“I’m alive”: An interview with Christine and the Queens

“I’m alive”: An interview with Christine and the Queens

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I’m going to give you a little behind the scenes on the interview here. I didn’t know much about Christine and the Queens going in. We’ve played and I’ve enjoyed the music that Chris makes, but I’ve never gone deeper. So in planning I just wanted to have a conversation and see what would happen. I was told she was brilliant and thoughtful and funny. And those rumors were true. I could hear her passion in every sentence. Her inquisitiveness and brilliance. The appeal of theater and questioning of identity. I went into this interview being a casual listener and I came out a true fan.

Jake Hanson

I wanted to focus on the music of your life and kind of how you got to this point through music. Who’s the first artist of yours that you really fell in love with. I feel like, especially when you’re growing up you’re like, this is mine, this person represents me. Who is that for you? 

I remember being a huge fan of Bjork, like listening to a lot of the Bjork and all the records, but if I am honest in terms of the connection of like, “Oh my God, this is basically who I wish I was.” I got that with Laurie Anderson. I remember watching Home of the Brave on YouTube randomly. And I was like, what is that?In the best way. It was just clever. I mean, it was a bit conceptual musically, but it was theater and contemporary art and music. She was at the center of it, but she was also a writer and a performer and she was really clever and she was really versatile, fluid. And I was like, “Oh, that’s just wonderful.” I think I just got that. I’m not saying that I am Laurie Anderson, I really wish I was. I really got this feeling that I could relate to an artist but it’s complicated because I also, I fell in love with, you know, the work of Michael Jackson, pretty young, but I think that into like projecting myself into an artist, I got that with Laura Anderson and Bjork, maybe. 

I don’t know Laurie Anderson at all. 

Oh, you’re in for a discovery then. 

What’s the story there? 

You will check it out. You’re going to enjoy that a lot. She did a song that’s really famous actually called “O Superman.” 

She did that. And she charted with that song which would be impossible now because the song is so weird, but she was close to Peter Gabriel and Lou Reed and artists like that. And she was really into this weird range of, is she a performer of contemporary art or is she a pop star? I mean, her work is really inspiring, but it’s hard to describe. It’s very poetic, philosophical, purely weird. So it’s worth checking out I think. 

Discovering music in France I imagine is a bit different. What was your means of discovery? How did you find things when you were first discovering music? 

Well, I think it’s the same as in the US. I guess through the internet, through the radio. I remember being young and just buying singles and listening to Daft Punk on the radio. And I think what’s different is that I grew up French. So I was exposed to French music as well, but we are also exposed in France, both to American music and English music. But I do also have that French culture that I grew up with French singers. I’m not even saying Edith Piaf which is the classical, but you know, some French artists like Christophe and Alain Bashung retired. So I think that’s maybe the difference that we have. I know more French songs than you. But it was really casual and, you know, with the internet, then you kind of obey the same algorithms, or you shape them. So then I discovered Grimes later on and then, all those people I discovered through the internet. I was really a music lover, but I was obsessed with theater when I was younger. So my obsession was to score theater plays with music, but I think he was a way to embrace music without really daring going there yet. I was like, “Oh, you know, I want to stage a play and choose the best music for it,” which was a way to almost do a musical, which was a way to almost be a singer. 

So then how did those lines kind of come together and you go from one side to the other? 

I studied theater stage directing until I was in my twenties. And then in my twenties, I got a complicated experience actually. I think retrospectively with everything that’s going now in the discussions of sexism and misogyny, I think I was blatantly, experiencing a case of misogyny in my theater school because I was refused. I was refused to be a stage director basically, but with no reason and three guys could do it. Then it triggered something quite dark in my life. I kind of went into a depression and I was heartbroken. But I’m saying all that to say that music arrived in my life in the point where I was not really planning to do anything with it. I just bought a laptop because I wanted to use GarageBand because I wanted to create songs. Thanks to the drag queens I met in London that kind of encouraged me to start music, but music arrived a bit like an unexpected novelist moment in my life. 

Can you describe that moment? 

I told that story so many times it feels almost like a novel now, but yeah. Because I was depressed, I went to London, so I didn’t want to be in France and I felt comfortable in London. I went out a lot to queer nights, queer clubs, because I wanted to feel like I could belong somewhere. And I met some drag queens there, uh, farmed. They kind of met me because they saw me in a really bad place. I think they just came up to me and wanted to help basically. And I started to whine a lot and pour out all of my problems. And one of the things they told me was if you want to be on the stage and it’s impossible for you to be a stage director, they told me you didn’t have to wait for the people to say that it’s your time to go on stage. You should just jump on it and say, it’s your time. And I was like, yeah, but I can’t do shit. And I feel like shit. And they were like, “Oh, shut up. You will find some way to express sadness.” And I thought of music and I still don’t really know why. I think I was obsessed with music all my life. It was the moment where I just embraced it. I think I was not scared anymore to try it out. When I was younger, I was afraid to sing because it was a bit obscene to me. But now I realize that it’s so much about being vulnerable and honest when you sing. It’s something quite intimate and quite exposed, you can’t hide anywhere. And I think that moment of my life, where I decided to be empowered for real was the moment where I started to sing. And after that, I started to do gigs in France and to face confused faces and big eyes.

