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August 18-31
VOL.14 ISSUE. 26
HOME / STORY

Maintenant En Anglais

Craig Silliphant
Published Thursday February 4, 08:48 pm
Béatrice Martin takes up bilingual swashbuckling on Rose

Coeur de pirate
Broadway Theatre
Sunday 14

If you were to simply look at her face, Canadian chanteuse Béatrice Martin probably wouldn’t seem all that unruly. She’s more striking than the average 26-year old, sure, but her face has a certain childish, angelic charm to it. Even her early records ooze a comfortable enchantment. However, this cherubic nature is betrayed by a rebellious soul, especially once you take notice of her colourful sleeves of tattoos.

And if that wasn’t enough to convince you, consider her stage moniker, Cœur de pirate, which en francais, means Pirate’s Heart (or Heart of a Pirate).

“All my favourite artists had band names for their solo projects, so it just came naturally to me,” Martin tells me over the phone from Montreal. “I didn’t want to do it under my name.”

Martin started playing piano as a small child, and was enrolled in the Music Conservatory of Quebec, infamously, at the age of nine. While some pandering music writers want to liken her to Mozart as some sort of prodigy, she tells it differently.

Martin has Attention Deficit Disorder, so her mother thought that having a structured environment would help her concentrate.

“It did help me,” she says. “It helped my ADD, more than anything. My mom pushed me to do this because I think she saw something in me that I couldn’t see. When I quit piano and the Conservatory at age 14, I never thought that it would be of any use to me. I thought, ‘ah, maybe I’ll play piano later at Christmas parties or something.’

“But it really helped me. It helped me when I needed to write songs and express whatever was going on inside of me. I’m grateful for that, for sure. It keeps me busy. I think that’s the main thing. It keeps me in line.”

Martin began writing songs, and a few years later she was signed by a Montreal-based label after she was discovered on MySpace. She released her first album in 2008 at age 18, the self-titled Cœur de pirate.

 

“It’s kind of funny,” remembers Martin, “because I started becoming a little bit more famous in France first, before making it in Quebec. I was playing these really small venues in Quebec versus what I was doing in France. It took awhile for me to get to a certain status here in my own hometown, my home province.”

That status came, somewhat unexpectedly, when a Quebec City photographer named Francis Vachon used the track Ensemble on a YouTube video that went viral, which pulled her into the spotlight by way of coverage on Good Morning America and blogger Perez Hilton, among others. In a pretty extraordinary turn of events for a francophone singer, suddenly, Martin was being embraced not only in French communities, but also in English-speaking areas.

“I’m lucky,” she says, “because I get to experience both, I get to play shows everywhere and it’s going great. But there’s not a lot of us that get to do that. That’s for sure. I guess I may even be the only one to do this here, from Quebec. I know like, Karkwa and some other bands, did try a little bit. There’s Celine Dion, but that’s something else. But from my generation, there’s not a lot.”

 

Cœur de pirate’s first album was minimal but beguiling, featuring Martin, her piano and some sparse instrumentation. She could have kept to that sound for her second record, but her rebel heart and take-no-prisoners attitude wouldn’t allow her to play it safe. 2011’s Blonde is a hip throwback, a modernized version of the European yé-yé singers of the ’60s, like Françoise Hardy. Even early writing about Cœur de pirate seems to keep comparing her to Jane Birkin, who famously accompanied Serge Gainsbourg on tracks like “Je t’aime…moi non plus”.

The comparisons have fallen off now, but I ask her if that weak frame of reference to a kitchy artist like Birkin ever got annoying.

“Not really,” Martin chuckles. “But you know, maybe the people who started listening to me first, they were into, I don’t know, like, Wes Anderson movies. And then they got to me, and my first album was very much like that. Then I kind of changed. But it’s nice to see that people follow me in my evolution are still listening to me now.”

It’s worth noting that Hardy’s song “Le Temps de L’Amour” appeared in Wes Anderson’s film Moonrise Kingdom.

The new Cœur de pirate album, Roses, sees Martin continuing to move in new directions. It was recorded in Sweden with producers like PJ Harvey’s drummer Rob Ellis, Björn Yttling, and Ash Workman.

“It’s a pop album,” Martin says. “It has nothing to do with what I was doing before. It’s a progression. It makes sense with what I was doing before, but it’s so different. The piano is still there, but not really. I literally gave carte blanche to the producers. I was like, ‘you know what? Here are my songs. Do what you want to do with them.’ I was still there, but it was their work, really. I was just confident enough in my songs and I trusted them. I was a fan of what they were doing.”

The biggest change on Roses is the language switcheroo — the majority of the tracks are in English. There were both artistic and business reasons for the shift to another language. In terms of booking shows, promoters will be more inclined to book her in predominantly English-speaking territories if there will be some English material in the set list.

“But I do remember playing in Folk Fests,” she says, “just singing in French, and people were into it. I was like, ‘wow, okay. So maybe I can come back one day and play shows for real?’ But it’s been going great and it just shows that people are very open-minded now. I don’t think this would have been able to happen in an era pre-Spotify and pre-streaming, pre-Internet, really.”

On the artistic side, it’s obvious that Martin doesn’t sit still for long, so moving towards English was another mountain to conquer.

“Yeah, I mean, it was kind of a challenge for me, so I wanted to see if I could do it.  I knew how to do it in French, I just didn’t know if I could do it in English. I didn’t know if it would be corny or stuff like that,” she says.

“So I just tried it, and it worked. I think.” 

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