Singer-songwriter Klô Pelgag has taken a great leap forward with the launch of her second album, L’étoile thoracique, which coincided with a breathtaking concert she gave during the 2016 edition of the Coup de coeur francophone festival. We conducted a feverish interview with the Sainte-Anne-des-Monts-born young musician just a few days before she flew to France for a concert tour.
Pelgag’s voice is frail at the other end of the line as she answers our questions. The flu suddenly hit her immediately after her album release event at Club Soda, while she and her musicians were at the bar next door. “An album launch is a big thing,” she says. “I’ve been waiting for the moment for months, and once that’s done, the pressure falls back down.
“I’d accumulated a lot of stress,” says the bed-ridden musician. “Introducing new songs to people who paid to see you onstage, singing songs they’ve never heard… I wasn’t confident enough in that regard, concerning people’s engagement.” Still, that first concert in her new creative cycle had been sold out for more than two months! “And it sold out in barely two-and-a-half weeks, which is cool,” she says. “I have a lot of respect for my fans.”
Being consecrated Breakout Artist of the Year at both the SOCAN and ADISQ galas in 2014 didn’t stop the world from turning. But almost overnight, Pelgag managed to pique the interest of the general public, who fell in love with the singular and colourful song-world of the young singer-songwriter. She admits that she stopped wondering if people would understand what she’s trying to express through her songs. “I did wonder if there are enough clues [in her lyrics so that people will understand what they’re about]?,” she says. “There’s nothing vague about what I write, but there are things I leave up in the air, doors opened onto various avenues. What matters to me is that I understand it’s a slice of life, because that why I do what I do, to extract those slices of life and try to better understand them. I hope people can find comfort in my songs. It’s the language of my inner dialogue, but I think it can touch others.”
An ambitious album in shape and substance, L’Étoile thoracique is, hands-down, one the of the best albums to come out in Québec this fall. Pelgag’s lyrics are cryptic most of the time, but the images are striking nonetheless, and stir very real emotions in listeners. “It’s not a sad album, is it?” she asks. “That’s what I thought. I asked myself: What’s the overall feeling? I was too involved to be able to evaluate it. It’s hard to step back enough to look at yourself. I believe the album is full of loving moments, of light moments, of contemplation.”
This new album was again produced by the team behind L’Alchimie des montres (2013), Sylvain Deschamps and her brother Mathieu, and it’s a testament to the incredible evolution of the 26-year-old musician. The lyrics and the melodies are much more rigorous, and Mathieu Pelletier-Gagnon’s strings and brass arrangements – more than 20 musicians were involved in the recording – breathe a tremendous life force into the dense, complex album, one of impressive scope and ambition.
The decision invest in an album of orchestral pop songs was obvious, says Pelgag. “My brother and I were dreaming,” she explains. “Everything starts with a dream, doesn’t it? Even the special concert that I’m preparing,” she adds, referring to a show she’ll present during the Francofolies de Montréal on June 10, 2017, at Théâtre Maisonneuve, with the Orchestre du temple thoracique and 29 other musicians under the direction of Nicolas Ellis. “I never thought I’d tinker with orchestration so early in my career. It happened organically, in the end. The important thing was convincing the people I work with that it was worth it.”
“Writing songs is a strange thing. They all come from a different place, but follow emotional paths that are all over the place.”
Following the Alchimie des monstres tour, “I had an uncontrollable urge to write music,” says Pelgag. “I played the same songs over and over for three years… I had no time left to compose. When I got back to it, it was hard, but imperative at the same time.” These new songs, she explains, are tiny time capsules that were all written during the same period, “mostly in December 2015 and January 2016, which were super-productive. Each song is a landscape, or something like that… They’re quite intense songs!
“I wanted to make an album that you listen to in one go, a complete work, with songs that complement and answer each other,” she continues. There’s “Au bonheur d’Édelweiss” and “Les Mains d’Édelweiss,” which has the same protagonist, but in two different stories. “‘Les Mains’ is about a blind person and how they see and feel the world,” says Pelgag. ‘Au bonheur’ is about lost time, the importance of your family, that spinning wheel. The fact that, despite everything, we recognize ourselves in our parents, even when we try to distance ourselves from them.” Elsewhere, in “Les Animaux” and “Chorégraphie des âmes,” instrumental melodic motifs are repeated integrally, as if “the two songs are talking to each other, winking at each other,” she explains.
The album concludes with “Apparition de la Sainte-Étoile thoracique,” which includes a snippet of a conversation between Pelgag and her grandmother. “I hadn’t planned for my granny to be on the album,” she says. “Actually, I was thinking about her on ‘J’arrive en retard’ – one of the rare songs where I can pinpoint my source of inspiration precisely, that I can put a face on it. It’s her.” And thus, her grandmother invited herself, in a way, onto the end of the album, once all the songs were done. “I interviewed her five years ago,” says Pelgag. “I used her voice on that song, and everything kind of gelled…
“I don’t want to compare myself to super-cool people, but it reminds me of Dali’s creative process,” she says. “He didn’t practise: he had a painting in his mind and could reflect on it for years, and once he felt it was ready, he’d paint it. That’s how I see creating songs. Writing songs is a strange thing. They all come from a different place, but follow emotional paths that are all over the place. I write everything at once, the words and the music. It’s only during the mix-down that I feel the album is complete. When I found the meaning of the last song with my granny, her presence as a coda, I said to myself, ‘Okay, I can let this album go, now, I’m at peace with it.’ I don’t want it to be too perfect, either. It’s the little flaws that make it beautiful.
Watch a 360° performance of Stéphane Venne’s “Le début d’un temps nouveau” by Klô Pelgag, Loud Lary Ajust and Pierre Kwenders from the 2016 Gala de la SOCAN in Montréal, held Sept. 12, 2016: