If I had to describe Anne Pigalle to someone who had never heard of her, I wouldn’t know where to start; singer, writer, musician, art performer, poet, photographer, painter. The list could go on and on. She is someone who has to be seen and heard and experienced before you can begin to comprehend the width of her art. It’s a complicated menagerie of sound and vision that is all linked by erotica, love and soul. Her music is cinematic and narrative driven and very personal as it is based on her life, and how she feels.
Anne Pigalle grew up in Montmartre, Paris. Her father was a jazz musician and her mother made clothes for Brigitte Bardot. She grew up in an artistic home and loved anything that was different, and soon became a fan of Punk music, starting an all girl punk band in her teens. Paris lost its attraction to her when she finished school and she headed to London in the early 1980’s with ten pounds in her pocket and a dream of performing. She spent some time performing in clubs and was later signed to Trevor Horn’s ZTT Records. Anne released the album ‘Everything Could Be So Perfect’ on ZTT/Island Records in 1985 and was soon known as a modern Edith Piaf. She has travelled the world performing and for many years was living the life of a nomad without a permanent abode. She has been photographed by Lord Snowdon, Mario Testino, Nick Knight and Kevin Cummins, appeared on numerous magazine covers. Her image and music has been used in Japanese commercials for Jean-Paul Gaultier and Karl Lagerfelt when she toured Europe and Japan in the late 1980’s. She moved to LA in 1990 where she stayed for 7 years performing with Leonard Cohens musicians and recorded some songs with the Cypress Hill producer Jason Roberts. 2001 saw her back in London and marked the start of an immensely productive period for her. She had successful exhibitions at Charing Cross Gallery, The Michael Hoppen Gallery and the Aquarium Gallery. We caught up with her for a chat about her life and art.
TEDDIE: You grew up in Paris and for a while you were in an all girl punk band. Was this your first way of rebelling against society with punk music and fashion?
ANNE: When I was in school my girlfriends’ older sister was going out with a punk musician and she kind of got us in to it. It felt like a good way to express my feelings, as I was a complicated child. It was a way to have fun and play and express myself instead of watching TV after school.
TEDDIE: What was it about punk that so appealed to you? Was it the rawness and the shock factor?
ANNE: I think it was an instant attraction. As a kid I had a lot of energy and punk was about energy and being different. I felt punk was for people who felt they didn’t totally belong to society. My girlfriend and me went to a very big school and we were the only ones that wore punk clothes. So it was tough when you are 14 or 15 and everyone else wore normal clothes and we wore punk. It got a bit crazy. We felt we were a little different, and the punk look and punk expression was a way to express our difference and stand out from the crowd.
TEDDIE: As you got a little older and left school you spent some time travelling back and forth between Paris and London and suddenly decided you didn’t want to be in Paris any more. Why?
ANNE: After the punk thing kind of collapsed, it was the same time as I finished school and I felt very disillusioned. I started going out to clubs. There was one called Le Palace, which was very much like the New York Studio 54. It was a mixed crowd. Punk people went there, fashion people went there. So I was exposed to that type of world at quite an early age. There were a lot of drugs involved and a lot of sex. As a child your parents don’t want you to be exposed to this sort of thing, but I like to observe people and I always had a big thirst for adventure. I observed the nocturnal world of sleaze for a while. When I finished school in Paris I didn’t see what I could do and where I could go. I tried some music projects but I felt I was at a dead end.
TEDDIE: Then you came to London in the early 1980’s.
ANNE: I had been going back and forth between London and Paris for a while and I knew a lot of people in London and suddenly decided to move. I came to London and I don’t think I even had ten pounds in my pocket.
TEDDIE: What did you do?
ANNE: For a couple of years I played the clubs. I did a Channel 4 opera with Michael Nyman called The Kiss and I did a little EP with Adrian Sherwood of On-U Sound.
TEDDIE: You signed to ZTT Records and released an album in 1985 called ‘Everything Could Be So Perfect’, which established you as a modern Edith Piaf. Then followed that with the single ‘He Stranger’. You seem to be a very independent artist. Was it stifling for you to be bound by contracts?
