On Working Class Woman, Montréal producer Marie Davidson lets us peek into her diary, while forging on with her bold musical quest, at the musical crossroads of electro, industrial, ambient, Italian disco, and techno.

“So Right,” the album’s first single, released in August, was clearly misleading, with its dance-pop leanings. Written for Bullshit Threshold – an interdisciplinary show she presented in Montréal in 2016 and Barcelona in 2017 – the song allowed the composer to step out of her comfort zone. “I’d never done something so approachable,” says the artist, who many know as one-half of the duo Essaie pas. “Initially, that song was part of the show, as a commentary on club culture and our era. Taken out of context, it was indeed too pop for me. I questioned myself a lot, but I decided to keep it, in the end. The label really liked it.”

With a strong undercurrent of reflections on “nightlife and show business,” her conceptual show became the foundation for the album, itself fed by the artist’s experiences during her latest tour in support of her Adieux au dancefloor record. “I ended up with 14 tracks, but in my eyes there wasn’t an album in there,” says Davidson. “I ended up filtering the songs to keep only the best ones, and built a pacing from them. The key was their order, the narrative. I came up with a story.”

That’s how Working Class Woman became an open book about the thoughts and angst of a singer-songwriter who’s trying to stay focused and keep her hopes up, despite an intense and exhausting workload. “We’re worlds away from the vague, dream-like songs on my previous albums,” says Davidson. “This one is an egotistical album and quite intimate.”

The opener, “Your Biggest Fan,” offers cynical testimony to the pointless encounters and meaningless conversations she encounters every night on tour. Later, in “The Psychologist,” Davidson paints a scathing portrait of the psychotherapy she began several months ago. She gets even more introspective on album closer “La chambre intérieure,” which the artist considers her most personal work to date. “I was at my dad’s in the countryside when I wrote that,” she says. “I was going through a difficult time, with many changes in my life. I was sitting on the edge of a car, near a fence, and I was thinking of my life, of what love is to me,” she recalls, still somewhat in the throes of melancholy. “I didn’t find concrete answers, but I did understand that to love, one needs courage.”

Artists from the world of electronic music are rarely so careful with lyrics. In its glowing review of her third album, Pitchfork claimed Marie Davidson for the “poetronica” movement. It’s a term coined in 2011 by The Guardian to describe We’re New Here, a re-mix album of songs the late, great urban poet Gil Scott-Heron, produced by Jamie XX. But to Davidson, the dichotomy between intimate lyrics and club-ready music has been self-evident from the start. “It really is a natural fusion, and the words often come before the music,” she says. “When I’m on tour, I’m constantly jotting down things on my phone: short sentences, jokes, ideas… They become the source of inspiration for my songs.”

Davidson was notably inspired by the city of Berlin, where she lived from October of 2016 to December of 2017. The German capital’s thriving electronic scene can be clearly felt and heard on her fourth album. “It really is like a clubber’s Disneyland over there,” she says. “If you want to, you can party non-stop from Thursday to Monday without once going to bed. The first time I went there, in 2012, I partied really hard, but that stage of my life is behind me now. I don’t party, now, I throw the party. I’m 31, and I just can’t anymore. Even on an intellectual level, it doesn’t appeal to me as much as it once did. I meditate and do sports, instead, and I’m interested in psychology. It’s a big change in my life.”

In other words, Working Class Woman is a watershed moment in her career and in her life. Davidson is proud of her artistic evolution so far, and will soon begin a European tour that will take her, among other places, to Poland, the U.K., and the Netherlands.

A sure sign of her popularity on the other side of the Atlantic, we won’t see her perform in Québec before February of 2019. But truthfully, she still has limited appeal at home, despite winning the Electronic Music Award at the 2017 SOCAN Awards Gala. Far from being up in arms about it, she nonetheless wonders how that is.

“If I relied solely on Québec to earn a living, I’d still be eating Kraft Dinner!” she says, with a tinge of bitterness. “I have a lot of respect for Montréal’s underground scene. It’s where I’m from, and there are a lot of inspiring and talented bands. But beyond that, it’s like a desert. There’s no place for the type of electronic music we make. Well, there is Mutek, but that happens once a year! I’ve applied eight times for a grant from the Conseil des arts et lettres du Québec (CALQ) and I was turned down every time. I still have hope things will change, but until then, I carry on. I’m lucky enough to earn a living with my music, and that’s all that matters.”


