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Getting Lost with Madeleine Peyroux

Madeleine Peyroux
Yann Orhan
Courtesy of the Artist

The Grammy-nominated jazz chanteuse performs a two-night residency at The Tin Pan on Nov. 5-6.

Madeleine Peyroux charts her own path. From the start of her career as a teenager busking on the streets of Paris, to today, with chart-topping albums and Grammy nominations under her belt, she’s lent her timeless voice and a French jazz flair to standards and rock songs alike, including the soundtrack to the Oscar-winning The Shape of Water.

These days, she’s gearing up for a new album — and celebrating the anniversary of her breakthrough record Careless Love with a world tour that’ll bring her to The Tin Pan for a two-night residency Nov. 5–6.

Before she hit the road, she and I caught up about her eclectic influences, the importance of embracing sadness, and how for her, performing in Richmond feels like coming back home.

Note: The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Annie Parnell: You're performing at The Tin Pan here in Richmond. What can listeners expect to hear?

MP: We'll be performing everything! We’re trying to bring everything. [Laughs]

No, I'm bringing the songs from my record Careless Love, as well as a few other songs from other records. I’ll have a handful of brand-new songs that no one's heard that I just finished recording for a record that's coming out next year.

The tour is celebrating the recent deluxe anniversary release of Careless Love, which was originally released in 2004. What was it like to revisit those songs?
Easy. They are timeless songs. And they're very nurturing — they’re soul food-type songs for me.

I was going to ask about the selection — Careless Love is largely covers that pull from a variety of musical traditions.

That's right. That's why I was joking about bringing everything. The older I get, the more I realize I've really tried different styles without ever being invested in any one particular style, except maybe blues.

The repertoire is sort of eclectic. Hank Williams could be considered by some to be straight up 1950s Texas swing. He's got some things in common with New Orleans at the same time, because that area of Texas and New Orleans are not too far apart. There’s some crossover in the song form. There's crossover with country and blues, of course, there's crossover with folk, there's crossover later on with Louis Armstrong and Bessie Smith.

Then, on the same record, there's an Elliott Smith song, who you would think of as being completely separate from all that. But because of the character of the lyric and the storytelling, it relates very much to a blues, for me. There's a Bob Dylan song, which sounded originally like a very straight-ahead folk song, but we tried to fashion it into something inspired by a jazz record in the '50s. Ahmad Jamal inspired that groove that's on that song. So it's mixed up, I guess, but it worked. I don't know exactly why it works, but I know I like it.

The goal is not to just be weird and be different. I'm afraid sometimes it comes off like that's my goal, but it's not. My goal is not to do something because it's different. I try to be me, and who I am is somebody who doesn't really have a home. I've always been a little bit lost, and so I'm being true to that.

I'm still looking ... still trying to get it right. We just made a new record, from which I am going to be playing some songs. These are all brand new songs that I co-wrote with John Harrington, and we just finished recording with him and Elliot Scheiner, who’s a well-known engineer. John is a wonderful guitar player, who currently is most well-known for being on the road with Steely Dan for the last 20 years.

You say a lot of the songs on Careless Love have been very nurturing to you. When you're developing a repertoire, would you say it’s informed by songs that have a personal resonance?

I do believe that that's the only way to go. I think that that's the only way to go for anybody who is looking at a creative profession. There has to be a personal connection somewhere. A lot of times you can find a personal connection in anything, but if you don't go from a place that feels like it's you, people are going to notice that.

I think the point of the artist is to get somebody to pay attention to something. In order to do that, you've got to have that intangible human force behind everything. There’s got to be some kind of intention. That intention has to be able to pass through the technique, and get to the other side, and then come back like a boomerang.

You use every little bit of anything you can to get that attention, any trick that you can find. If you don't have a trick, you just have yourself. If you're really good, and if you can really bring yourself, that's, I believe, the essence of being an artist.

I don't know who the quote is attributed to anymore, but they said “a genius is he who is most like himself.” It’s a good one to meditate on, for me. I try to remember that: “OK, this seems wrong, but it's just me. Let me go back to me and see what's going on.” [Laughs]


You mentioned adapting Bob Dylan into a sort of jazz language, and your Serge Gainsbourg cover “La Javanaise” from The Shape of Water also has a bit of a form shift. When it comes to relaying those forms, what’s surprised you?

Yeah, for me, it's always a surprise when it works. It is a magical thing — if it works.

With “La Javanaise,” I think we did what I normally do, which is to slow it down a little bit and invite the sadness; embrace the sadness of it. Instead of passing it along, knowing that it's there, but avoiding it — which is a bit more of a traditional way to do things; possibly a more masculine way of doing things.

But I like to admit to that now. Some people really need that; they need help embracing sadness. And I can do that.

I want to hear a bit more about this album that's coming out. Do you have a title and release date for it?

I have a title, and I have a release window. We are talking about June 2024. The title of the record is one of the songs that we wrote: a song that’s called “Let's Walk.”

Hopefully we’ll hear new music from you in June, and you’re touring for the next several months. Is there anything else that you want to touch on while we're here?
I love the idea of being able to finally come to Richmond, because I used to go to Virginia to see family when I was a kid. I am so excited to come back and play music. I never get to play in Richmond. So I'm really, really excited, looking forward to it — and trying to make a wave.
Madeleine Peyroux performs at The Tin Pan Nov. 5–6. Tickets are available online.