MUSIC: Interview with Abby Dobson of Baby et Lulu

Reading Time: 9 minutes

You’re baby of Baby et Lulu. Who are Baby et Lulu?

I am Baby. And Lulu is Lara Goodridge.

But in terms of your personas?

I suppose we take on a facet of our own personalities. Perhaps magnify a facet of our personalities. But we are still ourselves. Of course we pretend to be French and we’re not, so we are definitely putting on something that isn’t us. Our personalities are still us, I think… I don’t know, to tell you the truth. We just get up there and it’s an unscripted show. We have a lot of fun together.


It is fun to watch as well.

We have got this beautiful band that we play with so it’s such a treat for Lara and I. I mean we started this group because, just out of our own love of French language and singing in harmony and each other. We had both become quite good friends through working together.

She had a record label, called Craving Records and I put out a record through her label and through that we became very good friends. We both have the same sense of the ridiculous and I think that aspect has definitely weaved its way into the Baby et Lulu repertoire. We met in Paris, we had already been friends but we hooked up in Paris, one time when I was living there and realised that we both loved the French language and had never known that about each other and then we thought “wouldn’t it be great to do a song together one day”. We had never even played music together even though Lara is a beautiful musician, a violinist.

So a few months later we were back in Sydney at the same time and she was having a party with her partner and he said “why don’t you and Abby get up and do a song at this party”. So we did a song from the songbook she had bought the morning we’d met in Paris. We found an accordionist, stood on milk crates at this party and sang in harmony in French and it just blew our little minds. Even rehearsing it, all of the sudden it was quite obvious that it was completely enchanting to each other “Oh my God! This is the happiest I think I can ever get: in harmony, in French”.


What was that song?

That song was “Les Baisers”, which we recorded on our first album. And yeah, we loved it so much that we thought let’s just do one show. Let’s get a band together and get this French thing out of our system and do a show. So we assembled these fine, fine musicians and put a repertoire together over quite a period of time. It took quite a while to curate a show. It was just hugely popular and successful and everyone loved it and we loved it so we just kind of kept fumbling along doing these shows because we loved it.


When was your first show?

Maybe 2010.


So you did the show that was amazingly popular and then decided to do a few more…

We decided to do a few more because we decided it was fun and we had already put together this band and everyone knew the music. It just became more and more popular. No one wanted to go home at the end of the night and we were surprised that people would come even though they didn’t really understand what we were singing about. We just didn’t know there were that many francophiles, really,  in Sydney, at that stage when we were starting. And then French people started coming to the show, which terrified us! We thought they are going to just point at us and laugh and think you ridiculous creatures.

French people come and talk to us at the end of the show after we’ve been singing fluently in magnificent, poetic French and then they talk when we are trying to sell CDs  talking to me in fast, fluent French over a million other people and I’m like “can you say that again, slower?”What?” I’m not as fluent as I would like.


In your bio online, it says that your love of French music followed your love of the French language, food and sensuality. When did the love begin?

Well, my fabulous Aunt, Margie, was like a bit of a rock star to me when I was growing up. She could speak French and she caught the Concorde and went to Geneva and would bring back wonderful Swiss chocolate and was a bit sort of continental. And she could speak French and had these “Learn to Speak French” cassettes in her car, which I just thought was amazing. I was quite enchanted early on by her and by the language and I just thought “this language is a portal to all of this deliciousness”. There was a French patisserie near where I grew up which was run by French people so I thought that was quite special and I would go in and say “Bonjour” and get quite excited by that and buy these amazingly delicious things.


Where did you grow up?

On the North shore of Sydney.

Then I learned it at school because of my early enchantment so I did it in high school and loved that and every time I would get tipsy I would speak French at parties. Unfortunately I wasn’t allowed to drink before my French oral exam!

Then when I left school, I travelled quite soon. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I was quite lost. But I studied French, Art and Italian at school but it didn’t lead to anything decisive. I wanted to travel and go to the Louvre so I went to Paris a couple of years after I left school with Dean Manning who I later started Leonardo’s Bride with. We started playing music, originally in Greece – we were there for a few months – and then we moved to Paris and we started playing in bars in Paris and yeah I just kept going back whenever I could, every 5 years or something. I didn’t do South-East Asia like everybody else.

Your second album, aptly entitled “Album Deux” features songs that you both wrote in French. What were the challenges of writing music in a foreign language?

Um, the challenges were… I suppose the challenge was that you wanted to get the sentiment right. Not having the subtlety of nuance made me very cautious because I didn’t want to fuck the language up and get it wrong. But in a way, the challenge of the limitation of my vocabulary perhaps and turn of phrase in other ways was quite liberating because you know in English you can want to say something and there can be so many different ways to say it, whereas in French I only know probably a few different angles to say what I want to say. And we did get French friends to oversee our compositions before we recorded them which was helpful.


The challenge I suppose is that it’s not a direct translation. In a conversation, people are much more forgiving if I am not as poetic as a French person would be. But you don’t want to forego the poetry too much. You don’t want it to be too prosaic. So yeah, getting the right placement of words, like in any kind of song. You want the words to be in the right order, even in English. You know the order of things, where you place the emphasis. It’s tricky, songwriting! I don’t know how people do it! Mysterious and magical to me.


