Working the piano, and the open mics and music halls of her hometown of San Clemente, Calif., Gal Musette arrived with an act of true brashness: She topped The Magnetic Fields’ “69 Love Songs” feat with her own collection of 70 songs — when she was 14.
Musette’s rise as a baroque pop prodigy and talented chanteuse isn’t beholden to one-upping darlings of indie pop, but it didn’t hurt. Like the bygone scene that inspired her pseudonym — “bal musette” is nostalgic accordion music played in French dancehalls more than a century ago — she evokes an older world. And that is what really caught the ear of such luminaries as the Fields’ Stephin Merritt, who she opened dates for on tour, and Rufus Wainwright, who she duetted with on record.
Now in her 20s, Musette — who will be performing at Bumblefest — tells PureHoney that her early listening was twofold. “My mom is a French professor so we listened to Françoise Hardy, France Gall and Cœur de pirate,” says the musician born Grace Freeman, “whereas my dad is broader in his taste, from Björk, to Emmylou Harris, to the psychobilly of the Cramps.”
“When I was younger,” she says, “I couldn’t play an instrument so I danced, but I always loved being a part of the music more than anything. Once I started playing piano and discovered I could not only be a part of the music, but actually write it, that changed the game for me.”
Her own cited influences range expansively from Nina Simone to The Cure. Add in the Irving Berlin-inspired piano training her grandfather gave her, and Musette encompasses the melancholic sweetness of bossa nova, the grandiosity of show tunes and the sobering straightforwardness of folk – in one mellifluous movement.
Her 2021 debut album, “Backwards Lullaby,” explored romantic hopelessness and more ethereal questions of reality and acceptance over sweeping guitars and classical piano elements that elevated her beautiful vocals. Wainwright was her duettist on the acclaimed single, “Olive.”
She credits the album’s producer, Jon O’Brien of Music Box Studios in Fullerton, Calif., with helping to shape the collection into a cohesive unit of songs that stand by themselves but work as a satisfying sequence. “Since the songs were written over a range of many years and within different phases of my songwriting,” Musette explains, “Jon took special attention to bring instrumental themes throughout that kept a darker song like ‘Julia’ in the same world as a dreamier, upbeat tune like ‘Honeymoon.’”
Her sophomore album, “Pendulum,” slated for release within the next year, features Michiganite French ye-ye pop singer and one-woman orchestra Via Mardot — Musette’s recent collaborator on an EP of “Backwards Lullaby” reimaginings — and the Detroit-based drummer, percussionist and producer Adam Schreiber. Whatever that future brings, it promises to be sweet, melodic and true to Musette’s unique form.
Gal Musette plays Bumblefest Friday, Sept. 2 in downtown West Palm Beach. bumblefest.com ~ Abel Folgar
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