Earlier this year, I had the wonderful opportunity to attend one of the most well known music festivals in the United States, South by Southwest, for the first time ever. It was an absolutely incredible experience. I never thought that a city could pull off having live music dispersed throughout it at all times for a solid week, but South by Southwest manages to do just that in Austin, Texas. I met and photographed a ton of artists while I was there. Some were performing at a festival for the very first time in their careers, others came as industry veterans to present their newest musical projects. It was interesting to hear all of their stories, get inspired by their passions for music, and of course - see them play live. However, one artist I met happened to stand out the most. In fact, it wasn't only my eyes and ears who felt that this setting would be his grand entrance into mainstream American music. Everyone there could feel it. Both through the words of the press and the lens of social media, it was very clear - Stromae has officially arrived.
As I'm sitting at my computer typing this introduction a few months later, I'm still in awe of how much his star his risen stateside since the day I met him. Fortunately for me, our meeting was the most American thing ever. We sat at a small table at the Moonshine Patio Bar & Grill, sipped on some coffee and munched on some of the best chicken and waffles I've ever had. Well, I ate them and he watched, but you know what they say - when in Texas!
As we chatted one thing that struck me the most was his appreciation for the American people, which was mainly due to their indifference to who he was. They tended not to bother him and he liked that. In France, he explained, he couldn't walk down any street without being recognized. I remember finding that funny, not that he was a European celebrity, but that he didn't really consider that his performances and press appointments in Austin would have the same effect on his stardom here. Regardless, with the finest American delicacies (fried chicken!) on deck and a Belgium accent slightly effecting the ease of our communication, I thoroughly enjoyed meeting the tall, dark, handsome and colorfully dressed, Stromae. The conversation shared between us below:
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Q & A W/STROMAE
SM: So how’s South by Southwest been for you so far?
STROMAE: It’s cool, it’s nice. It’s something new for me and it’s like the best supermarket for music in the United States.
SM: You’ve never been here before?
STROMAE: No, it’s my first time! There is such a big concentration of music here. Technology as well, I didn’t know! It’s a really interesting and inspiring event.
SM: And I heard you’re also doing Coachella this year, is that right?
STROMAE: It will be my first time there too, but Coachella has an international aura more than South by Southwest. South by Southwest feels like it’s more for the professionals. Coachella is more for the mainstream, if I can define it like this. They’re both a lot of pressure to perform at, though.
SM: Yeah, but you’ve been doing great here. I’ve seen you all over Instagram too. You have been one of the hottest performers at South by Southwest.
STROMAE: Thank you! It’s been great here. I also have a North America tour coming up. I’m going to spend one month touring the west coast and in September I’ll be in the east coast, with a show at Madison Square Garden.
SM: Oh yeah, that’s a huge show.
STROMAE: It’s difficult to realize, to imagine. It’s too far away. It’s not the time to think about it yet.
SM: You must be very excited for that though. That’s a huge deal. I heard you’re also launching a clothing line in the United States. Can you tell me a bit about that?
STROMAE: It’s the second collection. It’s a small capsule collection that we released a year ago in April 2014. We released the second collection in December. It was just available in Europe, though, but as of the 24th of March it will be available all around the world. I’m happy to announce it because we had some demand in the United States, from Russia, from everywhere. I couldn’t get it everywhere then and I was sad about it, but I can now. So, I’m really happy. Everyone can buy it now. The new capsule collection will release in June, I hope. I don’t know exactly when yet.
SM: Do you find it difficult to balance building that brand and also expanding the reach of your music?
STROMAE: Yes, a bit, especially because in the beginning they were one in the same. We were creating clothes just for me, for the performances, for the music videos like Papaoutai and Tous le memes. After that we just decided to make the clothing available to people who liked it and sell it. It’s not my merchandise; it’s really a clothing line. It’s important for us to do something that we’re convinced by and really involved in. Coralie Barbier is the fashion designer, I’m just the A&R. That’s not my job. Don’t try to do something you know you cannot do.
SM: Are you wearing the clothes right now?
STROMAE: Yes. I’m wearing the cardigan, polo and socks from the new collection. For the next release I’m hoping we can do some shorts of the same material. We still try to stay unisex.
SM: So girls can wear Mosaert too?
STROMAE: Yes. It’s really important for our brand. It’s just different sizing for men and women, but it’s the same product. I wanted it to be the same. I have been so jealous of women, because the clothes you have available to you are –
SM: Cool clothes!
STROMAE: Yes! There have been so many times where I’ve seen some beautiful womens’ shoes and have asked – is it possible to have this in a size 44? And they never have it because it’s only for women. For men we only have clothing in like black, brown, gray and horrible shoes. It’s all the same thing.
SM: It’s true. I’m glad you’re doing it and I’m glad you’re bringing it here too because Americans don’t take on as exciting fashion trends as Europeans do. It would be cool to have clothes like that.
STROMAE: It’s interesting to see the differences in fashion in Europe and the United States. People react completely different here. In Europe, if you do music and then you do something else it’s not really well accepted. In the United States it’s completely accepted. Here, it’s good if you’re doing something else you’re expressing yourself in a different way. In Europe you have to go step by step.
SM: Yeah, for sure. So, when you’re on tour are you also working on this collection? What is it like being on tour with you?
STROMAE: I wake up at noon. We eat, we do some interviews, we handle some emails and we like to have fun when it’s possible. In France, it’s a bit difficult to discover the city because a lot of people recognize me. It’s a little bit more complicated there. In Brussels, it's a little bit more quite and here, it’s nice. I can walk down the street with my whole team.
SM: And people won’t really bother you that much.
STROMAE: No, it’s really okay here.
SM: Have you gone out here in Austin?
STROMAE: Yeah, it’s really nice. There’s a lot of people, a lot of cool bars, music and stuff. We went to Easy Tiger and played on the ping-pong tables. It is so nice.
SM: Where has been your favorite place that you’ve been to in the United States so far?
STROMAE: My favorite city in the US? It’s difficult to answer this. I love the gritty parts of Philadelphia.
STROMAE: I went there on tour in September. The gritty side of Philadelphia is exactly like Belgium. It reminded me of Belgium. You know when you’re in a place where the people are used to having a lot of sun? When they have a grey day it’s like the end of the world or something. For people who are used to rain, when they have the sun they bask in its beauty. They realize it’s a beautiful day because they are not used too. That’s the gritty part of Philadelphia.