French pop’s new figurehead discusses album releases and the significance of gigging London.
Owlle has earned her stripes. Back in her home country, the French musician has secured her position as dream pop’s number one lady, released her debut over a year ago and remixed some of pop’s biggest names. It comes as no surprise then that the UK’s blogosphere is turning its head towards the 28-year-old, flame haired chanteuse.
Owlle (known to her friends and family as France Picoulet) hails from Cannes. Following a move to Paris, she enrolled as a student of scenography and video at the renowned École des Beaux-Arts. This past in videography shines through in her work, most noticeably with the video for ‘Creed’ which features mermaids in bondage attire, set against a sunny backdrop of California. Surreal imagery, yes, but it’s what she loves. “If I wasn’t making music, I would be making art videos for exhibitions” she ponders, quickly adding her career would have to be “something indie and artful.”
Taking the stage name of Owlle, “a pure feminisation of the word Owl”, she turned to music and set about teaching herself everything she needed to know. Her self-labelled “dream pop” tag resulted in the release of 2013’s Ticky Ticky EP and a handful of sparkling electro-tinged singles, leading to the aptly titled debut LP ‘France’. Its release over here back in November brings us to her sold out headline show at one of East London’s most favoured hipster spots, the Sebright Arms.
It’s bitterly cold in Bethnal Green, the kind of cold where the last thing you’d want to do is leave the comfort of a house. Yet everyone and anyone seems to have crammed themselves into the 140-something capacity pub venue. It’s so busy, in fact, that we are ushered into, pretty much, a dimly lit cupboard at the back in order to chat.
Given English is not her first language, Picoulet’s band mate has been roped in with helping to break down the language barrier. But it’s instantly clear to see that the UK has played a big part in the becoming-Owlle process. “Many of my heroes in music come from across the Channel, so I’m very proud to release the album over her” she states. “We had a big difference between releases of the album in France and the UK.”
That big difference, nearing 11 months, has made London a much more special place for her to tour. “This show is a pretty big deal for us, although it’s not our first time here” she insists. “We’ve been here three times before for Lovebox and The Great Escape, but yes it’s really nice to play in the small clubs, like this” she acknowledges. “This kind of intimacy is what we like.” Her bandmate kicks in, stating simply, “the important part is to share something, to touch people.”
Given that back home Picoulet is used to crowds of 3000-odd, it comes as a surprise to learn she has no preference over the venue sizes she plays across the channel and the club-like ones over here. “When people are here and being attentive, it is the same for me. The principle is to make good music and share the emotion with people.”
Her history within music may be relatively short, but her contacts list begs to differ. Depeche Mode invited her to remix their track ‘Heaven’, leading to what can only be described as “a beautiful meeting”, she laughs. “The drummer knew about my ‘Ticky Ticky’ EP so I had the opportunity to meet Dave Gahan.” Her recent on stage TV performance with Boy George also sticks out as a “very cool” moment. “It was a big surprise” she beams. “He’s a very simple guy and the meeting was very intuitive. He’s really cool so I wasn’t stressed out for when we recorded the show.” She laughs a little, before concluding “it was a big experience for me with a big artist.”
Talk returns to her homeland of France, and its array of pop acts in recent years. Daft Punk, Justice and Phoenix have all made their mark across the channel, suggesting the county could gain recognition like Scandinavia for its musical exports. “You also have Yelle” she states. “It’s French pop but really American in its mood.”
As far as inspiration goes, Picoulet’s tastes seem to stretch far and wide. After all, she doubts she would even have got into making music had it not been for a Brian Eno art instillation. Musically, she pin points early Madonna, Bowie and Grace Jones as leading sources of inspiration. Her favourite album of all time? “Maybe a Little Dragon LP?” She pauses to think for a while. “I don’t have another band or album to propose to you!” she laughs.
At the mention of Kate Bush, she giggles before smiling and stating “I am a big fan, yes! But it is a challenge to cover her songs,” mentioning her ‘Wuthering Heights’ rendition for a French radio show. “It’s not easy. It’s really not the easiest of her songs”, she pauses. “Basically, I don’t like to play covers on stage. For me, it’s too much and I don’t want to hurt the tracks of other people” she states modestly. “But with Kate Bush, it’s an amazing song so I just tried it. I saw on YouTube that people liked my version, so for the tour we played the song at the end of the set list.” Following a series of agreeable nods from her band mate, she concludes “it was the perfect end of the set.” Wondering if she managed to see her live at the comeback shows in London is met with a sigh. “No, I didn’t have the chance.
Having reflected on the past year, thought turns to what’s next for Owlle. “This London show is the last of my tour, but from here I am open to play others.” Asking if new material is on the way is greeted with nods. “For now, I am preparing the second album. But if I can play more in the UK first, that’d be cool.” The full-to-brim status of the venue this evening is a clear encouragement that she should be making a swift return to the capital as soon as possible.
Even from her art school days, it’s clear to see that Picoulet knows what she wants and how she is going to go about getting it. Now with a second album in the works and a sight set for Blighty, things are beginning to look even brighter for her. If 2014 was the year Owlle earned her stripes across the pond, 2015 will have conquering the UK on the agenda.
By Bill Baker