Meeting artists at the Crossroads : we’ve talked with Thérèse, the French pop sensation that keeps proving everybody wrong !
She has succeeded at what many people had deemed impossible when the world was on the verge of a global pandemic : the launch of her own music project and, on top of that, getting heard by thousands of people across the country. Being already aware of how the music industry works thanks to her previous music project called La Vague, which was already getting popular in 2019 and 2020, Thérèse’s solo project skyrocketed from almost day one. Her music took off even before her first EP “Rêvalité” was released ; she’s now supported by a team of independent professionals as well as by Adam Carpels, an urban music producer who tackles with her some deep social matters in their songs. When we met her before her performance at the Crossroads Festival in Roubaix on September 10th, we took the opportunity to ask her and Adam Carpels a few questions.
1. Hello Thérèse ! Thanks for answering our questions today ! To start off this interview, can you briefly introduce yourself to those who don’t know you yet ?
Thérèse : So my name is Thérèse, I am 35 years old, I live in Paris, I am of Chinese, Laotian & Vietnamese origin, I was born in Ivry-sur-Seine in France… and I really like cheese ! And I describe myself as this sort of social melting pot because my life has made me go through a lot of different things. I am also kind of like a rainbow, like the meeting between the sun and the rain, I have a lots of different shades, but they’re all blurred and they have no precise boundaries.
2. Before talking about your most recent music releases, I wanted to come back to La Vague, a duo in which you were a part of before going solo. Can you tell us the story of this duo ? And how has this music duo helped you make the music you make today (if that’s the case of course !) ?
Thérèse : It’s actually funny because my music projects are often born out of catastrophes, be they personal or more global. La Vague was born after my burn out at Kenzo. I was studying at a business school and then I worked for 5 years at the marketing department of Kenzo Parfums. And I realized one day that I wasn’t where I was supposed to be. I went to the office suffering, not because I didn’t like my job, it was super cool to be honest, but it didn’t really make sense to me. I just felt like I was getting up and going to give Bernard Arnaud some money, and cripple to death. I had vacations, I could go out to the restaurants, of course, but that wasn’t enough for me anymore. So I managed to negotiate and put a stop to my contract with them, which gave me two years of paid unemployment – thank you, France ! (laughs) – and thanks to that, I said to myself “go ahead, try to make some music”. And since I am a bit of a good student to put it simply, I took this decision seriously. See, first thing I did was a crowdfunding campaign. We started out La Vague with John, whom I had met in jam sessions. We had played a bit together, we had even started making covers of famous songs at the time, and in fact, as we were starting to have a good amount of followers, and that’s when we thought of writing our own songs. We wrote one, two, three, four, five… we hired musicians, bassist / drummer, and we did a first crowdfunding campaign where we managed to raise almost 7 000 euros, yet we weren’t famous at all ! It was really cool, it allowed us to make our first EP called “Sérotonine”.
Adam: But you have to know that when Thérèse says she takes things seriously, it’s like, she sent 400 emails. That’s Thérèse (laughs)
Thérèse : That’s it, she woke up one day and said to herself that she was going to release some music, and voilà ! I started playing, and the audience followed. We were lucky enough to be supported by Zebrock, which is an association that supports artists and that is super cool because they’re not following the exact rules of “the industry”. So they trusted us, we won their contest, so we were able to play at the Fête de l’Humanité, we started to get a little famous, and that’s when we signed with the indie record label La Couveuse. And thanks to this label and thanks to our publisher Chancy Publishing, we were able to release an EP called “Lemme Be”.
