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 Everett True

preparing for a phone interview with Charlotte Gainsbourg

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Charlotte Gainsbourg

I’m conducting my first phone interview in … I don’t know how long. Certainly this year. (And, aside from an impromptu email interview the other week, I’m hard-pressed to think of any other interviews that have taken place this year.) It’s taking place in just over 90 minutes time. I’m nervous, partly because I’ve decided to record the interview and not type it up on the computer while we’re talking. It’s the first time I’ve tried doing this in … Bangs … I don’t know … at least 15 years, probably a lot longer. I had several bad experiences recording telephone interviews in the 80s: memorably (or otherwise), I lost a totally brilliant Art Spiegelman conversation because I didn’t mic it up properly.

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There are good and bad points about being able to type up your interview while you’re talking.

GOOD: No bloody tapes to transcribe!

Anyone who’s ever interviewed more than a few thousand people knows what I’m talking about here. The dullest part of my old job. Who needs to hear the same conversation three or four times – and that’s before you’ve even started writing the article!

BAD: Destroys spontaneity

Telephone interviews are useless at the best of times: making your interviewee wait as you type up the final few sentences of their reply nails the final hammer in: you’re not thinking about their replies, just your fingers: puts paid to any pretence at capturing the idiom and quirks of speech: and so on.

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I never used to be nervous before I did interviews, not usually (did too many, I suppose). I suspect more people were nervous about meeting me than I was of meeting them. I wouldn’t say I’m exactly nervous now but … well, I’m writing this, aren’t I? Also, the more out-of-practice I become, the more worried I am because interviewing people is no longer the familiar process to me it once was. It used to be, this was my life. Now, it’s an aberration. Still, it’s not so much the actual conversation I’m nervous about, at least I don’t think so: more that I won’t perform properly or that something will go wrong with the recording process. I’ll do a final test on that, once Charlotte’s finished putting Isaac to sleep.

The research: what to ask? Back when I did face-to-face, and was on a roll, I rarely – if ever – prepared questions beforehand. I’ve found that to be the kiss of death, doing phone interviews (certainly when I’m typing the answers up). To inspire myself, I’ve been listening to Charlotte Gainsbourg on and off all day (and before that, obviously) – two albums, the forthcoming one, Stage Whisper (irritatingly, I only have it as a stream: something that gets in the way of critiquing music for reasons too dull to go into here) and IRM.

Stage Whisper is very poised, very mannered, very sure of itself: moody, saturated in the sound of nightclubs and late night revelry comedown. It follows patterns other artists, other musicians have followed: there’s no room for silence, that’s not what this is about. The beats are consistent. They don’t upset.  I don’t have the slightest idea what the lyrics are about: most of it is recorded live – you can almost taste the dry ice and dried sweat as lasers flash in and out of view. A constant throb.

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The first two suggestions Google throws up when I start typing in the words Charlotte Gainsbourg are:

Charlotte Gainsbourg antichrist
Charlotte Gainsbourg pregnant

The first leads me to a Daily Telegraph interview from 2009, wherein the first quote mentions the lady taking her clothes off for the camera.

NOTES TO SELF
Do you separate between being on camera and being on stage?
Do you wake in the morning and think, I’m going to be a singer today?
Do you deliberately provoke people? Are they even worth provoking?
How do you behave on stage?
Do you write your own songs? (Who cares.) (She doesn’t.) (Who does, and what does she look for in a lyric?) What motivates you to produce music?
“i saw a little girl/I stopped and smiled at her/She screamed and ran away/It happens to me more and more these days”
“and these songs that we sing/do they mean anything to the people we’re singing them to/tonight they do”
Prematurely what?
Who would you most rather not be?

The second leads me to the red carpet, folk acting all outraged because a women dares to go out in public, pregnant. Then on to more mentions of elongated limbs, and tight black jeans. World’s best-dressed woman.

NOTES TO SELF
Morrissey. Santogold. That woman who wears those thigh-high gold boots and does a glam stomp.
“It’s good to be disappointed in yourself”
She’s keeping a ghost-house
The weight of expectation
The weight of privilege
“I never approach a role in a relaxed, easy, happy way. It’s as if I’m always looking for shit, for what will make me feel bad.” (Is this true of music?)
Third child, Joe – born in July.
‘Just Like A Woman’

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OK. That’ll do. I need to go test my recording equipment, and print this out. Let’s hope Charlotte doesn’t trawl the Internet searching for herself, just before interviews.

The interview is supposed to last for 30 minutes. Wish me luck.

15 Responses to preparing for a phone interview with Charlotte Gainsbourg

  1. Princess Stomper November 15, 2011 at 8:09 pm

    As you say, it’s the spontaneity that’s key. I found an old magazine the other day with an interview in it that I couldn’t for the life of me remember doing. I recall the conversation, but in my mind it was just a chat – I don’t remember switching on the tape recorder, but obviously I must have done. Weird, huh?

    The Times ran a piece about a thing that’s supposed to “make anyone fall in love with you in 45 minutes”, which is of course BS but they are questions designed to get the other person to open up to you. I thought some would be cool interview questions:

    Gradually, the questions became more probing and personal:

    If you could change anything about the way you were raised, what would it be?

    If you could wake up tomorrow having gained any one quality or ability, what would it be?

