Antoine Corriveau’s lyrics have never been this cryptic, but they’ve probably also never been this clear – and as devoid of metaphors as “Deux femmes,” the cornerstone song of Feu de forêt, his new EP.

Take a moment to imagine Corriveau’s compelling, musky voice pronouncing these simple, yet exceptionally intense, words, as if the song was unfolding before its creator, as he was finally seeing the blinding, naked truth.

Antoine CorriveauTranquillement je reviens (slowly I make my way home)
Il est cinq heures du matin (It’s five in the morning)
Il vente à l’arrière du taxi (It’s windy in the back of the taxi)
Entre deux femmes je suis ici (Between two women I’m here)

Tranquillement je reviens (slowly I make my way home)
Celle de droite me prend par la main (The one on the right takes my hand)
On pleure à l’arrière du taxi (We’re crying in the back of the taxi)
Entre deux vies je suis ici (Between two lives I’m here)

Quand elle est partie (When she left)
C’est là que j’ai compris (That’s when I understood)
Tu ne seras pas l’amour de ma vie (You’re not the love of my life)

“I felt I was saying things very, very, very, maybe too clearly, and I ask myself how I was dealing with that for a long time,” says Corriveau. He’s discussing this set of lyrics that burns all masks, a confession song that he’s been playing onstage for awhile now, and even left off his previous album, Cette chose qui cognait au creux de sa poitrine sans vouloir s’arrêter.

“The answer I found was that I absolutely need to have the guts to go there, because otherwise, it’s all pointless,” says Corriveau. “Recording that song helped me understand that as soon as I’m a little scared when I start writing a sentence, it means I have to sing it. I’m a big Dylan fan, and I often think of one of his [Music Cares] acceptance speech where he said that throughout his life, people criticized his voice and told him he sings like a frog. Dylan’s reply was something like, ‘The next time you want to evaluate a voice, don’t ask yourself whether it’s beautiful; ask yourself if it’s telling you the truth.’”

Not a Fan of EPs

“Quite frankly, I’m not a fan of the EP format,” say Corriveau with a laugh, well aware that it might not be the best sentence to utter while promoting your latest EP. The recording is a collection of songs he wrote to flesh out the narrative arc of the concert he presented at Montréal’s Usine C in December of 2017. Feu de forêt is both the end of a creative cycle, and the beginning of his association with Montréal’s Secret City Records imprint, also home to Patrick Watson, The Barr Brothers and Suuns, to name just a few.

The deal makes sense, because the music usually released by the label is spiritually linked to that of Corriveau, who’ll become the first Francophone on its roster. Hopefully, their European office could allow him to fly overseas more often.

So, not a fan of EPs? Corriveau is still a believer in the mesmerizing power of the full album, experienced from beginning to end, a notion antithetical to the culture of the almighty playlist. During a recent visit to a high school where he sometimes hosts workshops, a young girl admitted to him that she doesn’t know the name of any of the artists she listens to all day long. Why? Because songs are streamed in complete anonymity, unless one checks their phone screen.

“It’s a complex issue, but I find it makes music less sacred, and strips it of much of its value,” says Corriveau. “Sure, we consume more music, but how? I was happy to get three free months of Apple Music, because it meant I could listen to my vinyl albums when I was at my girlfriend’s, but I ended up hating how it changed my relationship with music. This smorgasbord of choices means I waste 45 minutes wondering what I feel like listening to. And it also hinders the intimacy that develops between you and an album that you listen to over and over.”

You’ll probably have guessed by now that the “ambisonic” concert he’s presenting on Nov. 9, 2018, at Club Soda, during Coup de cœur francophone – an event that will deploy speakers located in front, behind, and within the audience – is yet another of his schemes to increase the enchantment of our relationship with music that’s not disposable.

Thanks to Gilles Vigneault

Music, in all its sovereignty, will always triumph, no matter what slights its emissaries have to endure. (Or at least that what we repeat to ourselves as a form of reassurance.) “Mon coeur paré passera partout” Antoine Corriveau proclaims, that being the title of a song that came out of a week-long workshop at Gilles Vigneault’s place in Saint-Placide.

“We had to finish one song by the end of the week, and the reason Fanny [Bloom] sings it with me on the EP is because she’s the first one I presented it to,” says Corriveau. “I wasn’t quite sure what I was saying in that song, but the night I sang it to Fanny, we both realized that it was inspired by that 90-year-old man [Vigneault], and his desire to contribute and bequeath a legacy of French-language poetry in The Americas.”

