aunching her solo debut Sainte-Victoire in April 2018, Clara Luciani is already one of the frontrunners of French pop’s nouvelle vague taking the country by storm; recently gaining further notoriety by winning a Victoires de la Musique award for Group or Artist Stage Révélation of the Year. Intimate and autobiographical, Clara’s Saint-Victoire ranges from feminism to heartbreak, expressing a range of sound and emotion in a deep, melodious voice reminiscent 60s chanteuses Nico, Françoise Hardy, and Dalida. Collaborating with previous tastemaker Alma Jodorowsky, Semaine produced Clara’s new official video for the eponymous track ‘Sainte-Victoire.’ Noting the album’s personal nature, it’s no surprise the young Marseillaise named her debut after the mountains that dominate the Provençal landscape.
Following a chance meeting with La Femme’s Marlon Magnée at a festival (apparently he can dance a mean twist), Clara decamped to the French capital to try her hand at breaking into the music industry. She was 19. After growing up in a northern suburb of Marseille, the musician has referred to moving to Paris as rebirth. “[Paris] gave me the possibility to meet other musicians and play concerts. Due to that, it was easier to make music than in the South of France,” she said. Cutting her teeth on collaborations with La Femme, followed by Hologram with Maxime Sokolinski, Nekfeu, and touring as the opening act for Benjamin Biolay, Clara brings strong foundations to her solo career.
Inspired by a breakup, her initial EP Monstre d’Amour garnered apt comparisons to Barbara, one of France’s most beloved troubadours of melancholy. Donning long black gowns, velvet capes, and a moody countenance, Clara stalked through snowy landscapes, the wide-brimmed straw hat dangling from her neck reminiscent of an aureole. Looking at Monstre d’Amour and Sainte Victoire, the tonal difference is clear. Shifting from patron saint of heartbreak to powerful modern woman, Clara uses breakout hits like the feminist anthem “Grenade” and her cover “La baie” to show the diversity of her sound and perspective. Lyrically, however, the roots of Clara’s sober reflections remain.
Photography by Noel Quintela
“Hey you—what are you looking at? / You’ve never seen a woman who fights? / Follow me in the washed-out city / and I will show you / how I bite / how I bark,” she sings at the opening of “Grenade,” her top track on Spotify with 2 million plays and counting. Yet for Clara, strength and vulnerability exist side by side, and her choice to blend dancefloor anthems with moody ballads reflects her perspective on the feminine experience. Stripped down to only vocals and guitar, “Drôle d’époque” examines the double standards modern women face, while “Les fleurs” muses on finding refuge from the negativity and pressure of contemporary life. In “Sainte Victoire,” Clara thematically unites her EP with her album. Clara speaks over the song’s driving beat and mingled synths, describing surrealistic rebirth from past sorrow. “The desire to live is irresistible / To recover from this sorrow / To recover from this pain is to be able to face everything / You made me understand that I was invincible / Victorious whatever the outcome / I am armed to the teeth/ Under my bosom /A grenade,” she says.
Her penchant for covers comes from an appreciation of 1960s yé-yé. Riffing on this tradition of translating hit American and British pop songs for a French audience, she tackled Lana Del Ray’s “Blue Jeans” on YouTube and included Metronomy’s 2011 single as “La baie” on Sainte-Victoire. Citing musicians like Marie Laforet, who transformed The Rolling Stones’ “Paint it Black” into “Marie Douceur/Marie Colère,” as inspiration, she found greater creative freedom in the French language to add her own personal touch. “For me, there’s freedom in translation, especially,” she said. “It is to make it your own—to tell the same story but with your own words.”
While American pop relies more on crafting a catchy melody than smart lyrics, Clara’s songs are a perfect example of the French enthusiasm for language. After spending her teenage years blogging and writing poetry, she approaches songwriting as something distinctly personal. “For me, writing songs is like writing an intimate journal,” Clara said. “I never really include situations or people that are imaginary or poetic. I simply recount my life in the most direct and simple way as possible.” Despite a shift over the last 10 years towards French artists choosing to sing in English, Clara writes, sings, and performs in her native French. “The French language has influenced me for two reasons. One aspect is because I speak really bad English, and the other is that I talk about such intimate and personal things in my songs,” Clara said. “It would be absurd to sing in another language. It would be like putting a filter between me and my writing. I don’t want that.”
By Lauren Sarazen for Semaine.
Although her passions lie in music, it would be wrong to suggest that Clara isn’t a connoisseur of film too.
The Young Girls of Rochefort
Jacques Demy, 1967
Leaving their small seaside town of Rochefort in search of romance, these two sisters follow very different paths…
Wim Winders, 1984
The protagonist, Travis, has been missing for four years, wondering out to the desert to connect with society, himself and his family.
Roger Vadim, 1968
A sci-fi set in the 41st century, Barbella sets out to destroy an evil scientist.
Belladonna of Sadness
Ellchi Yamamoto, 1973
Another vintage animation that will get you thinking about the world beyond is Belladonna of Sadness. After being banished wrongfully from her village, Belladonna makes a pact with the Devil to take her revenge.
My Neighbor Totoro
Hayao Miyazaki, 1988
After two girls move to the countryside to be with their mother, the forest spirits become their closest companions.
