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Coeur de Pirate Returns, All Grown Up

Coeur de Pirate Returns, All Grown Up

Montreal's darling is heading back on tour after a six-month hiatus. But don't call it a comeback.

By Halley Bondy
January 18, 2013

For about five years, Montreal has watched Béatrice Martin grow into her skin. While she’s still seriously young, the pretty, award-winning 23-year-old blonde who writes lovely pop songs in French as Coeur de Pirate (“heart of pirate”) has journeyed from being an insecure teenage Montreal pop star, to a mother with star power all over the world. Her most recent album Blonde went Gold, earning her top 5 chart status in France, Quebec, and the French part of Belgium, and after waiting for her mom-related hiatus to come to an end, the world is jonesing.

Luckily, the singer/pianist has announced a new video and a world tour beginning in March (check here for dates) in which she’ll perform solo, sans the band. Her willingness to confront her adoring (and sometimes not-so-adoring) public on her own is both a return to her early DIY roots, and a demonstration of how far she’s come. She’s certainly not an insecure teen anymore, which is why interviewing her is so much more fun.

She spoke to us from Montreal about coming back a mom, about Canada’s French/English music divide, about her new tour, past loves, and her first-ever, upcoming English release.

How are you? How has the hiatus been?

I’m good! It’s very different from doing music all the time. I’m just kind of laying low right now. I pretty much kept on going and going. I actually toured in July, and I’ve been doing stuff here and there, but I’ve been on tour for the past five years — so it was the first time I actually had a break. It’s been about six months now.

How is motherhood? 

Good, different! For once in my life someone actually needs me on an everyday basis, so it’s cool to play shows, and be out there, but to be needed every day definitely changes things. It’s inspiring in many ways. You see things differently and give importance to new things. It seems like my experiences before this were irrelevant. You definitely feel grown up.

Are you getting a bit stir crazy?

Yeah I am actually! I was thinking about it this morning, how I need to get out of Montreal for some reason. I’ve been on the road all the time, so I’ve become ADD when it comes to traveling and getting out of the city. I couldn’t stay in one place for more than two weeks. I’ve been here for awhile, and I need to leave. It’s also cold, so you can’t really do much. People around here, they go to Florida this time of year.

How do you feel about the word comeback? Do you feel like you’re making a comeback?

It’s a weird word because I’ve only been around for 4-5 years, but I feel like it’s such an issue these day if you don’t release music every 2-3 months. I’m thinking about Rihanna, who releases singles every two seconds which is annoying. It’s a way of rushing you, and you have to do that to stay alive now. People don’t take the time to release decent music that’s thought through. I’ve been away for six months, which is a long time these days, but it’s not that long.

The official line on this tour is that you’re going back to basics. Can you tell me about the decision on that?

Well, I realized not too long ago that the full live band wasn’t a crutch exactly, but I would use it to avoid speaking to people, and avoid having a personal connection with people who come to the show. When I first started out i didn’t have enough money to hire musicians at all, so I was going to do it on my own and take it as it is. It was really scary. I was alone with my piano. I was playing festivals in front of 30,000 in Europe — it really helped me not be such a shy person anymore. So it’s good for me to go back to it.

How does Blonde feel, coming back to it now?  

Well, I wrote Blonde because I needed it to get over certain things. It was cathartic. It was very important for me to actually do it, and write it, and I’m over it and it’s great. I think that album really represents my insecurities. I remember when first released it people said, ‘did you do it to get back at someone?’ No, I was exploring what I was going through at that time, and how insecure I was despite my success, and how I was living through someone else, which is awful.

Tell me about your decisions behind “Place de la Republique” video. Why revive that song, why that video?

It’s the first song that I wrote after releasing the first record. I did it in two months. I had started this relationship with this boy in France and, and it was just the beginning. I was thinking, ‘this is ridiculous. I live in Montreal and he lives in France.’ It set the tone for my life afterward — always living in long-distance relationships, scared of actual commitment. So that song talks about not knowing, and all the issues that go along with getting in a relationship with someone who lives far away.