The last time Marie-Mai was on the cover of Words & Music, she posed with her musical and life partner, Fred St-Gelais. The title of that story? Hand in Hand in Hand in Hand. It goes to show how deep a hole was left in her career after their break-up in January of 2016. As if that wasn’t enough, Marie-Mai also severed her ties with her management team (Productions J) and her record label (Musicor). Literally overnight, she lost the three pillars of her career that had been with her from the start. So alone, without a huge machine behind her, the singer healed herself, to release her sixth album this week, Elle et moi. Here’s our no-holds-barred interview with her.

Marie-MaiThis is the very first interview you’ve given since you wiped your slate clean. The first of a long series of interviews to coincide with the release of Elle et moi. What do you expect from the new promotional cycle?
I’m still pondering what I’m going to say, and how. Elle et moi is an incredibly personal album from beginning to end. Definitely my most personal album ever. I’ve never devoted an entire album to a period of my life as I just did. This record is like my diary while I was going through all of this turmoil. I had a lot to say, chaotic things as well as beautiful things. I also felt the need to let people know my side of what I went through. People imagined what situation I was in, based on what leaked in the media. I needed to tell my version of it. This record is an open window on my life during these last few years. Each song reveals a little more about me, and I know people will have questions after listening to them. Did she really do that? Did she really feel that way? I still don’t know what I’m going to say during interviews, where I’m going to place the limits.

Your album opens right at the core of everything with the first single, “Empire. You sing, “Jamais été aussi bas, jamais vu ma vie sans toi” (“I’ve never been so low, never saw my life without you”), before moving on to the chorus: “J’ai un empire à reconstruire” (I’ve got an empire to rebuild”). How demolished were you by the events?

“Empire” is the first song I wrote for this album. Every single insecurity I felt is in that song. I no longer had a record label, since my contract ended when M came out in 2014. The contract with my management team was also about to expire. I was facing nothingness. And I had to go in a studio without Fred for the first time. I was scared. I was questioning whether I actually was a bona fide songwriter. I worked the same way for 11 years. All that turmoil made me compromise my self-confidence. Without Fred, without my fans, without a stage, without a team around me… I felt friggin’ small.

You and Fred intertwined love and work for more than 11 years. Toward the end, knowing his absence would have a deep impact on your career, did Marie-Mai the artist try to convince Marie-Mai the lover to save your relationship?
Music was central in our lives, but it wasn’t at the core of our relationship. When everything was fine, we always said we’d keep making music together even if we split up as a couple. That’s easy to say when everything is fine, and you’re going 180 miles per hour. What with recording albums, collaborating with other artists, touring, and showing up in the media, you don’t have time to think about that stuff. You’re under the illusion that everything’s fine. I was 18 when I met Fred. I’m 30 now. At a certain point, I wondered who I really was, and whether what I was doing was aligned with the woman I’d become. It’s as if living in a suitcase for so long made me forget where I belonged. But life goes on. I’ve moved on. Fred too. He has a gorgeous girlfriend and, besides, I don’t want to be constantly talking about him. This whole situation is a bit unfair for Fred, since I’m the one being interviewed. We spoke recently. I told him I would stop publicly addressing the couple we used to be out of respect for him. But I will always praise him and give him all the credit he deserves. Before I met him, I wrote poems in my daily planner. I didn’t even know I could write songs.

How about musically? How has his departure changed the composition for this new album?
Fred and I were a good team because we came from totally different universes. He was always a rock dude, and I was a pop dudette. I liked Green Day and Blink 182, but I’m a pop girl from the tip of my hair to my tippy toes. So removing Fred from the equation means removing the guitars. That’s the main difference. It’s not better or worse, it’s different. But you know, many times during the composition process, I would wonder: “What would Fred do?” He helped me with my lyrics as well as my melodies. I tend to over-complicate melodies. Fred would work with me to simplify them and make them more efficient.