Thérèse : La Vague was a thing for three and a half years. It was cool, we performed live a lot, I think we did about forty live shows… we had the Fête de l’Huma, Les Bars en Trans… and then when we were about to announce who was going to be our booker on March 12th of last year, which happened to be the day of my birthday, and the day of the president’s speech… Well, we were simply cut short, and we decided not to announce anything. I don’t know if I took that for a sign or not, it had been a while since John & I weren’t agreeing anymore, both on the artistic direction but also on how we were presenting ourselves to the audience. And I felt that there was something growing in me, I had this sort of urge to say more things, which is something I was already doing on my personal accounts, but that I couldn’t do with my music. Lockdown put kind of a stop on it though. I took time to think for myself, to think about the artist’s place in society, and of what kind of artist I wanted to be. And it sounds a bit metaphysical, and now that I look back at it it almost sounds ridiculous, but by the time Covid happened, we were still asking ourselves questions like “what are we going to become? ” We don’t know what this disease is, we started asking ourselves unusual questions like “what if I die tomorrow? or in a year? Am I proud of what I have brought to this world?” And my response was not really satisfying. So combined that with what life had gifted us back then which was time, and the fact that I was isolating myself alone in my apartment… I think it’s one of the most enriching experience I’ve been through. Seriously. And because finally I had time, I started learning how to use Ableton, with the help of this gentleman right there (Adam Carpels, editor’s note). We were already talking about music before, and he took control over my computer from a distance – technology ! – and like that, he showed me the basics. I had never opened Ableton before, so I learned how to create a track, how to record, how to add reverb if you feel like doing so, how to create a drum rack, very basic stuff. And I had fun ! So I played with my little Legos, and what was Therese’s game was to make one track a day, well demos, early demos, but still. So every night, I would send Adam the demos for him to listen to them, just for him to have a look. And he was like “honestly that sounds cool !”. At the end of the lockdown, when he arrived in Paris, he said to me “honestly there is something in your music, I would like to help you finish your tracks & do something with it”. At first I was a little reluctant, and then I said to myself “you know what let’s give it a try”. We tried, and three weeks later, we had lots of demos and we sent them to Alex from La Couveuse, who was my previous label with La Vague. Alex is someone I trust, and I just wanted to have his opinion. And funnily enough, he said to me “you know what, if we are crazy people, let’s release a track in July”. We were late May by then. And then he calls a sound engineer to finish up the track.
Adam : And let’s not forget that it was a bit weird back then, because we didn’t know what to do, no one was releasing music.
Thérèse : Yes, Covid put the whole music industry on pause.
hauméa : Indeed ! Everyone was doing livestreams, but not a lot of artists were releasing music.
Adam : Yeah, so when a label is like “come on, let’s release albums”… everyone thought it was a dumb idea. And we’re the living proof that it wasn’t.
Thérèse: Actually, we were lucky because it’s like the planets aligned just right for us. I called Alex, who I had already worked with on the second EP of La Vague and who I really liked working with, and I really wanted Adam to meet him too. He was available, which is rare because he was still in charge of Thérapie Taxi. And then, we went to the studio, we recorded a song, we released it in July 2020, and then… well, you got everything that happened since ! It’s a bit of a crazy story, because we really started it out of nowhere.
3. Well that actually allows me to ask a question I wanted to ask later on : over the past few months, you’ve been over the media, which isn’t something that happens that quickly normally ! How does it feel, especially when you take the decision to start over, to receive so much attention from highly coveted media ?
Thérèse : It’s actually very weird, because I feel like I’m split in two. On one hand you try to keep your feet on the ground, you make music without really realizing what’s happening, and when you are caught in this kind of frantic fast paced lifestyle because of the music industry, of capitalism, saying “you have to release stuff, have to make clips, have to do interviews, you have to do this you have to do that”, you see, the injunction to keep doing and keep making things, well there were times when I didn’t realize any of that. And on the other hand, not that long ago, it was maybe in March or April when the EP came out, we said to ourselves “it’s not even been a year since we started this project”, it was crazy ! I had already been on TV, been on magazine covers, crazy things that I could never have imagined ! Find a live booker in the midst of a pandemic ! It was unbelievable. So it fills you with joy, yet and it’s also kind of scary. And it’s not even being on magazine covers that’s scary, it’s the relationships with others, and how they see you. There are people for whom I was “that girl” on magazine covers, so for them I was a star, I was famous, that I was rich, when none of it is true ! So it’s great, but at the asme time, I try to be make sure that it doesn’t change how people see me. I’m an indie artist above all, my whole team is independent, we don’t have lots of money, we do everything with our friends and sometimes with close to nothing, we work day and night, we don’t have weekends… and it is not because you make Instagram stories because you are playing at a festival that all of a sudden you are a famous person !
