Serge and Charlotte Gainsbourg, you know. The former is the legendary French singer-songwriter known for his tender love songs and relationships with the beauties such as Brigitte Bardot, Jane Birkin and Bambou. The latter, Charlotte, is the daughter of Serge and Birkin, and has become a successful singer-songwriter herself while also appearing in a number of films.
You might not be as familiar with Lulu Gainsbourg, the only son of Serge and Bambou. Like his half-sister, Lulu decided to follow in his father’s footsteps, playing music and acting as he grew up before attending Berklee College. Now living in New York, Lulu (short for Lucien, his father’s birth name) has begun to compose his own music and helped Beck produce Charlotte’s third album, IRM.
Before releasing an album of his own material, however, Lulu decided to record an album of covers of his father’s songs. Titled From Gainsbourg to Lulu, the album is comprised of 14 of Serge’s most well-known songs, and features guest appearances by Iggy Pop, Johnny Depp, Rufus Wainwright, Marianne Faithfull and many more. Scarlett Johansson joins Gainsbourg for a duet on “Bonnie & Clyde,” the album’s first single and one of Serge’s most well-known songs.
From Gainsbourg to Lulu was released in the U.S. today, and prior to the release we caught up with Lulu to discuss his father, the album’s guest artists and what his future holds artistically.
Your father clearly means a lot to you. Is paying homage to him with an album something you’ve always wanted to do, or was it an idea that was sparked in you more recently?
Lulu Gainsbourg: It was something specific I wanted to do. First I wanted to do new music and now… And also I wanted his work to be discovered by a new generation.
Your father is obviously a legend in France. Do you feel like he’s under appreciated in the U.S.?
Gainsbourg: I had no idea. I know that in France he’s well known and maybe not in some other places. I think that in the U.S…he said, when he was alive, that he wanted to cross the ocean…I didn’t know that he was so big in the U.S. When I got to meet all the artists on the album and all the people as well, I discovered that the relationship was very deep. I didn’t know that Scarlett [Johansson], or Rufus [Wainwright] or any of them knew who he was. They’d tell me, you know, that he is a legend. And I was like, ‘Oh, wow.’
Did you learn anything else about your father throughout the process of making the album? Do you look at his music with a new appreciation now that you’ve recorded a lot of it yourself?
Gainsbourg: It was hard for me to do this because there was a lot of pressure because a lot of people already know him, especially in France because my album came out in France first. And I was worried about the reaction of people. It put pressure on me to do something with my musical knowledge. I tried to transform the songs to make them…at the same time sound close to the original and to also bring my fresh musical ideas and make it happen.
How did you choose which songs to include on the album? Were they what you felt were your father’s best songs? Were they songs that you have a particular personal connection to?
Gainsbourg: It was like a random choice. It’s funny because at the end I had all songs from his first years, up to 1971. “Ballade De Melody Nelson” was the most recent song, which was released in ‘71. So all the songs were from before ‘71, which was a funny thing.
Do you have a favorite of your father’s songs?
Gainsbourg: Yeah, it’s weird because I grew up with the Le Zénith album. I was more into the last period of his work, like the last album he did, You’re Under Arrest. (278) But, of course, I adore a lot of his music.
You got a lot of big names and other artists to contribute. Did you know all these people and they just knew your father and wanted to contribute? Did you just reach out to a bunch of people you admired? What was the process of getting everyone to contribute like?
Gainsbourg: No, I didn’t know anyone, actually. I have been friends with Johnny [Depp] for years, so he’s the only one I knew. And I knew that my father, a long time ago, worked with Marianne Faithfull, so I was in touch with her. But the other, I had never met them before.
What was the recording process like with all of the guest performers? How long did it take to get everyone in and out of the studio and put the record together?
Gainsbourg: Not that long. I started putting it together in, maybe, the summer of 2010 and then my first recording session was in December of 2010. So about a year. It was released in 2011. It was released in France last November. So, a year.
Are you going to tour and play the album in the U.S.?
Gainsbourg: No, so far…it’s difficult to tour with this album because there is a lot of configuring. It’s more the producer and arranger of the album than the singer. Maybe a show in New York.
You grew up around music and you’ve been playing music from an early age? How do you see yourself as an artist in the future?
Gainsbourg: Artistically, I’m already working on my second album right now, which would be my first real album with my own stuff. There will be no covers, just a composition of myself. So far, I am in the writing process. I don’t know yet when it will be released. I’m working on it at the moment, writing the songs. I don’t want to commit to a date so I will save this for later.
You live in New York now. How often do you get back to France?
Gainsbourg: I’ve been a few times this year, but now I have my visa and I’ve been here for three years, at least. I really love New York, though, this city. I don’t plan on going back to France in the next few months. I’m already working on the new album.