They’re still so young, yet their track record is already quite impressive: ground-breaking productions and collaborations, a highly successful tour that will see them play the Bell Centre for a second time, the 2008 Félix award for Rock Album of the Year, for Dangereuse Attraction, countless projects in the pipeline, and it’s not even spring yet.
Marie-Mai and Fred St-Gelais are doing quite well, thank you. And not just professionally. When they look into each other’s eyes in a bistro where we meet on Saint-Denis Street, in Montréal, the air is full of love, affinity and light. The young couple is engaging, enthused, bubbly, and exudes the very essence of intensity that fills their albums. They met through Marie-Mai’s record label. “We clicked immediately! It was love at first sight on a professional level, at first, and then emotions got involved,” she says with smiling eyes.
And although love is the subject of the vast majority of their songs, many more themes are on their minds. Like the reasons we lie, in one way or another (“Mentir”), how young people are very judgmental of each other (“Elle avance”), child abuse (“Encore une nuit”), and even the insecurities of a successful artist wondering how long their career will last (“Tu prendras ma place”).
And although he has, as a producer, worked on many side projects with the likes of Sarah McLachlan, Sheryl Crow, and Randy Bachman, as well as, more recently, David Usher and Annie Villeneuve, not to mention TV networks, Fred St-Gelais’ priority remains his soulmate.
Composing and writing? It’s a four-handed process. No one has a specific task; improvisation and freedom are key, as is using everyone’s influences. “It’s nice to have someone to write with,” she says. “I learn a lot. I’ve become passionate about participating this way. It came about naturally. When we’re done with a song, we have no idea who did what because it’s so much a mix of both.” “It’s very organic, Fred adds. “We don’t really have a method to which we always go back. That’s the best way to avoid repeating ourselves.”
As highly collaborative as the chemistry with Fred is, that doesn’t mean Marie-Mai is closing the door on collaborating with other songwriters. “I want good songs,” she says. “If someone offers me a song and I love it, I won’t turn it down! I want the best possible album, so I’m open to co-writes with other artists.”
What the key ingredient of their success? A lot of work. They write a lot, challenge each other, and have a hard time stopping. For them, writing, composing, arranging, playing live, and recording in the studio is a single continuum. Any preference? Each and every one of the facets of their trade.
“I made a place for myself with a sound that’s mine,” she says. “I wanted people to see me and recognize me for who I truly am. That may explain why it took a while to take off, initially. But I think that in the end, it played in my favour. Of course, the team is important too. And I’m well aware that I’m very lucky to have someone like Fred in my life.”
Why pop music? “It’s not a choice. It’s in me. I don’t even question it,” Marie-Mai says. “We look down on pop too easily,” she says, regretfully. “It can be profound! That’s what we’re trying to accomplish in each and every one of our songs: depth, colour, meaningful lyrics.” “People often ask me how I write tunes for the radio. You don’t set out to write a radio-friendly tune! If you try to write for the radio, you’re already on the wrong track,” says Fred. “The golden rule is authenticity. You can’t fake a musical style; it has to inhabit you. I find it much easier to write a complex song than a three-chord song. Simplicity within originality is the hardest thing to achieve,” he continues. “That’s the challenge that gets me going when I write music: creating something simple that will touch people.”
The couple has started working on a third album to be released next fall. What colour will it be? Marie-Mai and Fred can’t tell just yet. They’re content to be carried away by inspiration that they hope to find in the cities they plan to visit. One thing’s for sure: it will be intense. “I don’t plan on becoming tamer any time soon!” Marie-Mai says with a smirk.