Catherine Major chose to not choose. On her fifth album, she’s taken hold of electronic beats and stepped away from the piano, so that she’s at the root of everything. Carte mère (Motherboard) is the geographic location where she stands, two decades into her career.
Poet Jeff Moran, the singer’s life partner, has penned all of the album’s lyrics, except for “Tableau glacé,” an homage to a friend lost to an illness. “This entire project started with music, and words came later,” says Major. Adds Moran, “The melody was already divided rhythmically, and Catherine had inserted onomatopoeias where words were required.”
He explains that Major sometimes wakes in the middle of the night to create or record the latest inspiration on her cellphone. “The idea was to respect her universe,” he says. “She was having a lot of fun with technology, and I’m used to writing for Catherine. We’ve been together for quite awhile. Our lives are quite similar, so we don’t need to say a lot to figure out what our day will be like.”
The couple is raising their four children in the countryside, and wanted this new album to be about that family cohesion – but also about all families, and all of the possible forms a family can take.
Their musical bond is magnified by Antoine Gratton, who penned the string arrangements, which were played by the Bratislava Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of David Hernando Rico.
Two song titles – “Sanglot orchestral” and “L’espace occupé” – were contenders for the album title, but the idea of a motherboard was so compelling to Major that there was no other option after she found that idea. “It evokes a computer and everything I managed to do, for the first time, using technology. But it also evokes my role as a mother, which is so central in my life right now,” she explains.
Jeff Moran aspires to a form of poetry that supports a certain level of social criticism while remaining open-ended. He wants the words he uses to describe a “magnified” version of the commonplace so that they become universal . “No one ever avoids confronting illness,” he says. “Everyone understands carnal love, or the love of a child. That’s what I wrote.”
“I think people need to receive this emotional charge”
Despite that, the social commentary is a little more upfront on “L’espace occupé,” an invitation to think about Bill 21 (the Québec ban on religious symbols). “We felt the need to point out that it is unjust the excellent teachers can no longer teach our children simply because they wear a veil,” says Major. Jeff adds, “There are more vested rights and advances for trivial stuff, like installing a septic tank,”
Children inhabit the lives of both parents, and their songs. “This couldn’t be a more familial project,” says Major, who gave birth to a baby girl less than a year ago. Family has become even more central because of the self-isolation situation.
“It’s an intense album that’s in synch with these troubled times,” says Major. “Anyway, I never said I was light-hearted. What I’m doing right now is very rich, musically. The lyrics deserve to be read a few times. I think people need to receive this emotional charge,” she says about the density of the project. The omnipresent electronics are counterbalanced by strings. “The organic aspect of a symphony orchestra balances out the presence of machines,” as she puts it.
The online album launch happens on May 15, from 5:00 to 6:00 p.m. ET. “It’s rare that you sell a ‘ticket’ to go on the internet, but we need to think, collectively, about what we can do to properly compensate artists despite what’s going on,” says Moran.
Twenty years of music have left healthy furrows on Carte mère and Catherine Major alike, and she sees her happiness as a tangible difference in her life now. “I’m a lot happier now, and you can hear it,” she says. “We judge ourselves for a long time in life especially in the arts. There’s often that little voice that tells us to not do this or that, or tells us to not sing what we want to sing. So maybe now I’m within myself for the first time, instead of being beside me.”