Madeleine Peyroux: "I'm very excited to be able to sing today"

Madeleine Peyroux takes on Ray Charles on her new album, "The Blue Room," and now she's taking her new songs on the road, performing for sold-out venues around the world.

The singer sat down with CBSNews.com prior to one of her recent shows at The Allen Room in New York, opening up about the new collection, her beginnings and what makes her tick today.

On "The Blue Room," Peyroux beautifully interprets tracks from Charles' 1962 release, "Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music," along with songs by Randy Newman, Buddy Holly, Leonard Cohen and Warren Zevon.

"He's such an amazing singer, musician, arranger and interpreter," Peyroux said about Charles. "So I had to step back and say, 'How could I possibly try to create my voice, my identity in this role."

Before laying down the tracks, Peyroux, along with her collaborator, producer Larry Klein, considered which songs would work best as a whole -- and it wasn't always an easy decision.

"In this particular case, I guess you can say that the natural thing to start to do, as a person, as someone I think myself to be [was to say], 'Can I fit into any of these roles really honestly, understand the story behind them and find something that fits'?...I have to start from that point of view as best as I can. Sometimes that means not being able to do the song that we wanted to do," said Peyroux, who released her first album, "Dreamland," in 1996. "And sometimes it means doing songs that I know fit me very well."

Madeleine Peyroux, "The Blue Room" album art.
Decca

"With Ray Charles being at the center of this, it's an inspiration to always look for more of a balance between the melancholy and the joy that exists in this kind of music," Peyroux added. "By that I mean, rhythm and blues. It's informed by the folk-blues, the old gospel aspect of relinquishing, giving up on having to own so much of your sadness or misfortune, or whatever it is -- finding a way to talk about difficulty, and in that space and time of facing something difficult, finding freedom from it and joy in the company of those that are listening and sharing in that story. It feels like I'm really able to sing songs that not only are great songs, but they represent a whole slew of American culture to me and to who I am."

Peyroux says she's been enjoying performing the new songs in concert with a string quartet, noting, "This record has given me the opportunity to explore a different lineup."

"There's a lot more going on. There's a lot more sounds," she said of her latest live show, adding, "These songs are so fun. The arrangements are so beautiful...It's so satisfying and fascinating to me. And I love being part of a big group exciting people...And I think the audience knows that."

It's a long way from Peyroux's humble beginnings, when she performed her music as a teenager on the streets of Paris. Born in New York, Peyroux moved to the French capital with her mother when she was a teenager. It was there that she found her musical footing.

"I couldn't have been a musician if I had not moved away from the United States....for one I was just not a prodigy," Peyroux said. "I didn't have any opportunity to find the time, or the freedom, or the money if that's the case, in order to study music. Music is sort of an extra-curricular activity...I moved to Paris. I saw street musicians that actually played really well and happened to also be playing music that I knew, which was early American jazz -- and getting an audience and getting money for it and having fun. It was an opportunity for me to learn so many things -- and to sing. And of course to learn from doing."

She mostly learned by doing while taking to playing in the Left Bank section of Paris in the 1990s. "I waltzed into that environment without a care or a worry...I was surrounded by friends. I was incredibly lucky," recalled Peyroux.

By the time Peyroux reached 15 years old, she left school to join a touring blues and jazz band; it's clear Peyroux still looks back fondly at that time in her life.

"In the early '90s there was certainly a lot more support for the arts than what I had living in New York City -- as a public school kid -- being able to find a street community," said Peyroux, who later found herself back in Manhattan, where she was discovered at a New York club by Yves Beauvais of Atlantic Records.

Now many years later, Peyroux has been compared to the likes of late jazz singer Billie Holiday. When asked about the association, Peyroux said, "I don't think you can represent Billie Holiday. Every human voice is very, very particular. I don't want it to be said that I could stand in those shoes. I don't think it's fair. I'm not saying that I'm not grateful and everything. I'm very excited to be able to sing today."

As for what's next for her musically, Peyroux isn't quite sure, but she's keeping an open mind: "I'm open to whatever comes. I'm eager to see what happens."


Comments

Watch CBSN Live

Watch CBS News anytime, anywhere with the new 24/7 digital news network. Stream CBSN live or on demand for FREE on your TV, computer, tablet, or smartphone.