Marie-MaiYou also had the opportunity to work with new collaborators in the studio. How did you go about choosing them?
I went to L.A. for a writing session. I wanted to flex my songwriting muscles, which were going a little soft after being unused for so long. Cut off from the outside world, far from my daily reality, I wrote without any pressure. One day, I was paired with a British composer, Oliver Som [who’s co-written with James Blunt and Robbie Williams]. We wrote an excellent song for another artist. We clicked. We quickly found a chemistry that was very similar to the one I had with Fred. It made me feel really good. I understood I could find my bearings again with another composer. Then we didn’t talk for about a year. When I was ready to go back in the studio, he came to Québec and we made the album together.

How much do you need a composer/producer to work with you?
When I’m writing, I need someone of whim I can bounce ideas. Send in demos, get his feedback, improve the song. I often start with a beat, onto which I can hang a melody. I needed Oliver to flesh out my songs and challenge me. That’s how I work. My boyfriend, David Laflèche, stepped in toward the end to improve the mix.

Throughout this whole creative process, did you think about the Marie-Mai sound? How do you see it, in 2018? Do you listen to what Katy Perry or Taylor Swift are doing, for example?
I never wrote music thinking about what others were doing. My mix of rock and pop was never even close to what Katy Perry might do. This record is no different. I like the Euro pop of Robyn, but I can’t say that there are singers that inspire me, musically. I admit Katy Perry has some good songs, but you’ll never hear me say, “We must do something like Katy did.” In the end, when I listen to this new album, I believe it sounds like me. The words are the same, the melodies are similar. People will recognize my signature sound. It’s my strength, my universe. I wrote this record to regain my self-confidence.

When did you find your self-confidence?
Gradually, every time I would finish a new song. When I get to that place, anything that makes me feel insecure vanishes. When you’re stripped of what defines you as a person, you lose your senses. I found mine back one song at a time, and even more so when I was in the studio with Oliver. It felt like things were happening, like nothing had stopped. That’s when I understood that my career wasn’t over, it was just paused. That’s what I sing about on “Exister.” From that point on, every step forward brought me closer to who I am today. I want to keep doing what I do, to inspire people through my lyrics. And I think I can touch them with such a personal album. We all go through periods of self-doubt and existential crises, for different reasons. I had to go through it to learn, and go forward.

What did you learn?
To be myself. Learning to live with the duality between the Marie-Mai everyone knows and Marie-Mai Bouchard, the woman nobody knows. Marie-Mai is like a concrete pillar. Marie-Mai is not allowed to feel insecure when she sings at the Bell Centre, at the Stade de France with Johnny Hallyday, or at the Olympic Games ceremony. But for Bouchard, it’s the opposite. She’s shy and insecure. She goes through a ton of emotions. That’s what the song “Elle et moi” is about. For a very long time, I was convinced I couldn’t be both. Marie-Mai took over Bouchard. The only side of me people know is Marie-Mai. And that star system creates a whole bunch of falsehoods. I let too many people say stuff about me that wasn’t true, and that won’t happen anymore.

Like what?
I read somewhere that I was a diva. That is so not true. And I wouldn’t react because Marie-Mai was beyond that. When Bouchard had an opinion on something, Marie-Mai wouldn’t share it, just to avoid upsetting part of her audience. The thing is, I don’t have to be some kind of ever-smiling and kind wonder woman. Tons of people told me what to do, or what to say. Now, I put my foot down. I just got back from taping The Launch in Toronto, a music show on CTV where I’m a judge. I can guarantee you that the people there saw a woman who’s at ease with herself, and not afraid to speak her mind.

Is that why you decided to change your management team and record label?
Prod J really was the best team for me in those early years. I needed a team that would propel the boat as fast as I wanted it. And yes, they protected my output. It’s normal, too, they controlled my image, they wanted it to be big. The main reason I left was artistic. I need 20 people at the table to take my projects to fruition. Prod J no longer had the staff required. As far as Musicor is concerned, that’s a more delicate subject. It’s not easy, because I know my departure will have consequences in the media, but I take responsibility. It’s what I wanted for my personal growth.

You mean that by leaving Musicor, which is owned by Quebecor, you will no longer benefit from the convergence of all of the holding’s media outlets?
I’m not complaining. There’s worse than that in life, but that remains a fact. Nowadays, the only time the Journal de Montréal will mention me is when they comment on some of my tweets. They know I’m good for clicks. But I’m not angry. Other doors are opening. I’m going to be on Tout le monde en parle. I’m on The Launch [which airs in early 2019]. I refuse to let my choices be dictated by the possible media consequences. I need to feel my heart is in the right place.