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“There’s nothing but good vibes here,” says Ariane Moffatt, sitting in the middle of a classroom that’s been re-purposed into a recording studio. This is where the demos for her album Petites mains précieuses were created, and also where we meet with the singer-songwriter, who’s armed with a newfound self-assurance, built on fragility.

It was the hasty arrival of her third son Georges that set Moffatt on the creative path of her latest work. “He was born prematurely, there were complications, and that weakened my own health, she explains. “I realized once more that songwriting can be beneficial during hard times. Going outside and feeling like you’re seeing the sun for the first time puts things in perspective.” When the baby was about two months old, the singer felt an urge to write and, in a mere few weeks, she had enough material for a full album. “I should’ve been sitting on my couch breast-feeding, but instead, I set up a playpen in the room and did everything at once. The result is a fragile, yet strong album.”

Her current vulnerability recalls that of her early days, when she took her first steps on the music scene. Most notably, on her debut, Aquanaute, full of songs that didn’t let much light in. “I did obviously think about it, especially when we shot the album cover on my lake. It really was similar to Aquanaute,” she says with a smile. “Francis Collard, who I only worked with on my first album, was back in the picture. He gave me a ton of material, and set up a good-sounding piano so I could work on my demos. Does that mean it’s my last album? I don’t think so, but now I know I’m able to re-visit all the places I’ve been before. It’s a wheel in motion.”

And although she still, as always, finds her essence in various stylistic influences, Moffatt remains confident that her sound is hers alone. “On 22h22, I was in a world of dream pop, while on Le coeur dans la tête, there were more guitars, and more aggression. On this one, it’s disco soul from the ’70s to the ’90s that comes out, but I’ve always wanted to write songs, above all else. It’s organic, close to the heart.”

Whereas some artists are chained to themes, Moffatt is anchored in the honesty of feelings. For nearly 20 years, she’s addressed the mysteries of the human soul through stories that are her own, or someone else’s. “I dig up what we don’t see in people,” she says humbly.

This new album fires on all cylinders. The ’70s are all over “Du souffle pour deux,” which channels the soulful and captivating vibes of Bill Withers and Al Green. “The image I was working with was a disco ball, but hung over my fireplace at the cabin,” Ariane explains. “It’s disco, but it’s comforting.”

“Statue” takes us back to about a year ago, when women gathered to denounce alleged sexual predator Gilbert Rozon. “The statue in the song is that Greek god we throw against a wall, and it shatters,” she says. “It’s about liberation, refusing to accept it, and no longer keep it to oneself. That song is a tribute to woman and her worth, just as ‘Pour toi,’ as a matter of fact.”

All the songs were written on the piano. “I barely play guitar anymore,” says Moffatt. “I have a longtime relationship with the piano, and I strive to avoid repeating myself. On certain songs like ‘Cyborg,’ I recorded the piano and voice tracks, and then I muted the piano so I could forget my bearings and try something new. That’s how I don’t get too comfortable.

“There are zones inside of me that are rooted in moments that had a deep impact on me in my early twenties. They’re imprinted. Even though my life is much more balanced nowadays, I know what angst is,” says Moffatt, asked about the sadder songs on the album, such as “N’attends pas mon sourire.” “That one started with a light spleen, that I amplified into a story.”

The “Petites mains précieuses” (“Precious Little Hands”) are those of her son Henri, a budding poet who would constantly exclaim “Ha, les petites mains précieuses !” every time he saw his little brother Georges. “The album’s namesake hand is not Georges’ hand, which I held through the incubator window, and which I’ll never be able to let go. They’re the hands of others in our self-centred world, where those others are too often virtual. The hands we hold to be linked together.”

“In this era of beats, noises, and images, do we actually listen to the music we hear?” wonders Moffatt. “I hope people will take a step towards this album, and hold the hand I’m extending to them.”


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“Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.” – Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr (Les Guêpes, 1849)

This above oft-quoted epigram from the 19th Century French critic and novelist is usually translated as “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” The phrase refers to how a large-scale change may appear monumental on the surface, but on closer inspection, the fundamentals remain.

Catching up with Dennis Ellsworth to chat about Things Change (his fifth solo album), we find the 41-year-old in the midst of a domestic existence. Ellsworth has just returned from Home Depot, where he was picking out kitchen cabinets and paint samples. Karr’s well-worn phrase sums up the songwriter’s current state; it’s also an apropos tagline to describe his new record.

