Playing POP Montreal: Coeur de Pirate

The singer-songwriter known as a youth ambassador of Quebec’s chanson tradition tries her hand at anglo pop on her new record, Roses.

coeur de pirate

Béatrice Martin has spent the last couple of years challenging herself. The singer-songwriter known as Coeur de Pirate tried her hand at writing English lyrics for a song on her 2014 album Child of Light, a mostly instrumental record that served as the soundtrack for a video game. Her exploration of her second language was more fully realized on her new album Roses — seven of its 11 tracks are in English, and musically Martin has veered further into pop than she’s ever ventured.

I asked her about her linguistic and sonic experimentation, and how being a mom (another new-ish challenge — her daughter Romy was born three years ago) influenced the themes on Roses.

Lorraine Carpenter: Are you one of those super-bilingual Quebecers who had an anglophone parent and a francophone parent?

Béatrice Martin: Not exactly. My parents are both francophone but I learned English when I was like two or three. It’s been there this whole time (laughs). I also have family in Vancouver and a little bit everywhere, so I got to practise.

LC: How difficult was the transition from writing in French to writing in English?

BM: Honestly, I really didn’t know if I’d be able to do it. Writing in English is a different story. I remember writing “Oceans Brawl” — I actually wrote this a long time ago — and I told myself, “I can’t NOT record this, it makes no sense.” I mean,  it’s nice (laughs); I wanted to share it with the world. And so I got the support I needed from everybody around me, and people were, like, “Do it! Write in English. Let’s see how it goes.” But it was a challenge for me, for sure.

LC: How much had your French-language material crossed over with audiences outside of Quebec, like in Toronto for example?

BM: It’s actually fascinating because I starting playing shows not too long ago in Toronto — I only did Toronto and Vancouver, basically — I did, like, some folk fests, but in Toronto the venues kept getting bigger and bigger every time I would go. I remember playing in front of 20 people at the Gladstone in 2010, and six months later I was playing a big festival outside, and then I played Lee’s Palace and the next time it was Massey Hall, which was huge. I started getting recognized on the street, and it was really awesome, just from singing in French!  And these people didn’t necessarily speak French — some of them just had a little bit in it in school, and they really liked it.

LC: How big are your crowds in the U.S., by comparison?

BM: I’ve done three New York shows, I did one D.C. show, mostly the coast, and every time, I would play 700 to 800-capacity clubs. In the fall I’ll be doing the same type of venues.

LC: How much has having a child influenced the kind of themes you write about?

BM: Being a mom definitely changed my way of writing. I have a more positive outlook on everything,  even though I do have my insecurities and my fears, and I speak about this on the album, I try to look at it in a better way. I didn’t do that before, I was very dark — I thought I’d never get out of anything. I dealt with a lot of things, you know,  with my previous two records. I talked about boys, and that’s what I needed to do and I was stuck on that, which was fine. But I didn’t talk about what was going on with me, which was very interesting,  you know? The moments on the road, and the highs and the lows and being very alone at times — I just didn’t talk about it. Now I get to do that ’cause I grew up a little bit and I know how to explain it better in songs. Maybe (laughs).

LC: The sound on this record is more pop than usual — was your songwriting and recording process very different?

BM: Yeah. With the producers who worked with me, it was so different than what I’m used to. I wanted a second opinion on my songs, so I worked with these people who just kind of renewed what I was doing, from the demos up. They just brought the songs to another level. You know, the modern approach, the pop approach, is something that I didn’t do before. It was crazy to see all of this work.

LC: Will you be playing with a different band?

BM: No, the band’s the same, it’s just that we’re using a lot more synthesizers and samples, so it’s less rock. Less guitar, more samples, but it’s still driven and it’s still great. It feels different from the album because it’s such a different energy live — I’m not just playing a record and singing over it (laughs). I’m really excited to start playing this. 


Coeur de Pirate will perform as part of the POP Montreal festival with opener Félix Dyotte at Metropolis (59 Ste-Catherine E.) on Wednesday, Sept. 16, 8 p.m., $37-$42.50