Woody Allen, 1977
A divorced Jewish comedian, Alvy Singer, reflects on his relationship with Annie Hall.
The Virgin Suicides
Sofia Coppola, 1999
A dreamlike colour palette sets the scene of this movie, as a group of male friends become obsessed with five sisters sheltered by their strict, religious parents.
Get the look on Sainte-Victoire with these showstoppers.
Sumi Hinoki Scented Candle
SM58 LC Microphone
Première Rock Watch
Paris Crumpled City Map
Onyx Sphere Ring
HERO8 Black Camera
Este Leather Ankle Boots
"The Pomegranate" T-Shirt
Ceramic Red Light Bulb
45 RPM "Coeur" Album
2000s Tweed-Trim jacket
Explore the eccentric atmospheres of Clara’s favourite Parisian haunts. Step through the looking glass for a slice of La Loire dans le Théière’s meringue-topped tarte citron or travel back in time to the post-war tiki craze with a flaming cocktail at The Dirty Dick. Go on, we dare you.
Musée de la vie Romantique
16 Rue Chaptal
Standing at the food of Montmatre hill in an 1830 hôtel particulier, the Musée de la Vie Romantique is a museum dedicated to Romanticism, with a secret garden beautiful enough to make you fall in love.
5 Rue de la Folie Méricourt
The founders met in 2010, with a love for both floristry and cheese. The result? A wonderful local and seasonal florist café, with the aim of working exclusively with French flowers.
Le Loir Dans La Théière
3 Rue des Rosiers
One of the sweetest tea rooms you’ll stumble upon in Paris, with homemade cakes surrounded by theatre posters, mismatched furniture and murals that scream an alternative Paris.
Les Puces de Saint-Ouen
Les Puces de Saint-Ouen is a sprawling network of warehouses, stands and alleyways that put any other carboot sale to shame. With over 5 million visitors a year, it is worth spending some time browsing this area of Paris.
5 Rue Henry Monnier
A vintage shop in Paris that is not worth missing, with beautifully curated pieces and service to boot.
7 Rue du Faubourg Montmartre
One of the two family run restaurants in Paris, the restaurant has entertained for centuries with both a Parisien and international clientele.
10 Rue Frochot
Dirty Dick is a busy, low-lit bar with a Polynesian vibe. The inventive tropical cocktails make the visit worthwhile in itself.
Officine Universelle Buly 1803
6 Rue Bonaparte
A French brand that has become a worldwide success and key in the beauty industry, offering perfumes, atmospheric odours and other beauty treatments.
13 Rue de Saintonge
Soma, a small Japanese bistro, is situated at the heart of le Marais district. Called Izakaya in Japan, they are unmissable there, offering a unique experience of consumption and socialisation through the small dishes offered.
18 Rue Jean-Baptiste Pigalle
Find Clara in Studio Pigalle, as it offers multiple workspaces for recordings, live sessions and rehearsals. Their aim is to ensure the best sound pickup, thanks to the environment and soundproof cabin.
The best books to read whilst roadtripping, in between concerts and with a little bit of downtime. A few French classics too.
A Frozen Woman
A Frozen Woman charts Ernaux’s teenage awakening, and then the parallel progression of her desire to be desirable and her ambition to fulfil herself in her chosen profession – and the conflict between the two that follows.
One of the leading novelists in post-war France, The Lover is the best known of these novels published post-humously. Set in pre-war Indochina, it is a haunting tale of a tumultuous affair between an adolescent French girl and her wealthy Chinese lover, based on Duras’ own life.
Karoo is a professional fixer of other people’s scripts and, by his own acknowledgement, he ruins them all. As the novel charts his life as it breakdowns, a mix of comedy and calamity ensues.
Returning home one evening after work, a man discovers his wife brutally murdered, lying in a pool of blood. The story of how this happened is relayed through a variety of animals.
Instruments of Darkness
Instruments of Darkness is a counterpoint of music and religious imagery, as the protagonist aims to exorcise the repercussions of family trauma.
Elle et Lui
Published in 1859, Elle et Lui is a semi-autobiographical novel that charts the relations between George Sand and Alfred de Musset.
After a weekend of listening to Sainte-Victoire on repeat, we had some burning questions. We want to get to know the girl behind the guitar. From her tour lifestyle to the strangest job she’s ever had, this selection of questions makes us feel like we know Clara just that little bit better.
What is the first album you really connected with?
Berlin by Lou Reed, which my father gave me when I brought home a good report card.
Can you tell us about your favourite onstage moment?
During a concert, I was playing the guitar alone during “Drole d’époque,” and I felt a connection with the public who have always been attentive and receptive. It was a precious moment.
Greatest tour woe?
I don’t have any for the moment. All of it has really passed in the most idyllic way so far!
Greatest tour high?
The concert in Martigues. It’s the city where I was born. The ambiance was very particular, and my grandfather had come to see me in concert for the first time.
Nico or Françoise Hardy?
Françoise Hardy, who I met this year. She was an especially positive influence on my first album.
What’s the strangest job you’ve ever had?
When I was working in a pizza restaurant!
What are you reading?
In Praise of Shadows by Junichirô Tanizaki. I’m fascinated by Japan.
Do you believe in destiny?
No, I think that everything comes with a lot of perseverance and nothing is written.
Paris or Marseille?
Marseille. We never forget the place we were born.