In early 2017, Gabrielle Shonk appeared on SOCAN’s list of 10 artists to watch this year.

The shock wave began in the spring of 2016, when the video for her song “Habit,” produced with video artist Dragosh, was an instant hit. Yet she was still without a record contract. “The video went viral,” says the 28-year-old musician from Québec City. “I got a ton of e-mails from labels all around the world. The impact was much bigger than if I had simply shopped around a master recording.”

Thanks to her 10-track calling card – seven songs sung in English, three in French –Shonk joined Bobby Bazini on Universal Music Canada in early 2017. At the same time, Rimouski’s Louis Bellavance, the programming director of the Festival d’été de Québec, also became her manager.

“I was a little bummed out for a while, I thought that a bilingual album would be hard to sell in this market, but that’s how I wanted it to be,” says Shonk. “In the end, it’s a nice outcome, I’m happy. In any case, my musical culture has always been more Anglophone; my dad [Peter Shonk & The Blues Avalanche is celebrated on the Québec City blues scene] is American, and my mom from Québec. I loved Céline Dion when I was younger, but in fact, I come from the punk rock / hardcore scene.”

After a SOCAN showcase during the M for Montréal conference an festival a few months earlier, she was introduced to a wider audience on Feb. 24, 2017, when she opened for Bazini at the city’s Métropolis club. It became obvious: backed by her five-piece band, she infused her soul-tinged folk with powerful energy. There are no orchestral flights of fancy here; this woman has a romantic temperament, in the best sense of the words. Her music is touching, like a caress. Of her many influences, Feist, Kurt Vile, Marvin Gaye and Joni Mitchell are on the short list.

Simon Pednault produced this first album, while Guillaume Chartrain was in charge of recording and mixing. They collaborated with Louis-Jean Cormier and Tire le Coyote. “I write my songs with a guitar and my voice,” says Shonk. “I love intimate stuff, and I consider myself as more of a musician. I’m always looking for melodies and chord ideas. It is certainly an intimate, very personal record. And we recorded live, all playing together, so we’d get a feeling of something real.” That meant ten songs to fine-tune, for which to create arrangements, and to record all at once – even though some of them were composed six, eight or even 10 years ago.

From one song to the next, the joy of bilingualism was preserved. One listens to “Raindrops” and “Part plus sans moi,” then from “Trop tard” to the more commercial “Missing Out,” and it all flows seamlessly, naturally. It’s exhilarating, and it’s clear that Shonk is an extremely sensitive, private songwriter.

When we walked towards the stage, itself sitting next to a railroad track, on Sept. 3, 2017, at the inaugural edition of the Mile EX End Music Festival in Montréal, she was singing Al Green’s soul classic “Let’s Stay Together” under the Van Horne overpass. “I have to do covers, because I only have 10 songs and they go by fast,” says Shonk. Her distinctive, stripped-down covers tell a lot about Shonk’s idea of pure singing: “One Dance” (Drake), “Ain’t No Sunshine” (Bill Withers) and even U2’s “Sunday Bloody Sunday” – which she had revisited during her galvanizing tenure at TV talent contest La Voix, the Québec franchise of The Voice, in 2014 – are ideal for her. Less is more.

Louis-Jean Cormier, her mentor during the show’s second season, advised her to bet on simplicity. And that’s what we hear on her first album. Ten sparsely, yet finely arranged songs. “I went on La Voix wondering if I’d be able to deal with such a level of stress,” says Shonk. “The audience, a big televised show. In hindsight, I learned much more about myself than I did on a musical level. I gave me confidence. And it gave me a swift kick in the ass to start composing my own songs.”

Gabrielle Shonk plays
Feb. 23, 2018, at L’Astral during Montréal en Lumière