“It’s surreal,” says Briannah Donolo, with stars in her eyes. On Oct. 20, 2023, the dance-pop singer-songwriter known to the public as Rêve launched her debut album, Saturn Return. The release followed a handful of singles, including the dancefloor bomb “CTRL+ALT+DEL,” which she co-wrote with Montréal duo Banx & Ranx, that went on to win a JUNO in the Dance Recording of the Year category. “I like to joke that this album is like I’ve been pregnant for three years and I’ve finally given birth,” she says, referring to her shiny new project, where she’s rounded out her musical persona.
“The music industry being what it is today – dominated by singles – it’s become difficult to keep the attention of music lovers, who often only get to know only one chapter of the musical history of an artist,” says Rêve. “I’m extremely grateful to have the opportunity to write a whole book, a full-length album.” The project’s ballads – the intense “Past Life” and “Release Me” – exist not only in stark contrast to beat-heavy tracks like “Disco at the Strip Club,” but also reveal a facet of the artist to which we weren’t privy before.
As she says, Saturn Return was three years in the making, and involved thousands of song ideas recorded on her phone. “If only you could see it, there’s more than 3,000; it’s embarrassing!” she says with a giggle. Three years of participating in song camps, and collaborating with other artists, since the Montréal-born singer first started being noticed – by appearing on our TV screens standing on the Bell Centre ice rink, singing the national anthems when the Montréal Canadiens played home games.
She left Montréal for Toronto, with a suitcase full of dreams of an international career, propelled by her skillful dance, disco, and house songs. That seems like a strange decision, when one considers that Montréal is Canada’s nightlife capital, and provides its soundtrack. “It’s true, and you’re not the first one to point that out,” says Rêve. “The thing is, my management team, as well as the labels I hoped to work with, are all in Toronto, and it’s still a bigger market.
“The funny thing, though, is that my main collaborators are in Montréal,” she says, meaning Banx & Ranx, the production powerhouse duo of Soké (Zacharie Raymond) and KNY Factory (Yannick Rastogi). For the last decade, they’ve been creating hits for the likes of La Zarra, Sean Paul, and Alessia Cara, among other luminaries.
It was also in Montréal that Rêve caught the dancefloor bug. “Music has been a part of my life since I was a little one,” she says. “I remember all those shows we would go see on weekends; it was a family outing for us. I do remember the first time I stepped into Club Velvet in Old Montréal. It was quite an eclectic place, and it felt like you were entering a dungeon, because of the stuffed animals, and candle wax dripping down the walls. And what an amazing sound system! I remember that first contact with the music, the DJ, and the bond that’s created between that dance music, the artist who’s playing it, and the people who are dancing. It was transcendent. It stayed with me, and I wanted my music to have that.”
Rêve says that when she got to Toronto, “I felt I needed to be taken seriously as a songwriter, so I wrote intensively, every day. At one point, I was doing two writing sessions a day, six days a week.” Most of her songs are written on the piano, an instrument she studied as a child, “I find the melody, the lyrics, it’s all there. Then I take a step back and try to find a way to make the song cool. Sometimes I’ll sit in the studio with no starting point and I just explore. I’ve always believed that songs are like little truths that are floating around in the atmosphere and that our job as artists is being able to catch them. Each day I devote to writing is like that, and that’s what makes being a songwriter so exciting and satisfying.”