The video represents that. It’s a 24-hour time lapse. It was important for me to direct it and to do it in 35 mm film. I worked with Evan Prosofsky, who is  the cinematographer who did the “Oblivion” video for Grimes. He’s super talented, and I had some help from directors Angus and Martin Borsos.

So, the Paris romance didn’t work out I presume?

No it did not, which is a good thing!

Do you feel like you’ve changed emotionally since your beginning?

Yeah, for sure. It’d be weird if I hadn’t! You definitely learn to distance yourself from what people say and what people think. For anyone starting out, you read what people are saying and it’s easy to get affected by that. I remember seeing a critic’s response to my first show, he was totally tearing me down and I took it really really hard. People now are being rough too. I get direct messages on twitter and I think “oh man, you’re crazy,” and I have to deal with it and distance myself. That was one thing I had to get through. I used to be so scared of talking to people, and this career has been a good way for me to battle any kind of shyness.

So if you had talked to me a few years ago, this would be a totally different interview?

Probably. I would have just been like ‘I don’t know what to say!’

You are still quite young though. Has your youth played a role throughout your career? 

I’m starting to feel older, which is a good thing. I remember starting out really young. That was the one thing, people were very skeptical. They’d say ‘wow shes only 19! She hasn’t lived!’ It’s also hard to trust somebody so young, because they think I might fuck up or be irresponsible.

I also imagine that people didn’t believe you were producing and writing everything yourself. 

There’s that too. I was pretty much doing everything on my own though, because I didn’t know how to delegate. It’s a problem.

Most of the stuff we hear about stateside from Montreal is the thriving indie scene there. You’re sort of in this interesting place, having done commercial work, having commercial success, but your music isn’t really, commercial. So I was wondering how you fit into the scene in Montreal.

It’s funny. When I do play shows in the US, it works really well. My music has never really seen in the US since the 60s. I played a sold-out show in New York last January singing in French — it was huge for me! I thought 30 people were going to show up. I realized that the demographic of the people who came to my show were around my age, and I fell into this category where the people really liked music and listened to all of the French ye-ye stuff from the 60s. It’s more on the indie side, and speaking French is more exotic in the US. That was exciting, because here in Quebec and in France, I fit into this very commercial, very mainstream pop category, and fans are in between the ages of 7 and 77. its very different.

So how I fit in Montreal…it’s weird because when you sing in French in Montreal, you don’t have contact with the English scene at all, and when you do it’s pretty awesome.

I didn’t realize there was this divide between the French/English scene in Montreal.

It’s not like, Romeo and Juliet where we’re divided and don’t talk, but there is a language barrier between the French and the English part of Canada, and it’s felt here in Montreal because it’s a very bilingual city, and it does affect the music scene.

Do you feel like it’s changing?

I hope so. I know for me, I’m playing sold out shows in Toronto, where people don’t really speak French. The language barrier is slowly falling apart. But we have the Junos here, and some reason in the Junos, a French band a French artist will never be in a category such as Best New Artist or Artist of the Year — it will always be a French Record of the Year. We’re this apart category, and I get it, because a lot of people don’t speak French in the rest of Canada, but it shows you how separate it is.

What about new material? Anything coming up anytime soon?

Yeah there is! I’m writing in English! I didn’t think I would do it. It’s for a totally different project. I was approached by a label I like a lot, and an artistic director I like a lot…I remember when people used to ask me if I would sing in English and I would say ‘you’re crazy!’ But now it’s got demos, we’re working on stuff…so I’m like, what just happened?

What’s wrong with singing in English? 

At first it felt natural to write in French, so when I started writing in English it sounded stupid. The whole “piano girl” thing. It was just way overdone, and now the whole theme in blonde, the broken little girl gimmick — it’s done already by a lot of people out there…you know, Lana del Rey…it gets really annoying after one record. I hope i’m not gonna write about that kind of stuff. It’s a bit blurry right now, but I’ll probably release one track in the summer.

What advice would you give to an up-and-coming artist? 

To make it, you have to keep working over time. That’s what I did. Looking back, my schedule was insane. I kept saying yes to everything. That’s how I made it…because I didn’t stop working. Now I can have a family, because I worked so hard.

Watch Coeur de Pirate’s new video for “Place de la Republique.”

Photos: Clara Palardy

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