New Years Resolution: listen to more vinyl

Do you make New Years Resolutions? I don't either! 

Normally, I don’t bother with them, but this year I decided to make one: listen to music more often. I’m not talking about passive music listening – the kind I do anyway while on a road trip in the car or the music I’ll play as background motivation while I work furiously on my computer. My resolution is inspired by a new record player I received for Christmas. I’m giving myself the challenge…no, the luxury to listen to music actively where I eliminate all other distractions and invest all my attention to the album in question. I turn my phone off, brew a good cup of coffee, press play and go! It makes me so happy! 

I’m a bit shy to admit that most of my vinyl collection (I only have about 10 in total) are hand-me-downs from my 96-year old grand-mother. One of them is a recording of Sts Donatien & Rogatien’s church choir – from Prud’homme, SK, recorded in 1961…I know, my collection has a long way to go!

Harmonium and Emmy Lou Harris have been on rotation for the past couple weeks, but my ears are begging for other things to listen to.

So, do you have any suggestions? What are the “must haves” of any vinyl collection? 

Holiday inspiration!

It (finally!) snowed in Saskatoon yesterday… well, just a little soft layer of snow, but this little bit gives puts the decorations and celebrations in the city into context and makes them sparkle -  and I love it! It also makes the -35 degree temperature a bit easier to handle...soon I’ll be able to go skating!

Sometimes when it snows, it feels like time just stops. And when time stops, I can take a step back from everything that is going on. It seems like a lot of people around me do the same… it’s probably also the holiday season that encourages me to look back, reflect and appreciate what has happened this year.  

And so in reflecting, I feel like I had a really wonderful one! The multiple collaborations enabled me to really grow as a person and as an artist. I learned about the importance of trusting new collaborators, I released a new album that I am very proud of and I also had the privilege of travelling to share this new music with so many people who took the time to listen -- in fact, the peak of the business during the fall had me visit 17 cities in 21 days (yikes!)! What a year indeed!

I feel so privileged to live all these wonderful experiences and to be an artist that makes a living from her music. I am so very thankful for the numerous collaborators, fans and friends that have both encouraged and helped me. Each year I love to take time to create little handmade presents for those who were there for me. This year, I will make them chocolates!

I am always especially thankful for my family. I can’t wait to spend some time with them at Christmas: chatting, watching movies, playing card games and eating! …and I have to say that the Normand family definitely eats well! Eating plays a very important role in our family tradition during holiday times. Whether it is tourtière (meat pie), perogies or my grandmother’s special “sucre a la cream” (sugar cream), we savour every bite!
 

It is a time that is truly nostalgic for me! And nostalgia feels good! :-) ...it is exactly what inspired the song Sing Me Home. That, and Joni Mitchell, a road trip to Alberta and a poem written by Victor Hugo. I wrote it after a peaceful walk in downtown Saskatoon in November, 2014 during which I took this photo:

How are you celebrating the holidays? What is it that brings warmth to your heart? What is it that inspires you?

 

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Buy Sing Me Home here: 

iTunes: http://smarturl.it/AN_iTunes 
Bandcamp: http://smarturl.it/AN_Bandcamp 
Spotify: http://smarturl.it/AN_Spotify 

Singing with Daniel Lavoie was awesome!

A friend recently wrote me a message after listening to the song Sing Me Home. He shared with me that he listened to this song with tears in his eyes as he sat on the floor of his living room. It was the nostalgic feel of the song, he said, that moved him to tears. The melody reminded him of the beauty of the Saskatchewan prairies. 

I don’t know if it is the sunsets or something in the air that makes the prairies special... but either way, the horizon seems to hold the hearts of all those that have lived under the prairie skies. I even think this nostalgic feeling might be one of the reasons why Daniel Lavoie accepted to sing Sing Me Home with me as a duo. (Along with the fact that he thinks “the song is beautiful”!) 

I met Daniel when I was involved in a show in Winnipeg in 2010. Daniel was the artistic director. He is also a good friend of Marc Perusse (my producer). So when I had the idea sing a duo on the album, the choice of who to ask was obvious. 

Daniel came to the studio in Montreal one day with a 6 pack of Stella. I remember thinking to myself, “OMG! It’s Daniel Lavoie!...okay Alexis, be chill”. Two seconds later I thought to myself: “OMG Daniel Lavoie drinks Stella! Okay, mental note”. 

Once I got over being starstruck, we went over the song together, checked the harmonies and Daniel sang his parts. After that, we kicked back and shared the beers he had brought. It was awesome! 

Daniel has a great sense of humour and is so generous and creative. I had such a good time working with him. 

I don’t know if it is the snow that just fell or the end of December that is around the corner, but Sing Me Home has me thinking about the magic of this time of year - the magic of celebrations, reunions and happy nostalgia that comes when we’re home together with friends and family. 

This is what I wish for you too -  all these good things and more during the holiday season!