One of my favourite songs, and the first time I heard it was at the performance you gave at the Trinity Church in Adelaide a few years ago, is “Adieu” and I was sitting there with tears streaming down my face. The same thing happens each time I hear it. It’s such a beautiful song and I was hoping you might be able to tell me something about what made you write that song.

Thank you for that. I am so glad that you are moved by it. I suppose the idea of that song – well it came out of a very brutal year that I had had where a number of people I loved had died and one of them was my Aunt that I spoke about before, my rock star Aunt. I suppose it was the idea of not wanting to say that final farewell. You know in English we don’t really have the same distinction between goodbyes. Whereas in French “au revoir” is “until I see you again” and “adieu” is like a final goodbye.


So it was really just not wanting to – even though the signs are all there – the seasons – the birds are flying South and the leaves are falling off the tree, you know it’s time to let go, you know that all things have their season but just not wanting to let go. That was kind of it.


But yeah, I think it’s quite universal. Everybody knows that wrenching feeling so we do get a few weepers. And me too! It still moves me to sing it as well.


It’s one of those songs. We were already booked to record the album and Lara had already written a couple of songs and she was like “you should really have a couple on there”. I had only written one for the album at that point. I’d had to move out of home so I was homeless, house-sitting every week – it was really stressful and all on the back of this year that was emotionally devastating. So I wrote the melody at some house that I was house-sitting, on their piano, and came to the studio on the very first morning that we were going to record and we already knew the songs that we were going to do. But we met at this expensive studio and I was like “I might have something”. I played Lara what I had written so far without many lyrics at all and she was like “Do it! Do it! Do it!” So I wrote it while we were kind of recording the other songs. Thank you, I’m glad it worked.


It definitely does. Same reaction, every time.

Aww… It’s actually really hard to sing for some reason. I don’t know why but not even just emotionally. I think it’s the emotion of it but also the range. For some reason it catches in my voice, probably the emotion as well. It’s always hard to get – I always look at it and go “ooh that’s gonna be tough to actually sing!” because it’s got quite a range. Anyway, you don’t need to know that.


Well, it doesn’t show that it’s difficult to sing it. What’s your favourite French song?

Probably my favourite song at the moment that we do is “Je suis venu te dire”. I love playing that live. It’s very subtle but the band play it beautifully and I love the arrangement. Lara and I sing in harmony the whole way through. She’s such a beautiful harmonist. Yeah, it’s kind of got all of the passion and melancholy and intensity but it’s really kind of contained as well. I don’t know why I love it. It’s a song written by Serge Gainsbourg and Rufus Wainwright did a lovely version of it for Lulu Gainsbourg’s album. Lulu, Serge’s son, asked him to do it and that’s where we heard it. It’s actually really hard to find a Serge Gainsbourg song, even though he was prolific, that is suited to us.


What’s your favourite original song that either of you have written?

There’s a song that Lara and Julian, our guitarist wrote. “Tout est fait”. I love that song. Track 10 on “Album Deux”. We don’t play it all the time because, again, it’s quite difficult to sing and I’ve had some vocal issues so some songs I weave around a bit while getting over my voice stuff. But that one I really love. I don’t listen to the music at all, truthfully, but I did listen to it the other day because I got some new headphones because I’ve never had anything to listen to the music on. I listened to one of the records with the headphones on and I rang Lara and said “Ohhhh it’s really beautiful” because I hadn’t heard it since we did it really and I just loved all the songs that she’s singing and I thought “ohh she’s so beautiful”.


But then she probably thinks the same of yours!

That’s what she said. It was so funny!


What can the audience expect from your performance at the French Festival?

Beautiful musicianship and a kind of combination between passion and intensity and ridiculous frivolity. It’s ultimately a really uplifting show. People feel buoyed by the show and get quite excited which is really nice because my solo work is not that. There’s lots of melancholy in there as well. We both love the outlet because it’s very passionate.


But it’s also very French. It’s like French films that don’t have to have a Hollywood style happy ending. They’re not afraid of the intensity.

Yes, so it’s kind of both. And we speak in a pretend French accent between the songs. We take the music very seriously but we don’t take ourselves seriously.

So you’re performing at La Soirée Cliché at the Adelaide French Festival. It sounds very jam-packed with you performing, live art and Maeve O’Mara MCing.

We are thrilled to be a part of it. It’s a fantastic program. We booked our tickets a while ago to see if we could try to come early but because we are there just for the night so we won’t get to see the other events unfortunately.

Adelaide is so great for events and festivals. I am so impressed with Adelaide. We love coming there. People buy tickets and they appreciate it and they are cultured. There’s a culture of going out and seeing things. It’s amazing.

I can’t really tell you how it’s going to go. It will be different from our own show. We will be slotted in, which is fun, being part of a whole event.


And you dear readers, have you seen Baby et Lulu perform before? Are you going to see them at La Soirée Cliché?

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