SOMMM: Ariane Moffatt, DRMS, all or nothing

Interview by Alain Brunet

Ariane Moffatt and DRMS, Étienne Dupuis-Cloutier by his real name, build bridges. Two generational shores are thus connected, two stylistic fronts, two ways of doing things that have become SOMMM, whose debut album has just been released on the Mo’Fat Productions label. Indie pop, hip hop, electro, franco and anglo pop cultures are at the crossroads of an original auteur pop that is in tune with the times, and Ariane and DRMS are the masters of the art. PAN M 360 took a look at these bridges with their builders.

Genres and styles : Electro-Pop / Hip Hop

Additional Information

PAN M 360: Ariane, you’re without a doubt the best-known personality in this collaborative project. What was your motivation in working with this new generation of Quebec musicians who are well-versed in hip hop and electro beatmaking?

ARIANE MOFFATT: It started after Petites mains précieuses, my last solo album. Having bet mainly on a neo-’70s approach, I had the feeling that I didn’t go all the way to what this album could have been. I felt a sense of urgency, and I went to Étienne to try something else, to make up for the part I hadn’t achieved. In the end, I took something else all the way.

PAN M 360: What was the spirit of the concept of the SOMMM project?

ARIANE: We didn’t have a plan, it was a studio project at the outset. With one guest artist per song, the idea was to carry out a project more in line with today’s ways of doing things, rather than working for two years on a $100,000 album. The idea was to release one song at a time and… we got caught up in the game – we’re releasing a full album.

ÉTIENNE DUPUIS-CLOUTIER: You start from scratch and you put a song together the same day, you do the beats, the arrangements, the hooks. For our first session, we worked like that and it really clicked.  For Ariane, as for me, this was a new creative approach, a mix of the modern and the old-school, an ideal balance. Instead of introspection, alone in her corner, it was possible to do it together. We were able to take it further by creating an album, it became a real project.

ARIANE: We both come from a classic form of songwriting. So either it leads us to be more conformist in our structures, or it allows us to make not just beats, textures or samples, but real songs with these practices. It’s a mix. With that in mind, we wanted to do chanson with rap features, we wanted the songs to be more aerial, de-compartmentalized. The 12 bars of a rapper who steps in, they have to be coherent, you have to manipulate the structure so that it becomes a song.

PAN M 360: More concretely, what was the way to do it?

ARIANE: We were always together in creating, really together. Everyone in their own studio, but our two computers open at the same time. My piano was always there… We would send each other tracks by AirDrop and… The fine-tuning of the production, it’s a dance that can last for long hours. This work is also songwriting. Nowadays we can consider the computer a musical instrument in its own right.

ÉTIENNE: I love working in the studio with people who have ideas for recording the vocals. Ariane keeps throwing ideas at me, it’s really inspiring creative material. It allows me in turn to develop the idea and produce those vocals. As a producer and creator, there’s nothing I love more than getting ideas from artists, and then going back to my studio to deal with it all.

PAN M 360: You are by turns musicians, arrangers, beatmakers and producers on this project. Tell us about that.

ÉTIENNE: Previously, I’d toured with Ariane, Coeur de pirate and other artists. I played drums, percussion, and synthesizers. In 2016, I decided to focus on production and composition. I had to think about the production method, which led me to DRMS. It allowed me to do many collaborations as a producer, and to do SOMMM with Ariane. I had to explore more in depth, both rap and pop. I had to observe how others work and collaborate, which is super enriching. Collaborative work is in vogue – more and more, producers want to work together, share their knowledge, share different visions of voice processing, for example.

ARIANE: I’m pinching myself! I can talk about my voice tuning and production! I worked with DRMS, I don’t call myself a producer but I am interested in production as a writer, composer and performer. This way, I push my producer side and it feeds the creativity.

PAN M 360: Tell us about this diversity of artists involved with this project. 

ARIANE: We ended up with the new hip hop vanguard, and also with some girl musicians that I like a lot. I wanted to go and see how they create, how they work, what drives them. I was playing the cool girl who invites young kids into her studio. We laughed a lot at the age difference!

ÉTIENNE: When we invite an artist to join us, they need room to breathe, a bit of freedom. We do sessions, we build a shape together, we complete the preliminary songwriting. We can say, hey! Maybe it could use some real instruments – bass, drums, guitar… One thing leading to another, the song becomes more precise. It’s a playground. After that, Ariane and I have to make sure it’s what we want.

PAN M 360: Examples?

ARIANE: On one or two tunes where we wanted more liveness, we added François Plante’s bass and Max Ballavance’s drums, a pretty potent rhythm section!  They are notably to be found in the song “Le ciel s’est renversé”, which also involves Rosie Valland. Rosie came into the studio to do a session with her own proposal, this chorus that’s nested in the lyrics I’d started writing. That’s exactly what we were looking for. “Get Well Soon” involved rapper Maky Lavender. He came with his tracks ready to insert into the song. He called me Madame Ariane, ha ha! I played the bass on that song, I didn’t mind because you can process, edit, take it somewhere else.

ÉTIENNE: For the song “Essence”, La F arrived in the studio, two producers, three MCs with Ariane, everyone composing together, a raw song was conceived by the end of the day, followed by long sessions of fine-tuning in the studio, going back and forth on the lyrics, etc. It was a nice balance between spontaneity and structured work. We had to be attentive, every little corner of each song had to be taken into account.

ARIANE: Although kind of introverted, the beatmaker Ruffsound is very important to the careers of Quebec rappers, starting with Loud. With him, we started the song “Finir seule”… and then some jerk chicken, a couple of beers and whoop! “Sunshine” was in the workshop! I then had the idea of a chorus in English, Clay and Friends came to mind, and so on and so forth. Same when I included “zay” [French rap slang meaning “cool”] in the song “Danger”… I was sure FouKi would appear in it. I also thought of Marie-Pierre Arthur for “Chérie”. I couldn’t imagine someone so close to me playing in this intimate atmosphere, our spoken voices blending together, and it ends the album smoothly. 

PAN M 360: To summarize… where did this project take you?

ARIANE: I’ve had a lot of questions throughout this work. I wanted it to be emotionally credible without sounding like I was trying too hard. It was the risk of making songs that way, that was my biggest challenge.

ÉTIENNE: Nothing was forced. I’ve wanted to do something like this for several years, but it took context, it took an Ariane in front. It took an artist with a strong enough identity to tie it all together, and one who was very careful to maintain her identity through this process. And it took young people, this new guard of millennials who were open enough to make their work evolve through these encounters. They felt valued through this project, it was very enriching for all of us. And if it can build bridges, so much the better.

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