Several years ago, Storry was leading a double life. While studying opera at the University of Toronto, the Mississauga-based singer-songwriter was also pursuing a pop music career. She started working closely with a producer and they began dating. But he became abusive and forced Storry to become a dancer at a strip club.
“It was hard to not tell my friends and family what was happening. I thought I would be disowned if they found out I was a dancer,” says Storry. When the relationship ended, he took all the music they’d recorded together. Storry was devastated, but eventually it led to a musical rebirth.
Over four-and-a-half years, she wrote around 100 songs that fit with the themes of her life. As part of a forthcoming trilogy of autobiographical albums, Storry recently-released her debut album, CH III: The Come Up, based on her experiences leaving and returning to sex work, and combatting misogyny in the music industry and co-dependency in relationships. Working with her friend and musician Yotam Baum, she created an album that oscillates between genres with ease, ranging from soulful funk and R&B, to hip-hop and emotional pop, with Storry’s powerful voice always at the forefront.
“Now, it’s like my voice has blossomed in every way”
After she couldn’t find a producer for CH III, she decided to do it herself. “It was my first time producing,” she says. “I hired musicians and we recorded everything in three days, because that’s all the time I could afford. I thought to myself, ‘I have to fake it until I make it,’ and it worked. As women, I think we underestimate how much we know. I’ll see men who have a bit of knowledge act like they can do anything. It’s that audacity that gets them opportunities.”
Female empowerment is an overt theme on the album. Storry describe the song “Bow Down” as a women’s anthem: “I’m saying that women are the true rulers. We are the makers of all things,” she says. As for the hundreds of songs that were stolen from her, Storry doesn’t miss them at all. “At the time I had very low self-esteem, and those feelings translated into the music. You could hear how mousey and insecure I was,” says Storry. “But now, it’s like my voice has blossomed in every way.”
Photo by John Londono
Catherine Major within herself
Story by Élise Jetté | May 15, 2020
Catherine Major chose to not choose. On her fifth album, she’s taken hold of electronic beats and stepped away from the piano, so that she’s at the root of everything. Carte mère (Motherboard) is the geographic location where she stands, two decades into her career.
Poet Jeff Moran, the singer’s life partner, has penned all of the album’s lyrics, except for “Tableau glacé,” an homage to a friend lost to an illness. “This entire project started with music, and words came later,” says Major. Adds Moran, “The melody was already divided rhythmically, and Catherine had inserted onomatopoeias where words were required.”
He explains that Major sometimes wakes in the middle of the night to create or record the latest inspiration on her cellphone. “The idea was to respect her universe,” he says. “She was having a lot of fun with technology, and I’m used to writing for Catherine. We’ve been together for quite awhile. Our lives are quite similar, so we don’t need to say a lot to figure out what our day will be like.”
The couple is raising their four children in the countryside, and wanted this new album to be about that family cohesion – but also about all families, and all of the possible forms a family can take.
Their musical bond is magnified by Antoine Gratton, who penned the string arrangements, which were played by the Bratislava Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of David Hernando Rico.
Two song titles – “Sanglot orchestral” and “L’espace occupé” – were contenders for the album title, but the idea of a motherboard was so compelling to Major that there was no other option after she found that idea. “It evokes a computer and everything I managed to do, for the first time, using technology. But it also evokes my role as a mother, which is so central in my life right now,” she explains.
Jeff Moran aspires to a form of poetry that supports a certain level of social criticism while remaining open-ended. He wants the words he uses to describe a “magnified” version of the commonplace so that they become universal . “No one ever avoids confronting illness,” he says. “Everyone understands carnal love, or the love of a child. That’s what I wrote.”
“I think people need to receive this emotional charge”
Despite that, the social commentary is a little more upfront on “L’espace occupé,” an invitation to think about Bill 21 (the Québec ban on religious symbols). “We felt the need to point out that it is unjust the excellent teachers can no longer teach our children simply because they wear a veil,” says Major. Jeff adds, “There are more vested rights and advances for trivial stuff, like installing a septic tank,”
Children inhabit the lives of both parents, and their songs. “This couldn’t be a more familial project,” says Major, who gave birth to a baby girl less than a year ago. Family has become even more central because of the self-isolation situation.
“It’s an intense album that’s in synch with these troubled times,” says Major. “Anyway, I never said I was light-hearted. What I’m doing right now is very rich, musically. The lyrics deserve to be read a few times. I think people need to receive this emotional charge,” she says about the density of the project. The omnipresent electronics are counterbalanced by strings. “The organic aspect of a symphony orchestra balances out the presence of machines,” as she puts it.
The online album launch happens on May 15, from 5:00 to 6:00 p.m. ET. “It’s rare that you sell a ‘ticket’ to go on the internet, but we need to think, collectively, about what we can do to properly compensate artists despite what’s going on,” says Moran.
Twenty years of music have left healthy furrows on Carte mère and Catherine Major alike, and she sees her happiness as a tangible difference in her life now. “I’m a lot happier now, and you can hear it,” she says. “We judge ourselves for a long time in life especially in the arts. There’s often that little voice that tells us to not do this or that, or tells us to not sing what we want to sing. So maybe now I’m within myself for the first time, instead of being beside me.”
Photo by Andy Jon
Mara Tremblay In the Springtime
Story by Philippe Renaud | May 7, 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.”