– Thérèse on the cover of Causette magazine with Pomme (on top) and Suzane (in the middle)
Adam : Then when you think of it and especially with this whole Covid situation, you realize that we had a project that was lucky enough to get some good press coverage and reach lots of people in the music industry, but ultimately, even for Thérèse, you see the numbers blowing up, you see that her Insta account starts to have close 10,000 followers, but in reality you don’t actually see & meet these people since we can’t leave out homes ! And all of a sudden, I think it was a few months ago when we started to go out again, people stopped her in the street to say “Hey, are you Thérèse?”
Thérèse : It was weird !
Adam : And they know the lyrics by heart, so you’re like “oh my god there are people behind those numbers”, and that’s a very weird feeling.
Thérèse : We arrived in Orléans one day, we performed, we really thought that no one had heard of us, and then my song “T.O.X.I.C” arrives, it’s the last song of the live set, and I see two girls doing the hand choreography I had invented when we released the music video for the song, and then I said to myself “so that means that these girls have been following me for at least a year!”. And it’s crazy to realize that, to feel that, even. It’s not just numbers, it’s not just virtual actually.
4. And since we’re speaking of “T.O.X.I.C”, you’ve released a first EP called “Rêvalité” which allowed you to talk about very serious matters such as toxicity, feminism but also racism towards people of Asian origins. Did you want to tackle these subjects immediately in your songs ? When did you start writing about them ? And are these subjects something you want to continue to address ?
Thérèse: It’s funny because people often tell me “you’re a political artist”, “you stand up for this, for that”… It’s true, but the thing is that on one hand, I have always been sensitive to all of that, I don’t write lyrics telling myself “I have to write about this or that”, I think I can speak for a lot of artists while saying this : I write about the things that move me, and since I am sensitive to what is happening around me, of course subjects like feminism, racism… especially anti-Asian racism with everything that has happened this past year, it has to move me ! And all of my social media accounts are public accounts. There are very few Asian artists in France, of Asian origin at least, so I quickly saw myself becoming somewhat of a confident for lots of young women, men as well, who told me that they got hit at school, they were bullied for being who they are… I can’t just brush it off ! So at some point, it comes out. And when it comes to toxic relationships, I take from experiences that I have lived, and then that I have heard about from people around me, so there is always a part of personal truth in what I tell in my songs, like personal, true stories… however I also adjust my own experienced to things that I have heard here & there, and sometimes I also romance it a little bit. That what music is after all, my music doesn’t have to be my personal diary.
Adam: However, “Chinoise ?” is a track that we released in order to react to lots of things that happened.
hauméa : Well I was going to ask a related question to that actually, was there anything that triggered the need to share your story ? Because it’s not easy to share what you’ve been through. Writing about it is easy, sharing it to the world on the other hand…!
Thérèse : Well actually, I started writing “Chinoise ?” two years before it was released. Because anti-Asian racism started way before the Covid pandemic. And I had started to write it, I liked the song, however I had written it in English. And I had played it only once, on a Lunar New Year in the 13th district of Paris when I was invited to play there. And it was cool, we had done something cool, but the production didn’t quite suit me, then at the time I was in La Vague so I had other considerations. And so when we were still in the first lockdown, I took these lyrics, I started adding a beat to it, Adam took over the music production eventually, and after a while, he said to me “Thérèse, this song is a strong one, you’re tackling a super strong subject and since we are in France, and if you want people to really understand the lyrics, you should write it in French”. Alex from the label tells me the exact same thing. So, I’m like “should I do it? should I not?”, and it’s extremely difficult to translate a song you’ve already started writing into another language, so I knew it was going to be a big challenge for me. And eventually, I went for it. It took me a while to write them again, but I am very happy I did because I realized that they are much more precise in French than in English, there are references that French people can understand and that you cannot not translate in English ! So I’m pretty glad we did this. And this track had to be featured in the EP, we didn’t know if we were going to release it as a single or not because it’s still a very touchy subject. But then arrives a time where so much stuff happened at once… Basically just before the second lockdown there was a call to violence on Twitter, a call to beat up all Chinese people…
Adam: Yeah and that scared us, actually I personally was afraid, you know.
