Q and A with Jessica Fichot
Multi-lingual and multicultural singer-songwriter Jessica Fichot will perform from 8 to 11 p.m. Monday at the Bullfrog Brewery, 229 W. Fourth St.
Fichot, who is promoting her second album, “Le Secret,” a mix of French chanson, Chinese ’40s swing, gypsy jazz and international folk, is based in Los Angeles, California. Fichot has infused her multicultural and lingual background into her music. Although she was born in New York, Fichot grew up in Paris, France and also was brought up by a Chinese mother and French father. Playing piano at a young age, Fichot has always loved signing.
“I come from a family of engineers, but my parents were always supportive of my music and my choices,” Fichot said. “I never really thought about doing anything else.”
The Sun-Gazette recently caught up with Fichot via email about making a name for herself in the L.A. music scene, writing children’s songs and her upcoming performance at the Bullfrog.
BETHANY WIEGAND: You spent your childhood summers in Paris, as well as earning a degree there. How did you end up in Los Angeles?
JESSICA FICHOT: I spent my whole childhood and teenage years in France (not only summers), and graduated high school there. I decided to move to the U.S. to study music at Berklee College of Music in Boston. Moving to Los Angeles was a bit random: I wasn’t sure where I wanted to settle after I graduated from Berklee and I decided to follow a friend of mine who was moving to Los Angeles. I unexpectedly ended up liking L.A a lot, and still love living here.
BW: How did you learn to be so multilingual and cultural in your music? Do you think it helps you to stand out in a sea of musicians?
JF: After I moved to Los Angeles, I was struggling to find my own style: I was writing songs but nothing quite seemed to fit. Then, hearing some multilingual artists in Los Angeles inspired me to rediscover the “French chanson” style I had ignored growing up: when I was little, the French language wasn’t as cool and exotic sounding to me as English because I was surrounded by French-speakers. I started to write and sing songs in French and that somehow felt right: possibly because it was different than what other bands were doing in L.A, and possibly because French is the language of my childhood.
After gaining some success as a French chanteuse and songwriter in L.A, I started adding various languages to my performances: songs in Spanish (which I speak pretty well), Portuguese, Russian, Mandarin Chinese (which I speak a little) and occasionally English.
BW: You’ve written children’s songs as well. What was the inspiration to do that?
JF: In college, my first job as a songwriter was writing for a local children’s theater in Boston. Since then, I’ve had a chance to write over a hundred children’s songs for educational publishing that have been distributed all over the world. Writing so many songs for children gave me a chance to work on my songwriting craft, and I still enjoy doing it a lot.
BW: What made you want to include the toy piano in your band?
JF: After struggling with technical problems with my electric keyboard on a few gigs, I bought a toy piano on eBay for $30 and decided to include it in my performances. It has an unusual sound – a mix of sweet and creepy that seems to fit some of my songs well. I only use the toy piano on a few songs, though: for the most part, I sing and play accordion.
BW: What musicians inspire you? Are there any upcoming musicians that you are excited about?
JF: These days, I have been listening to a lot of Chinese lounge singers from 1940s Shanghai: Zhou Xuan, Li Xianglan, Yao Li etc A lot of people have a phase where they listen to music from their parents’ generation, but I’m listening to music from my grandparents’ generation (my grandparents on my mothers’ side were born and raised in Shanghai, as was my mom.) Songs from that era mix European-style jazz with Chinese-style singing. It’s a style of music almost no one is familiar with in this country, and I find it very interesting and beautiful.
In the more contemporary world, I really enjoy the singer Sia: she is a pop singer/songwriter with a lot of commercial success, but her songs are still well crafted and her performances feel very passionate.
BW: What differences do you notice about your music and yourself since your first record, “Le Chemin” in 2007 and your most recent album, “Le Secret”?
JF: The songs on “Le Chemin” were a little bit more acoustic and traditional in the French chanson style. “Le Secret” is a little more modern, production-wise at least. My albums “Le Chemin” and “Le Secret” both took a while to complete, but I think I gained some confidence in my songwriting in between both albums. There was a time when completing a song seemed like an impossible task, but now I know I can do it if I set my mind to it. Still, the songwriting process can be a frustrating one at times and magical one at times.
BW: What’s in the future for your career? What upcoming projects have you been working on?
JF: I’ve been working on a new EP “Dear Shanghai” which will be finished at the end of the summer. This is a little break from the French chanson style, as the EP will be entirely in Mandarin Chinese, and will feature mostly covers of songs from 1940s Shanghai, as well as a couple of my originals songs in Chinese.
BW: What can audiences at the Bullfrog Brewery expect from your show on June 9?
JF: Despite the fact I sing in many languages for an audience that usually doesn’t understand most of them, my music is very lively, accessible, and usually crowd-pleasing. I play with a great band (Sylvain Carton on clarinet, Alex Miller on guitar and Matias Alvear on upright bass) so aside from the experience of the musical journey to France, China and many other countries, I think the audience at the Bullfrog Brewery can expect a fun performance by a great band.
For more information on Jessica Fichot, visit www.jessicasongs.com.