This is the first in a series of stories about the creative meeting of a writer and a composer. This month’s “Better Together” features Marie-Pierre Arthur and Gaële.
Name any of them, whether it’s the heady “Pourquoi,” which launched Marie-Pierre Arthur on the radio in 2010, or “Droit devant,” also taken from her first eponymous album; “Fil de soie,” the Beatlesque “All Right” and the ecstatic “Emmène-moi,” from her album Aux Alentours (2012); all the way to more recent radio singles such as “Rien à faire” and “Papillons de nuit” from her latest Si l”aurore; all these songs were co-written by Marie-Pierre Arthur and Gaële – along with collaboration from other musicians such as keyboardist François Lafontaine, because credit needs to be given where credit is due…
“I was at the end of my rope. I had music, melodies, but nothing was working, it made me cry, I just couldn’t do it. I told my friend about it…” – Marie-Pierre Arthur
It’s undeniable that Gaële and Marie-Pierre Arthur are one of the most fruitful songwriting duos of recent years. Nothing, however, foreshadowed this professional relationship, one that began with what can only be described as friendship at first sight.
Gaële and Arthur met on a bus taking them from Montréal to Gaspésie. They’d met before, but they didn’t “click.” “I saw her sitting in the bus and in my mind, I was like ‘Oh! I know her, now I’ll have to talk to her,’” remembers Arthur.
Right from the get-go, she said: “‘I’m not going to talk to you for the whole trip.’ I was quite rude,” says Arthur, while looking at Gaële, who jumps in, smiling: “That’s one way of putting it!” And yet, that’s what they did: They talked non-stop for the whole 14 hours of their trip. And during the whole week after that, at the Festival en chanson de Petite-Vallée, where Arthur is from.
“We laughed a lot,” recalls Gaële. Born in the French Alps, Gaële had just completed her studies in jazz and pop singing at UQAM and hadn’t visited Québec much during her school years, which she deeply regretted just as she was about to go back to France. That little trip to Gaspésie completely changed her plans. “It was a fateful meeting,” she says.
So a great friendship bloomed over many years before the professional relationship developed. Gaële went back to Petite-Vallée to defend her own songs as a singer-songwriter, while Arthur was not at all attracted to the trade. “Not at all,” she says. “In my mind, I was a bass player. I sometimes sang, I loved it, but I didn’t have any kind of solo project in mind.”
But that didn’t prevent her from collecting rough drafts of songs that she couldn’t seem to bring to completion. “I was at the end of my rope,” she admits. “I had music, melodies, but nothing was working. It made me cry, I just couldn’t do it. I told my friend about it…”
Adds Gaële. “I could tell that there was something going on, artistically. I thought something could be done with that voice. She ‘spoke’ Gaspésien, and her music – the rhythms and phrasings – was more Anglophone, if there is such a thing. She wanted to sing in a more ‘international’ French. She needed to find the appropriate language.”
“And anecdotal lyrics were out of the question!” chimes in Arthur. And on those grounds, their collaboration was built. Marie-Pierre’s music and Gaële’s words – “not too many words,” says Gaële, “not too many consonants, so it flows naturally, like her voice.