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Buy Sing Me Home here: 

iTunes: http://smarturl.it/AN_iTunes 
Bandcamp: http://smarturl.it/AN_Bandcamp 
Spotify: http://smarturl.it/AN_Spotify 
 

Hocus Pocus

Several years ago, I was billeted with a woman in Granby, QC, with whom I stayed for a couple weeks. I developed a beautiful kinship with this woman of strength who I found to be very creative; a photographer and a mom who is very proud of her two girls. We have since lost touch, but there are bits of our conversations that have stayed with me. She told me that, in order to succeed in life and in my projects, I will need two things:

1) A clear vision of what I want: one that is so clear that all my actions and projects are developed around it, even if that happens without me noticing. When the vision isn’t focused, I have more choices to make, my decisions are more difficult and there may be more detours, which in the end, fills me with doubt.

2) A little bit of magic.

I understood the vision/work part right away. This is the part that I have a bit more control and influence over. I’ve often called upon mentors to guide me in my artistic and professional development, but I remain an independent self-managed artist that does everything: I compose the music, I pay the wages, I apply for funding, draft the business and marketing plans, I cross the T’s and dot the I’s and lick the stamps. I’m used to seeing the steps - the work needed to get me to point B from point A. And I work really hard.

I had a bit of a harder time understanding the magic. It was like I was just waiting for it happen, waiting for something to fall from the sky. As if some important person would suddenly just appear in my life to show me exactly which path to take. I was naive (I still am at times!).

But I’m starting to understand: magic is something that happens over a period of time. For example, if it wasn’t for Les rencontres qui chantent- an artist residency organized by L’Alliance nationale de l’industrie musicale in which I participated in back in 2010, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to meet Marc Pérusse. Our paths crossed again a few more times and, eventually, he produced my new record.

I see now that it is sometimes impossible to know how point A will bring me to point B or C. There is a domino effect within that process that is totally out of my control. The only work I need to do is to trust it.

Important people don’t just fall from the sky, but they are always around. Some are nearer than others. When I ask the right questions, when I invite them to collaborate, and when I listen carefully, I am inviting the magic in -- to come play in my backyard.

New Album

Good Lord, there’s a new album on the way!

Eeek!! I’ve just heard the masters for my new album… I had a perma-smile on my face the whole time. I’m so excited to share it!

This album was built on one goal: I wanted to better myself as a singer-songwriter and erformer. I wanted to write the best songs, have more control over the sound, and most of all, tap into a more authentic and personal creative source.
I surrounded myself with a team that would light a fire under me and push me farther than I could go on my own, including Marc Pérusse at the helm as producer. Luc De Larochellière as my lyric-writing coach, and I also worked with other Québecois lyricists including Daniel Beaumont, Mathieu Lippé and Mélanie Noël.

The result is amazing! Marc did a really beautiful job of the production… arrangements that flow like honey… 

As for myself, I learned a lot: I developed a great respect for the creative process. I learned that sometimes it’s the song that dictates which direction it will go - not me! Sometimes creating a song (or makin an album) is a process that takes several months (or years!). Sometimes the song just won’t write itself and it’s fine to let it go. Sometimes it takes me a few months to understand how to interpret a song - find my voice, even if it was me who wrote the lyrics. When I give the process time to mature and breathe, it has time to truly take off.

To celebrate, I’m hittin’ the road with my good friend and Franco-Albertan Ariane Mahryke Lemire who’s also releasing a new album. We’re doing a western Canadian tour together - a double-bill and double album release from Vancouver to Winnipeg (but not in that order!). After that, I’ll continue eastward on my own for my Montreal release, on November 11.

I hope to see you out there!

Bizoux,

Alexis

ENTR'ARTS: Artist Residency in Banff

I’ve been meaning to share my reflections from the artist residency that I did in Banff in late August for a month now... Lately, I feel buried under a pile of administrative work for my English album launch. I’ve finally come up for air air ... yes! Breathing a bit feels good!

I spent a week in Banff to attend Entr'Arts - an artist residency organized by the Franco-Albertans Artists Coalition. The idea is to bring together western Francophone artists (and four from New Brunswick). This year, there were twenty of us: 12 visual artists, 5 musicians, and 3 writers.

This was the fourth time I’ve participated in this residency. I always arrive with a specific goal in order to make the most of my time. Those who know me well know that I literally organize all my time! During the last edition two years ago, I was particularly productive: in addition to enjoying yoga classes offered by the sports center, swimming laps in the pool and taking long walks in the woods, I had time to write three new songs and compose music for someone else’s lyrics.

This year, I arrived with two objectives: to plan out my new show and write a new tune. But I felt torn, unable to maintain focus, to abandon my expectations. No yoga, no pool, no walk in the woods ... my head and my mind were like the mountains smothered by the smoke of forest fires in the northern United States. Total fog.