Thérèse : I was also very scared, I was very, very scared.
Adam : We were receiving pretty angry messages…
Thérèse : Yeah I received threats. And because of that, you’re scared, you’re telling yourself that you need to release this track, but on the other end you’re like “am I not better off remaining anonymous?”, so that I don’t have to carry that burden with me ? It’s a heavy responsibility to carry ! But I think there is a time when your heart weighs more than your fears. It starts that kind of fire in you, it’s a kind of emergency, so we were like “alright let’s do it”.
Adam : Yeah, and see, when you were talking about the attention we received from the media : talking about such a subject is something that you can easily get stuck into. We were very afraid of that, afraid of the media saying “ah she’s that French Asian girl who makes music” !
hauméa : Yes that’s exactly why I didn’t want to say that you are a political artist, because you’re only getting started, and maybe you won’t want to talk about all of that in the future. Maybe you started talking about this now but it’s not something you want to carry with you in the long run !
Adam : Well that’s actually something we’ve discussed more than once, it’s funny because today we realize that what people call a “political artist” is in reality just people who have a story to tell. We have artists who talk about political things and people who don’t, and but we are all more or less talking about stuff ! It’s weird to say that someone is a political artist.
Thérèse : Indeed that’s often what I say, it’s what I tell myself but I’m not the one who’s political, it is that there are some that are marginalized from what is happening in the world. But we need a bit of everything ! I have nothing against people who say “I love you, you love me” and that make us dance on the dancefloor, but that’s not what I want to do. And now, we are starting to write more songs for the following releases, and I’ve realized that the subjects that cross me are always that ! Tonight, I wanted to play “Anthropocentric” but we only have 30 minutes to perform. I wanted to write something about the disappearance of animals, and finally I ended up writing a song about anthropocentrism, about the fact that we as human beings believe we are at the center of everything, we believe we are allowed to do anything and therefore to destroy the planet, when in fact we are part of a whole and we forget that ! But, on the other hand, I’ve always been and I’m still attached to very personal & intimate subjects, and you’ll be able to hear it tonight, but I am going to play a song called “Jealous”… I like to tackle subjects that talk about personality traits, or emotions that we can be ashamed of, and just to tell people “don’t be ashamed of them it’s just human”, let’s acknowledge them and work on them.
5. So we are meeting tonight right before your show at the Crossroads Festival : how did you get the opportunity to play here ?
Thérèse : Ah, now that’s a long story ! In fact, when we started working together with Adam, we asked ourselves the question, saying “yeah, you’re in Lille, I’m in Paris, it’s a bit complicated”. Then you try to look for opportunities in the music industry, fill in application files for music contests… And the first question they ask is “which city do you come from?”. And it’s a complicated question to answer because I’m the lead singer, the project is named after me, but Adam is a co-composer, and so on and so on. And it turns out that Adam, well he is from Lille, and he has been supported by a local venue called La Cave aux Poètes since the early beginning of his music project, and thanks to Adam, I was able to meet Nicolas, the director of the venue. Turns out we hit it off really well, he thought our music was cool – well, when it comes tot the production, if he already liked Adam Carpels, even if what he does for me is not necessarily the same thing, it still bears his musical signature – and besides that, I think that we understood each other personally, we shared some values, and in fact he was one of the first people apart from Alexandre François whom I already knew and with whom I had already worked, to say “I’m going for it”. He really had courage, humanity, kindness, and then, he believes in it artistically I think, so he supported the project ! So his support allowed us to host residencies here, we were also lucky enough to be put in touch with Le Flow (a support system for young emerging artists from Hauts de France and part of urban cultures, editor’s note), I already knew Sylvain a little bit because I had hosted a training course for rappers. And same, with Sylvain, we worked hand in hand, between Le Flow, La Cave aux Poètes, Lille, Paris, Roubaix… to set up our music project. So there you have it, thanks to these various support system, we can claim to be both from Paris and the Hauts-de-France… but not only ! I am also supported by the Makeda in Marseille. And, I tell myself that in the end, even though it’s a super cliché thing to say, but I am a citizen of the world ! I said this earlier in another interview but basically what is the project today ? Thérèse is a Frenchwoman of Sino-Lao-Viet origin who sings in three languages on her EP, who works with a producer from Lille who has Polish origins, and next to that you have Kengo Saito who is a musician on the EP, who is a Japanese born in Japan and who lives in Paris and who has played Afghan instruments but using it as if it was an instrument from East and South-East Asia, on the EP ! There is also a traditional-electro, modern side to it, you see… you can’t say that you’re a musician with these many influences if you don’t reach for people & opportunities from outside of your city.
