Patricia Kaas is a rare artist who has maintained her tour de force presence on stage throughout an international career spanning two decades. Her music sold 16 million albums in 47 countries and her autobiography was recently published in six languages. DEPESHA connected with Patricia Kaas for this exclusive interview in advance of her much anticipated North America tour with “Kaas Sings Piaf”, a tribute to the incomparable Edith Piaf commemorating 50th anniversary of her passing. The North America tour culminates in NYC at the Town Hall venue on September 20th.
You toured in the Soviet Union & Russia. Was there a difference in audience reception?
Difficult to answer. I went there for the first time over 20 years ago when politically there was a big change. Maybe my character or my story – being from a small town and a big family and fighting to do what I like, my passion to be on stage, made people dream with me. Since then… it’s been like a love story. I don’t know why. Sometimes you cannot explain it. It works or it doesn’t and ours works. I can still feel that same love.
You are the only international star to have toured 20+ Russian cities. Any favorites?
I never really see much of Russia on tours. I am there and I’m gone. It’s difficult to travel on trains and not have the right stage, the right sound, all that you ideally want. I remember fondly Perm. In Moscow and St. Petersburg, of course, we’ve stayed longer and I know them better. But these are towns where everyone is going. When we play in the provinces, people are very thankful, because no one goes to see them. Actually it’s funny. In some places the ticket sales start when I am in town, because people don’t believe I am really coming. (Laughs)
How did you choose the songs for the Kaas Sings Piaf show?
I wanted to sing the songs in my way, to put my life, my emotions, my pain, my joy, everything I knew about life in her music. You can sing Piaf when you are 20, but when you have a certain experience of life, like losing someone that you love it helps not to sing, but to give interpretations to these songs. I was always very courageous in my career. I realized that when I wrote my autobiography two years ago. It gave me the extra courage I was missing to do homage like that. There are people all over the world who want to sing some Piaf at karaoke on a Saturday night. It had to be different. Thinking about a tour, I wanted to pay tribute to the songs that people know and love, but when I started to listen to all her repertoire I found songs I didn’t know. They were great because of the lyrics, their strength, and I wanted to also share these discoveries. She had recorded over 400 songs!
Who did you work with on such a grand musical endeavor?
Right away I wanted to work with Abel Korzeniowski, the composer of the score for Single Man. I saw this Tom Ford movie and I liked Abel’s sound dramaturgy. He had certain modernity to writing the strings and classical orchestra pieces. This is exactly how I wanted the show, with all the respect to what Piaf wanted to say with her music, but in the life of now.
Do you have any favorites in the show?
One of the special songs for me is La Belle Histoire D’Amour. She wrote it after the death of boxer Marcel Cerdan, her big strong love. It’s a really important moment in the show. There is something very fragile and very strong happening in the song. I can really feel it when I do it on the stage.
Piaf is a true legend. How do you engage a legacy like that?
Well, everything that happens on stage has a direct link to her. I really wanted to have her always there in the show without a cliché. Of course you can have a nice picture in the background, but I wanted something more urban and modern to explain that Piaf has no age. You can hear her voice when she presents one of the songs because for her it was always important to mention the writer and the composer of the songs. And in the end you can hear her sing one important line. It was important not to just showcase the singing but to tribute her joy and pain, to honor people who were important in her life. For example, Jean Cocteau was a friend and wrote a theatrical piece for her. So there is a theatrical moment in the show which is something different for me, because I know how to go on stage to sing, but this I had to learn.
Who designed costumes for this show?
It was actually a difficult point. Most of the clothes on this tour are recreations. The wardrobe changed when Brazilian designer Gustavo Lins came to see the show and he understood it well and created the special little black dress that I now wear on stage. He understood how I would wear it, with high heels, but with a touch of orange and green in the shoes. Again, to give this urban feel to the show. I also wanted a simple trench coat, because Piaf story started in the streets, in Place Pigalle. I bought it myself over five years ago and we just made it in the color I wanted and with more fabric so I can move how I need.
What other designers have you collaborated with on your tours?
In general I don’t like to be linked to a particular designer because then sometimes you can’t do what you really want and it gets boring. You fall in love with one designer and two seasons later it’s less interesting. I was really into Lanvin for a period of time, so on the Cabaret tour I worked with Alber Elbaz. But I like to know that if one day I don’t feel like it I can just wear whatever I want. Off stage I like Rick Owens, Mugler, Reed Krakoff and so on.
Piaf and Kaas are certainly global gay icons. Do you have a message for your Russian queer fans?
I am proud of them because they have a mentality that I like. They are in general free, tasteful and sensitive. I know it is much more difficult in Russia than in Europe. I remember I was in Moscow when they wanted to do the gay parade a few years ago and it was a big mess. I don’t know why. I think we live in a time when everyone can live how they want. That’s my point of view.
Would you ever follow in the footsteps of Gerard Depardieu and move to Russia?
Actually there are so many people thinking I already live in Russia that I don’t even need to do this! (laughs) All these years Depardieu was paying his taxes normally. Then a politician said something against him and he wanted a provocation. It was a way of him saying, “Fuck you. I do whatever I want.” You should never say never but it is not planned in my head right now. But if I go somewhere it will not be to provoke.
You did a duet with a Russian band Uma2Rman. How did that come about?
Oh it was done very simply. They wrote a song and asked me and I liked the song and we did it.
What other Russian artists do you like?
I like Alla Pugacheva and how she always gives great interpretations to songs. Especially her song “Mne Nravitsa (I Like)” [based on Marina Tsvetaeva poem – ed.]
The Piaf tour is an incredible two year adventure! Do you get tired of it?
It requires a lot of concentration, of course, because it is not an easy show emotionally. When we started we thought if people would ask for my songs. I think they understood and respected the show and rediscovered me through my way of singing Piaf. I start to think, “Wow, it would be nice to sing some of my own songs!” I miss them now a little bit. But this is good, because it means after this tour I will think about a new album, a Kaas album, and going on my own tour, knowing that people are waiting for it.
Would you follow the trend and consider doing a Kaas for the dance floor record?
Oh we did it at the time when it was fashionable to do a maxi-cd with remixes. It wouldn’t be a whole album, I think, but some remixes could be for fun. A Daft Punk remix would be fun. (Laughs) We’ll see.
And who could sing Kaas now or in the future?
All artists cover each other but it must be in their style and with their personality. I’ve heard covers in other languages, for example a Greek version of Il ma dit que je suis belle, but I’m a bit young to be covered, I think. (Laughs) I hope that one day when I am not there anymore, someone would want to sing some of my songs. That would be nice.
Text: Alexey Timbul