While vacationing in the rocky inlets and hillsides of Southern France with her beau, musician Ben Riley, and her kids, Florence K agrees to talk to us about Estrellas (stars, in Spanish), her latest album, released June 1st. The nine songs, co-written with Alex Cuba, demonstrate a constant back-and-forth between elation and sadness, and her capacity to surf on the waves of either state.
“Obviously, my previous record, Buena Vida en concert, was the next musical step in the wake of my biography [published in 2015], which was a door to the darker side of my life, and it was all a bit heavy…”
Florence K has recently experienced a great deal of change. That includes a profound life change at 35; a diagnosis of bi-polarity six months earlier; a change of record labels (she left Universal, where she was licensed, and founded Florence K Music); a new manager, Andrew Turner; a new publisher, Ad Litteram; and, to top it all off, her contract as a host on ICI Musique wasn’t renewed. But then she was put in charge of a new radio show titled C’est formidable !, airing on CBC Radio 1 and Radio 2, where she steps into Jim Corcoran’s role as the person in charge of introducing Anglo-Canadians to Francophone music. Estrellas is like a sunrise over this foggy landscape.
“Once you’re diagnosed and have the proper treatment, things really change, especially when it comes to concentration,” says Florence K about being bipolar. “It’s like day and night. It’s proof that there are solutions, resources, and that a better life is possible. But there’s a lot of therapy behind it, too. Estrellas is a Spring record that reminds me of the Beatles’ ‘Here Comes the Sun,’ as if saying: OK, Winter is over now! Get your head out of the water and get on with your life. It’s refreshing music. That’s how I think of it.”
I work with (the software) Garage Band or (the application) Voice Memo for all of my production. It allows me to save a lot of money before actually investing in studio time. I can add percussion, or modify a tempo. In other words, it allows me to work on my own.”
The pianist and somgwriter’s six new pieces are sung in Spanish, and three of those also have their French version. “Alex Cuba only had four days off, we worked like crazy,” she explains about their collabioration. “Being directed by him was good for me. You can’t always fly solo; someone else’s perspective is necessary – unless your name is Mozart! Cuban music has rhythms that can be both simple and complex. There’s something going on between the bass lines, the percussion, the harmonic and melodic layers, and it all works perfectly.”
She starts snapping her fingers to illustrate said tempo aloud: “One, two, three, four; one two three four…”
One only needs to listen to Estrellas once to be convinced that elegance never dies. Her instantly endearing melodic sense, her wide emotional range that comes straight from the heart, her finely crafted arrangements, and her languid melodies, all make one thing abundantly clear: Florence K has yet to run out of the style she’s created for herself since her debut in 2005.
The creative kettle in which her shivers, delights, and raptures simmer allows her to cook with any ingredient. In her state of play, language is part of the momentum, yet it lets the heart of her compositions beat freely, and each song is intricately linked to an emotion. “Music allows you to dream, she says. “We all need that outlet to dream a little, to get carried away, otherwise we explode! We explode!”
She recently took a stance concerning the music industry, royalties, and streaming, and she’s doubling down. “For twenty years now, we’ve been giving music away [online] on a silver platter,” she says. “Some people take it for granted as much as they do water and air, and that’s not a bad thing, inasmuch as it gives music back its place. But I don’t want music to be freely accessible to the public. There should’ve been a clear understanding 15 years ago between the governments, the middlemen, etc. The streaming platforms and cable companies have to recognize that music has a price, people need to become aware of the value of music. It’s expensive to make. Artists are not just poart-time strummers; it’s a trade, a profession.”