OUH LÀ LÀ, C'EST
Meeting Juniore was exactly how we imagined it to be. Gathering in an old hotel, surrounded by antique, the band looked stylishly French, all ordering a black coffee (no sugar of course). Vocalist and guitarist Anna-Jean looked understated chique in her subtle, dark colored ensemble. Her 60s vibe, both in music, style and beauty, quickly draws comparison with the likes of Jane Birkin or maybe Nico from the Velvet Underground.
Ok, now differently. Begin again.
That’s not how we want the media to just talk about female musicians anymore.
A while ago, in the most northern city of our lowlands, we got the pleasure of having coffee with Anna-Jean and her band Juniore. They formed as an all-girl band in Paris in 2013. Releasing some seriously well constructed, somewhere dark and interestingly virtuous indie-pop on their album Ouh là là in 2017. Lyrically strong but subtle, they got us very curious about the motives behind them making this music. But a lot of coverage we found online quickly went to asking the girls about fashion. So we thought we’d start the conversation about these kind of questions and how they feel about it. As expected, Anna-Jean gave it some thought already, and we could only agree with her.
Being an all-female, french band, how do you handle media that accentuate these aspects of you instead of focussing on the quality of your music?
I think for women in general, but maybe even more as performers, it is a constant sort of battle. Because we do not really know which side to choose. We constantly fight with ourselves because we don’t really know what we want, as wanting to look good is also not a bad thing. But you’ve put so much more effort in your music (or any other art) that you want that to be seen as most important.
It is strange growing up and learning that looking nice is a quality in a woman. But then most of them that we really admire, we don’t even know what they look like. Like scientists or writers. Some of them maybe, we like their style, but ultimately, I am much more interested by interesting women (and men) and it doesn’t really matter what they look like.
When you are on stage and you have to present yourself, there’s always this internal conflict, at least for me, with my ego. It’s about looking good but also feeling like yourself. We all want to look nice and be pretty because it’s fun. There’s something very lighthearted about wanting to look nice and playing around with that. But it also makes me tired. At one point it got me wondering; do I have to look nice? Do I want this myself or is it just expected of me and sort of programmed in my mind? Most men never really make that kind of effort all the time. Just when they feel like it. Of course you are aware of people taking pictures, watching you play and sing. And then you want to look the best that you can, because you are pouring your heart out. It’s almost like a reflex. Afterwards I’ll ask myself; do I really want to be just that? Do I want to be thinking about looking good when I perform? It’s just not important, I should spend more time thinking about something else… I tell myself now.
Do you think it’s hard to feel like more than a pretty person at those times?
Not really, at least not for me. I am lucky to have grown up not thinking I was a ‘pretty girl’. I never really had those kind of feelings from early on. Some girls are constantly told, by their parents and the rest of the world; ”your so pretty”. And you just grow up thinking, that is what you are. It’s like a label, a ‘pretty girl’. When you don’t really grow up with that, and you ‘are’ a lot of different, other things, they will also define you. That makes a huge difference. The shaping of your personal identity is a lot about what you hear from others when you grow up. You don’t start out with giving it thought yourself, that comes later on in life.
When this time arrives, set off by others, but also things like teenage insecurity, it’s up to you. It comes for example when you are on stage, or making art. Once you start playing music you start to notice that you are selling something, and part of that is yourself. Even though you love making music there’s always this commercial part that you have to think about, otherwise you can’t do it. Some promotion has to be done, even if it’s just a little bit. It is not as much fun doing it just in your room.
You also started your own label together with Samy Osta (the only one with hair on the face in the photo). Samy is also the producer of albums by Juniore, La Femme and Feu! Chatterton. Being in the record label business, it is apparent that you’d think about promo etc. now. How do you try keeping the balance between having some attention for your music but not getting over conscious about it, overshadowing the fun?