I was working on different things with different people: my new songs with Marc Pérusse; performance/staging with Ghyslain Filion; branding with Gabrielle Bouchard ... I spent three days working on business without feeling like I’d made any progress at all! It's funny how I was afraid of disappointing myself - afraid of failing to do everything! I put even more pressure on myself and I hit a wall.

I decided to change my mindset by taking a trip to visit the visual arts studios, and Sabine Lecorre-Moore invited me to paint something ... it did me good! Almost as much as the bottle of red wine that I had bought myself (I chose the brand "Screw It" ... to reinforce the fact that I had to abandon my expectations).

Day 4: the last day of work. I woke up with a little headache and a bit of "I don’t care-ism“ - a kind of "f*ck it" tattooed on my forehead. I decided to abandon my expectations and go with the flow ... and the fog disappeared.

This year Entr'Arts reminded me of the importance of forcing things less. No! The importance of NOT forcing things. Sometimes the pieces are all there, you just have to drop them into place.

I recognize the value of time that I spent with Marc Pérusse (my album producer!) - we were able to discuss the vision of the album, choose the songs, and rework others. We had the opportunity to learn more, work more together - this stuff is priceless!

Ghyslain Filion helped me understand a SUPER important thing: I already have all the tools I need to let myself go on stage. I just have to let myself use them! When force it less, I’m less afraid, I have access to myself - to the core of what I want to express as an artist. My delivery is therefore more authentic. I have the tools that will allow me to share the dimensions of my personality that I never dared to explore.

Land of Living Skies

I am fascinated by the effect of my surroundings. In Saskatchewan, we’re reduced to a great simplicity where the landscape is one of epic proportions - larger than life. There is a unique relationship between myself and the places grouped under this horizon that arouse my curiosity ... at times, it's the horizon that impresses me. The slogan on our license plates is too perfect: The land of living skies.

If you've already been to one of my shows, you've probably heard about my mother who is obsessed with taking photos. In fact, the word obsession isn’t even the best one to describe her passion. Suffice it to say she’s taken many hundreds. And my father, the most patient man, is often her chauffeur along gravel and dirt roads, sometimes covered in snow, following the light to take photos from the best spot.

I’d like to share a few, taken at the family cottage at Lake Wakaw:

... All of this to inspire a song: Le pays du ciel vivant.

Nouvelle Scène Gala - Artistic Direction

From June 8 to 12, I had the great pleasure to provide the artistic direction for Le Gala Nouvelle Scène in Regina. This is a week of training for new Franco-Saskatchewan artists, at the end of which the participants perform on-stage. The gala winner will represent Saskatchewan at Chant'Ouest (an interprovincial event) to try for their chance to represent the West at the Festival international de la chanson de Granby in 2016. So I had two main components to manage during the week: teaching participants and putting on the show.

Regarding the teaching, I was very fortunate to work with a great team: Giselle Lemire (lyrics, performance, managing stage fright, etc.), Christie-Anne Blondeau (vocal technique), Michel Lalonde (music industry) and Gent Laird (arrangements and musical director). We managed to establish a working environment in which participants feel comfortable opening up ... but really. We helped each participant to build personal connections with their songs, to create an authentic subtext that supports their performance ... and, from there, we saw them flourish. Using music as the thread tying the lyrics together, they embroidered a musical universe that was all their own. It was so awesome - in the true sense of the word. I was in awe of them the night of the show.

Vincent Turgeon, a journalist from CBC-SK that had followed us throughout the week, created some great portraits of the participants: Stephen Fletcher, Pascale Marceau-Koziki, Daniel Lelbanc and the duo Ferré et Fontaine. They have talent, they are open, generous, curious and so awesome ... Discover them here: http://ici.radio-canada.ca/regions/saskatchewan/2015/06/11/011-apprendre-chanson-participants-nouvelle-scene.shtml

On the concert side of things, I wanted to focus on the words / lyrics / poetry and wanted to find a visual treatment for the stage with lots of texture. I chose the theme: tailors of lyrics. To make the theme obvious, I wanted to literally have thread decorating the stage ... so I used almost 10,000 feet of cotton string to do it!

The whole thing cost me less than $200 in materials, but more than 20 hours of creation and installation! I have to give a HUGE shout-out to Daniel Petit - the lighting designer who believed in the concept and gave generously of his time and energy to help me achieve what I imagined in my head. The result was even more beautiful in real life.

Also thank you to Aurélie Labriere, the coordinator of the Franco-Saskatchewan Cultural Council and Audrey, her trainee whose help with the instillation was indispensable.

While the week exhausted me, I’m coming away so enriched. I feel like I learned even more than the participants: I was reminded that by communicating our love / appreciation / encouragement, we build confidence; I learned the importance of leaving room for people to grow; and, when done with love, I can push the participants (and push myself) even further than I thought. All to stimulate a more fulfilling and meaningful growth.

And we all accompanied each other through these many learning experiences. This is the pearl at the centre of it all!