The dainty fawn has become emblematic of Oklou – the pop-princess moniker of Marylou Mayniel. Whether it’s Cardi B’s deer eulogising sampled on Valley 2, her routinely-worn Bambi t-shirt or her own lyrics like on the recent single Fall – “like a dancing fawn on frozen land,” – the frolicking deer never seems too far away. Little April Shower from the 1942 Disney film has even popped up in the occasional Oklou DJ set. Appropriately, these images marry harmoniously with her music, which is equally as delicate, graceful and – her most favoured description – cute as the baby deer themselves. Having crafted ethereal compositions in the electronic underground, moves towards pop are now being fully realised by Mayniel on her forthcoming mixtape, Galore.
With an exceptional ability to catch and bloom a melody, in accompaniment to her silk-wrapped voice, French-born artist Oklou is bewitching at the very least. Growing to prominence in the early to mid-2010s through flurries of melodic social media snippets and unofficial tracks under the pseudonym Avril23, the transition to fully fledged pop star was not always an obvious one. With her debut release, the Avril EP from 2014, Oklou (then Loumar) worked with more atmospheric undercurrents and sparsely placed piano lines like on Loaded, as well as more club-oriented beats on Beamin Love.

Whilst back then Mayniel wasn’t a fan of the media circus that denoted her the ‘revelation of the 2015 scene’ – something she felt was undeserved after only one live concert –, Oklou’s Splash Tape (2015), and particularly The Rite Of May EP (2018), have built a culture around her handiwork to the point where she has fan and critical attention alike, that is undeniably justified. Following her signing to TaP records, recent collaborations with industry heavyweights Flavien Berger on Toyota, and Mura Musa on Entertnmnt – one of my favourite pop singles of the year so far – are evidence of Oklou’s ascending status and proficiency in the genre of pop that shows no signs of waning.

On July 30th, Oklou released the first of three sections comprising her 11-track Galore mixtape to finalize this pop transition, meaning there certainly is an abundance of new music to see out the year. This opening chapter features three tracks and a cinematic video for the lead single, Unearth me, where Oklou is literally excavated from the forest floor. The other two tracks, Fall and Galore, provide the complementary aspects of soft yet intricate production Mayniel has become known for.

Despite this, Mayniel had questioned whether she had a real, artistic identity until this tape, explaining that “Galore made me feel alive, which is what I was missing up to now”. With Galore, Oklou appears to have found herself and her sound amongst the noise. Conducted in the midst of quarantine, Marylou Mayniel talks to METAL about her deep-rooted nostalgia, creative automatisms and the ideal Oklou film score.
Firstly, how are you feeling throughout this quarantine? Have you worked out a routine that works for you and your flatmate, Sara?
Well, you are very well informed (laughs). I’m feeling good, and she is feeling very good too. We are in a very good mood pretty much every day. To be honest, I didn’t expect feeling this good during that long quarantine but also, we’re lucky because the flat we’re in is comfortable and we have lots of light, and I’m pretty sure it [living arrangements] changes drastically the way you can experience a confinement. We absolutely didn’t work out any routine though!
I guess we tried at the beginning, but really quickly we stopped feeling guilty for not holding on to something forthright or any rules because maybe this is the only time in our lives where we don’t actually need to do that. We are allowing ourselves to listen to our natural clocks and to let ourselves go, and it’s… very nice.
Your whole life has seemed geared towards music: from singing in the choir aged 3 or 4; playing the piano, cello and guitar growing up in Poitiers, to completing a music Baccalaureate in Tours. Was there any stage where you had different aspirations growing up?
Yeah, I guess growing up I had different dreams until I reached teenagehood because then, my life was pretty much about studying at school and spend the rest of my days/weeks at the conservatoire attending all the different music classes. At that moment, I was accumulating so much practice and knowledge – in a specific music field – that I understood I was probably starting to shape my way towards a career dedicated to music. But my aspirations in music had never been quite tangible for me until I reached 22/23 years old.