What was the empowering part? Was the empowering part writing and creating, or is it having an audience to do that in front of?

Everything at once I think. I think writing a song is really powerful. I remember the first time I discovered songwriting because I never dared to do it before. And it was really one of the most luminous weeks of all my life. It felt like light was pouring out of my flat. And then I came from theater still. So I think the stage for me was a crucial moment. And at first it was a bit performative, a bit weird when I was doing gigs. It was just me and my computer. I was a huge fan of Andy Kaufman. So I was playing on weird silences and creepy jokes. And I was dancing already. And French people were like, what the fuck is happening. I became quite famous in France at some point, but before I had like a year and a half of confused people, but I think they didn’t hate it. They were just really confused because I think nobody was really embracing the dance like that. And it was kind of dark at first. It was really like the dark teenage dream of like a wounded young girl, you know? So he was a bit noir and I was like wearing weird jackets with shoulder pads. And, you know, it was a bit like “Close to Me” meets a confused young girl. But for once I was totally in control of what I wanted to say. And I chose the way I was existing, which was the most powerful thing for me to do. 

What do you think was most important for you to say at that time? 

I’m alive. 

I think I wanted to disrupt a bit of what was expected of a woman. I remember creating Christine as a survival technique as a way to emancipate myself from patriarchal ideals. I remember thinking about the suit as a stage outfit and thinking about fluidity deeply in the songwriting. I think I wanted to start this weird quest of who am I, but in a way that was not self harm in a way that could be more generous than just me feeling like a monster. I was like, well, if I feel like a monster, it might as well be fun for everybody, you know? And then the more you do that, the more you feel actually like, “Oh, you’re actually not a monster.” You are just maybe non binary or maybe like a different kind of woman, maybe a horny, aggressively intellectual, unapologetic woman. And the stage gives you that strength and people give you energy. Starting music. I kind of discovered myself. And so the self hate could stop. 

Do you feel like you did? Do you feel like you are where you want to be? 

I think I’m getting there. It feels definitely more comfortable now. And also I feel I’m like I’m ready to be more generous, which is great. It’s only about how I feel anymore. It’s also about this music that is so much about this expansive energy. I’m working on the record. So, sorry, I sound really confused, because I’m thinking as I’m talking to you, but it feels like it feels less like narcissist drowning. It feels more like meeting people along the way and creating poetry with more and more people. So it’s at first it was a bit solipsistic, it was a bit tormented, like a “What the fuck am I?” And now it’s more, I’m more eager to create more dreams. I think I’m less scared to be a creature now also, I’m really embracing it. Like, I’m thinking about the third record as this way of, I don’t even want to be relatable anymore. I even know what that means, you know? So I want to explore the metaphors, the transformations.

What’s the last song that you became obsessed with or really loved?

That’s a really good question because I’m such an addict of everything, including music. The latest song I got obsessed with, I think it’s “Yah, You Know” by Prince. I’m just obsessed with that song weirdly. I think it’s one of the sexiest songs ever also. 

How so? How do you convey sex in a song? How do you exude that? Sex is such a mystery and I think so much of being sexual is there’s like a withholding and mystery there. How do you exude that? 

I think sex is silence. I think Prince is sexy because he plays with silence a lot. If you listen to a good Prince song, there are moments where the groove is just letting the things breathe. That song is actually really good for that. The silences are almost as sexy as the sounds. It’s about breathing. When it’s just like overproduced shit with lots of sounds every fucking second, it’s not sexy because it’s just a wall of like, are you feeling something? And you’re like, I don’t know. You’re just yelling at me. So I have no idea. 

I like that. The silence is a bit of an invitation. 

Exactly. 

Finally, I need a book to read, could you suggest one? 

So do I. What could you read? Well, I read something. Well, actually it’s pretty good. Do you know, a book called “Testo Junkie” by Paul B. Preciado?

No. 

It’s great. It’s about transitioning. It’s about what he calls a porno-pharmaceutical state. It’s about it’s about sex and society. He’s a really famous French author that transitioned. So he’s kind of analyzing his body in transformation regarding to the whole society and how you know sex is triggered and how sex is a construction and how pornography shapes everything. It’s really good. It’s pretty good.

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