Of course it matters, that is evident and nonnegotiable by now. Having the label makes me also see things from a different perspective and not see promotion, and looking nice for that, as a dirty thing. So it actually helps. But it can never get more important than the rest of the process. I’m always trying to find that equilibrium, the balance between the two.
What was the first time that you got conscious about the fact that your ‘looks’ made a difference and had an effect on people and the way they look to your music?
Probably the first time being on stage, presenting yourself. Or going back even further, maybe even the first time I really looked at a photo that was taken of me. I remember the feeling of looking at a photo of myself and thinking; maybe I should dress better, is this how I look? What do people think about that? Should I comb my hair? But I try to not let it get to me too much, to not let those thoughts take over.
Have there been decisions that you made based on those feelings which you later regretted?
All the decisions that we made with the band, since we’ve started, where very conscious. But we did a few TV shows in France, the good ones that people actually talk about, where we did look a bit more polished. As soon as I told people about the fact that we were gonna be on those shows, they started giving me tips on what I should wear. And they started telling me that it was so cool and important to be seen there and that I should look good. When we got to those studios, people were putting makeup on me, styling, because that’s what they do. It all went fast and felt good at the time. But afterwards, when saw it, I thought; O no, I did that? I looked like that? I put that on? Maybe it was not completely me. But that happens too. I don’t really regret it, it’s maybe just getting to know what you want and how you want to feel at those kind of moments. You only learn by doing it. I try to make conscious decisions whenever I can.
Earlier on you were talking about the people that you admire and inspire you, and that in the end, it’s about what they do, not the looks. Who were you talking about?
Growing up I had a big passion for Nina Simone. She’s always going to be my number one example, even though her personal life was probably very difficult. For me it’s about being a woman and musician and feeling connected. I’ve always felt connection with her. I’ve read her biography too, and despite her life being in a totally different place in time, I think it’s still very relevant. The things she spoke about are still the same as in the conversations that we have now. Maybe it’s different from a lot of people in the way that she was so extremely talented. When you have that sort of mission in life to just play piano and sing songs the best that you can, of course it’s different then, let’s say ‘a normal life’. But I think all those choices that you are allowed to make in your life as a woman, are even a bit móre difficult when you are a musician. Things like motherhood and aging well. There are not a lot of women over 40-year old that are still full time musicians. They all feel like they need to make a decision in being a good mother or a musician, and can’t be both. Men don’t really have that. They don’t have the same problems. I’m turning 37 soon and I feel like the older I get, the more important it is to keep making music. Just to show that we can do it.
Did you realize this already before you started making music yourself?
No I didn’t. But as time was going by, I did. Now I do. I just see women above 30 disappearing all around me. There’s very few of them that keep on playing. It’s very linked to motherhood of course, and having families. But men are part of those families too, and they don’t stop. They just go on tour 3 months after the baby gets born. If you do that as a woman you are a bad mom. It’s still quite expected of you to stop playing music when you get pregnant. And also it’s a practical thing, you can’t play drums with a big belly. It’s literally in the way. You need to take at least a year off. It makes it not a case of ignoring these stigma’s, they won’t disappear, but to change how we view them.
With your label and your band, you have a platform to talk about those things. To start the conversation. How aware and active are you in that?
I think we definitely try to do so. But we don’t want it to be all we do. I don’t want to show my boobs on stage and be aggressive. And I want our music to be about more than that too. It’s just not us. To be clear, I don’t mind that way either, not at all. Keep showing your boobs if that empowers you. I think every time people really stand for something and let their voice be heard is wonderful. But as a woman, again, you have to be just a bit more careful not to become a caricature of yourself and just land on instagram with your photo. I want to be more than that. I wish it didn’t have to think about those kind of things but we, as a community, are not in that place yet.
I think just talking to other women and exchanging thoughts, like we do right now sitting here, is already very effective and empowering too. Start the conversation and let as much people contribute as you can. Being there and making music as a girl is already very valuable. When I have even one girl come up to me after the show, to tell me that I inspired her, it’s a win for me.