Manchester was the inspiration for Parisian Melanie Pain
- Credit: Archant
Morrissey fan rented a flat in the northern city in a bid to inspire her second album
With an eternally unbroken image of romance and high culture, it is every artist’s dream to ditch their damp, depressing hometown for the amber glow of Paris. For long-time Parisian Melanie Pain, however, her geographical muse lay on the opposite side of the channel.
“It had always been an old fantasy of mine to live in Manchester,” says Pain. “People kept asking me if I was crazy. But I’m such a big fan of Morrissey and The Smiths and it’s a city with so much musical history.”
Renting a small flat in Manchester, Pain realised this fantasy in true Morrissey style, isolating herself in the colder corners of last year to find her inner songwriter. For a woman who first found recognition as a singer with French new wave cover band Nouvelle Vague, it proved a defining moment for her solo career.
“It’s weird because I came into music by accident. I sang on a demo for a friend and got picked up by Marc Collin (of Nouvelle Vague) from that, but it took me about 100 concerts to think, actually, I can’t live without singing.
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“Even then, I was always friends with musicians, so people would write songs and ask if I wanted to sing them, which is kind of how my first album was made. I’d try to write myself and wouldn’t know what the next chord was. So I had to get away just to stop myself asking friends for help.”
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The result of this enforced getaway is Pain’s second album, Bye Bye Manchester, and upcoming EP Just a Girl. In the build-up to the latter’s release this month, Pain is looking forward to returning to English shores to play the Jazz Café in Camden Town for the third time.
“I love the audiences in England, they drink, they shout, it’s alive. In France, audiences can be quite suspicious, but here they like to have a lot of fun. It’s great for me because I don’t go to sing my songs, I go to perform. The stage at the Jazz Café’s quite low and you end up with the audience in your face, singing in the crowd. It’s a lot more natural.”
Above all else, doing what comes naturally has served Pain well so far in her ‘accidental’ career. As has oft been rumoured by fans of Nouvelle Vague, who Pain continues to tour with, this extends back to when she had to sing some of their most acclaimed covers without knowing the original songs.
“For the first album that’s certainly true. I knew some of the big 80s pop hits, but otherwise they never played us the original, we just got the lyrics and chords. So afterwards I’d hear something like This Is Not A Love Song and think ‘God, I’ve sung it so strange’.”
It is odd to hear her express any sort of doubt over a whispery vocal style that is so distinctive in the age of auto-tune. However, with alternative influences that include Sonic Youth, the Pixies and P. J. Harvey, Pain reveals a subtle love of grittiness evident in her own brand of retro pop.
“I get annoyed with the cleanliness of today’s music, that dirtiness is what inspires me. It’s one of my biggest frustrations that I can never sing like PJ Harvey – my voice is too soft. But there’s a lot of vintage gear on the new recordings that hopefully still capture that energy.
“When I was in Manchester, for instance, I worked on this really old toy Casio synthesiser. It’s not nice to hear at first, but the sound’s amazingly rich and warm, it’s quite special.”
For all the musical discovery that occurred in the Manchester months, Pain believes the experience has left her stronger as a person as well as a musician.
“The album is a sum up of stories about leaving, being brave enough to pack your suitcase and start again. It’s having that confidence in yourself to take that step, even if it takes five or six goes. At one time or another we all want a new life, a new beginning.”
It would seem then that Pain’s time away succeeded in finding a voice and sound that she can truly call her own. In fact, as the interview between us winds down, the only sound that remains a mystery is her name.
“When I’m in France, they pronounce my name ‘pan’. When I came to England, everyone kept asking if my name was actually ‘pain’. I really liked it, I thought that’s so cool – a new name for a new life, and I didn’t even have to change.”
Melanie Pain plays the Jazz Café in Camden Town on April 11. Just A Girl is released on April 29.