Ellsworth quit drinking more than a year ago; he and his wife bought a house near where he grew up in the suburb of Stratford, PEI (on the other side of the Hillsboro River from Charlottetown); and he’s set to become a first-time father. Upon an initial spin, Things Change sounds like a departure for the songwriter. Gone is the alt-country sound that’s served as his wheelhouse. Replacing the roots vibe is a radio-friendly wall of sound, with a sprinkle of pop. Listen deeper, and you’ll still hear the poetic lyrics, and Ellsworth’s ability to make a song speak to us all – confirming Karr’s words. The building blocks of this songwriter’s art remain the same.

“I didn’t want to commit to the same old routine that everyone says you have to do.”

Pursuing Publishing PlacementsImagine turning on the TV and hearing your song played while watching a well-loved Canadian CBC drama. That’s one of the feathers Dennis Ellsworth can now add to his songwriting cap. His song “Hazy Sunshine,” from the 2013 record of the same name, appeared on Heartland last season.

Vince Degiorgio, President and founder of Chapter Two Productions (which includes Cymba Publishing) first met Ellsworth at a song camp a few years ago. Immediately, he was struck by the artist’s abilities, and a year later signed him to a publishing deal.

Another recent publishing credit is a song in the Canadian rom-com The New Romantic, which made its world premiere this past March at SXSW. “Vince sent me a message asking if I had any songs that sounded like ‘Skinny Love’ by Bon Iver,” says Ellsworth. “I said, ‘I don’t,’ but I’d just written a song that was close enough, so I sent him a demo. Vince called back immediately and asked, ‘How soon can you get in the studio?’”

Ellsworth cut the song, sent it to Degiorgio, who forwarded the track to Instinct Entertainment — the Toronto-based music supervision and licensing company representing The New Romantic. Then the publisher went to Japan for more than a month, so the songwriter didn’t hear anything. “I figured they weren’t interested,” says Ellsworth. “Then, one day after Vince got home, Instinct got in touch with him and said the song was going to be in the movie!”

“It’s not so much that I took my songwriting in a new direction, it’s more like I went back in time to an ‘old direction,’” says Ellsworth explains. “I’m a child of the late 1970s. When I first started collecting records, what I chose to listen to was late-‘80s and early-‘90s stuff. The early ‘90s were marked by alternative music that featured heavy guitars, and that music inspired me a lot in my formative years.

“When I started writing songs for this record, and I got a feel for where I was going, I intentionally listened to artists like Matthew Sweet, The Lemonheads, and The Jesus & Mary Chain,” he continues. “I used their music as my inspiration.”

Once the song bones took shape, it was “the icing on the cake” to hire fellow East Coaster Joel Plaskett to produce the record. The pair convened at the JUNO Award-winner’s New Scotland Yard studio in Dartmouth, NS. “With Thrush Hermit, he lived in that alternative rock and Sub Pop [Records] world back in the ‘90s,” says Ellsworth.

Adding to the throwback vibe, Plaskett recruited The Super Friendz’ rhythm section (Dave Marsh and Charles Austin) to join them in the studio. “Recording this made us all feel like we were in our 20s again,” says Ellsworth. “As I get older, nostalgia plays a bigger role in my life. I’ve chosen music as the way that I write and express myself. Six months on, I feel Things Change is the best record I’ve ever made.”

While not a concept album, several of the songs on the record (“Absent Mind,” “Caught in the Waves,” and “From the Bottom”) describe Ellsworth’s feelings of career ennui, and the personal transformation he experienced in the last 365 days – especially his decision to put the plug in the jug.

“I wasn’t an abusive drinker,” he admits. “I was a constant social drinker. I didn’t want to quit because I like the taste of beer, scotch, and red wine, but I realized I needed to pull myself together a bit more, on a personal level, to strengthen my chances of survival. The benefits far outweigh the losses.”

Two decades into his artistic career, Ellsworth’s music keeps getting stronger. With this maturity, he’s also re-prioritizing where best to invest his energy. That means more time in the studio, recording demos, writing and co-writing songs every week, and less time away from home in the grind of touring. Signing a publishing deal three years ago with Cymba Music Publishing (see sidebar) was the main driver for this switch.

“I’m less of a performer and more of a songwriter, anyway,” Ellsworth concludes. “I just changed the parameters and structure of what I believed in. I didn’t want to commit to the same old routine that everyone says you have to do. I still want to make music, write songs, and make records, but if I can switch my focus to songwriting more than performing, that’s a transition I want to make.”

 


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