Keren Ann discusses how her music is inspired by love.
Is Café Gitane part of your "Nolita"?
It is. The owner and his wife happen to be friends of mine. In Paris, you have the café just outside your house where you have an espresso before you go out and do anything; another where you have a coffee in the afternoon. It's a habit, and I needed to find one of my own little habits around here.
When you were in Paris working on Nolita, did you keep a special place in your mind for New York?
I wrote most of Nolita in New York, but my recording studio is in Paris. There's a mood to New York, but there's also a mood to Paris. I'm attached to many, many things about Paris. It has its own beauty, and it has its own bitterness, just like New York. You're crazy about it, but it can drive you nuts. But when you're away from New York you can't stop thinking about New York, you long for New York. It's like that for me when I go back to Paris.
Some critics have said that Nolita is about "dysfunctional relationships." Specifically, I'm thinking about songs like "Chelsea Burns." Would you agree?
Not [attaching feelings of] anger or loss to a partner, but instead [attaching it to] a place is something very feminine to do, I think. You get attached to places and you can burn them up if you've experienced love there. Like my character Alice [from the song] was in love with a rock star in the '70s. Lost love is something I'm very familiar with: Not because I've been tortured by love, but people in my profession constantly live in a world of goodbyes; a world of getting attached and leaving. Alice's love was on the road, she was the one left behind. And in my case, it's the opposite.
How have goodbyes contributed to your songwriting?
The people I've had to leave behind inspire me to carry things along with me. You want love to be simple and domestic, but when a relationship is based on a couple of days here, a week there, love can't be simple. Every time you meet, love is ephemeral. It's the life of sailors.
Have you been able to maintain any romantic relationships?
Absolutely! I'm lucky. But when you do have something very special, you just want to let go, you want to lay your head down and not think of all the work it takes. You want it to be simple. And unfortunately when you do get to the point where you don't think about how hard it is, and you don't work for things, then sometimes it just doesn't work. I've had the fantastic privilege of seeing things that did work, and maybe I do still [winks]. The only way to really get along with someone, I think, is to be able to go beyond expectations. For me, the most lasting moments that exist in my life are a result of love without any expectations. We're allowed to have moods and to change. And you have to be with a person who's like you.
The tone of your music has been described as melancholic. Do you agree, and, if so, where does this melancholy come from?
I agree. But unfortunately people often associate melancholy with sadness. To me, melancholy isn't a negative thing at all. It means that you have emotions. You long for things, you're reminded of things, and it's comforting because it means that you're alive. I think you can be very happy and melancholic at the same time. The coming of fall, a passing wind—for some people, at that moment, that could be melancholic. If you spoke to someone abroad, or if you miss someone you love, or if you're on your way to see someone you care for, these could all be melancholic moments.
I am attracted to melancholic melodies, and, as a result, it comes out in the lyrics as well. That's the way I see things. Melancholy is personal. I can listen to Queens of the Stone Age and listen to one word, and it can break my heart. Melancholy is everywhere. It's just subjective.