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Cœur de Pirate: la vie en Roses

Jesse Kinos-Goodin

“I’m a wreck right now,” says Béatrice Martin with a laugh. “You don’t see it, but I’m a wreck.”

I’m sitting down with the Quebec musician, better known as Cœur de Pirate, during a visit to Toronto in June, months before her third album, Roses, is set to be released (it comes out Aug. 28). It’s the purgatory part of the album cycle — the one that comes after the album is completed, but before it’s released to the public — which Martin describes with a shudder. “Right now, it’s like, ooh, you are not feeling well.”

To add to her anxiety, she describes Roses as an album that does nothing less than usher in a new phase of her life, both as an artist and a mother. Appropriately, it features a lot of firsts for the 25-year-old singer who released her self-titled debut in 2008. For starters, seven of the 11 songs are in English, which is a considerable change considering her last album, Blonde, featured one English song and her debut was all-French. It’s also the first time she left the comfort of Montreal to collaborate with producers all over the world, recording with Bjorn Yttling (Franz Ferdinand, Lykke Li, Peter Bjorn and John) in Stockholm, Rob Ellis (PJ Harvey, Anna Calvi) in Bristol and Ash Workman (Metronomy) in London, England. And then there’s that rap guest verse on “I Don’t Want to Break Your Heart,” one of the most modern pop moments of her career.

“I had so many doubts with this record, like maybe it’s not the right decision right now, why did I do it in English? I just told myself I’m going to try and I hope it’s going to work out. But the pressure is very real,” she says. 

Roses is, easily, Martin’s most confident, mature and pop-oriented album to date, with lyrics dealing with issues such as fear, anxiety, love, depression and motherhood. And with a number 1 song in “Carry On,” as well as an American distributor in Cherrytree/Interscope records, it could be the album that catapults her to international stardom.

Below, Martin speaks with CBC Music about singing in English vs. French, finding her pop sound and whether she’d be comfortable letting her daughter hear her music.

(Album cover courtesy of Dare to Care Records)

Half of the songs on this album are English, which is a first for you (besides side projects, including 2014’s Trauma, an album of covers). You’ve always had an English audience who have been into your French songs, so why do this now?

Some of these songs I already had, and what happened is I started touring in Canada and the States and I realized people came out to see me because they liked hearing me in French, but the comments I was getting were, I love what you’re doing but I can’t understand it. I have to go on Google translate to understand what you’re saying, but we still love it. So why not share, for once, what I’m saying, my universe, with the people that don’t really understand French so they don’t have to go on Google translate. I thought it would be a challenge, and it was. I knew how to write songs in French but I didn’t know if I was any good in English, so I gave it a shot.

I can imagine it would be hard, even just down to the choice of words.

The images are different, the comparisons are different, the way you want to talk about certain things, it’s just not the same. There are ways of singing in English that are not just the same as in French.

Like how?

Just the way we are speaking right now. The way I am speaking in English, my voice doesn’t sound the same as it does in French, which is very particular. It’s just the way we use the tongue and the mouth and all the muscles over there, it changes a lot when you use certain words and when you write a song it won’t sound the same. You have to take that into consideration.

Would you then try to sing English but with a French accent?

No, that’s just weird. I know people who do that.

Do you prefer how songs sound in French?

No, I mean, it’s just, I don't know. How you pronounce and hold the notes is just different, and there is not that much freedom when you sing in French. The emphasis is on the words all the time, and it’s not the same with English.

I find, as a non-French speaker, I really like French music even if I don’t understand it because of the way it sounds when it’s sung. It just seems, I don’t know, nicer.

Maybe it’s just because you’re used to it, and pop is made for the English language when you come to think of it. French is not. I love seeing those differences, I love playing with them and toying with them and doing something different that’s my own.

OK, so English is suited more for pop, and this album is more pop than anything else you’ve done. Is it an attempt to reach as many people as possible, to make the biggest album you can?

Obviously I want to reach out to as many people as I possibly can. In my wildest dreams I want to be able to tour everywhere. I don’t know if i want to make it everywhere, but just be able to travel everywhere and see the people who do listen. I mean, the main reason I play music in the first place is to relate to people. That’s what I liked about music in the first place.

You’ve described your first album as being about teenage revenge and the second as a break-up album. How would you describe this one?

As corny as it sounds, it’s my coming-of-age album. I reached being a young adult without any time for myself, and most of the time I felt alone in all this attention, which is very ungrateful to say when you're doing this job. People don’t let you say these kinds of comments, so I didn’t. I just write it out. And sometimes I felt very alone because I’m not in a band or anything, it’s just me sometimes, and I lived through certain things, attached myself to certain people that were very toxic because I had no one else to talk to. I, you know, grew up, with all that and then one day my daughter came along and she transformed me completely the day she was born. In my head, I told myself I couldn’t do anything wrong anymore. I couldn’t hurt her and I had to be more confident. So while writing these songs, I had to not play the victim, I had to show her that I have confidence and can get through certain issues and problems. Through my insecurities, through my doubts, through my fears, and I tackled them in those songs. I tackle certain subjects that I never have before, like depression, like my mom — a very weird relationship with my mom — so I talk about all that.

Have you ever written a song that you would feel uncomfortable listening to with your daughter when she’s older?

She can listen to them by herself if she goes through that phase of her life [laughs]. Then she can listen to that record and be like, OK, so after me, she was OK.

You recorded this all over with different producers. First you went to the U.K.?

To produce with Rob Ellis, in Bristol. It was fascinating to work with Rob, who is such an old school producer who did records in the ‘80s and ‘90s and is a drummer as well, so it was a totally different approach. He brought in musicians, had them play whatever, and we put it all together. I was so inspired by all these musicians.

You also worked with Björn Yttling, of Peter, Björn and John, in Stockholm?

He’s worked with so many great bands, Franz Ferdinand, the Hives, and I’ve been such a fan of his for a long time. I remember when Youth Novels came out by Lykke Li, which freaked me out because it was so different and so crazy, using all these sounds but sampling them. I remember seeing him at a festival, being a little tipsy and saying, I love your work, one day you will produce for me. So, yeah, dreams do come true.

Did you always want to make pop music?

At first, I had this CocoRosie approach to my songwriting. It’s going to be indie, it’s going to be Beirut, but it didn’t end up being like that at all. It was chanson, which is fine and I have no problem with it. I’m glad that it went that way.

Roses is available Aug. 28. Order it on iTunes.

Follow Jesse Kinos-Goodin on Twitter: @JesseKG