Fronted by the vocally gifted Sabrina Halde, Groenland – a six-member band with a brand new debut album – is taking the Montreal music scene by storm.
The Chase’s indie orchestral pop sound with electro undercurrents – for which Montreal (the city that gave Arcade Fire to the world) is known – is unmistakable from the first listen, with its lush orchestrations and exquisite compositional details. Released on the Bonsound label and solidly produced by Philippe B and Guido Del Fabro, this new specimen of the “Montreal sound” includes French lyrics à la Coeur de Pirate and English words à la Patrick Watson, a trend among a number of Quebec groups with French-sounding names.
And, of course, there is Sabrina Halde’s voice, a beautiful-sounding, perfectly-pitched and controlled Regina Spektor-like instrument, developed as a jazz singing student at Montreal’s Cégep Saint-Laurent. The artist, who went on to completed a minor in digital music at the University of Montreal, comments: “To some listeners, I have a pop-sounding voice, although we’re going in other directions musically, and this is why we’re sometimes compared to small niche indie bands.”
Over the past ten years, Halde’s partner, Jean-Vivier Lévesque (keyboards and programming) has been performing as part of Le Roi Poisson and Le Citoyen. The “Chase” of the band’s album title is a metaphor for the team’s professional quest. “At the risk of sounding a bit corny, I’d say our title is a reference to the huge challenge of making it with our music, not an easy life project by any means,” says Halde. “Managing to blossom out and searching for your own individual sound are valid quests and remarkable accomplishments in themselves.
“We were initially inspired by The Eraser, Thom Yorke’s solo album, but when we sat in front of our computers, we realized that we preferred working instinctively instead, more organically, more impulsively,” says Halde. “What young bands need, sometimes, is just to get out there and jam their songs in front of real people instead of sitting for hours on end in front of the computer looking for ways to put words on ideas.
“Naturally, we changed our minds about making electronic music – though it is now part of our sound – and we decided instead to create our own group and open it up to other musicians,” namely Jonathan Charette on drums, Simon Gosselin on electric bass, Gabrielle Girard-Charest on acoustic bass and Fanny C. Laurin on violin. “That makes three men and three women – an equal opportunity band,” Halde laughs, adding that she really appreciates that “the company of other girls on those long road trips.”
The band’s songwriters remain halde and Lévesque, whom she calls JV. “As a rule, when we’re composing, once we get to the melody, words will slowly emerge, and this is when something starts to move lyrically,” says Halde. “I remember reading an interview with Justin Vernon of Bon Iver who was saying that before questioning the meaning of his lyrics, he allows words to place themselves naturally, playing around with them for a while. The editing work comes later. I love it when the music dictates the words.” While Halde begins work on various sections of a developing song, JV keeps an overall vision of the finished product, their respective roles complementing one another throughout the creative process.
How does halde deal with her role as the band’s frontwoman? “I felt at home onstage from the word go,” she says. “I just knew that this was what I wanted to do and where I wanted to be. Of course, it takes time for things to take shape. It’s a bit stressing initially because you don’t know what you’re getting yourself into, so you take a big breath and jump in. Lifeless performances won’t cut it – what you need is high energy. I always knew that the pressure on the group really was pressure I was putting upon myself. We’re a gang, we hang together! That very thought energizes me.”