Photo: Yann Orhan
Diana Krall, Stacey Kent, Iggy Pop, Jeff Goldblum, and Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top are among the artists who agreed to join Thomas Dutronc in revisiting some of the greats of French chanson, numbers by Piaf, Trenet, and Claude François – in their international version, in English. All of this is enhanced by a cool, jazzy, and most sophisticated musical showcase, produced by the excellent Jay Newland (Eric Clapton, Stevie Wonder, Juliette Gréco). And this, thanks indirectly to a certain… Donald Trump!
“We were looking for a project that would allow us to travel a little bit with our music in non-French-speaking countries. And we thought of this idea around the time of Trump’s French-bashing. We said to ourselves that France is nonetheless a gentle way of life, a sense of humour, beautiful songs, wine and cheese… At first, I wasn’t necessarily enthusiastic about the idea of covering songs that exist in sublime, historical versions,” Dutronc explains, insisting that if it was a question of just doing covers, even with very good musicians, it would have been banal. So it had to be only the finest flowers from the Hexagonal garden. The only way, according to him, to reach a state of grace.
When it came to choosing the songs for the conceptual album Frenchy, did he toy with the idea of drawing on the discographies of his father (Jacques Dutronc) or mother (Françoise Hardy), neither of which lack for classics, or did modesty prevent him from doing so?
“I would have liked to, but they don’t have any songs that have gone round the world. It’s the same for Gainsbourg, he doesn’t have any internationally famous songs. We could do a second volume, by the way, because we weren’t able to record everything. We haven’t even touched on songs by Aznavour, Trenet or Michel Legrand… We could even make a third album with songs that would have deserved to be known around the world, like ‘Syracuse’, composed by Henri Salvador, Gainsbourg’s ‘La Javanaise’, and Brassens – none of them are well known abroad – and yes, of course, some of my parents’ songs,” says Dutronc fils in a very sympathetic tone from Paris, where he’s on a promotional tour before returning to Corsica to meet up with the legendary creator of “Cactus” and “Playboys”.
Diana and the Iguana
The discussion then forks to great covers of songs throughout history and, although it’s a toss-up in terms of tastes, there is agreement that some Johnny Cash covers surpass their original versions. “My father called him le Taureau [the Bull], I don’t know why…”
Speaking of animals, let’s talk about the iguana – Iggy Pop. “He was approached through his European tour agency, to tell him about the project. He loves France and our musical culture, the 1950s and 1960s, Saint-Germain-des-Prés, Gréco. He has often covered French songs, such as ‘Les Feuilles mortes’. So he agreed, and told us, ‘Diana Krall wants to do something with me. If we all did that together, do you think Thomas would accept?’ Ahahahaha! We were too happy. I thought it was great. He is both very professional and very simple in his superstar role. Awesome!” So says Thomas, who adds that he improvised a song with Iggy that could never be released due to its surfeit of dirty words!
It’s easy to imagine that Dutronc’s pedigree also facilitated matters with Mr. Pop. “Yes, he’d met my father a long time ago, he’s familiar with Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin songs, and my parents’ songs. It’s nice, there are people like that who are big fans of my father, like Johnny Depp. And Leonardo DiCaprio, on the other hand, is a big fan of Django Reinhard. We’d organised a gypsy jazz concert at Carnegie Hall, and he came…” Dutronc is still astonished, regretting not being able to sing on stage with the legendary Iggy Pop, as planned, because of the coronavirus.
As for an eventual tour, it will take place with the same gang of French musicians, to bottle lightning a second time, and yes, Quebec and the United States are in the battle plan.
In conclusion, asked if his father had finally passed along his famous piège à fille (girl trap), as he had told a French TV journalist when Thomas was just born? “Ahahahahaha! We’ll leave that to the imagination. But yes, it works, joujou extra…”