Born in November 2011 of a chance encounter between three hip girls – Vivianne Roy, 22 (guitar), Katrine Noël, 21 (ukulele) and Julie Aubé, 21 (banjo) – at New Brunswick’s Accros de la chanson competition, Les Hay Babies have taken the music scene by storm. After releasing their first EP, Folio, and opening for Lisa LeBlanc in 2012, the dynamic singer-songwriter trio garnered six Music New Brunswick awards and won top honours at the 2013 Francouvertes festival. Just like that.
“We didn’t know it was a competition,” Roy admits, referring to the Accros de la chanson (or “Song Addicts”) contest. “We thought it was a festival. Once we found out, we went ‘Wow, OK,’ but we weren’t expecting anything. We were based in New Brunswick and had to make the trip each time to play. So we didn’t have much of a chance to see other artists perform, but the whole thing was a big help, for sure. It really was a springboard for bookings in venues and festivals, as well as for the release of our album. That’s definitely what kick-started our career.”
Out of sight, but not of mind
Last April, the first Hay Babies full-length album, Mon Homesick Heart, hit the stores. Produced by François Lafontaine (Karkwa, Alexandre Désilets), it contains 11 indie-folk-country-psyche original songs written on the road, far away from family and boyfriends. “You can hear it in our songs,” Aubé points out.
While “J’ai vendu mon char” (“I Sold My Car”) explores the Hay Babies’ playful side, songs like “La toune du soundman” show a more vulnerable and moving aspect of their personalities. As Noël explains, “this is the most personal song I’ve written so far, and one of the first where I talk about myself directly. I had been away for a month and a half, and I was homesick, hence the album’s title. I don’t always draw inspiration from the same sources, though. Some of my songs refer to things I didn’t go through myself, others are pure fiction.”
As a songwriting collective, the Hay Babies are a democratic team trying new approaches as they go along. “We’ve never had a specific working method,” says Noël. “Sometimes I’ll write a song from start to finish, or just about, and I’ll bring it to the band for us to work it as a group. Sometimes we’ll work on another girl’s composition. Other times, we’ll start with a scrap of text we can’t fully develop for some reason. The three of us can also sit down start writing a new song from scratch.” “We all get to give our two cents worth about each song,” Aubé further explains. “That may give rise to a jam, but there’s no set formula.”
While artists like Lisa LeBlanc and Radio Radio have loomed large on the Quebec music scene for a few years now, Acadian musicians have tended to shy away from the limelight. “I think we all suffer from some sort of an inferiority complex,” Aubé explains, “because we have no structures back home to help us to succeed, and you can’t make a living just playing gigs around New Brunswick. You have to go to France or Quebec. You’ve got to export yourself. And not everyone is ready to do that. It means getting out of your comfort zone, and it isn’t easy.”
“The fact that many young Acadian artists are beginning to make a living with music is encouraging others to try their luck,” Noël adds. “There’s always been talented musicians here, and lots more are waiting to be discovered.”
Have the Hay Babies found it hard to adapt to their instant fame after two critically and publicly acclaimed albums and many sold-out shows? “No,” Aubé replies. “You know, as we live outside Quebec, there’s lots of things we aren’t aware of. There are tons of articles written about us that we never get a chance to read. Each time we get there, we’re shocked to realize how well-known we’ve become. We played for 700 people as part of the last FrancoFolies Festival in Montreal, and we were expecting nothing!”
“Initially,” Roy recalls, “I had planned to work in music, but I had no idea you could make a living with it. I was going to be a journalist or an album cover designer, but not up front. This whole thing pretty much caught me unawares.”
“From the word go,” adds Noël, “we forged ahead without taking the time to look back and take it all in. We’re spoiled, and happy that our work is being appreciated, but I don’t think we’re able to appreciate how huge what’s happening to us is. We’re just grateful to be able to make a living in music and have a good time.”
On the road (again)
After spending a “laid-back” summer, the Hay Babies are gearing up for a tour of France, and appearing in the ROSEQ Fall showcase program, the Coup de cœur francophone festival and various other events. “Each of us also has small individual projects on the side,” Roy points out. “Then, next year, it’s back to songwriting for a new album of English-language songs. We’re also planning to spend more time on the production side of the next album than we did on the last one.”
Aubé sums up: “For us, performing in English is a creative choice. We’re all bilingual. We’ve played lots of English songs that have not yet made their way to an album. I think it’s a sad thing when you create something you’re proud of, and you can’t release it. Besides, performing in English could bring us closer to our American country roots and, who knows, maybe help us tour south of the border or in other more Anglophone places. It would be a bit crazy not to try to get people to hear our songs. In music, you can’t set limits for yourselves. You’ve got to keep exploring and looking around.”