“In my mind, right now, it’s as if I was starting all over again,” says Stéphanie Boulay, as she’s about to launch her first solo album, Ce que je te donne ne disparaît pas, out Nov. 2, 2018. “Nothing is won in advance and, to be honest… I don’t want to win anything, strangely enough. Of course I like this album, I want it to do well, I want people to like it. But in the end, I’m not attached to the results that much. It was more of a need, a necessity, than it was something planned. My whole being wanted to create songs.”
When Les soeurs Boulay took a sabbatical, in November of 2017, so that Mélanie could enjoy her pregnancy, Stéphanie figured she’d travel and take it easy. “It lasted a month,” she says. “I was unhappy. Deeply. It’s one of my flaws – not that I advocate being a workaholic – but it’s more powerful than I am: it’s like I exist through creating.” That’s why today, she exists as a single female artist, via the album’s eight original songs, which she’ll play on stage with her musicians during the next Coup de cœur francophone. “I feel like a teenager,” she says. “Like it’s my first show at Cegep en Spectacle!”
The new collection of songs gives us a new perspective on this solo sister, who moves away from the country/folk sound of her duo, and embraces classic “chanson française.” As for the melodies and ornate orchestrations, “the songs stretch out but seem positioned in an era, because we listened to a lot of music from the late ’60s and ’70s,” she says. Some Jacques Brel, some Leo Ferré, “Canadian music,” probably a hefty dose of Leonard Cohen, and even Gordon Lightfoot’s first few albums.
Boulay readily admits that ensuring her solo album was a departure from the duo’s sound was something of a challenge, but says it wasn’t really deliberate. “When we started working on it, Alex [McMahon, producer] and I didn’t actually say to each other that we wanted to go elsewhere, it just happened naturally through the flow of our inspiration,” she says. “It was a time when I started listening to Brel and Françoise Hardy again, and Alex told me he could totally hear my songs played that way. We listened to all kinds of different stuff, even Brazilian music, and the songs just inspired us, effortlessly. It’s as if our two brains connected and decided to go in the same direction.”
“I felt like I had some kind of transcendent fever while I was writing.”
This symbiosis was very helpful for the hasty writing, “at the very last minute,” of an album that was initially planned as an EP. “I had five songs,” says Boulay, “all written pretty much at the same time, in February.
Then, [album opener] ‘Ta Fille’ was born, that was the most important piece coming out.” It’s a touching, solemn song that sets the tone of the album. “I can feel that if it wasn’t for the #metoo movement a year ago, this album would’ve been different,” says Boulay. “There’s a lot of vulnerability on it that I wouldn’t have dared to admit before. And female solidarity. it’s a sound that I live even more since #metoo. I sing a lot more about friendship than about love on this album. Like on ‘Des histoires qui ne sont jamais finies,’ which was inspired by my experience at SOCAN’s Kenekt Québec Song Camp – and all the friendships I developed while I was there, surrounded by the creative force of all those people. The song ‘Ta fille’ is not just about vulnerability, it’s also about solidarity. It’s about looking at yourself and saying: Hey, do you feel like that, too? Well, fuck it, let’s speak up about it! It’s a statement.”
As early as last May, after two months of writing, five songs had been recorded. “Then, ‘Les Médailles’ just came to me, and we went back in the studio,” says Boulay. “That’s when Éli [Bissonnette, head honcho of her label, Grosse Boîte] asked if I had more songs, because six is an EP, but with eight, we can call it an album. I was lucky, like I was connected to something, I’m not sure what, but the songs just came to me. Just like that. I felt like I had some kind of transcendent fever while I was writing.”
To wit: Boulay was walking along the road to the pier at Carleton-sur-Mer, in Gaspésie, where she’s from, when the song ‘Sauvage et fou’ just appeared. “It just fell on me,” she says. “I ran to my room and finished it that night. The next weekend, I was at the cabin and I remembered something Alex had told me, ‘You remind me of a coyote stuck in a trap who prefers to chew off his own leg to dying in there. You should write a song about that.’ And I wrote ‘Le piège.’ We went back to the studio, in extremis, two weeks before the deadline, to record those two songs!”
As soon as it’s released, this first solo album, which she considers an aside, will be behind her. “My sister and I have already gotten back to work,” she says. “I think we have about half an album already written. I look ahead. As much as I’m proud of my solo album – I cherish it, it’s my baby, my jewel – I now appreciate the presence of my sister Mélanie in my life even more.
“I believe that I have a very conventional and square way of writing, whereas my sister is more creative,” says Boulay. “I’ll write more classic melodies, but Mélanie will find a twist that makes it unique. I’m also in a hurry: if it’s good, I move on. Mélanie can work on a single sentence, or a snippet of melody, for hours, until she is satisfied it is perfect. And the way she plays is also in your face. She’s solid, legs straight, she knows where she’s going, whereas I’m much more fragile.”