I thought I wanted to be maybe a professional performer, a studio or live musician, a music teacher… I’ve never been able to point out what was something I wanted to do in depth. But, experiencing all these different options from 18 until 22 showed me where I didn’t want to go. So yeah, being able to write music and songs came in pretty late in my relationship with music, and when I started to actually make a small living out of it, I didn’t stop – up until now. And I’ll continue as long as I can pay my rent.
Classical music has an emphasis on performance as in to say that there is skill in finding the best interpretation of a piece of music. For instance, while the core rhythm from Friendless (2015) remains in your 2018 release, the tempo, phrasing as well as instrumentation additions truly bring the song alive with emotion! How in particular do you feel your classical background influences your approach to music, compared to your non-classically trained musician friends for instance? I know this commonality is partly why you and Casey MQ connected at the Red Bull Music Academy (RBMA) in such a profound way.
Yeah, I think I connected with Casey on many different levels. But, in our practices and way to compose music together, I guess we do have in common automatisms we’ve got from learning and practising classical music – a trained ear that in some extent can identify and recreate harmonies and melodies with ease if we speak in technical terms. Of course, this is far from being exclusive of any sort of musical knowledge, I just set this as a fact in what we can connect to and share with Casey when we work together.
But it’s hard to answer that question because I don’t think you can divide and compare musicians with a classical background and the others; it’s not that simple. Each musical environment you’ve learnt or practised can give you some very specific technical tools, but it doesn’t define your creativity or the fact that you have something to say, nor your ability to express it. I really consider the emotional level to be more important in creation than the tools you dispose to build something.
Speaking of Casey, he seemed to develop the idea for Club Quarantine almost right away following lockdown orders, and it’s really taken off – with you playing a couple of times yourself. What are your thoughts on this surprisingly intimate, new mode of clubbing? Do you think it could carry on past lockdown?
Yeah, I think regarding Club Q, they definitely have to carry the whole thing on! The parties I’ve participated in have been so great – the amount of fun and love and goddamn respect you can find in there is almost unreal (laughs). Each time I’ve played, I was legit just smiling from beginning to end. It’s so good on so many levels. I’m so proud of Casey and his friends to take care of this, and as you can imagine, it’s a lot of work to make it happen every single night.
As you say, perhaps more important than classical training and the equipment you use are the emotions you channel and hope to convey. You’ve noted how you use melancholia to become creative whilst many philosophers and musicians alike, such as Nietzsche and Thom Yorke, have spoken about the value of sadness for creativity. In what way do you find this state helpful for your own music creation?
It’s hard to explain if it’s even explainable, and I’m afraid to fall into a bad attempt at analysing the reasons why nostalgia – I’d say nostalgia more than sadness – is inspiring me more than other feelings. Maybe it’s chemical, I guess there’s an emotional route in my brain that is prominent. A highway. Maybe it’s a balance thing. Maybe exploring sadness and nostalgia on a deep level is giving even more intense colours to all the moments of joy and happiness I have in my everyday life.
Relatedly, I have a question from your ‘stan’, @Oklou_fan on Instagram: “As you said in Cyber Calls, you need to be melancholic when you write. How do you manage to not let these intense, sad feelings hurt your happiness in your day-to-day life?”
So, as I was saying just before, I think it’s a balance thing. I don’t think I would be able to sink into these emotions and to even look for them if I was rooted in sadness. I feel safe by exploring these emotions, because I know I’m a happy person. I’m not hurting myself by focusing on that. I find incredible beauty and strength in vulnerability. Although I have to say that I’m allowing myself to explore different energies lately with my last singles – especially SGSY. It’s funny how I can feel more insecure by navigating into playful/lighter energies. Honestly, I feel like it’s harder for me to handle that (laughs). 
As we covered, nostalgia is an important influence on you, and recently, you performed an electronic nap (sieste électronique) back in Poitiers before all this went down. Was it a happy homecoming to perform where you were raised?