That’s much to your credit. Thank you for being so frank.
The operative word is transparency.

Singer-songwriter Jessica Mitchell is doing alright.

She’s a four-time Canadian Country Music Association Awards (CCMAs) nominee, and at the organization’s 2018 awards gala, she sang “No Fear” in a show-opening medley of Hall of Fame inductee Terri Clark’s hits, along with Meghan Patrick, Suzy Bogguss, and Clark herself. In 2017, she performed “Only Love Can Break Your Heart” at Massey Hall for the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame induction of Neil Young.

Mitchell’s Mates: Some of her co-writers

  • Tom Cochrane
  • Patricia Conroy
  • Todd Clark
  • Robyn Dell’Unto
  • John Goodwin
  • Tim Hicks
  • Stephen Kozmeniuk
  • Lindi Ortega
  • Meghan Patrick
  • Deric Ruttan
  • Gavin Slate
  • Dave Thomson
  • Matthew Tishler

Mitchell is also enjoying the benefits of a management deal with the RGK Entertainment Group, and her performances are booked by The Feldman Agency. After entering the Slaight Music “It’s Your Shot” competition about five years ago – even though she didn’t win – she garnered a publishing deal with the company. Though Slaight is most often thought of as more of an incubator than a publisher, they hired someone in Nashville to pitch her songs, and have been very supportive.

“When I first started working with them, I was in Nashville so often,” says Mitchell. “That’s why I wrote as many songs as I did – ‘cause I was constantly going there… I started doing my co-writing in Toronto, and that’s when I bonded with Gavin [Slate], and Todd [Clark], and Stephen [Kozmeniuk] – the Toronto crew, who are all now in Nashville! It took a long time, a good four years, to filter through hundreds of co-writers to find ‘my people’…It’s a small group… But that being said, I love the experience of writing with new people as well, so I try to do that.”

And what’s the source of that co-writing process, for Mitchell?

“Conversation,” she says. “Conversation is so important. If you’re not having a conversation with your co-writer, what’s the point? ‘Cause it’s a very personal thing…

“I know [some of] these people so well. It usually starts with, ‘Hey, how are you? What’s going on? What’s happened to you lately?’ And normally, an idea will spark [from that]… I’m not one of those people who, like some writers, write stuff or sing little melodies into their phone. If I’m stuck on an idea, it’ll come up again. If I forget it, it’ll come up again, Same with melodies…

“In Nashville you have to write kind of quick. It’s a three-, four-hour thing: Write, record, demo, ‘Bye,’ and you’re done. So a lot of songs get written very quickly, and you change stuff later, if you don’t like it.”

Inspired by the raw honesty and storytelling of country music, Mitchell believes that at the heart of every piece of music is pain and loss.  Her hope is that sharing these personal experiences will forge genuine bonds with her audience. Several of the songs on her current album Heart of Glass – like the title track, “Don’t Love Me,” and “Bulletproof” – are, at least partly, about people hardening themselves in order to not get hurt by love.

Staying sane on tour

Mitchell is in the midst of a long round of touring, and offers a few tips for surviving on the road:

  • Self-care. “Eating healthy, I do a lot of yoga. You can go on a treadmill every day, even if it’s just for five minutes.”
  • Packing cubes. “I just discovered these! They organize your suitcase [in little sections]. It’s important to be organized.”
  • Sleep. “Lots of it. And no drinking on show days.”

“I think that’s life, that’s a big part of life,” says Mitchell. “Thick skin in this business is necessary, and in relationships, and with family. I’ve spent a good portion of my life with my guard up. And every once in awhile when I let it down, it feels like bad things come of it. Trying to remain open to possibilities, and positive things, is super-important, but I also think you really need to watch yourself these days…”

Unless you’re performing for Neil Young – in which case, you mostly watch him.

“I feel like it was an out-of-body experience,” says Mitchell of performing in front of Young at Massey Hall. “You’re on the stage, but you’re almost, like, looking at yourself from somewhere else in the room. And you’re looking at Neil looking at you. It will probably go down in history as the coolest moment I’ve ever had, so far… You walk out on the stage, and you’re, like, ‘Not gonna look, not gonna look, not gonna look.’ And I bee-lined [with my eyes] for him and I didn’t look away. I think I looked at him the whole time. It was amazing. What a trip.”