Françoise Hardy interviewed: “In my head I’m still very young”

To Paris, for a rare meeting with the pioneering chanteuse

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Hardy has remained something of a trésor national even as she’s experimented with multiple genres – jazz on 1980’s Gin Tonic, alternative rock on 1996’s Le Danger and orchestral arrangements on 2012’s fragile L’amour Fou – and collaborated with the likes of Air, Iggy Pop and Blur.

“She doesn’t take the past as a burden,” says Erick Benzi. “She’s very precise. She knows what she doesn’t like, so after a few times working with her I knew exactly what she expects from me and the music. First it’s about the capabilities of her voice – she has a very small range – and then it’s about the sensibility. There is a certain style that she likes.”

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“Françoise was good in that she liked things to be slightly more adventurous than the norm,” says Tony Cox. “There was a bit of the Left Bank about her – she’s not your average pop singer, that’s for sure.”

Personne D’autre, Hardy’s new album – her 28th – came from trying times, with the singer suffering from health problems over the last few years. “I almost died,” she says, bluntly.

“There are always heartbreaking songs on her albums,” says Benzi, “but on this one in particular, because of her recent history. She was nearly dead, she came back to life, so on two or three songs it’s about this – like ‘Train Special’.”

“I thought, at my age, to take a ‘special train’ can only be a train which brings me to the infinite, to the cosmos,” explains Hardy. “I’m afraid of dying, because most of the time you’re suffering very much physically, but it’s not sad – for me, death is only the death of the body. I’m sure that the link between the soul, and the loved ones who are still alive, stays.”

“She likes it when the chords are a little weird,” adds Erick Benzi, “she likes things not to be too simple. So there are restrictions – but at the same time she is capable of doing a duet with Julio Iglesias!”

Personne D’autre was unplanned by its creator until she stumbled upon “Sleep”, a song by Finland’s Poets Of The Fall on YouTube, and was inspired to work on her own French adaptation. The speed of the new album’s production – Hardy only began writing last April – bodes well for more new music in the future.

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“It’s the first time in my life I am so quick writing lyrics, recording the songs and releasing them,” she explains. “I didn’t think I’d do anything else, but a lot of tunes and melodies came to me and I couldn’t resist. I don’t understand English enough to understand Leonard Cohen’s words,” admits Hardy, when Uncut compares the subject matter of some of Personne D’autre with Cohen’s final work. “But I know he believed in spirituality, and I also have read a lot my whole life. There are many forms of spirituality, but when it is clever, there are many common points. I think Buddhism is very near to the truth… But the truth? We will discover it after we die.”

The interview almost over, Hardy takes Uncut’s pen to excitedly write down for us the name of Oren Lavie, an Israeli singer-songwriter who she admires, and who reminds her of Nick Drake. “My body is very old, but in my head I’m still very young,” she says, as she spells out his name in capitals. “I have a fan’s heart, still.”

Personne D’autre is out now on Parlophone/Warner France. For Tony Cox’s Arco-X visit arco-x.com

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INITIALS FH

Françoise remembers Serge Gainsbourg

“He was a close friend, but I didn’t work very much with him, no. After he died, [Gainsbourg’s partner] Bambou told me, ‘Serge said sometimes that he didn’t understand why you never asked him to make a whole album with you.’ I was very flattered – but I had never asked him because I preferred to make my own album, even if it was not as good as an album written and produced by him – because when you were recording with Serge, it was his album, not yours. He was a very strong personality; he was absolutely charming, almost like a child sometimes when he had not drunk anything, but when he had drunk alcohol – he was very fond of cocktails, sweet liquor – he could be very different [laughs]. Yes, when he was a little drunk, he became ‘Gainsbarre’.”

 

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MY MY, YÉ-YÉ

The finest of Hardy’s long-players

TOUS LES GARÇONS ET LES FILLES
VOGUE, 1962

As primitive as it sounds, Hardy’s debut is packed full of rock’n’roll and yé-yé songs as infectious as her favourite tracks on Radio Luxembourg, chief among them the sashaying “Ton Meilleur Ami”. 7/10

 

L’AMITIÉ
VOGUE, 1965

Accompanied by the Charles Blackwell Orchestra, Hardy was perhaps at the peak of her pop powers on this lush, varied LP. The title track is sublime, and Hardy’s own “Tu Peux Bien” reaches Morricone levels of melancholy. 8/10

 

MA JEUNESSE FOUT LE CAMP…
VOGUE, 1967

Hardy begins to embrace subtler, folkier textures on her sixth album proper, with the title track (‘My Youth Is Flying Away’) and the grand torch song “Voilà” especially devastating. 8/10

 

LA QUESTION
SONOPRESSE, 1971

The masterpiece, an otherworldly mix of French chanson and bossa nova, wonderfully stripped down to fully show off Hardy’s voice and peerless delivery. 9/10

 

IF YOU LISTEN
KUNDALINI, 1972

Lazily titled 4th English Album in some territories, this is Hardy’s take on British folk-rock. Her version of Trees’ “The Garden Of Jane Delawney” is particularly striking. 7/10

 

LE DANGER
VIRGIN, 1996

Teaming up with writer Alain Lubrano, Françoise discovers the power of the electric guitar and retains her true character at the same time. 7/10

L’AMOUR FOU
VIRGIN/EMI, 2012

The Macedonian Radio Symphonic Orchestra join Hardy for this low-key, piano-heavy set of melodramatic, super-Gallic ballads, including “Si Vous N’Avez Rien À Me Dire…”. 7/10

PERSONNE D’AUTRE
PARLOPHONE/WARNER FRANCE, 2018

Death, regret, the usual, this time featuring gorgeously gauzy and reverb-heavy textures; closer “Un Mal Qui Fait Du Bien” does recall La Question, though. 7/10

The August 2018 issue of Uncut is now on sale in the UK – with Prince on the cover. Elsewhere in the issue, you’ll find exclusive features on John Coltrane, Graham Nash, Cowboy Junkies, Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever, Hawkwind, Jennifer Warnes, Teenage Fanclub, David Sylvian, Wilko Johnson and many more. Our free CD showcases 15 tracks of this month’s best new music, including Israel Nash, Dirty Projectors, Luluc, Ty Segall and White Fence, Nathan Salsburg and Gwenifer Raymond.

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