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Ladies of Pop: Gabrielle Papillon

 - Ladies of Pop: Gabrielle Papillon
A Montrealer by way of Winnipeg who lives part-time in Halifax. Now that’s a true Canadian.

Singer-songwriter Gabrielle Papillon released her first EP, Songs for a Rainy Day, in 2001. While pursuing a B.A. and Master’s degree in history, she took an 8-year break from her musical career, only to come back with a deeper and more complex style.

Her third album, The Currency of Poetry, was listed on a number of Best Of lists in 2011 and her fourth album, recorded in Montreal’s Treatment Room, will be released on September 25.

During a much needed break in the artists’ lounge at Quartiers Pop, Gabrielle Papillon shared her love of French, the difficulty of being a woman in music, and how she continues to be inspired by her family.

You’re perfectly bilingual. Do you consider yourself part of the English scene or the French scene? Do you think there’s a difference?

I think I’m more a part of the English scene, mostly because I sing in English and it’s a lot harder for me to write lyrics in French at the same level that I write them in English but I would love to be writing more songs in French so I’m kind of working on it. Oddly enough, the radio stations in French that play me don’t play my French songs. I had a video that aired on Musique Plus in August and all of a sudden I kept getting fans from all over Quebec so I’m hoping...that would be so great. I love Quebec, my heart is here and in Halifax equally and it would be so nice to tour more of Quebec and play to Francophone audiences.

Are the music scenes in Montreal and Halifax very different?

They are very different, yeah. It took me a long time to make connections with people here. Once you do make connections with people here it seems like everyone plays with everyone which is really cool but Halifax, at least the group I fell in with, they just took me in and adopted me as their own right away. Maybe because it’s smaller, there’s no sense of “this act is so much further ahead than me so I don’t talk to them.” Or vice versa. You can ask a big artist to sing for you and they’re like, “Yeah sure, totally!” I find here, it’s a little more intimidating. I’m sort of in love with both of the music scenes for different reasons. They’re both positive.

You did a masters degree in history. Do you use that when you’re writing your songs?

It definitely inspires me. It’s not something I do actively, like “I’m going to take this historical moment and write a song about it.” I admire people who something happens and they’re like, “I’m gonna write a song about it.” I find that I’ll start writing and I’ll realize what the song is about as I’m writing it and as the words come out and I can use that to sort of guide how I finish the song. My adviser was so hard on me, and tough in a good way but the difference between when I was writing before school and after school is huge. I just feel like I put so much weight in all the words I choose. And sometimes the themes that come out have to do with books I’ve read, or things I’ve studied. The imagery comes from there, for sure.

You wrote two songs about your great-grandparents. Does your family inspire you?

Oh, yeah. For sure. Hopefully people are inspired by life around them. “Go into the night,” the first song on my new album, is about the first night of the storm. My great-great grandfather was a lighthouse keeper in eastern, northern New Brunswick and in this really, really treacherous bit of channel of water. The conditions then for lighthouse keepers were really hard. Very little in terms of amenities and boats that were not really sea-worthy, and drownings happened frequently in this channel. There was a storm the night of my great-grandmother’s birth, and so he went out in the boat with his assistant to fetch a doctor and they were lost at sea. So she was born that night with just her 13-year-old aunt and her mom. She was a very quirky woman, I think as a result of this strange coming into the world. It’s tragic but there’s a lot of magic and a lot to draw from there.

As a woman in music, are you conscious of yourself as a woman in that particular field, or are you a musician first? Does it have to be one or the other?

I don’t think it has to be one or the other, because I’m certainly not that good at compartmentalizing parts of me. Sometimes I find that for women it can be a little bit tougher as a singer-songwriter because artistic directors and people in the industry just put us all in one boat. Like we’re singer-songwriters therefore we are all the same, and that’s a really disheartening and hard thing to face. When you’re applying to a festival and you’re told, “I only have room for two ‘FSS’,” two Female Singer-Songwriters...regardless of genre, you can be completely different, but he only has room for two people of your gender who write songs. That can sometimes be the biggest struggle.

I also think that fans of male artists respond differently than fans of female artists. I toured with guys a lot at first and I noticed how sometimes their fans would just be crazy about them and almost like in love with them, and I didn’t feel like I was connecting with people in the same way. That could just be a learning thing too...I don’t want to generalize too much.

I don’t notice those things as much anymore, now I find that it’s more about an industry perspective towards women. It’s really hard if you don’t really rock sometimes to kind of get that attention.

What would you consider your main influences?

Musically it’s a really broad range. I love film scores. I was in high school during the height of the grunge era and so I listened to a lot of early pop/punk. My first guitar looked like Kurt Cobain’s first guitar. I also grew up listening to a lot of folk music and a lot of bands with a lot of harmonies--so Kate and Anna McGarrigle for sure, the Band, the Beatles, Joni Mitchell, kind of your obvious go-tos. I also really love classical music, and random things too...I really love the Beastie Boys. And a lot french music, too--Gilles Vignault is like one of my all-time favorites. I think I’m also really influenced by life and film. I love films and movies and I think when I write, in my head I’m writing a movie. To me a song is a whole story, and a film.

So, do you have a musical guilty pleasure?

For sure. I really, really love that song from 8 Mile, by Eminem. On the road, I have this tour-mix and I’ll put it in with each new tour mate and it’ll be the first song on the mix and I’ll just look at them and the piano part starts and they’ll be like, “What is this?” and I’ll be with this stupid grin because I just love it.


Anne Cohen
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