A wonderful mystery has dominated the BDS chart for the past year. Entrenched in the Top 100 for a year now, Alexe Gaudreault’s song, Placebo, stayed in the Top 10 for 46 weeks, including 7 weeks at number 1, earning her a SOCAN #1 Song Prize in the process. This tour de force was made possible thanks to a beautiful pop song off of her 3-song EP, an independent production that features her voice that balances between control and abandon. Placebo was the key that opened many doors: “There’s no way we anticipated such success. We knew we had a good song in our hands, but you never know what’ll happen next,” says Mariane Cossette-Bacon, the singer’s manager and co-author of the song with John Nathaniel.
Alexe Gaudreault’s first full-length LP under her own name will be released on May 20, 2016. Some may not yet know her face, but many were introduced to her during the 2013 edition of the popular TV Show La Voix. During the blind audition stage, the young singer had won over judges Marc Dupré and Marie-Mai’s attention thanks to her spot-on interpretation of Jacques Brel’s Quand on a que l’amour. She was eliminated during the second live round, but she was asked to be the opening act for ex-coach Marc Dupré’s live concert at Montréal Bell Centre next June 10 and 11. “The last time I was there was to see Cirque du Soleil, and now I’m going back to sing! I’ve got the butterflies just thinking about it.”
“You can’t fake emotion. Sometimes many takes are necessary. The recording of Placebo was wrapped at 3 in the morning with a blanket over my head!”
Alexe Gaudreault comes from Dolbeau-Mistassini, a town about 6 hours by car northeast of Montréal in the Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean region of Québec, and one can tell just by her voice. She’s endearing and a perfect ambassador of the fun-loving side of the inhabitants of said region. Her great musical sense and nightingale voice come from her mother’s side of the family. “My mother, uncle and grandfather have always enjoyed singing, while my dad can’t even carry a tune whistling!”
Now 23, Alexe has sung in church choirs since her early days and also picked up the transverse flute when she was in high school. “I’ve never said ‘I want to be a singer’; music has always been a part of my life, simple as that.” Not only can she sing, but she’s great at drawing and signed up for an Art degree in cégep. When she was 19, she participated in the Festival de la chanson de Saint-Ambroise, a Francophone singing contest that acts as a springboard for young singer-songwriters. “That’s when I got hooked. After that I auditioned for La Voix and things rapidly fell into place.”
Although it might look like a fairy tale from the outside, it was really a question of talent, encounters and perseverance, as well as risk, efforts and instinct. “When I decided I was going to have a career in music, I knew I’d have to work really hard,” says Alexe during our meeting while munching on a bagel with cream cheese. We met at Café Lézard, in Rosemont, the popular Montréal neighbourhood where she relocated. Life after La Voix can’t have been a cakewalk. “That experience is all about performance: you have to deliver. It’s a great platform, but it all happens at lightning speed. I don’t want to take away anything from that program—it has changed my life—, but I do feel we come out of it a little lost at sea. Thank God, my mom was always there to keep me grounded. Soon after, I was lucky enough to meet the people that helped me evolve as an artist.”
John Nathaniel did not watch La Voix. “The first time I heard Alexe sing was on my Facebook feed, out of the blue, during a piano-voice jazz performance,” says the 32-year-old producer. “I said to myself: ‘That girl has something special, a tone,’ and I immediately wanted to meet her. I invited her to come over to my studio to listen to some music. We didn’t owe each other anything and decided to record a single, just to see where that would take us. It wasn’t long before that idea morphed into an EP.”
Mariane Cossette-Bacon, also 32, is John’s wife, Alexe’s manager and occasional chauffeur, as well as a lyricist and stylist. She holds a degree in fashion marketing as well as an MBA and has this to say about the crucial stage at which an artist consolidates their identity: “John and Alexe took time to research what Alexe likes to listen to, what moves her, what works with her voice, the sounds that inspire her. It was very important to come up with music that fit her like a glove. It’s likely that not all La Voix contestants don’t have the same opportunity, and luck, to be so well coached after their presence on that show.”
Six Hands, Three Heads, One Passion
It’s Alexe’s first album that is coming out on May 20, but all three of them feverishly await on the starting line. The album is a high quality, unifying and well-produced pop offering. The creative trio signed with Musicor, “which has no bearing on the artistic level, specifies John. They understand what we’re trying to do and gave us carte blanche. The success we had with the EP and Placebo made us realize that we really needed a team of true marketing experts.”
Australian singer-songwriter Sia immediately comes to mind upon hearing the song L’hiver. Other musical influence of John and Alexe can also be heard, and although the common thread is pop music, they both love moody and atmospheric artists such as Bon Iver, Coldplay, or London Grammar. Lyrics were co-written by all three of them with a fourth collaborator on some songs. All the music was created by John Nathaniel.
Their creative process has something intriguing. “We are highly disciplined, explains John who’s taken a songwriting workshop in Los Angeles. We plan work sessions in the studio. There’s no alcohol involved and no back and forth of emails. We truly write six-handed, tailored-made songs for Alexe. We are hard-working people and do not shy away from rewriting.”
Mariane: “We don’t strive for perfection, we strive for a convincing vocal performance, solid lyrics and a production that works with those elements.”
“Perfection is sterile, John adds. What we want is emotion, something raw. We’re instinctual and work very fast. From writing the lyrics to the final production, a song takes us three days to finish.”
The longest part of this process is for Alexe to place her voice: “You can’t fake emotion. Sometimes many takes are necessary. The recording of Placebo was wrapped at 3 in the morning with a blanket over my head!”
Alexe Gaudreault’s first album is true to who she is and is a perfect postcard of the process that led up to it. “Since moving to Montréal, I’ve evolved tremendously as a person, I think I have found myself! I’m still a bit of a baby, but I can say the little girl has become a woman. I left home, my family is far from me and, in the beginning, I found that quite hard. . . Luckily, I have a great entourage.”
The tattoo she sports on her arm reads, “Home is where your heart is”. If Placebo is a key, Alexe Gaudreault’s home is music and its heart beats at the tempo of a pop song.