Adam : So that’s what happened for us but in reality, politically speaking, it’s much more complicated than that. In our case, Thérèse is the lead singer and we really wanted to put her name forward. First of all because she’s a woman, an Asian woman on top of that, so we wanted to put her forward as if she was a “character” so to speak. But politically it’s complicated because we are in this “we don’t care about borders” kind of vibe, it’s cool, but in fact you have the cultural departments of France’s regions that we get in touch with for financial support for example which will tell you “so you are from Paris, but you are from Lille, so where are you from exactly?”
Thérèse : And the Printemps de Bourges Festival, where do you present the Inouïs (a French support system designed to help emerging artists, region per region, to get heard & get more visibility, editor’s note) ? Well I can’t really apply anywhere ! And anyway, nobody wants me anywhere. We applied for a lot of things like every other artist, we were lucky to have been supported by The Ricard Live Music, it helped us to give visibility to the project, and it was at the very beginning. so it was not negligible. And besides that, for now, no one answers our other applications. For what reasons ? For me the question remains unanswered. I heard it said, before, when I was working on La Vague, people used to say to me “you have to start to get famous first before applying to such contests & programs”. Well I’m sorry but here, for a project that is less than a year old, I can’t go any faster ! And also people don’t understand my music because I put together too many things, I sing in too many different languages, I mix too many styles…
And then the last question I asked myself, which is a little more tangible, is my age. I am 35 years old. And that’s a real question in the music industry, because after all, do we know a lot of artists, women, who start a music band at 35 ? And knowing that there are stepping stones where, after 35 years, you are not allowed to apply ! For example, I am not allowed to apply to the Chorus, for example. The project is only one year old but I don’t fit the requirements. So what does it mean ? What does this say about the industry ? And I think that’s a shame ! I have nothing against young people of course, but today people say that music doesn’t say much. But when you haven’t experienced anything what do you want to say ? Can you blame young people for not saying anything ? I am not saying that all young people have not experienced anything yet ! I’m just saying it’s normal that the majority of people who are 20 years old have lived less things than people who are older. This is a normal, logical thing. And besides that too, I tell myself that we talk a lot about #metoo, #musictoo … I think that it also happens a lot – not to everyone of course, once again I pay attention to what I say – but of course when you work with younger people, they are of course more vulnerable ! And so it’s easier, when you have more power, to go and manipulate the other person, be able to have the upper hand, and pollute them. In the end, as an artist, we have little information to know what our rights are. How much can you earn ? What should you give to who ? And on the other hand, regarding your mental health, who should you surround yourself with ? Not to think of fame all the time, you know ? What is it like to have a healthy project ? Trusting your partners, not believing in anyone right away… no one teaches us that ! And unfortunately, either you have what it takes to protect yourself from that, but if it is not the case… and if you add to that the fact that you’re young… well you can easily fall into things that’ll hurt you in the long run. Not even mentioning social media ! It never stops, you know. Even when trying to take a step back, I can see how this stuff is glued to my hand, plus how much it can affect me, you know. For example, I might know that my value is not determined by a number of likes on a photo, but it is complicated !
