Story by Samantha Edwards | Wednesday May 6th, 2020
Evangeline Gentle starts all their live shows with the same short a cappella song.
“There’s nothing more vulnerable than getting onstage in front of bunch of people and just singing with no band,” says the Scottish-born, Peterborough-based, indie-folk singer-songwriter. “But even when life tries to harden you, staying soft is what actually brings us closer. I feel like that with the audience.”
The concept of embracing vulnerability as an act of self-empowerment is a potent theme on Gentle’s self-titled debut. Released in September 2019, the album showcases confessional songwriting, in which they candidly sing about self-medicating with alcohol, insecurity in relationships, and coping with depression.
They spent three years working on the album with producer Jim Bryson, who asked Gentle if they wanted to record demos together after one of Gentle’s gigs. “In the first year of writing, I was struggling with mental health issues. You can really hear that in some of the songs,” they say. For example, on “Even If,” Gentle wistfully sings, “I smoke enough to kill me, and I drink enough to drown.”
“In the first year of writing, I was struggling with mental health issues”
Growing up, Carole King and the Dixie Chicks inspired Gentle to write their first songs and learn how to play guitar, and would later influence their folk-driven sound. “I listened to a lot of female singer-songwriters and wanted to emulate that,” Gentle says. “But over the years, I’ve begun to explore other genres.”
This exploration is evident on “Ordinary People,” where banjo and acoustic guitar weave around shimmering synth lines. For their next album, Gentle plans to experiment with new genres, like pairing pop arrangements with politically-charged lyrics.
Gentle sees music not only as a way to communicate important messages to a broad audience, but also as an anchor for inter-connectedness. It’s something they realized while seeing Canadian musician Rae Spoon perform in high school.
“I would look around me and see all of these other queer people and think that this feels so cool. This is a place of community for me,” says Gentle. “It made me realize the impact an artist can have on an audience, and that my own music could possibly do that for other people, too.”
Photo by Andy Jon
Mara Tremblay In the Springtime
Story by Philippe Renaud | Thursday May 7th, 2020
“The hue of this album is one of friendship,” Mara Tremblay tells us while in self-isolation in the Eastern Townships. It’s also the hue of her reunion with an old partner-in-crime, Olivier Langevin (Galaxie, Gros Mené, Fred Fortin). The pair has been one of the most fertile songwriting teams in Québec music history. Uniquement pour toi, her eighth album, is the work of a duo, Tremblay insists, and of a third collaborator – author, composer, singer-songwriter, and filmmaker Stéphane Lafleur.
The album opens with “Je reste ici, “a love letter to Nashville, where Tremblay travelled for a songwriting residency in the fall of 2018 with the help of SOCAN. “It was an initial journey,” she says, before leaving Music City. “I was in an ultra-fragile place. I left on my own and I had the time of my life! I felt strong for going on my own, but I felt weak at the same time.” Not to mention very excited to meet her idol, Gillian Welch, on the street after buying a new guitar in the city’s East end.
Nashville being a beacon of the music industry, Tremblay “saw a lot of women, much more than in Québec,” she says. “Drummers, sound engineers, publishers, there are a lot of women in the industry there.” She invited her friends Sunny Duval and Marie-Anne Arsenault. “We jammed together and the result was ‘Je reste ici.’”
That song is anything but country, the musical style generally associated with Termblay’s first albums. As a matter of fact, from the first drumbeats by Robbie Kuster, you’d think you were back at United Western Recorders in the L.A. of the ‘60s, while the Wrecking Crew is recording tracks for The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds!
“We knew we wanted to record it live with Robbie and François [Lafontaine, piano],” says Tremblay, who was surprised by the end result. “You never quite know where a song is headed until you start jamming… It was really interesting to see how this song evolved. Robbie brought a lot to it. Once the drum track was done, we left it alone. We thought it was maybe over-the-top, but we like that!” As it turns out, it was the preferred way of working for Tremblay and her accomplices. “When we’re in the studio, Olivier and I sometimes look at each other and wonder if we’ve gone too far with an idea. And if the answer is yes, we keep it!
“Olivier was 17 when I started working with him,” she adds. “He takes me to new places, musically, and I would take him new places, too. We really ‘got’ each other, really quick, back then, more than 20 years ago… And without trying to sound pretentious, I think what he likes about working with me, is that I push him to his limits. He has free reign. We’re constantly bouncing off each other.”
The result of this creative joust is splendid. Uniquement pour toi is a record with lush orchestrations and a sense of urgency. “I’m good at that, urgency,” says Tremblay. “That’s because I like to only use songs that truly mean something on my albums.” Her album is a bit like a rollercoaster; at first joyous and dashing on “Je reste ici,” “Si belle” and the electro-pop “Paris” – the first song theye worked on, and one of only two that weren’t written by her in Nashville. “I pitched a ton of tunes to Olivier, sent him my notebooks, and he stuck with that one, which is actually a collage of four different songs for which he wrote a bridge. We did that one together, and we felt like writing the lyrics together, too – which is something we’d never done before.”
“I never even wanted to be a singer.”