    If a crystal ball could tell you the truth about yourself, your life, the future or anything else, what would you want to know?

    Is there something that you’ve dreamt of doing for a long time? Why haven’t you done it?

    What is the greatest accomplishment of your life?

    Finally, as the hour approached, the questions pressed the pair on their deeper life values:

    What do you value most in a friendship?

    What is your most treasured memory?

    What is your most terrible memory?

    If you knew that in one year you would die suddenly, would you change anything about the way you are now living? Why?

    What does friendship mean to you?

    What roles do love and affection play in your life?

    How close and warm is your family? Do you feel your childhood was happier than most other people’s?

    How do you feel about your relationship with your mother?

    Complete this sentence: “I wish I had someone with whom I could share…”

    When did you last cry in front of another person? By yourself?

    What, if anything, is too serious to be joked about?

    If you were to die this evening with no opportunity to communicate with anyone, what would you most regret not having told someone? Why haven’t you told them yet?

    Your house, containing everything you own, catches fire. After saving your loved ones and pets, you have time to safely make a final dash to save any one item. What would it be? Why?

  2. Princess Stomper November 15, 2011 at 8:14 pm

    (Yes, I know they’re a bit fanzine-y)

  3. Everett True November 15, 2011 at 8:19 pm

    The opening brace are fine. But “What is your most treasured memory?/What is your most terrible memory?” … really? 95 per cent of people would just go blank.

  4. Everett True November 15, 2011 at 8:21 pm

    Man, it’s 8.20pm and the thermometer is reading 27C in here. No wonder I’m sweating.

  5. Bianca November 15, 2011 at 8:27 pm

    Hi Princess Stomper.. Being both a fanzine writer and an interviewer I’m curious to know what you mean by the questions being a bit ‘fanzine-y’?

    Good luck with the interview Everett. I’m sure you’ll do fine.

  6. Bianca November 15, 2011 at 8:33 pm

    I think if you made the questions ‘what is your most treasured memory?’ more specific to something in particular (maybe something you know that they’re passionate about from all the research you’ve done) it would get an insightful answer. I’ve used a similar question over the years at times and made it specific and have never had someone go blank.

  7. Everett True November 15, 2011 at 8:38 pm

    Fair enough comment, Bianca. Incidentally, I know Princess Stomper’s background is in fanzines herself. I don’t think she meant the comment particularly disparagingly.

  8. Bianca November 15, 2011 at 9:22 pm

    I’m just genuinely curious as to what makes a question a bit fanzine-y? I’m always interested in other people’s thoughts on interviews and interview questions etc. The comment intrigues me.

  9. Princess Stomper November 15, 2011 at 11:10 pm

    Well, I have always worn different “hats” when it comes to writing, and adapted the style for each. A lot of my early fanzine stuff was inspired by the sort of questions you got in Smash Hits: “If you could be any animal, which would you be and why?” – that sort of thing.

    Though I developed a more formal style of interviewing later on, I did used to play around with the format. Later issues had a co-editor who introduced quirky interview methods such as getting interviewees to play board games on which questions would correspond to which square they landed on.

    For magazine work, I’d just try to get a conversation going and keep it going, pouncing on the things they said and asking them to elaborate – like the bit in cheesy psycho-thriller Final Analysis when they say a therapist just has to keep repeating the last two words of the previous sentence to keep the patient talking. (“You sound like my mother.” “Your mother?” etc.)

    So I’d call “if you could wake up tomorrow having gained any one quality or ability, what would it be?” a textbook fanzine question, because that’s the sort of question I asked for fanzine articles. For blog stuff – not that I do much interviewing these days – I aim for somewhere between the two, mixing in a few lighter questions with the drier stuff. I notice other blogs I read take the same approach.

  10. Joseph Kyle November 15, 2011 at 11:23 pm

    “What’s your favorite color?”

  11. Julian November 16, 2011 at 4:21 am

    “Parlez-vous anglais?”

  12. Darragh November 16, 2011 at 7:46 am

    Seems a weird way to do phone interviews Everett, particularly in this day and age when you can record it an interview to your computer and then get the computer to transcribe it!

  13. Everett True November 16, 2011 at 8:06 am

    dude. you need to come over here sometime – and soon!

  14. Darragh November 16, 2011 at 11:35 am

    I’ll drop you an email on the techniques I use. I can’t comment on the accuracy of my transcription program (I only just got it). But I use a recording app on my smart phone to record the incoming call to wav format as well as record it through garageband and then I can go back later and transcribe it, meaning I can be as spontaneous as I like!

  15. Everett True November 16, 2011 at 11:50 am

    It was refreshing not having to simultaneously type up the interview last night, actually. The interview was scheduled to last for 30 minutes, but I stopped it after about 65 minutes. Charlotte gave my questions decent consideration, too much really. (In this, she reminded me of Nick Cave.) I doubt it I would have obtained even half as much material if I’d been typing up the answers as we spoke, although the interview probably would have been more succinct if not necessarily more focused. There again, Go-Mag only require around 2,200 words so – if memory serves – I’m going to end up with a transcript which will be approximately 4-5,000 words too long. Or 2,500 words too long, with the fat stripped away. Ah well. It’s like starting over again.

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