Jehnny Beth’s video for “French Countryside,” the standout track from last year’s To Love Is to Live, is nearly as stripped-back as the ballad itself. The artist, dressed in black (other than for a hoodie with her album cover on it) sings the tune in a plain, black studio, gesticulating the lyrics as the piano plays behind her voice.
“It’s a promise song,” said Beth, whose real name is Camille Berthomier, in a statement. “I wrote the verses on a plane as I was convinced it was going to crash. I was making promises to myself about what I was going to do differently if I survived. Death has been very present in my mind during the process of writing this record. It all started around Bowie’s death.” (Beth explained the influence Bowie had on the record in an interview with Rolling Stone last year.)
The artist stated further that she had difficulty getting the song into a shape she felt worked with the rest of the album. “Up until the last week of mixing we didn’t have a version I was happy with, but I am very proud of it now,” she said. “I almost didn’t put it on the record because it is so close to the bone it almost feels too self-indulgent, but it was my intention to write a song that felt more vulnerable than anything I had ever written before. [The XX’s] Romy [Madley Croft] was a huge influence for me to be able to do that.”
“She played me the beginning lines and they were so instantly visual and different to anything I’d heard her say before, it was instantly a beautiful place to write from and explore,” Romy said of her part in the process. “It felt like her guard was dropping for a moment and she was inviting the listener in to get to know her vulnerable side, but with a sense that this invitation wouldn’t last for very long. Hearing the album version made me cry because it felt like it was my friend Camille, as I know her, a window behind the Jehnny Beth that the world sees.”
To Love Is to Live, which was the Savages frontwoman’s first solo record, was among the 50 Best Albums of 2020, according to Rolling Stone. “Beth, who is best known as the powerful singer for the art-punk group Savages, explores the dusky corners of her id throughout the record, questioning her sexuality, gender, religion, and her own fragility in a way that recalls both Nine Inch Nails and PJ Harvey,” the magazine wrote.