (And, aside from an impromptu email interview the other week, I’m hard-pressed to think of any other interviews that have taken place this year.) It’s taking place in just over 90 minutes time. I’m nervous, partly because I’ve decided to record the interview and not type it up on the computer while we’re talking. It’s the first time I’ve tried doing this in … Bangs … I don’t know … at least 15 years, probably a lot longer. I had several bad experiences recording telephone interviews in the 80s: memorably (or otherwise), I lost a totally brilliant Art Spiegelman conversation because I didn’t mic it up properly.


There are good and bad points about being able to type up your interview while you’re talking.

GOOD: No bloody tapes to transcribe!

Anyone who’s ever interviewed more than a few thousand people knows what I’m talking about here. The dullest part of my old job. Who needs to hear the same conversation three or four times – and that’s before you’ve even started writing the article!

BAD: Destroys spontaneity

Telephone interviews are useless at the best of times: making your interviewee wait as you type up the final few sentences of their reply nails the final hammer in: you’re not thinking about their replies, just your fingers: puts paid to any pretence at capturing the idiom and quirks of speech: and so on.


I never used to be nervous before I did interviews, not usually (did too many, I suppose). I suspect more people were nervous about meeting me than I was of meeting them. I wouldn’t say I’m exactly nervous now but … well, I’m writing this, aren’t I? Also, the more out-of-practice I become, the more worried I am because interviewing people is no longer the familiar process to me it once was. It used to be, this was my life. Now, it’s an aberration. Still, it’s not so much the actual conversation I’m nervous about, at least I don’t think so: more that I won’t perform properly or that something will go wrong with the recording process. I’ll do a final test on that, once Charlotte’s finished putting Isaac to sleep.

The research: what to ask? Back when I did face-to-face, and was on a roll, I rarely – if ever – prepared questions beforehand. I’ve found that to be the kiss of death, doing phone interviews (certainly when I’m typing the answers up). To inspire myself, I’ve been listening to Charlotte Gainsbourg on and off all day (and before that, obviously) – two albums, the forthcoming one, Stage Whisper (irritatingly, I only have it as a stream: something that gets in the way of critiquing music for reasons too dull to go into here) and IRM.

Stage Whisper is very poised, very mannered, very sure of itself: moody, saturated in the sound of nightclubs and late night revelry comedown. It follows patterns other artists, other musicians have followed: there’s no room for silence, that’s not what this is about. The beats are consistent. They don’t upset.  I don’t have the slightest idea what the lyrics are about: most of it is recorded live – you can almost taste the dry ice and dried sweat as lasers flash in and out of view. A constant throb.


The first two suggestions Google throws up when I start typing in the words Charlotte Gainsbourg are:

Charlotte Gainsbourg antichrist
Charlotte Gainsbourg pregnant

The first leads me to a Daily Telegraph interview from 2009, wherein the first quote mentions the lady taking her clothes off for the camera.

Do you separate between being on camera and being on stage?
Do you wake in the morning and think, I’m going to be a singer today?
Do you deliberately provoke people? Are they even worth provoking?
How do you behave on stage?
Do you write your own songs? (Who cares.) (She doesn’t.) (Who does, and what does she look for in a lyric?) What motivates you to produce music?
“i saw a little girl/I stopped and smiled at her/She screamed and ran away/It happens to me more and more these days”
“and these songs that we sing/do they mean anything to the people we’re singing them to/tonight they do”
Prematurely what?
Who would you most rather not be?

The second leads me to the red carpet, folk acting all outraged because a women dares to go out in public, pregnant. Then on to more mentions of elongated limbs, and tight black jeans. World’s best-dressed woman.

Morrissey. Santogold. That woman who wears those thigh-high gold boots and does a glam stomp.
“It’s good to be disappointed in yourself”
She’s keeping a ghost-house
The weight of expectation
The weight of privilege
“I never approach a role in a relaxed, easy, happy way. It’s as if I’m always looking for shit, for what will make me feel bad.” (Is this true of music?)
Third child, Joe – born in July.
‘Just Like A Woman’


OK. That’ll do. I need to go test my recording equipment, and print this out. Let’s hope Charlotte doesn’t trawl the Internet searching for herself, just before interviews.

The interview is supposed to last for 30 minutes. Wish me luck.

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