ANNE: I met up with ZTT in 1983. They were quite famous, but they were not a major record label. They were an independent company, which were distributed by Island Records at the time. Many people thought that the record company manufactured the artist, but of course that wasn’t true. I didn’t really feel stifled, but it was Trevor Horn’s record company and he was known for having a big sound, whereas I prefer a piano and voice. They said that if I wanted to be played on the radio I would have to have a bigger production. I think my voice takes quite a lot of space and it doesn’t really need a big production, even though it was fun to record with a large orchestra, it was also a little bit indulgent. When we were finished Trevor actually said he thought the demos were better. Making a big record was new to me and it definitely didn’t stifle me. The only thing that was negative was that everything took a long time because they were very busy with ‘Frankie Goes To Hollywood’ and didn’t seem in any rush to put my record out there. I used to have to push them. Another thing was that there wasn’t a lot of money to live on or do what I wanted to do.
TEDDIE: The music industry seems to consist of huge corporations today wanting to make money more than anything else. Do you have an opinion on the creative apathetic copy and paste of the industry today?
ANNE: I need to make a comparison to Hollywood. In Europe the director rules his film and controls it, but in America and certainly in the Hollywood system it is not that way. It is the money-people and the Studio that rules the film and controls it. And for an obscure reason the music business in Europe has become like that. Now it’s like the artist is a hired puppet and given less and less say. I think people have been brainwashed into the idea of being rich and famous, and a lot of people have given up on the idea that creating your own art is kind of hip. It’s been like that for a long time and that’s probably the reason X-Factor has been so big, and it seems to control everything. But I’m sure this is going to change because after a while people get bored with it. I certainly hope so. I hope people get bored of seeing the same face with a different name. For me, it has always been about being a little different. I do find that both the film and music worlds are becoming far too generic. Lets hope that 2012 will be the year we can see the beginning of something different.
TEDDIE: You call your art Amerotic. Can you explain that expression? Do you like erotica or is it a way to shock people in to paying attention? I’m thinking about your cunt and dick songs mainly….
ANNE: (laughs) L’âme in French means soul. It’s like the erotic soul. It’s the idea with the photographs and the poetry and the salon kind of demonstrates the difference between pornography and eroticism. I know there is a thin line between the two. The world of consumerism is only using the pornographic side of sex. There is a romantic side to a relationship and sex, probably more for women than men, and for the last two years this has what my work has been about. When I showed my photographs at the Michael Hoppen Gallery and Michael said, “This is what the future is going to be about”. I paint them and decorate them and they are very much a feminine expression and definitely not for shock value. It is pictures of me in the nude, painted. And you can’t really see much. It’s all about things being a little bit subtler and a little bit more hidden. It’s more for fun, like a child had painted them. When I started my photography it was because I wanted to re-conquer a boyfriend. That was the concept of the exhibition. That was 50% of the reason the gallery took my show, because if the story. It is a true story. My boyfriend left me and he was a bit mean and the only thing he left me was an Argos card. So I went to the shop and asked what I could get for the points on the card. And it afforded me the price of a Polaroid camera. I had never tried photography or art. Where I lived there was this huge old-fashioned mirror, so I took these pictures of myself as a kind of therapy. My ex boyfriend would come and pick his clothes and stuff up once a week. And each time he came, I would give him a picture. And finally after 6 weeks we got back together. The relationship didn’t actually work in the end because he was attracted to the sexual side of things from the pictures, but at the end of it there was no real bond or spiritual connection.
TEDDIE: You've been photographed by some famous photographers; Lord Snowdon, Mario Testino, [as pictured here] Nick Knight and Kevin Cummins, [as throughout this interview] to name a few. How did this come about? Was this another creative outlet for you?
ANNE: When I’m asked to be photographed, I cannot say no. It’s a little vanity on one hand because I’m interested to see how these people are going to capture me. It was nice, but I always felt that it was never completely me, but their view of me. Everyone can take a picture of the same thing, but it will look completely different. That’s also the reason I took pictures of myself because then I could make myself be the way I wanted to look like.
TEDDIE: You were also the face of Jean Paul Gaultier and Karl Lagerfelt in Japanese commercials. How did you get into that?
