Petite Meller has been writing songs since she was 10 years old. “I always had melodies and lyrics playing in my mind,” says the French singer, who labels her sound as “Nouveau Jazzy Pop”. “My first song was a duet with a boy I fell in love with in fifth grade… the only instrument we recorded was running water, on my pink tape recorder. Now that I think of it, I should use it again.”
When she wasn’t making music, mini Meller was shy, and always in her own world. While the other kids played Pokémon, she was listening to Dizzy Gillespie and Paul Simon records, or sat in the library reading about the history of the blues.
With her music as unique as her personality, it’s no wonder she got picked up by her British-based management, after they saw her video for 2014 track NYC Time (“They called me up, asked if I’d like to move to London, and here I am,” says Meller).
A record deal soon followed when she was in the studio with Malawi-born producer Craigie Dodds (Amy Winehouse, Rizzle Kicks). “Darcus Beese and John Turner from Island Records came by the studio, listened to my songs and it made them dance like crazy!” she says.
“They immediately got what I was about, and Darcus was extremely charming… how could I disagree?”
Born in Paris, Meller has lived in Tel Aviv, New York and currently resides in Shoreditch. Just back from Mongolia, where she filmed the video for upcoming single The Flue, out August 19, the singer-songwriter says she’s realised she’s a “nomad girl”.
“I saw a book called Prisoners Of Geography in a display window in Soho, and that represents my point exactly,” she explains. “You can think beyond geography and borders, as if they didn’t actually exists, and you should create your own reality no matter where you are, and invite people to join in. That’s why I’m calling my album Lil’ Empire.”
In between working on that debut, the release date of which is still to be confirmed, Meller has been finishing off a master’s degree in Philosophy. Her studies saw her spend days and nights in every library in London (“I could do a tourist guide to London’s best libraries”), making notes in hotel lobbies and reading on aeroplanes.
Rather than hindering her music career, her studies have helped it, since Meller says philosophy is the source of her lyrical inspiration – “It’s like photosynthesis, one gives life to the other”. The two collided back at TLV university in collaboration with L’universite Paris Sorbonne, where Meller wrote her first songs while sat in philosophy class.
“I felt the stream of thoughts growing in me while listening to Kant’s or Freud’s ideas on dreams and the sublime,” she says. “I waited for the next class to write my new song, secretly hiding from the professors, the pages underneath, all covered with lyrics…
“Friedrich Nietzsche’s idea that life is short and Absurd – and that you can only laugh and dance life – made a big turn in my life. Those concepts unconsciously hide in my lyrics. When I finish writing a song I am not aware of it’s meaning, it’s only a while after, in retrospect, when I look at the video, that I can understand what it’s about, and where in my past those sounds came.”
A good example of that is on the track Backpack, which also explains the singer’s unique look.
“As a child I got hospitalised from a heavy sunburn, so in my teens I started putting on tonnes of blush – I think that was a trauma reaction,” she ponders.
“Kids used to, and still, laugh at me, like I’m an alien, but [wearing heavy blush] has become part of my identity as an artist. Backpack is about how you can finally wear your trauma proudly. Put your backpack on the front.”