Yes, I was very happy about that gig. It was very symbolic for me. I have a deep love for my city and I had a very fulfilling teenagehood – though I feel like the nostalgia I’m often referring to, the one that inspires me in my personal story, is related to more ancient times when I was a little child.
Aside from Palmistry and Phil Collins, are there any of your contemporaries you would love to collaborate with?
I’m not a collaboration seeker – I don’t know why. I don’t necessarily have that natural inclination to go towards people to say, ‘hey, you wanna collab?’. I guess it can be a stressful situation for me, at least it was up until recently. Writing can be such an intimate process; it can be intimidating to open up with people you don’t know that much. That’s why I like to work with people I consider my friends or I have a special connection with – then, I feel almost in better conditions to let myself go and communicate emotions to my partner. But to answer the question, Rosalía!
A lot of your notorious YouTube clips (2013-2015) were spontaneous uploads from places of comfort, recording in bed for example, where you would upload little snippets. You’ve said that perhaps, in hindsight, this was to avoid feeling the weight of putting something full length and ‘official’ out in the world. How has your recording process changed over time to make sure you finish projects?
(Laughs) Thank you for the ‘notorious,’ that’s very kind of you. The recording process hasn’t changed that much, but since I have a team and work with people who spend time and energy on my project, I don’t really have a choice! And it’s good, I guess that’s why I’ve let these people come into my life and into my music – it’s forcing me to make actual decisions and strengthen my identity.
I’ve always been terrified of criticism. I know it’s not necessarily something that shows up, but it is real, and I’m really good at staying in my comfort zone. Signing a record deal and putting myself in a situation where I have to deliver solid content is for me an interesting way to confront my apprehensions. And, above all, it is the best way to be productive and make me release real music and real albums and real stuff because one day, I’ll die and then it’ll be too late!
Tell me about Mian Guan in Paris. Why was it the go-to option for TGAF meals (These Girls Are Fire)? And what is something you’re snacking on in quarantine?
Oh, that restaurant was a classic for my friends at the time. It’s been a while since I’ve been there. Sara and I are actually watching very carefully our snacks because we literally don’t do any sort of exercise. We do allow ourselves to have a Kinder Country [Chocolate] and soda sometimes, but we try to stick to fruits – and the nice weather is helping in that.
I really enjoyed your Zone W/O People OST with Lucien Krampf. At the time, you said it was the best thing you’d done in your life, with further aspirations to do other film and video game soundtracks. What would be the dream kind of game or movie to provide a score to? You seem to have an affinity for Disney films…
Yes, I do love Disney, but it’s very much because they resonate with that nostalgic part of my life as I was watching the movies during my childhood. Also, I think they’re genuinely wonderful pieces of art – Bambi, Lion King, The Fox and the Hound… it is beautiful. I know Disney can sound controversial these days and I understand where that comes from, but I’m thankful that these movies have played an obvious role in my emotional construction.
Now, apart from ‘old Disneys,’ I just love animation movies. I don’t know what the dream kind of game or movie to score would be, but I can’t wait for the day I’ll have time to dedicate weeks and months to that task. Maybe Sci-Fi but cute; experimental Sci-Fi for children.
Finally, you appear to have a very open-minded musical taste for someone who is classically trained, where sometimes egos and elitism means pop music is dismissed, as you’ve noted previously – be it the Gorillaz (your first musical purchase), classical ballads of Chopin, or the pop stylings of Justin Bieber. Who’s on your quarantine playlist right now, and who are you excited to hear more of in 2020?
I don’t listen to that much music, to be honest, but when I cook or answer interviews like yours, for example. As a short list of artists I’ve been listening to recently, I could go from Supertramp to The Weeknd, to an old indie band I used to listen to in 2012, as well as low key, anonymous full deep house albums on YouTube… And Sara’s playlist, which is always very sunny and sexy and warm. I look forward to hearing more of Casey MQ and Detente, who both have wonderful new music to come out!
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