NAC guest blogger Guillaume Moffet is an avid fan of Canadian music and a respected journalist known for his reviews of a multitude of music artists. He is the former editor in chief of Voir Ottawa‑Gatineau and the Ottawa Xpress, and the former editor in chief of BRBR for TFO. He has served on the Polaris Music Prize jury for five years, and is also currently a member of the nomination panel for the SOCAN Songwriting Prize and the jury of the Prism Prize for the best music video of the year.
Just under a year after the launch of her acclaimed debut album, L’alchimie des monstres, Klô Pelgag—hailed as Radio-Canada’s 2014–15 Révélation de l’année (“Newcomer of the Year”) in the songwriting category—reflected on an action-packed year. On a break from the tour that will bring her to the National Arts Centre for the first time, on October 16, the young pianist and singer took a few minutes to share her thoughts.
Shortly after our conversation, she was nominated in six categories (including “Discovery of the Year”) at the upcoming ADISQ gala, and nominated for French Songwriter of the Year by the Canadian Folk Music Awards. But Klô Pelgag (real name Chloé Pelletier Gagnon) wasn’t too fussed about ADISQ nominations: her attention was on sharpening her concentration, rehydrating her body (presumably), and getting ready for a sound test in a few minutes. We met on the site of the Festival de l’Outaouais Émergent (FOÉ) under a mercifully cloudless sky during a weekend of otherwise turbulent weather.
“I enjoy touring,” she says, taking a seat at one of the picnic tables on the FOÉ site. “There are short breaks here and there, so you get some time to rest … but not this week.”
Why not this week?
“Well, I had the week off, but I partied a lot!”
Her urge to celebrate is understandable, after an intense Canadian and international concert tour following the release on the Coyote label (Karim Ouellet, Antoine Corriveau) of L’alchimie des monstres, her dazzling debut album of orchestral piano-pop, with its quirky concepts, furious brass and string arrangements, and refreshingly surreal lyrics.
Asked what she thinks of the album, she replies, “I listen to it a lot; I play it all the time. It’s a funny one. I remember every moment of writing every song; I was in such a different place, I was living such a different life then. I think it turned out well.”
“Turned out well” is an understatement: L’alchimie made the Top 10 lists of several publications, including La Presse.
Backed by chamber melodies that intermingle folk, baroque and contemporary, her lyrics and her voice already have the power to “divert reality” into a dense, sometimes absurd universe where enchantment and distress go hand in hand.
– Alain Brunet, La Presse (transl.)
Any thoughts about the next album? Yes, she says, in spite of her packed schedule: “It’s part of my plan for the next year. I do my best writing when I’m alone, and those moments are pretty rare these days. But it’s something I really need to do.”
It might seem likely that the next album would be a collective effort, since she’s spent most of her time with other talented musicians, but that’s not the case: “No, it will be another solo project. My brother Mathieu [who did the arrangements for L’alchimie] just got back from France, and he’s living in Montreal. I’m going to make the album with him. It’s so great to work with someone who has the same references, who shares the same dreams …”
An upward trend
The honours and awards are piling up (Bourse RIDEAU, Prix Miroir at the Festival d’été de Québec, appearances at the Granby International Song Festival, the Festival en chanson de Petite-Vallée, and Ma Première Place des Arts), but even so, Klô is plagued by doubts: “I didn’t know if people were ready to accept what I do. I still wonder sometimes.”
Despite her skepticism, the positive trend shows no sign of slowing down, as witness most recently her ADISQ nominations and her selection as Radio-Canada’s 2014–15 Révélation de l’année, following in the footsteps of labelmate Karim Ouellet, who was featured in last year’s NAC Presents concert series.
“I’m thrilled to have been named the 2014–15 Révélation. I’m super happy, especially because it comes from Radio Canada, who were the first to promote me. My music doesn’t get a lot of air play, but they’ve been really good about it,” she notes. “At the same time, the Révélation thing is kind of weird; I feel I now owe it to Radio Canada to support them just as they’ve supported me, because Radio Canada is really important,” she says, implicitly referring to the major budget cuts the Crown corporation has suffered in recent months.
Though she’s already firmly established as one of Radio-Canada’s four Révélations de l’année for 2014–15—alongside Pierre Kwenders (world music), Emie R. Roussel (jazz) and Kerson Leong (classical music), all of whom will appear on the NAC stage in the coming season—, Klô, an avowed music lover, has a few suggestions of her own. “My choice for 2014–15 … hmmm … I really like Violett Pi,” she reveals.
“There’s also [the Acadian rock group] Les Hôtesses d’Hilaire,” she adds. “I’m a big fan of [lead singer] Serge Brideau, of the whole group in fact. I really like them. They’re really out there. It’s fun, their 1970s thing, I really like it. It’s sick, it’s authentic, there’s an element of ‘who gives a …,’ it’s great. And it’s fun to see such down-to-earth people in the industry, people who do things from the heart and don’t take themselves too seriously.
“Sometimes it seems as if musicians have to be serious, credible, intense. Yesterday I went to hear Les Guerres d’l’amour, another band that’s outside the mainstream: it’s funky, super funny, full of energy. I’ve never followed the crowd, and it’s fun to see these trends coming back around every now and then.”
Lessons from the road
What has she learned in the past 12 months? There’s a long pause, then she replies, “Patience. How to get along with other people. It might not sound like much, but it is. I’m a solitary person, a bit of a homebody, even. Touring with so many people was sometimes difficult; I didn’t have much time alone. But I found a few tricks that helped me deal with it. It brought out some parts of my nature and pushed others into the background, waiting to re-emerge when the time is right.
“I’m so pleased with my band,” she continues. “It’s hard to find the right people. I’m always on a search for the right mix, for people who are willing to make the effort, to put a lot of themselves into it. I like the fact that live performances really showcase musicians; and to make that work, you need good people, beautiful people. I have five: Fany Fresard on violin, Lana Tomlin on viola, Elyzabeth Burrowes on cello, Philippe Leduc on double bass and Charles Duquette on drums—six, if you count Guillaume Côté, our sound technician. I’m really proud of that. I’ve never experienced such great team spirit on a tour. It’s really fun.”
And in those twelve months on the road, there were a few moments of grace—experiences the six members of the Klô Pelgag band will enter into the logbook as unusual, touching or sordid, but that undoubtedly brought them closer together.
“Lots of stuff happened—funny things that weren’t super fun at the time, but made us laugh after the fact. For example, opening for Marie Mai—which wasn’t so bad—at the Poutine Festival! Talk about total opposites back to back!” she chuckles. Granted, she allows, the gig also introduced her music to a whole new audience.
She goes on, “I remember, in France there was this woman who was making grilled cheese sandwiches, only they weren’t grilled cheese, they were more like croque monsieur. She started making fun of Philippe’s Québécois accent. You should have seen the place: it looked like a crack house, the woman was haggard, completely run down. Philippe was trying to flirt with her, jokingly; it was pretty disgusting. And her sandwich was half frozen, it had a fishy taste. It was funny, it made us laugh … As you can imagine, I’ve censored the story a bit…”
And the rest of the story will unfold this fall.