For her third album, Geneviève Toupin decided to use the Willows moniker. It’s a stage name, but a project name as well. The word refers to the tree, obviously, but also, and mainly, a town in California and a ghost town on the Western Canadian plains. “I really enjoyed the parallel between those two locales that are part of the album’s lyrics,” says the svelte brunette with the piercing blue eyes. “And I liked the word, quite simply. It allowed me to address my Anglo and Métis roots, but also my Franco-Manitoban roots. There’s something very visually evocative in that word. Plus, I loved the idea of putting forth a musical and visual identity.”

The Long and Winding Road

This folk gem was produced by Émilie Proulx, Toupin’s “musical soul mate,” who has also accompanied her onstage since 2009. It is an intensely personal and luminous album, with delicate arrangements, that was initially planned for release last year, backed by a totally different team. “I’ve travelled far and wide. This album came via a long and winding road. I left my record label in 2013 and tried working with a few producers, but I just wasn’t ready. I had written about 30 songs, but they all ended up in the trash. When I realized Émilie was a perfect fit, I knew she’d be the ideal producer, too. From that point on, everything went super fast,” explains Toupin, who set up camp in Montréal in 2003.

And it turns out that places have had a big impact on the artist, a fact that’s obvious to even a casual listener of the album’s 11 tracks. She explains: “While I was in the creation process for this album, I realized how much landscapes, plains, wide open spaces and open skies inhabit me. I started writing in California and finished in Montréal. Also, having grown up in a small village in the Southern Manitoba countryside definitely had an impact, too. This bond with wide open spaces and nature has inhabited me since I was a child. To this day, it’s still something that has a deep impact on me and my writing. It’s deeply rooted.”

Cultural Legacy

Even though Toupin grew up in a French-speaking family, once she reached her teens, she devoured Anglo music and struggled to make a place for herself in a vastly Anglo environment. For this new project, she fully embraced this cultural duality. “When I started the creation of this album, I’d just finished another entirely English one (The Ocean Pictures Project) and I’d become unable to write in French. To resolve this situation, I had to embrace that duality and to allow myself to write like I speak, by mixing both languages. The first songs I wrote were ‘Valley of Fire,’ ‘Bill Murray’ and ‘Stardust Motel.’  Those three songs are the ones with the most English in them. I gave myself permission to write exactly as I hear it in my head.”

But despite her Métis roots and the ever-present duality, Geneviève doesn’t feel like she’s on her own. She considers herself as a full-fledged member of a new community of young songwriters and musicians. As she says: “I mean the Montréal community, but also the whole of the Canadian francophonie. I feel privileged to be a part of those scenes and to be surrounded by so many artists that inspire me every day. That’s truly priceless.”

Believing in magic

Following her very positive experience in the web series La Tournée des cafés (nominated at the ADISQ Awards in 2012), Toupin developed a taste for collaboration. As a result, almost a dozen musicians and composers collaborated on the Willows project, including André Papanicolaou (Monsieur Mono) and Marianne Houle (Monogrenade). Yet, one question begs to be answered: how does one choose who to collaborate with when one’s musical universe is so intimate, soft and delicate? “I always pick collaborators whose sensitivity is very close to mine,” says Toupin. “That’s the case of Sébastien Lacombe’s universe, which completely aligns with mine. I want to surround myself with people who instinctively understand that type of writing. You need to go with the flow. But I also noticed that a certain chemistry can happen between artists and that I also need to trust that.”

Following a three-week stay in France and the 2014 Coup de cœur francophone tour, Toupin now wishes to take her show back on the road in Québec and the rest of Canada – Vancouver, Ontario and Saskatchewan are already on the schedule for 2015 – and she’ll also collaborate with Chloé Lacasse on her musical project. In other words, there isn’t much downtime. “You know, I’m very fortunate for all the travelling I do,” she says. “Just that, to me, is tremendous. I wouldn’t trade places with anyone!”

Turning the page
“When I was 19, I travelled to France. I was studying science and was considering going into medicine, but I decided to take a year off. I had top grades, but I missed music, so I left to go work in Paris. When I got back to Manitoba, I decided that I was going to do everything I possibly could to earn a living from my music. I abandoned all my other projects. And that’s what I did.”