Last winter, Chantal Archambault released an intricately crafted five-song EP called L’amour ou la soif (Love or Thirst), a spontaneous self-produced effort that worked surprisingly well. “I had left for the cottage without asking myself too many questions, with next to nothing to work from, and came back with a few demos that sounded much better than what my musicians and I had expected,” the red-headed artist from Val-d’Or, Québec, recalls. The result is available through Bandcamp or at concert venues, but not in stores.
For her sophomore album, Les élans (2013), Archambault called on her colleague Dany Placard to help as a producer. On this new collection, she plays all the instruments while acting also as producer and sound engineer. A trained psychoeducator, she has remained a self-taught musician: “I’m a Jill of all trades,” she explains. “I’ve always been playing music or singing, but I quit studying musical theory because I disagreed with my teachers’ approaches. So I am self-taught, and not specialized in anything. What I am offering musically is quite simple – so I need to surround myself with the right people.”
“There’s something that speaks to me in country music – it’s in me, it’s me.”
Asked if she could elaborate on the meaning of the intriguing title she chose for her EP (Love or Thirst), Archambault explains that it’s “less about physical thirst than about a spiritual yearning. I’m 33 now, but I didn’t start my musical career in my early 20s like most musicians. My first album, La romance des couteaux (The Knives Romance), came out in 2010. They’d told me that I would develop as an artist over time, so I didn’t really have specific expectations. However, after the release of my second album three years later, I experienced a low point, and I felt that my career was not taking off the way it should. I was a bit of a disappointment because I had invested a lot of time and energy in that album. I was waiting for something to happen. It felt like an inner thirst that was not being quenched, and I realized that a lot of people around me were experiencing similar feelings. I had moved away from the attitude of gratefulness and appreciation with which I had approached my musical career until then, and I wanted to go back to that state of mind, start doing things for the right reasons, become more loving and grounded. As a society, we tend to want more and more of everything. There’s a lack of love at some level, and nothing is never enough. That’s what the “thirst” of the title means.”
Archambault has found a way of balancing her professions as a psychoeducator and a singer-songwriter to her own satisfaction. “As an artist, I’m not necessarily comfortable with being the centre of attention. I find this a bit strange, and at odds with the respect due, for instance, to people working in life-saving professions. I found myself a job in a daycare centre where I’m working with children with special needs. I get to choose my own hours, which is great for an artist. It provides me with a few hours when I stop thinking about myself. I meet lots of new people. I even host small-scale music workshops. I need this balance, and I can truly say that I’ve found my career’s G-spot,” she says, bursting into a radiant smile.
The folk-country scene has been visited over the past few years by a number of exciting newcomers – female newcomers, more exactly. I’m thinking of Lisa LeBlanc, Les Hay Babies and Les sœurs Boulay, to name only three. Where does Archambault place herself on the creative blood line going from Renée Martel (who included a cover of Archambault’s “La barque” on her Une femme libre album) to Mara Tremblay? “I’ve always listened to lots of women musicians. I was a Tori Amos groupie in high school. I loved Sinead O’Connor and Alanis Morissette. As for the folk-country influence, my mother listened to Johnny Cash albums while she was pregnant with me. He was her favourite singer, and apparently I reacted to his music before I was able to walk or talk! There’s something that speaks to me in country music – it’s in me, it’s me. These days I listen to Eleni Mandell or Lucinda Williams.”
Chantal Archambault indulged in a small fantasy on L’amour ou la soif, where she inserted a musical interlude recorded live in a Costa Rica church where dozens of women had gathered to sing, with the building’s front doors wide open. “In my travels,” she explains, “I was able to see how music is being integrated into people’s daily lives in many countries. It’s become a rich collective experience.” That too, is a way of dealing with that inner thirst.