Petite Meller is a singer-songwriter using music and videos to create a world that’s all her own. “I’m creating my own little empire based on creativity,” she says. “I think we can take our fantasies and make them into realities. That’s what I do in my videos. I make my own reality.”
Born in Paris to a French mother and a Polish father but raised primarily by her grandmother, Meller grew up listening to a combination of Europop, jazz musicians like Dizzy Gillespie and Chanson singers like Jacques Brel, Charles Aznavour and Serge Gainsbourg. From a young age, Meller sang and performed, if only to amuse herself and her grandmother. “From an early age I had a big imagination,” she says. “I used to sing on the street to myself. Whenever I was waiting for my family I would be performing Shirley Temple songs, but I’d be scared that someone would catch me and see me! I had a little tape recorder so I’d record myself singing songs that I’d invented.”
When she was 15, Meller moved with her parents to Tel Aviv. She filled her time going to jazz festivals and studying photography, but it was in front of the lens that she received the most attention. “People used to take photos of me for their art school projects and I was discovered by a scout. I began modelling and went to Japan – and made lots of money! Afterwards I took that money to pay my university fees in Tel Aviv. That’s when I started studying philosophy.”
Meller is now completing her dissertation for her Master’s Degree in Philosophy. The ideas of Freud, Lacan, Deleuze, Kant and Shakespeare all filter their way into her writing. “I used to write songs during my philosophy classes. I would always fall in love with my professors,” she explains. “Philosophy influences me and my writing a lot. For example, my song ‘Backpack’ is about taking the symptoms from your childhood which used to hold you back and using them in a productive, positive way, like a treatment.”
Meller began playing in bands while in Tel Aviv, and then moved to New York to pursue her musical ambition. It was there she realised that she would have to go solo in order to stay true to her idiosyncratic vision. “I felt I wanted to do my own genre,” she says, “which is “nuovo jazzy-pop”.”
She also knew that her music videos would be an integral part of her art. “Whenever I write a song I have the idea for the video immediately in my mind,” she says. “They’re very important to me.”
Meller decided that the time had come to invest in herself, so she poured her own time and money into shooting her video for ‘NYC Time’. She recruited fans who had written to her from around the world to help, including a Mexican photographer called Napoleon Habeica and an American she’d met in Tel Aviv called A.T. Mann to direct it together. The video, which shows Meller being carried by a huge man from the suburbs into New York City, was cast under the streets of the city itself. “I met the guy in the video on the way to a Yankees game on the subway,” she explains. “We were looking for someone who could carry me. The idea for the video was that the music I grew up on had taken me from the emptiness of the suburbs to inside New York where it all happens. The man had to carry me like a father carrying a child. We tried a male model but it didn’t work. Then we saw this huge guy on the subway and he was really, really excited when we approached him. He was almost crying because he’d just been fired. He had been writing poetry, he’s really sensitive. For him, he said it was the best days of his life. We shot for four days and he carried me every day, but he loved it. We’re still friends. His name is Justin Elephant.”
Meller went from shooting with a man named Elephant to a real safari for her most ambitious video to date, ‘Baby Love’. Filmed on location near Nairobi in Kenya, the video sees Meller imitating flamingos and dancing with school children and a pair of giraffes. “‘Baby Love’ was the first song I wrote after leaving New York,” she explains. “I went straight to Sweden and wrote it with Joakim Åhlund. He’s from the band Teddybears and his brother Klas writes for Katy Perry. I was thinking about the video in the same moment. We felt like it was an African drum sound, so we knew the video would be in Africa. I talked to Napoleon and he suggested this hotel where giraffes eat with you at the breakfast table.
The video reflects the influence of African musicians on Meller’s music, particularly those who played on Paul Simon’s ‘Graceland’. On her forthcoming album, Meller has worked with Brixton-based producer Craigie Dodds who grew up in South Africa and worked on ‘Graceland’. Dodds helped put her in touch with Ladysmith Black Mambazo, and Meller immediately jumped at the chance to get them to play on her songs. “I’m really inspired by ‘Graceland’,” she says, “and when we first started working on the album Joakim and I did some research to find the right bongo and conga sounds. When we had the basic structure of the beats he opened the mic and I just sang what I felt. I didn’t write anything before that, I don’t know how people can. For me it’s like an unconscious flow. I just sing what I feel.
In the music and videos she creates, Meller channels the philosophers she studies and the classic films that she loves. She writes her own video treatments, sits with editors in post-production and can name the directors and stars who’ve directly inspired her videos, such as Monica Vitti in Antonioni’s ‘Eclipse’ for ‘NYC Time’, the Soviet director Tarkovsky for ‘Icebear’ and Brigitte Bardot in ‘And God Created Woman’ for ‘Baby Love’. “My writing and my video ideas are a discussion with my unconscious self,” she explains, “I’ll read something, and then it’ll come out. What you’re exposed to will go into your creations.”
However, Meller is also inspired by the team of fans and creative artists that she’s assembled around them – all of whom she’s met through social media, and consequently many of whom are scattered all over the world. “What’s amazed me about this project is that everyone who’s been involved in it I’ve met online,” she says. “My stylist is Japanese, and she’s my best friend here in London now. She saw one of my videos and wrote to me asking if she could work on another video. I met her on the set for ‘Backpack’ and we did all the styling together. It’s amazing. All the people in my videos I cast on the street. A photographer will write to me from LA and say he wants to come to Sweden to shoot me. It’s crazy.
Joakim Åhlund and Craigie Dodds will share production duties on her forthcoming record, with Wez Clarke mixing. However, the music and the vision couldn’t come from anybody else but Petite Meller. “My mission in life is to make the songs and videos together,” she says. “That’s why I work with these amazing people who make this a reality. Everyone I work with is so right. I’ve been very lucky with the people I interact with. Together we’re making an ongoing film of my life.”