Long before DJs became megastars, Caroline Hervé (aka Miss Kittin) was one of the first performers whose celebrity shined on a scene mired in anonymity. Starting in the early ’00s with hit songs “Frank Sinitra” and “1982,” her career has ridden the waves of success over four albums of electronic-driven pop that always remain fueled by the dance floor.
Her latest, Falling From The Stars, offers yet another look at Hervé. The double disc set feature classic Kittin tunes on disc one, while disc two focuses on moody instrumental electronica — a sound one might only recognize from her tendency to toss an odd Autechre tune in the middle of a blazing techno DJ set. URB asked Miss Kittin to decode her many lives.
URB: In the past you have been known for working with multiple collaborators. What prompted you to do release an album comprised of your own productions at this point in your career?
Miss Kittin: Just by writing a few ideas that accidentally happened to be finished songs. I know it sounds odd, but at this point, I still thought I couldn’t really produced by myself. That’s the problem of collaborating for so long, you think you need tons of equipment to release material. But no. I basically used my small studio like someone would use a guitar or a piano and it worked.
My producer friend Pascal Gabriel opened my eyes. I learnt a lot by his side. But many musicians have sound engineers making their life easier and no one says anything, so let’s say it’s my personal pride to have made this completely on my own (except a few tracks). I love to write music with other people by the way, so it doesn’t matter.
There are some personal themes on the album – life, death, sadness, joy. Often dance tracks are accused of being a little shallow. Did you want to invest your music with more meaningful themes?
That’s how I am, today, where life brought me. Your aim as an artist is to express who you are in the moment. I just try to be a better person day after day, music is one of my ships in this journey. I work hard for that, questioning myself, digging years after years to understand who I am so by definition, yes I end up talking about these deep themes, because I know it’s the only way to wisdom and it’s fascinating. My music was never sad, it’s always that quest of truth with a little sarcasm!
There is a cover on the record of REM’s iconic ‘Everybody Hurts.’ Is this a song that has special meaning for you?
After meeting Michael Stipe in a restaurant in south of France. He stood in front of me, I didn’t even know he was there, said he liked my music… Unbelievable… I’ll never forget his presence, softness, deep eyes, his voice. So when I came back home, I sat in the dark in my studio and made this cover in a few hours, like a lullaby. I don’t know why I chose that song in particular, it was more to keep a memory of him, of that moment. Later on I sent it to a common friend who forwarded it to him, he said he loved it and I could release it. It was years ago. One of my very early works alone, with no intention to release it. But suddenly it made sense in this album. I am very happy about it, because the track is so famous, you nearly forget how powerful the lyrics are, and I hope people can rediscover them in this
version. It’s also a big love message to my friends.
You are a rare breed, a independent artist that has enjoyed major mainstream success. Seeing both sides of the spectrum, what does success mean to you now?
Oh, I don’t think you can say I reached a mainstream success. I never lived from record sales, I was never in the charts. And I am happy about it. I like my position, in between. It wasn’t easy either, too pop for where I come from, too indie for the mainstream, but I like to open doors, I am free, and that’s my biggest success. To do what I am good at and live from it. Success was never my goal very honestly. I never thought i would be a musician or a DJ, it’s all bonus. I just wanted to have a good life, free, out of the norm. Success means today: I embraced every opportunity with passion, I worked hard doing my best, making the right choices for myself, mostly with intuition, and I am still here 20 years later. Freedom and nothing else.
There are two distinct sides to this album – the first disc is more upbeat arguably more typical Miss Kittin, the second is an ambient/electronic album. Which better represents Miss Kittin today?
Both. The first part is in the continuum of what I try to do since the beginning: pop music with electronic sounds. A DJ can be a song writer. It’s an important mission, to show there’s a more subtle pop music out there, out of the format you hear every day. The second part goes even deeper. It’s not pop music anymore, it’s just pieces of music, without the chorus/verses formula. I did these pieces out of the blue, here and there, I wanted to keep them for another project but decided to bring them into a double LP. Why not.
The first part can bring the listener to the second part, like if you push another door into my world. Electronica is a big part of my life as a music lover since the early Warp stuff. It’s pretty much forgotten today. And I don’t release albums every year so it’s nice to come out with such an amount of songs.
Having achieved so much in your career, what now drives you forward? What things are you still keen to achieve?
Today, it’s performing live. I was always a bit scared of that, being up front on stage. I always preferred DJing, playing other people’s music. But I reached a point as a DJ, I don’t think I can go further. It’s also a question of age. I don’t see myself much longer in clubs till 6 am every weekend. Another important point, I realize there’s very few DJs who can write songs and sing live, so it’s nearly political.
To push things forward and not only for me. It’s exciting to be part of something bigger than you. That’s exactly why I fell in love with electronic music in the late 80′s, a movement so much bigger than us. Later on, I want to write a book as well, when I have more time. Paint more, draw more as well…
You talk of inspiration, about wanting to give and receive. How do you open yourself up to be inspired on an ongoing basis? Where do you look for inspiration?
It’s a constant evolution. Traveling helps. It sharpens your emotions, feelings, your eye on the world. It changes you forever to see other cultures. You end up seeing things in a poetic way all the time, on a daily basis, that no one notices. I can catch myself daydreaming. That’s why I write a lot, take pictures, I try to catch these little moments, little things that seem unimportant. It’s all about point of view. I cultivate that a lot, walking in the street for example, I see things that busy people can’t see. I love that. To see what’s behind the obvious.
On a similar note, do you feel any responsibility to try and inspire others who are trying to emulate what you have accomplished, especially while big name female DJs remain a rarity?
I realized that very recently. I never thought about it before. Who was I to pretend I could have such an influence? It came with age and experience again. Lately I got a lot of feedback from close friends who told me I was a big inspiration for them. I know it sounds odd, but I had a big lack of confidence about that… For sure, I always tried to do my best, defend ideas I believed in, stayed myself, and wished it was the reason why they got inspired, because that’s what I always wanted to be respected for. Now, I am very proud of what I achieved, yes. I can say that for the very first time. Sounds weird!
Rarity of female DJs is another topic. I don’t see where is the pride to be one of a few, it means things didn’t change much in the business. I came to the conclusion we are still in a pretty sexist society. Women have more rights, yes, but it’s still so difficult to be a successful woman. A man can be successful, with a wife taking care of the house, but to find a man who supports a woman in her success, you have to admit it’s still a rarity. If men are more open-minded, especially the young generation who grew up with independent mothers, you still have to deal with egos. It explains a lot why there’s so few women. There were always a lot of creative women in history, but sooner or later, you have to make a choice, if you want a family you have to give up your career and it’s not fair. I say we can have both like men do. And yes, if it’s an inspiration for other women, then great. Time to wake up.