Then comes the low point. “On verra demain” bends under the weight of life, and Tremblay wrote it while brooding. “I’ve always strived to end my songs on a positive note,” she says. “But the time came when I simply needed to write that I’m not doing well. Happens to everyone, really. You just need to take a breath, take it easy, and wait until it blows over. It’s important that people have a song to go to when they feel that way.”
Following the sad “On verra demain” and “Le plus beau des désastres,” it’s back tothe light with a couple of songs penned by Stéphane Lafleur (of Avec pas d’casque) which feel like a friend extending a helping hand. “I sometimes have a hard time writing words like that,” says Tremblay. “Stéphane managed to find that freshness.” In the album credits, she thanks him for “understanding my heart.
“When ‘Le jour va où tu le mènes’ arrives, it feels like springtime, fresh air, the return of happiness, and that’s what I’ve been going through for the last 10 months. Something inside of me has calmed down, and it feels good.” The album ends with one of the most beautiful songs in Termblay’s repertoire, “Comme un cadeau,” which she wrote for one of her sons, who was going through a depression. “It was the hardest thing I’ve ever experienced.”
After a career that spans 30 years (already?), Tremblay welcomes the release of this album despite the crisis through which we’re living. “Delay the release? We asked ourselves that question only once,” she says. “But as you know, I’ve never been a product, I’ve never made music to produce hits, I never even wanted to be a singer. I want nothing to do with marketing. My career has always been good, even though some radio stations never play me, and even though I’ve remained underground for 30 years.
“Seriously, I’m 50. Crisis or no crisis, it changes nothing. My only goal is for my music to reach people. Touring? I’m at a point in my career where touring sounds like a crazy idea. I’ve spent 32 years with my ass in a truck and sleeping in motels. I don’t mind giving fewer shows. I feel like I’m relaxing a bit for the first time.”
Anachnid: She sings with wolves
Story by Philippe Renaud | Tuesday May 5th, 2020
After winning the SOCAN Foundation Indigenous Songwriter of the Year Award at the Indigenous Music Awards in 2019, Anachnid released her debut album, Dreamweaver, in February of 2020. She’s at the very beginning of her musical journey, which started in the summer of 2018 – thanks to a handful of songs online – but that journey will be on hiatus during the current health crisis. “I was supposed to attend a SOCAN Song Camp…” says the musician with resignation.
Luckily, self-isolation doesn’t worry Kiki Harper, safe in her apartment in Montréal’s Latin Quarter. “Being in isolation, like everyone else right now, is quite easy for me,” she says. “When I recorded my album, I didn’t move two-and-a-half months!” That’s because of stupid accident that happened in Finland: wanting to hurry and catch up with a friend, she slipped on the edge of a sidewalk and broke her ankle in three places. “I actually had to learn to crawl before I could re-learn to walk,” she explains with a giggle. “You should never hurry for anyone.”
The accident left its mark on Dreamweaver, an album built around introspective songs, with subdued synthetic hues, where Anachnid’s voice is sometimes menacing, sometimes hushed and hyper-sensitive. This stems from the feminine and masculine energies brewing inside the artist since those fractures. “The climax of all that comes on the song ‘Anachnid,’ right in the middle of the album,” she says, about the song that references her many weeks of immobility.
Harper claims her “urban Indigenous” identity through singing and rapping over house music, break-beats, dance-pop, and trap, a well-defined musical universe, despite very eclectic rhythms. “Working with just two composer-producers [Ashlan Phoenix Grey and Emmanuel Alias] allowed me to produce something cohesive… The release of my first album has spurred me on to do even more. This album allowed me to prove that I’m able to do several styles of music while remaining true to my spirit.”
Her musical approach is in the image of her album: modern and spontaneous. “I write my lyrics on the spot, in the studio, by digging into my emotions,” she says. “I’ll have an idea of the sound I want, and this gives me ideas for the lyrics; if I feel like dancing, I’ll imagine a house beat, and then I hear notes. I call it ‘downloading’ a song, from my head to a piece of paper, live in the studio. Then we create our samples and integrate them in the tracks,” says the musician, who’s taking advantage of self-isolation to learn to write on her own, via her computer.
Music has been part of her life since childhood, as are stone-carving and painting, passions she inherited from her mother, an artist and entrepreneur. “As for my dad, he has a natural talent for playing guitar,” says Anachnid, of Ojib-Cree Nation heritage, who sings about identity, cultural differences, integration (listen to the powerful “Windigo” and “America”) and ostracism (“Braids”).
“I’ve been writing songs since my childhood; my mother used to push me to enroll in arts camps where they made films and I wrote the music,” says Anachnid. “I’ve been playing music for a long time, but I’m quite introverted. Singing in front of an audience was a challenge for me. I had a hard time making my voice heard and communicating with people; now, I increasingly understand what I do and why I’m here.”
“I learned to sing with wolves,” she says, referring to her tight bond with her godfather and godmother, with whom she “grew up in the woods. They would watch over me when my mom would go to work; they’re the ones who taught me that if you answer back to a wolf who cries in the forest, he’ll answer back to evaluate how far away you are. If you cry and it answers back, you know it will not come closer than two kilometers from you to respect your hunting ground. It’s the music of nature.”