“There’s nothing but good vibes here,” says Ariane Moffatt, sitting in the middle of a classroom that’s been re-purposed into a recording studio. This is where the demos for her album Petites mains précieuses were created, and also where we meet with the singer-songwriter, who’s armed with a newfound self-assurance, built on fragility.
It was the hasty arrival of her third son Georges that set Moffatt on the creative path of her latest work. “He was born prematurely, there were complications, and that weakened my own health, she explains. “I realized once more that songwriting can be beneficial during hard times. Going outside and feeling like you’re seeing the sun for the first time puts things in perspective.” When the baby was about two months old, the singer felt an urge to write and, in a mere few weeks, she had enough material for a full album. “I should’ve been sitting on my couch breast-feeding, but instead, I set up a playpen in the room and did everything at once. The result is a fragile, yet strong album.”
Her current vulnerability recalls that of her early days, when she took her first steps on the music scene. Most notably, on her debut, Aquanaute, full of songs that didn’t let much light in. “I did obviously think about it, especially when we shot the album cover on my lake. It really was similar to Aquanaute,” she says with a smile. “Francis Collard, who I only worked with on my first album, was back in the picture. He gave me a ton of material, and set up a good-sounding piano so I could work on my demos. Does that mean it’s my last album? I don’t think so, but now I know I’m able to re-visit all the places I’ve been before. It’s a wheel in motion.”
And although she still, as always, finds her essence in various stylistic influences, Moffatt remains confident that her sound is hers alone. “On 22h22, I was in a world of dream pop, while on Le coeur dans la tête, there were more guitars, and more aggression. On this one, it’s disco soul from the ’70s to the ’90s that comes out, but I’ve always wanted to write songs, above all else. It’s organic, close to the heart.”
Whereas some artists are chained to themes, Moffatt is anchored in the honesty of feelings. For nearly 20 years, she’s addressed the mysteries of the human soul through stories that are her own, or someone else’s. “I dig up what we don’t see in people,” she says humbly.
This new album fires on all cylinders. The ’70s are all over “Du souffle pour deux,” which channels the soulful and captivating vibes of Bill Withers and Al Green. “The image I was working with was a disco ball, but hung over my fireplace at the cabin,” Ariane explains. “It’s disco, but it’s comforting.”
“Statue” takes us back to about a year ago, when women gathered to denounce alleged sexual predator Gilbert Rozon. “The statue in the song is that Greek god we throw against a wall, and it shatters,” she says. “It’s about liberation, refusing to accept it, and no longer keep it to oneself. That song is a tribute to woman and her worth, just as ‘Pour toi,’ as a matter of fact.”
All the songs were written on the piano. “I barely play guitar anymore,” says Moffatt. “I have a longtime relationship with the piano, and I strive to avoid repeating myself. On certain songs like ‘Cyborg,’ I recorded the piano and voice tracks, and then I muted the piano so I could forget my bearings and try something new. That’s how I don’t get too comfortable.
“There are zones inside of me that are rooted in moments that had a deep impact on me in my early twenties. They’re imprinted. Even though my life is much more balanced nowadays, I know what angst is,” says Moffatt, asked about the sadder songs on the album, such as “N’attends pas mon sourire.” “That one started with a light spleen, that I amplified into a story.”
The “Petites mains précieuses” (“Precious Little Hands”) are those of her son Henri, a budding poet who would constantly exclaim “Ha, les petites mains précieuses !” every time he saw his little brother Georges. “The album’s namesake hand is not Georges’ hand, which I held through the incubator window, and which I’ll never be able to let go. They’re the hands of others in our self-centred world, where those others are too often virtual. The hands we hold to be linked together.”
“In this era of beats, noises, and images, do we actually listen to the music we hear?” wonders Moffatt. “I hope people will take a step towards this album, and hold the hand I’m extending to them.”