STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Anytime that Madeleine Peyroux sings, her music sounds a little different.
Ms. MADELEINE PEYROUX (Singer): The moment is going to affect you and you still want to be able to sculpt the moment.
INSKEEP: And we're about to hear how a masterful singer sculpts this moment. Can I just mention that I'm sitting in the middle of the band here? I'm surrounded by your band. We've got the bass over here. You've got the guitar behind. We got the Hammond B3 organ and Madeleine Peyroux here.
Ms. PEYROUX: One. And two. One. Two. Three.
(Soundbite of music)
INSKEEP: Madeleine Peyroux spells the name P-E-Y-R-O-U-X but pronounces it like the country. She became famous in part for sounding like Billie Holliday. And if you want to know why we invited Madeleine Peyroux into our studios, just listen.
Ms. PEYROUX: (Singing) He made me laugh. He made me cry. He smoked his stogies in bed but I'm all right. I'm all right. I've been lonely before…
INSKEEP: This song of a cigar-smoking lover came from Madeleine Peyroux's latest album, "Half the Perfect World". She wrote it with her producer and with Walter Becker, half the rock group Steely Dan.
Was there really someone who smoked his stogies in bed?
Ms. PEYROUX: That line we labored over very, very a lot. That was the line. The rest of it was easy. That one line about smoking stogies was kind of the hard line.
INSKEEP: Was it originally smoking joints or smoking cigarettes?
Ms. PEYROUX: It was like crackers in bed or things that would really be annoying. So we came up with like 30 or 40 things that guys might do that you wouldn't want them to do.
INSKEEP: And stogies won out.
Ms. PEYROUX: It's a little personal, actually. I don't know why the stogies - yeah, the stogies, you know, it's an option, basically. I think of - sometimes I think of songs as having options. That's an optional line. You can change it if you want.
INSKEEP: Yeah. But it's the line that grabbed me. It's the line that I wrote down as soon as I heard it.
Ms. PEYROUX: (Singing) I've been lonely before.
INSKEEP: Madeleine Peyroux and your band. Does the band have a name?
Ms. PEYROUX: Matt(ph), what have you come up with?
MATT: I think, The Enforcers.
INSKEEP: The Enforcers? That's good. I like that.
MATT: The Peyrouxer(ph).
Ms. PEYROUX: The Peyrouxers. You know.
JOHN(ph): The Peyrouxettes(ph).
Ms. PEYROUX: Terrible.
INSKEEP: The Peyrouxers.
MATT: The South Americans.
Ms. PEYROUX: The South - what?
MATT: Oh, Peru.
Ms. PEYROUX: South American.
INSKEEP: Peyrouxettes. That's pretty good.
Ms. PEYROUX: Peyrouxettes.
Ms. PEYROUX: That's funny, John.
INSKEEP: Would anyone like to pirouette before we go on here? How is playing your own music different from interpreting other people's?
Ms. PEYROUX: I think it's more exciting. But I think that it's still the art of interpretation that's what I do best.
INSKEEP: How do you pick which standard to take a crack at?
Ms. PEYROUX: It's difficult, but once you find the songs that fit you, you end up doing them whether you like it or not.
INSKEEP: Oh. Give me an example of the song that fits you.
Ms. PEYROUX: Well, I just remember the experience when I was 16 of having to learn a song that was actually now, you know, 10 years ago, I recorded. And it's called "Was I drunk? Was he handsome? And Did Mama Give Me Hell?" And I didn't want to do it because I just didn't think it was going to be fun to do that song. Maybe it was a little close to home. And then it turned out that that was a good thing, that it did fit me. I think learning the song and doing the song was like a little stepping stone for me, and it was part of growing up for me. And, you know, being able to laugh about it.
(Singing) A sweet young thing at 16. Thought I'd step out one night. I long to get the thrilling life I'd missed. I met a youth a bit uncouth, though he seemed all right. I knew him by the moment when we kissed. Then I got home next day with a swollen head and my girlfriend asked did I had fun. I said, was I drunk? Was he handsome? Did mama give me hell? Did I get a thrill? And I might full of quiver. Yeah.
And it just gets better and better like that.
INSKEEP: That's just lovely. Can you think of a song that you have tried a couple of different ways and it seems to work both ways but they're just very different?
Ms. PEYROUX: Yeah. I think one of the first songs I've learned was "The Way You Look Tonight." And I remember that when I first learned it I was playing with a swing band. So they wanted to do it kind of up-tempo.
(Singing) Some day, when I'm awfully low. When the world is cold, I will feel a glow just thinking of you and the way you look tonight.
INSKEEP: Quite the Frank Sinatra way to do it. Maybe a little brisker than that.
Ms. PEYROUX: Yeah. And then I played it for my dad and my dad was like what are you doing to that song? I had been doing it for a few years. And he said, that's supposed to go really slow. That's a love song. That was your mom's and my song. You're ruining my song. So it's a ballad. And then I had to go back. I said, oh shoot, dad. Ok. So it's more like…
(Singing) I will feel a glow just thinking of you and the way you look tonight.
INSKEEP: Madeleine Peyroux's latest album is "Half the Perfect World." And this is how she sounded during a few moments in our studios. You can hear more of that session at npr.org.
Ms. PEYROUX: And on and on. Yeah.
INSKEEP: You could have just kept going as far as I was concerned. That was great. That fun.
Ms. PEYROUX: Oh, I'm sorry.
(Singing) You got a lot of tenderness. So much love you can't get no rest. If you're willing to waste a little time, I don't want all of it. All I need is a little…
INSKEEP: It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
And I'm Renee Montagne.
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