Pascale Picard’s 2007 debut album went platinum and earned her Felix and Juno nominations. In 2009, she won two Felix, and she’s been collecting critical successes ever since. You might think she’d feel some pressure to live up to expectations. “I’m at a point where I don’t have to prove anything, and I don’t owe anything to anyone other than myself, my boyfriend and my daughter”, she retorts. “It’s actually quite liberating.”
The singer/songwriter has a new album out called « The Beauty We’ve Found », and she’s now going solo, as it’s no longer the Pascale Picard Band. She rightly insists her new album is not about her newborn daughter Léonie, but it’s obvious that momentous change in her life infused every aspect of its creation. “2 or 3 of the songs were written before I got pregnant”, she told me, speaking from a hotel room in Quebec during her promotional tour. “But I wrote the bulk of the new record in the first months of her life, whenever I could get a break from the baby”, she explains with a laugh. The urgency of having to write whenever her schedule freed up for an hour forced her to trust her instincts.
“New emotions came to me, and it was easier to write these songs”, she adds. “I didn’t question or censor myself. I dove in without restraints and didn’t wait for inspiration to come out of nowhere.” She was willing to dismiss any song she might not like the day after, but in the end, she kept almost everything she wrote during that fruitful period. The song “In Town” stands out as the sole exception to that writing process: It’s a song Picard wrote more than 10 years ago but rejected for every one of her albums since her second. “I could never get it right until now”, she admits readily.
She also credits a song writing work shop with Xavier Lecouture for the evolution of her writing, and ‘La Tempête’ (written about the death of her mother-in-law), the lone song in French in her repertoire, came out of that exercise. “As a teenager, I wrote songs that came from a very dark place”, she recalls. “I felt a ‘mal de vivre’ and wrote about suicide. Singing them in English allowed me to have some distance from them. And after 20 years of writing in English, I feel much more comfortable than writing in French. I think I wrote 10 songs in French and this was the only one I kept.”
Writing on the piano as opposed to the guitar also took her song writing in different directions. “I’m not really a good pianist”, she admits candidly, “so I would just play simple chords. This left a lot more space for my voice. Had I written on the guitar as I always did, the songs would have taken a very different direction”. She wanted the record to focus on piano and strings, and she turned to a friend of her boyfriend to produce it.
In the Studio
Enters multi-instrumentist Antoine Gratton. He was enthusiastic about producing her album, but with her being based in Quebec City, and he in Montreal, both were reluctant to leave their respective families. As a compromise, they moved into B12 studio located on a domain built by the Bombardier family in Valcourt where both their families could join them. “If you do it 9 to 5, at 4 you start thinking that the day is ending and it changes how you tackle things”, she explains.
The first 6 days were spent recording piano, guitar and vocals, as the pair started fleshing out the arrangements. Gratton would end up playing almost all the instruments, save for drums that were played by Picard’s boyfriend Marc Chartrain. “Antoine is so talented, and such a genius that it’s almost frustrating to watch him go”, she says with admiration. “I didn’t want to overthink, I just wanted to let the music flow. It was super easy, and first thing I knew, the album was done and ready to be released.”
Together, they shaped the songs by adding layers to build an album that stands as the singer’s most polished to date, with top songwriting from start to finish and a strong focus on her voice, and all the emotion she carries. It’s a rock/folk/pop hybrid that effortlessly shifts from one to another, without ever losing cohesiveness. I think every listener will find their own personal highlights, as there’s not a weak track on the record. Personally, I loved the western movie swagger of “Rock Bottom”, the melancholy of “Waltzing Disappointment”, the simplicity of “The Beauty We’ve Found” and the sassiness of “In Town”.
“The Beauty We’ve Found” is out now. Pascale Picard will hit the road soon and is scheduled to play in Montreal at Lion d’Or on February 14th 2019. The perfect way to spend a Valentine’s Day evening with a loved one.
He's also a regular contributor at the excellent news site Montreal Rampage
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