ANNE: What happened is that in Japan they have always liked French singers there. I did a Japan tour and I was a little known there. It was a graphic designer in England who set it up. You always need funding to go on tour, so I sang on the top floor of a department store that sold fashion clothes mainly. I sang for two weeks in the store and they asked me if I wanted to do the commercial. I agreed to do it because it was my song. I wrote and produced the song. They projected some film on my face and it looks like it is a newsreel, so it’s not your typical kind of commercial. I say one line in Japanese. This was in 1987 and allowed me to do the tour.
TEDDIE: Then you decided you didn’t want to be in England any more so you went to Los Angeles in 1990 where you played with Leonard Cohen’s musicians. What inspired you to go to America?
ANNE: Musically, in Europe we had the kind of House scene. That wasn’t my thing at all. I had been feeling a bit tired and I just wanted to move on, so I decided to move to LA. I love the sunshine. I love the palm trees and the fact that every day is the same. I just needed that experience. One of my musicians knew Leonard Cohen’s producer and we hooked up and became good friends. They were great. We are still in touch and I’m still hoping we will do something again at some point. The new thing that I want to record is songs that I have played with them. I composed them when I was in LA and was very much in control of my own songs and life. I learned to drive. I had a 1977 (year is important - laughs) Camaro Silver Rocket. It was a big car with a V8 engine and my number plate was 77. It had a t-top, you know, a glass top so you could look at the stars. At the time I was very eager to make records and produce things and make a name for myself. Being in LA was very good for me. I used to go to a blues bar and I played with some blues musicians and I learned a lot about the basics of music. I was dipping my fingers in honey.
TEDDIE: Tell me why you left it all behind in LA.
ANNE: It wasn’t a financial success because of the contracts that I was in. I was working very hard and I was not being rewarded for it. I had exposure and recognition but I didn’t have money for what I wanted to do. Some projects cost a fair bit of money, so there was no point to keep going. The fame is not really something that interests me that much. I mean, recognition for your work is great, but the superficiality of fame is just something that doesn’t interest me. I think I just want to contribute something to the world that makes people think and be entertaining.
TEDDIE: You went back to England in 2001 and have been very productive. Film, photography, poetry, painting, appearing in cult films. Is there nothing you haven’t tried yet?
ANNE: I have worked a little with film but it hasn’t blossomed, so there is still a film project that I want to do. But I don’t know in which way yet because at the moment I am so into art and I don’t want to make a seedy commercial film. I played in Mexico in 2009 and on my way back I stopped in LA and I had a meeting with a big film studio there. They were initially very interested in my screenplay, but I said I wanted control of it because it’s really a personal project. It’s about myself and I’m not dead. If they’d been interested 10 years ago it would have been a dream come true. But today it is much more important for me to create things. That’s more of a kick. I think that’s probably why I have never been in to drugs because the creative process is what gives me a big high and that’s my saviour. I want to do the film in an arty way. It’s not a commercial film. It’s not a blockbuster. But the studio didn’t like this. I would always prefer to do something stylish in my own way than make more money.
TEDDIE: What motivates and inspires you today and what are you doing at the moment?
ANNE: This year is very important to me. 2012 will be a big turning point in my life. I have done so much and now I have made some classic torch songs and I need to find a way to record this in a way that sounds interesting. I don’t want it to just sound old fashioned. So I have to find a way to record this and to record the visuals. I want to have something visual to come with the songs. So this year is going to be about that album.
TEDDIE: Finally, you have been doing this for three decades. Where do you see yourself in a few years time?
ANNE: I always felt like I had two major ideas. The first one means reinventing, using my old culture, like Edith Piaf, and making songs inspired by that. I want to place something from the past in to the present. My second idea was the do the self-portraits, the pictures that I paint myself. These went along with the poetry. I really just hope to contribute to the world and inspire people. Also I think my art follows me, as I grow older. I’d rather do one interesting thing every 10 years rather than to make a record every year and it’s the same one. My creativity follows me as a person, and I guess I’m looking forward to the next project which is me as a mature woman, and the reflection of what I’m going through. As you grow older you start to rethink things in a different way. There is always something to write about and I want to share with people. My work is very basic. I create things that I feel and that I think and I give them to people so that it can be entertaining and inspiring.
Interview by Teddie Dahlin 16/01/12
Photos by Kevin Cummins [except ID Magazine cover by Nick Knight/black & white image by Mario Testino] Thanks to Kevin for permission to use them in the interview.