The French Connection

L.A. songwriter Jessica Fichot honors multicultural heritage

Leave it to a teenager not to fully appreciate where they grow up, even if it’s a Parisian suburb.

“When I was very little, I listened to Madonna,” says American-born, Paris-raised musician Jessica Fichot. “I really loved Madonna.”

The joy of singing was Fichot’s first musical love, she says, even though she also grew up playing the piano. “That was more of a chore.”

Fichot paid no attention to the music that was around her, she ruefully admits.

In France, her ability to sing in English felt exotic, but all that changed when she went to college in Boston at the Berklee College of Music. 

“Suddenly singing in English was not cool anymore,” Fichot says. 

After college, she moved to L.A., where she further embraced her multicultural, French, Chinese and American heritage, inspired by all the musicians there singing in Spanish. 

One particular singer Fichot discovered at that time wasn’t from California at all, but from Canada: Lhasa, a Mexican-Quebecois singer who sings in Spanish, French and English.

“I was looking to discover the kind of music I wanted to do,” Fichot says. She picked up a gig as a songwriter for children’s educational programming. 

“I was busy as a songwriter,” she says, “but I wasn’t doing anything for myself.” She rediscovered a style of music that she all but ignored when she was a kid. 

That style is chanson, which really means any vocal and lyrically oriented, often acoustic French song, sometimes with accordion and clarinet. 

Chanson borrows heavily from jazz — or perhaps it’s the other way around? — while evoking the sometimes moody, sometimes whimsical old-world atmosphere of pre-war France and Hemingway’s Paris.

Now Fichot has built a successful career as a recording artist, continuing to pick up songwriting gigs and even providing music and sound effects for video games. 

She comes to Eugene to play a free show, part of the Hult Center’s Party on the Plaza concert series.

Fichot will be accompanied by bass, clarinet and accordion, performing “fun, up-tempo, sing-along songs, in a mix of languages,” she says.

Working in video games and as a songwriter-for-hire has helped Fichot loosen up her other, more personal songwriting. “There’s something that’s kind of liberating about it,” she says. “When you have a deadline, it’s a little different. It’s just going to have to be something that you have to complete.”

This has taught her not to put too much pressure on herself when it comes to her more personal songwriting.

That’s good, because Fichot’s finally working on the follow-up to 2014’s all Chinese-language studio album, Dear Shanghai. 

“It will come out early next year,” she says, adding that her Eugene show will be an opportunity to sneak preview several of the songs. “It is going to be mostly French chanson,” she says, but also sung in Chinese and a little bit of English.

Jessica Fichot performs French chanson, Shanghai jazz and international folk 5:30 pm Thursday, July 11, at the Hult Center Plaza; all-ages, FREE.