Following two pop-rock albums launched by Warner – Flou in 1998 and an eponymous album in 2001 – Catherine Durand found herself on her own, without a contract or a manager.

“The packaging was too slick on those albums, she says right away. I recorded in big studios with huge budgets, but I did not feel comfortable about it. I asked myself what I really wanted to do. I took things into my own hands, gathered money, built a team and self-produced the album I really wanted to make. I didn’t really care about being radio friendly. It was no longer a priority for me. All I cared about was making songs that thrill me.”

The result was an album titled Diaporama (2005), a luxurious and ethereal affair with folk and country overtones that was applauded by the critic and the audience alike. She followed that up with Cœurs migratoires, three years later. Then, last fall, Catherine launched Les murs blancs du Nord, the result of a trip to Iceland.

Clearly the heir of its two predecessors, that record adds a slightly more refined, mildly psychedelic and soaring atmosphere to Catherine’s songs, thanks in part to Jocelyn Tellier (co-producer) and the many keyboards of Karkwa’s François Lafontaine.

“I found myself in Reykjavik on January 1st, 2010. There was no one. Not a single tourist, no trees. Barely any light. I was alone in this immensity, feeling minuscule compared to the nature surrounding me. It was quite a peculiar sensation. The light was dusk-like throughout the day. That brings about a state of complete contemplative abandon, of silent solitude. That’s exactly what I needed, too. That trip did me a lot of good and I managed to totally relax. Yet, it also put me in a very strange mood. When I came back home, I started working on new songs and everything flowed naturally. Now, in hindsight, I realize how much that trip influenced the overall atmosphere of the album. Mind’s eye images of Iceland are all over the place on that album,” she reminisces.

The privilege of being an artist

Even though Catherine grew up with the music of Harmonium, Beau Dommage and The Police – she’s a “huge fan” –, it is artists like Tracy Chapman, Suzanne Vega, Edie Brickell and Sheryl Crow that had a deep impact and inspired her to start writing songs.

Now that she has grown into one of our more accomplished songwriters, the 41 year-old artist forges on and is still trying to find her way in the jungle of Québec’s music scene.

“Despite it all, I could never imagine doing something else than creating music. I love it so much. Picking up my guitar, coming up with a melody and a beautiful sentence: to this day, it still fills me with joy. Writing a new song and the satisfaction of being proud of it is priceless to me. Nothing compares to that. Besides, there are such wonderful moments one can experience thanks to a career in the arts, I could never give that up. Obviously, there are doldrums to contend with, but I fully aware of how luck I am to still be around as an artist. Getting fan mail telling you how deeply you’ve touched people is quite a privilege,” she confides.

With the turmoil the industry has been going through over the past few years, Catherine firmly believes that only passion and nothing else now determines how long an artist will last in the business.

“Nowadays, making music has to be a deep uncontrollable urge you have, otherwise you’ll disappear from the scene as fast as you broke onto it. I’ve seen so many artists make it on the scene, be successful and then disappear. You need to be hands on and know all the aspects of the trade because, whether we like it or not, we are increasingly on our own as artists. You need to be attuned to your environment, explore the milieu. Mostly, you need to think in terms of concerts rather than records, now. I make a decent living because I self-publish my songs. As soon as I started in this business, I knew what I had to do. The beginning of your career is crucial, because everything that’ll follow will depend on it,” she says passionately.

Happily inspired

While concerts will remain a major part of her agenda, she has already started working on new songs. And even though she doesn’t know yet when the next album will come out, she promises the wait won’t be as long – 4 years – as the previous one.

What about France?

“Ever since I started, I’ve concentrated my efforts on Québec, but I would really love a deal with a label in France or Belgium. I’ve played in France a few times. It’s a huge market and it requires that you be there, with a big team and corresponding budgets. Many artists have tried, few have succeeded. I’m crossing my fingers that it will happen one day, but I’m happy where I am. That’s all that matters to me.”