Adam : And then it’s how the system is built… I digress a bit but it’s the system, it’s the same for everyone. And that I think that’s the thing, is that we forget to tell us being an artist is a job. It’s not “you’re gonna go on tour, you’re gonna have a lot of fans and it’s gonna be awesome !” In fact, it’s a job. You have stress, anxiety, emails to send, things that you don’t want to do, things that you want to do… it’s a job. You’re an entrepreneur.
Thérèse : And then the music industry is, first and foremost, an industry ! If you don’t want it to be, then you make music for your friends and then there you go, you don’t try to make a living off of it.
6. Can you tell us more about what to expect from you in the near future ? A new single ? More live performances ? Collaborations with other artists maybe ?
Thérèse : Right now it’s more live shows, indeed. We have the chance to work with a great booking agency called Wart, our booker is Audrey, she is great, and the whole booking team supports the project. We have between 20 and 30 shows announced by March 2022. After the Crossroads we will perform at the Smmmile on September 18th in La Villette, on the 23rd at Urban Week in La Défense, on October 2nd I was invited by Sônge to the Metronome for a set with Frida who is one of my very good friends, there should also be Flavia Coehlo, Claire Laffut… so it’s going to be a pretty cool set I think ! And then, very important show for the project : we will be at the MaMA Festival in Paris on October 13th. A lot of things are about to happen ! I trust life ! Then we go to Lorient, to open the show of Yseult aux Indisciplinés, same for Suzane in Morlaix, and then there is the Scénart Theater which also happens in December, and then the Bars en Trans, normally. I am waiting to see if everything is booked. Everything is available on my Instagram, Facebook and Twitter account ! And then after, we keep writing songs in between shows. And since I have a lot of other professional activities – well I’m a stylist – there is an ad that will come out at the end of September for which I did the styling, a Spotify ad, and I’m in the process of setting up my merchandising brand. It would only be made in France, and we would like to work with women in the process of social reintegration. That’s my end-of-year goal. I would like to have something to show for Christmas !
7. Finally, there is a question I like to ask when my interviews come to an end : is there an artist that you’ve been keeping an eye on lately ?
Thérèse: Well, in fact I follow lots of them all the time ! I do my own research. But there is one artist that I have been following for years and that I talk about in every interview but I’m not tired of doin so, it’s M.I.A. She’s an endless source of inspiration for me, I think she’s one of the only artist who, every time she’s live on Instagram, I’ll watch her. Because I know she’s going to say interesting things, I know that’s going to make me think, or that she’s going to play us something that won’t be available on streaming platforms, and I find her business model to be quite interesting, because that besides the fact that she is a woman that I find to be beautiful, super badass, super well dressed, who sings well too, and who has cool music productions, and who is not 20 years old, she is a woman who has the mindset that I have always wanted to adopt which is to be both on the inside and on the outside. She has one foot in the industry, well she criticizes it quite a bit from time to time, she does H&M campaigns anyway, but besides that she is really involved in the migrants crisis because it is part of her own story, but that does not stop her from participating in an H&M campaign one day and a conference for helping migrants the next day. In that sense, I think she’s a well-rounded artist, and that’s inspiring ! And her Patreon, it’s cool to have enough followers & fans to be able to give them things that aren’t available on platforms. I can’t do that yet. YouTube’s censorship (for the music video for “Skin Hunger”, editor’s note) really hurt us. But, this is where I want to go.
Thérèse est à retrouver sur toutes les plateformes de streaming. Vous pouvez également la retrouver sur Instagram !
As a music web writer for several years, I have developed a particularly devoted passion for electronic and alternative musics. From the ethereal melodies of Max Cooper to the introspective music and lyrics of Banks, my radar has me listening to the wide French and international independent music scene... all of this between communication plans for independent labels and artists !