French-Javanese artist Flanery takes her name from the French word that denotes a keen-eyed wayfarer, a witness who chronicles moments of urban life. But she’s equally at home in the wilderness, agitated and nourished by the silence of feral landscapes. That dual, warring aspect to her identity was what she channelled into the crafting of her debut single, Oh Boy.
Flanery wasn’t always a singer-songwriter. Before now, she—real name Aude Giraud—was primarily known as a florist and founder of lifestyle brand, Ask a French. A storyteller who has historically taken inspiration from sources like classical still life, she debuted her musician persona to the world in November last year, releasing Oh Boy a little over a month later.
Oh Boy is a mellow thing, with motifs often associated with acts like Nosaj Thing, Sigur Rós, and Lykke Li detectable in its craftsmanship. A haunting acoustic track that waltzes the listener down an uncanny forest trail, Oh Boy is just the beginning for Flanery. Here, she sits down with Vogue Singapore to discuss what’s next, and how her identity will shape that path.
How long have you been songwriting and playing music? Did your other creative endeavors lead you to music in any way?
I started learning how to understand classical music by playing the viola as a pre-teen. That’s when I began writing lyrics and melodies down as well. And then I stopped for many years. I enrolled in a communication school, and my first job was programming music at Radio France. I then worked in music PR, which led me to journalism, and later on to floristry. I always went with the flow and followed my intuition.
Speaking about my other creative endeavors, working with flowers requires a deep connection with nature. I see this in folk music and the need I had to isolate myself in New Zealand to write songs. Creating music was dormant, I guess. It just needed the right timing to wake up. Sometimes you need to take some detours to get back to where you really belong.
How would you characterise the journey of finding your sound and voice?
It’s a process of elimination. It’s often about making mistakes and figuring out what you don’t want. I draw inspiration from a lot of artists, like Leonard Cohen, Nick Drake, Sufjan Stevens, and Billie Marten. When the time comes for you to create, every individual story is different, and only your gut will tell you when you are on the right track. If I feel a deep emotion listening to my own work, that means I’m headed in the right direction. When it comes to the voice, it’s your soul speaking, and it can be surprising to hear yourself singing for the first time. And I prefer to record my voice in the dark; that’s where I find my light.
Do you consider songwriting and musical creation more of a solo adventure, or a collaborative process?
It is both. Songwriting is a very personal experience for me. But to make things happen, I need to surround myself with people that understand where I’m going. For this project, I worked with Leonard Soosay, who is the most patient and creative producer I have ever met. When he speaks about Oh Boy he defines it as, “Music from the depths of the soul.” He helped me bring out the best of what I could give.
The musicians are also key. Everyone plays an important part and it’s a collaborative process where you need to be quite clear with how you communicate, with enough room for everyone to express themselves. And when you are finished with the production, you go back to your solo adventure, because it’s you and only you who’s being exposed in the end.
What story are you trying to tell through Oh Boy? Is it one from your own life? What do you hope listeners will take away from hearing Oh Boy?
There’s a double meaning to Oh Boy. It’s about being surprised by something that hits unexpectedly. The narrator is singing her disappointment at this man who didn’t behave like a man. Most of the time I create songs inspired by my own experiences or from stories I strongly relate to.
I hope listeners will find some healing if they have been through similar feelings. I want them to make this song their own, seeing what they want to see in it. That’s the beauty about music: it becomes what you want to hear. The interpretations can be very different according to how people perceive them.
What kind of relationship do you want to have with your audience?
Most of the people who have been listening use the words, “soothing,” “calming.” If I can be that warm cup of tea when you need some comfort or a shelter when it rains, that would be the most beautiful reason for me to keep on making music.
Can you talk about the process of creating Oh Boy, specifically? What did writing it as you travelled internationally add to the song?
Travelling helps to open your mind. The lyrics came first, very spontaneously. I think I wrote the first draft in 20 minutes in Singapore. Then while reading The Great Gatsby in Greece, I started to edit it. Most of the vocabulary of the song is taken from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic. The elegance of the Roaring Twenties helped me to chide the antagonist with more grace, taste, and subtlety.
How important is your cultural identity and background to your identity as an artist? How do you try and imbue that into your music?
This is difficult to explain because it would be similar to having to describe what your DNA is. I can say that my French identity is in my moniker, Flanery, as it’s inspired by the French word, flânerie, an aimless state that leads to wanderings. I am a wanderer.
Your art seems to rest on the boundaries of nature and civilization. How do you draw from both environments to create music?
Nature is where I find my source of creativity. It’s purifying, and it helps me to go deep inside myself as well. I learned how to not be scared of it. It’s all about finding balance between both. And going back to civilisation to shape your art. One cannot exist without the other. It’s what makes each of them interesting.
Can you tell us anything about your upcoming debut album? What themes or ideas does it explore? What are you particularly excited about on it?
It explores… life. It healed me. There are songs about love, about breakups, about fighting the everyday, about the loss of a grandfather, about living the little things, about Singapore, about being a wanderer… I’m particularly excited about being a storyteller, and I hope that if people can’t travel easily, they will be able to travel a little through my songs.