A year ago, Hôtel Morphée – singer Laurence Nerbonne’s band – announced that they were breaking up. It was a sudden end that nobody saw coming. “I was just as surprised as you were by that announcement,” says Nerbonne. “We made different life and career choices, and our goals were no longer aligned. But no matter what, Hôtel Morphée was the best of schools for me.”
But even though the transition was sudden, it was also smooth. “Everyone has their job in a band,” says Nerbonne. “Now, it feels like there’s no longer any distance between my songs and myself, between the audience and me. It feels even more authentic now. I am what I am, and it’s something I hadn’t had a chance to do before.”
Just as Marie-Ève Roy, Fanny Bloom and even Beyoncé (!) before her, Laurence Nerbonne is taking the solo leap of faith. She launched her first eponymous album on March 18, 2016. On “Montréal XO,” the album’s first single, she joyfully announces her comeback (loosely translated):
Je reviens, je reviens chez moi (I’m back, I’m back home)
Je reviens, cette fois fais-moi entrer (I’m back, this time let me in)
Je reviens, cette fois je vais rester (I’m back, this time I’m stayin’)
I’m back, the energy will flow
It’s a comeback, but it looks more like an arrival, and Nerbonne even calls it a “birth.” “There’s something dizzying about it, but I can also say I’ve never been more ready,” she says. “I totally assume everything.”
Who’s Afraid of Pop Music?
XO is a 10-song album produced in collaboration with Philippe Brault. Both sweet and sour moods are wrapped sonically elaborate music reminiscent of Scandinavian pop. The set of songs is like a breath of fresh, springtime air. A classically-trained violinist, Norbonne says music has moved her deeply since her youngest age. Nowadays, she feels inspired by the current crop of pop producers like Diplo, Skrillex, The Weeknd and Christine & The Queens. She devours everything currently popular in that realm. “Lately, I’ve noticed that we’re looking for a lot of things in music, and that it occupies an ever-important place in our lives,” she says. “We all work alone sitting at a computer… It comes naturally that people accompany their daily lives with soundtracks that soothe and move them. People need music.”
Is music so ever-present now because it’s so readily available? In the realm of royalties, not everything is so rosy; there are many irritants for music creators. “I recently talked about it with my friend Stefie (Shock) who knew the Golden Era of record sales,” says Nerbonne. “I’m not really affected by it, since I’m not part of the generation that sold albums… I think we’re going through a transition phase with regards to streaming and the new ways to disseminate music. We can’t just sit back and complain about it. It ‘s become unavoidable.”
Nerbonne is a fan of Lykke Li and Lorde, and harbours an immense respect for the latter’s work. “This woman asserted herself and made a place for herself in the studio,” she says, “turning down arrangements to use hers instead, and she uses her voice a lot, which is something I do, too. When I can choose between a synth or my voice, I often choose to pitch-shift (enhancing the high or low frequencies of) my voice.”
A Free Woman
Laurence’s lyrics are a snapshot of the issues that concern the new generation. “Tinder Love” takes a look at the precipitous love affairs born in cyberspace, and the disillusion that they bring to human relations. Does the “XO” in the album title – typographic metaphors for a kiss and a hug – relate to the way we express love through a screen? “Yes, on the first degree, but it also means ‘totally free human being’ in Web-speak,” says Nerbonne. “It’s not a code known by most, but kids use it to express appreciation beyond sexual preference, gender and nationality. Kids nowadays are much more open and they avoid stereotypes. Maybe it’s because they’re less influenced by the Catholic church? Whatever it is, I find them very inspiring. They’re more accepting and don’t glorify barriers and boundaries.”
There’s definitely something fresh in Nerbonne’s brand of scintillating pop, like a wind of change is sweeping throughout her entire album. “I want to do empowering stuff,” she says. “On Montréal XO, I wanted to re-create that feeling you get when you’re in a club and you hear a song you love and everyone starts dancing and we’re all sharing an experience together.” Laurence wanted that euphoric feeling on all of the album’s songs. And she got it, now that she can do everything she wants uncompromisingly.
“It’s a leap of faith and I’m thrilled about it.”