The willowy Marianne Dissard was, for the first part of her life, as French as Edith Piaf.

Now she eats tortillas for breakfast and hates croissants. Her songs, sung in French but with American and Mexican influences, bridge what she calls "l'entredeux" - the place in-between two cultures - and this is what she named her first solo album.

Dissard moved to the United States in 1985 as a 16-year-old and later settled in Tucson, Arizona, to join the American folk wave.

There she met and started to sing with Calexico. She rubbed shoulders with the likes of Giant Sand, Bob Log III and Lalo Guerrero.

"Tucson is such a close-knit musical community that we all end up supporting each other, performing with each other. Calexico's Joey Burns showed me the way, co-writing and producing my album," Dissard says.

L'Entredeux, released last year, was a collaboration between her and Burns. She explains that she brought him her lyrics and a selection of music and off he went.

Though she hasn't received any hands-on studio help from Calexico for her second album L'Abandon, due to be released in a few months' time, Dissard says the band's spirit is floating through her songs.

"They have infected the whole of the Tucson music scene with their professionalism and generosity," she says.

Tucson, with its proximity to Mexico, its off-the-beaten-track attitude and its internationally renowned musicians, reminded Dissard of the French village of her childhood.

While she realises that she still sounds French, acts French and looks French, Dissard sees herself as being as American as anyone else from Tucson.

"I have a really hard time with sitting still during long French dinners. I have breakfasts of huevos rancheros - Mexican tortillas and blue potatoes with salsa picante but no baguette. I can't stand croissants," she says.

But she still writes in French, something she admits feels natural when dealing with deep feelings.

L'Entredeux was written during a difficult, extended break-up, which essentially gave Dissard the momentum she needed to move from lyricist to full-blown singer.

She laughs at stereotypes about the French knowing more about love than any other people. Just because they perfected the fine art of seduction, it does not mean they know any more about heartbreak, she says.

"I used to think the French were funny in that, after a break-up, you could spend your entire life in the same street, the same town as your ex, and your ex-family.

"Americans, on the other hand, had this uncanny cultural trait that compelled them to move far, far away, to the other side of the country, to re-establish themselves from scratch after a break-up, a bad lay-off, a detox, a bank heist, whatever. Now, that's all changed ... No matter what country you're from, if you have an online life, you have to face your heartbreak there, with permanent, inescapable updates."

Non-French speakers at her New Zealand shows can listen out for the word to love, "aimer", which will feature in almost all the songs Dissard performs as part of the Tour de Trois.

And no, she doesn't laugh when people sing along.

"Singing in French to audiences throughout Europe has made me realise that each country brings its own set of myths and preconceptions to the shows. It's absolutely fine.

"It just takes me by surprise sometimes. You can't go back and, for some people, that's even truer. I've been lucky in that I've always been able to go back to France. I can work there anytime I want."

Lowdown
Who: Marianne Dissard
Where & when: Playing with Flip Grater and Delaney Davidson at the Bacco Room, Nelson St, Auckland tonight, then travelling south.
Album: L'Entredeux out now