Few people have led as interesting a life as Carla Bruni. An Italian-born heiress to the fortune of her grandfather’s tire company, CEAT, she moved to France with her family at age 7, became a globetrotting supermodel in the late-’80s (famously dating Eric Clapton and Mick Jagger along the way), launched a successful career as folk singer in the ‘90s, and eventually married the president of France, Nicolas Sarkozy, in 2007, serving as first lady for five years.
The connective tissue linking all these chapters is music, something Bruni pointed out during a recent visit to the Paste Studio in New York. Although she has written much of her own material over the years, Bruni also has soft spot for covers—mostly songs she grew up listening to and singing to herself in her bedroom. Her forthcoming fifth album, French Touch, features songs by, among others, The Clash, Lou Reed, Depeche Mode and The Rolling Stones.
“Some songs are very difficult to sing unless—we tried to do ‘50 Ways to Leave Your Lover,’ okay…. Well, you definitely need Paul Simon to do that.”
Her ambition for the songs on French Touch, she said, was to “make them sound as if they were my songs.—you know, folk, pop, acoustic songs, as if you take some clothing and then you make it fit. I know they’re gigantic songs and they probably don’t need my interpretation, but we had so much pleasure doing it that it became an album.”
At Paste, Bruni played two tracks from the album, starting with a haunting rendition of the 1990 Depeche Mode hit, “Enjoy the Silence.”
“We were touring in South America, and so we played it all together for someone’s birthday, actually, and the people really liked it and we really liked to play it in a very simple, acoustic way,” she said. “Just the way I played it in my room as a young girl.”
Watch “Enjoy the Silence” here:
For her second song, Bruni and her band—guitarist Taofik Farah, pianist Cyril Barbessol and percussionist Nicolas Didier—showed off their flamenco-fied treatment of The Rolling Stones’ 1978 disco hit, “Miss You.”
“We were trying to find a sort of Spanish way to do it, because it’s a perfect sort of disco beat,” she said. “So we were with Tao and Cyril and [producer] David Foster in the studio in Paris. We were sitting there and really turning around the song to find something Latin to do with the song…We needed to find a way to do the song without making it flat or slow. There’s something very danceable in Latin music. Of course, the Rolling Stones’ version is perfect and arched and original and fantastic. So the challenge was to have an uptempo song and not slow it down so much—just change the tempo from a disco tempo to a Latin, more sexy or something, for dance.”
Watch “Miss You” here:
The songs on French Touch cover a wide range of rock, pop and country, from AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell” to Tammy Wynette’s “Stand By Your Man” to Andy Williams’s Moon River.” There were others that Bruni wanted to try, but couldn’t get the feel. “Some songs are very difficult to sing unless—we tried to do ‘50 Ways to Leave Your Lover,’ okay…. Well, you definitely need Paul Simon to do that.”
The final track listing “was only led by pleasure,” she said. “There’s no logic at all.”
French Touch is available for preorder from the Musique francophone label, with an official release slated for Oct. 6. Watch Bruni’s full Paste session here: