Nurtured by the rich cultural mosaic of Montreal, singer-songwriter Gabrielle Cloutier has always been adept at embracing diverse musical styles and forging close connections with numerous musicians. Now, at the cusp of her inaugural release, Chamade, her band has coalesced around seven talented musicians. Together, they have crafted a unique sound that blends vocals, violin, viola, cello, double bass, santuri, and accordion. The gentle, enthralling, and melancholic melodies lie at the core of this invitation to be carried away by the words and melodies.
PAN M 360 : Thanks for being here Gabrielle. And congratulations on the upcoming release of Chamade! Is the album releasing immediately after your show?
Gabrielle Cloutier : Yes, the show is the album launch and it’s also the first performance of this band. We formed this group to record the album and so we haven’t really played together in a show circumstance before. I don’t think people have really heard us yet. I only put a little clip on Facebook here and there. So it’s going to be great to finally play this music for everyone.
PAN M 360 : Well I’ve seen you perform before, so I know the vibe and a bit of what to expect. Your musicality is very interesting. It has this lovely folky, chanson, baroque quality to it. Can you maybe tell us a bit about your background?
Gabrielle Cloutier : Actually I started with a classical background. I studied music in CEGEP. I did a bachelor’s in classical singing and after that, I did my master’s degree at McGill in baroque singing and contemporary classical singing. So I like to touch on a lot of influences in my music.
At the end of my studies at McGill, I got to meet a lot of people and was chilling with musicians from the jazz world, from the Arabic music world. In Montreal, it’s like this, you know. You always meet a lot of musicians from so many different styles. Some of them wanted to start a band during the pandemic, and they thought about me. They had the music written but not really the words and melodies. So we began to jam and, coming from a classical background, I never really did that. The songs came together and we started to have some gigs and residencies and finally I started to really enjoy composing. So my road has changed a bit, but I can use what I got from the classical world and transpose it in my own music.
PAN M 360 : That I can hear. And when I saw you perform, you were playing the accordion and singing too!
Gabrielle Cloutier : Yeah, so this project actually started with me playing accordion with an upright bassist. But finally I decided I just want to sing. So I asked my friend to play accordion in the band. Because the accordion is a very demanding instrument. If I was an accordionist first and then a singer, it wouldn’t be so bad. But to start as a singer and then to learn accordion it’s not the same thing. I want to be free when I sing, and it’s a hard instrument if you really want to be in the moment and fully in connection.
PAN M 360 : Well you sounded quite at ease when I heard you the last time!
Gabrielle Cloutier : I was so stressed!
PAN M 360 : I think you can give yourself a little more credit, but I can understand that! And so do you play other instruments too then?
Gabrielle Cloutier : I play some mediaeval instruments actually, like the chifonie. It’s a rectangle box with only three strings and some notes but it’s basically like a simplified hurdy-gurdy. And I play the citole as well.
PAN M 360 : Okay, so not your typical singer-songwriter with an acoustic guitar?
Gabrielle Cloutier : Not really, but I started like that. After all those challenges of learning different instruments I feel like my place is to sing for now.
PAN M 360 : Is the lyrical aspect of songwriting a big draw for you in this project?
Gabrielle Cloutier : Yeah, yeah, but it might be different for me. I really see this project as like…a certain period of a time of my life where these songs just came out really naturally, really easily. I think as artists we live some stuff and the lyrics come to reflect how we are situated in our souls and how we feel at that time. So now I’m somewhere else and might have something different to say.
PAN M 360 : That comes across in your album title, Chamade.
Gabrielle Cloutier : It’s the beat of your heart. There’s an expression in French, “mon coeur bat à la chamade”. It’s like your heart is really full of passion, you know. It’s about the tempo of your heart, it’s a bit kitschy maybe. But that’s what I was feeling and what came to mind.
PAN M 360 : So does it feel like it’s been like a long time coming, this release, or does it all feel new to you?
Gabrielle Cloutier : It’s like new and old at the same time. I’m excited to let go of this album, because it’s been a long time that I’ve spent with these five songs. We have new songs, and I’m excited for those and to see how we can go further with this project. Some people can maybe wait two years before releasing an album. Actually I had a discussion with my bandmates from another project, and we were talking about recording another album in December. And some of them were talking about taking our time and releasing it maybe a year after recording it. I think for me I couldn’t wait that long!
PAN M 360 : And of course do you feel like 2023 is an incredibly weird time to be releasing music into the world?
Gabrielle Cloutier : For sure, and I made a lot of prints of this album, so I don’t know if people will buy it. But it’s kind of like there’s people, there’s society, the industry, but then there’s also your own road. I did it for myself at the end of the day, and I think everyone has to be doing it for themselves. It was a challenge for me as an artist to see if I could make this record, even if it’s received or not. And it helps to have a record, it’s good to have something to show and give people.
PAN M 360 : So how was it navigating the actual logistics of an album release and distribution?
Gabrielle Cloutier : I really learned a lot about this. I didn’t know that I had to take care of copyright stuff, of SOCAN, of distrokid, printing an album, and even choosing the right person to do the mastering. All of that was fine in the end, but the part that was the hardest to deal with was to get some press, from labels, from magazines. I’m just like a small fish in this huge sea you know. And our music is very acoustic you know, not the most pop stuff that will sell.
PAN M 360 : So what can you tell us about the launch show?
Gabrielle Cloutier : It’s definitely going to be more on the soft side of things. The other two bands are also really acoustic, and they fit in the same universe with the music we will perform. To start the evening there will be a string quartet, Quatuor Bazar, and they will actually play a composition of a friend of mine, Nominoë, who arranged a song on the album. He’s going to be playing in the second act, which is a duo performing folk songs from Greece and Turkey.
PAN M 360 : So a lot of different stuff but all in the same chamber universe. And you will play Chamade front to back?
Gabrielle Cloutier : Maybe not in that order, and we have a few more songs. We’re going to have some solos and interludes from the different instruments, yeah, all the musicians are amazing. I’m really grateful that they are in this project with me.
PAN M 360 : You must be really excited for this performance. Do you deal with nerves still?
Gabrielle Cloutier : I’m feeling really fine. I was more nervous when I had to all the logistical work that I didn’t really understand, but now, since yesterday when I went to go to the printer to print the last posters, I’m chilling.We have one last rehearsal, everything is going well, I’m happy, and I think it’s going to be good.
PAN M 360 : We think so too. Thanks again Gabrielle, have a wonderful show!