At the time of our meeting, on a lovely April day, Ariane Moffatt admits to suffering a bout of post-partum depression. It’s got nothing to do with her two-year-old twins, Paul and Henri, who were carried by her partner Florence and have greatly inspired the songs on her latest album. Ariane is mourning the creative cycle that led up to the launch of 22h22. “Most of the promo’s done now, and after the initial buzz, the media has already moved on to covering something else,” she says with a smile.
One could say the same thing about Moffat, an artist whom anyone would be hard-pressed to accuse of remaining in the same spot for too long. To her, every new album is a chance to explore new ground, to share with new musicians, and 22h22 is no exception. She even switched record companies for the occasion, moving from Audiogram to Simone Records.
“Deciding to not put my songs on Spotify doesn’t really make much difference, but it gives me an opportunity to explain what’s going on for us.”
But if Moffat, by her own admission, can be fairly fickle, she still relies on a few loyal friends. That’s how it is with old pal Jean-Phi Goncalves – who she met when he was the drummer in Plaster and Beast – who co-produced 22h22. “He’s a special kind of collaborator, because he’s also my best friend,” explains Moffat. “Energy flows naturally between us; we don’t need to say a word to understand each other. Obviously, as a producer, he contributed greatly to the sound. But I went to him with an almost finished album, as I tend to think about everything at once: the melody, the song, the arrangement.”
For this record, Moffat laid down a few ground rules: no guitars, lots of synths, all the while ensuring that it didn’t sound like all those super-trendy New Wave revival acts. Goncalves understood the vibe and got right into reconciling extremes, amplifying the catchy pop of “Debout” or “Miami” (a gem which, strangely, almost didn’t make it onto the album), or opting for minimalism on sadder songs like “Domenico,” an homage to a well-known homeless resident of Montréal’s Mile-End neighbourhood.
What Goncalves brings to Moffat’s music, Tristan Malavoy Racine brings to her lyrics. The poet and journalist is one of her closer friends, whose advice she heeds. “He’s my first reader; he does to my lyrics exactly what an editor does for a novelist,” she explains. “Of course, he’s open to poetry, but he’s also a great listener. We talk a lot, with no ego involvement, and he helps me to make personal things accessible.”
Since the album launch, she’s spoken at length about the meaning of 22h22, whose elegant symmetry matches that of her twin sons. Beyond its aesthetic qualities, the titular time was the expression of a transition between two states. When her sons were finally falling asleep, the mother in her gave way to the artist. This seems too good to be true; but… “No, no, it’s all true, I didn’t make this up,” she insists. “I was seeing those numbers everywhere when I started working on the record. After, of course, I asked myself if I wasn’t talking about it a little too much, if it wasn’t risky to insist on a concept that might ultimately overshadow the songs on the album. But I take responsibility for it and I intentionally chose the title track as the album’s opener: it’s kind of like the decoder ring that allows you to understand the rest of the album.”
There’s no denying that on this album, Moffat lets us into her inner world more than ever before. On “Matelots & frères,” samples of her sons’ voices, and the cry for help of “Tireurs fous,” it’s Moffat the mom who’s at the forefront; whereas on songs such as “Les Deux Cheminées,” a veritable declaration of love for a girlfriend, she brings forth the inner lover.
But no matter where Moffat decides to go, she can count on the fact that her fans will go with her. Several times during the interview, she mentions, almost in disbelief, the young woman she was at the launch of Aquanaute in 2002 and, above all, the incredible journey she’s made since then. She seems to have come to terms with her pop-star status, and doesn’t hesitate to use her fame to address important issues, whether it be gay parenting or music industry changes.
“I don’t think I’ve become a militant, but I think it’s important to talk about these things when you have the opportunity to be heard, like I do,” she explains. “Deciding to not put my songs on Spotify doesn’t really make much difference, but it helps me to explain what’s going on for us. Those who are making the big bucks nowadays are paying us peanuts and are, unfortunately, not re-investing anything in artists’ careers.”