Photo by Juliette Lossky

Heartstreets hit the road to FME

We spoke to the local soul/rap duo ahead of their gig at Rouyn-Noranda’s Festival de Musique Émergente.

Quebec’s 17th Festival de Musique Émergente (FME) descends on the Abitibi town of Rouyn-Noranda this weekend, from Thursday through Sunday, and the Cult MTL music team is excited to take the trip up north to catch the sights and sounds of the party. FME showcases a who’s-who of rising and established Quebec talent with a smattering of international artists, bringing a mix of both free and ticketed rock, electronic, hip hop, folk and metal to the lakeside town.

Local soul/rap duo Heartstreets, who first performed at the fest in 2017 and return this year, describe the affair as a “summer camp for adults.” This year they’re joined on the bill by Half Moon Run, Loud, Alaclair Ensemble, Despised Icon, Kid Koala, Japan’s 5, 6, 7, 8s and roughly six dozen more acts.

Heartstreets, whose debut LP Why Make Sense , featuring a wide array of collaborative production talent that includes Ouri, Lust, Shash’U, Realmind, Beau Geste and A-Sho among its credits, landed to fan acclaim in February. Revisits from the project are beginning to drop, starting with the Ryan Playground remix of “Good Thing” and video last month.

Cult MTL hadn’t spoken to the fun, friendly voices of childhood-pal pair Gaby and Emma for a minute, so they took time from their busy summer schedule to catch up, hip us to FME and talk about the roads they’ve been travelling lately.

Darcy MacDonald: I’ve never been to FME, this will be my first time. So please tell me and our readers a bit about your previous experience there as performers, and as guests and music fans.

Emma: It’s a sick festival, and to this day it remains among the most fun and in the top five live shows we’ve done in our experience. It was a secret, unannounced show. We played at midnight after a hip hop showcase with Alaclair Ensemble, Loud Lary and all those guys playing. 

That was a paid indoor show and when it was over, everyone leaving the venue came across us. We were set up in the parking lot on a well-lit stage. C’était vraiment malade. 

Gaby: Rouyn-Noranda is this small town on the water, and (while you’re there) it’s almost as if the town only exists to host this festival. The energy is crazy. It’s open to the public of course but it felt like everyone we met was in the industry or in a band, so that was a really fun vibe.

DM: How did Heartstreets spend summer vacation?

Gaby: We did a lot of shows in Montreal and around Quebec. That was cool, we went to places we’d never been and participated in festivals we’d never done before. It was great to meet and make new fans and travel, too.

Emma: Right after the album came out we did a mini-tour with (French artist) Eddy de Pretto, too. And FME will help finish our summer on a high note.

DM: What is there to do in Rouyn-Noranda? Be our tour guides for a minute, here.

Gaby: Well, it takes a bit of a drive to get there — around eight hours — and we left Montreal the day of the show. We were playing at midnight and we got there around 5 p.m., so we had a little time ahead of us. To my recollection, everything was so close-knit and it felt like a huge summer vacation camp for adults. Everyone is just walking around, checking things out. There are shows happening randomly here and there. There’s a barbecue happening, so you grab a hot dog and walk some more and then, whoops, another show, like, in an alley or something. 

Emma: Another thing I remember that isn’t that big a deal but was still cool was they have those reusable plastic festival glasses, you know? And you could literally go into a bar and have a beer in that glass and then go out into the street drinking your alcohol, and go somewhere else with the same glass. So it’s ecologically safe and fun! Everyone is comfortable.

We ate food set up for artists so we can’t really tell you where to grab the best poutine. But we’re spending the whole weekend there this time, so we’ll get to know the fest and the town more this time.

DM: What have been your favourite moments as Heartstreets?

Emma: There are so many (both laugh) I’m overwhelmed!

Gaby: J’te feel! There isn’t one moment that seems bigger than another as much as just, like, good memories of shit happening. When we played Jazz Fest, with a band, in front of so many people, that was just huge and so awesome. And Osheaga (in 2016) was a big moment for us.

I remember being in the studio with Kaytranada to do (2017 single) “Blind” and spending an evening with him and it being really cool because he’s an artist we really liked and there we all are just making music together. I found that a special moment. 

Emma: And this summer, we did this le Festif! de Baie-St-Paul (fesitval) and we did a show on a bus! It was riding around the town for 30 minutes with like 60 people who had actually bought tickets to get on and see us. We were like, dancing around the bus and hanging on to people and stuff. It was a really cool experience. 

DM: So your debut full length album came out this winter. Tell me about the recording experience. 

Gaby: We decided to make music with all of these different people. There’s like at least 11 producers and even songs where we brought in more than one at a time or passed it on to someone else to have a cool mix of super-talented people who’d never worked together. 

We like working with new people because it makes us explore new ways of making music each time. 

DM: How did you keep up with yourselves creatively jumping from person to person, to stay creatively focused?

Emma: I just know that as humans we’re really aware of how other people are and how everybody’s different, so we’re definitely attentive to the people we work with and we’re able to size them and communicate properly so we can understand how they want to go about doing a song.

Gaby: I think also that for this project, this being our first album, we really wanted to be at the music’s service, and be sure that it could be the best it could be in our esteem. That meant getting people with fresh ears, with fresh perspectives, and being able to set individual egos aside and work for the music, and that’s it.

DM: What was it like to arrange all of that new music to adapt to a live setting?

Emma: We’ve done a lot but I feel that we still haven’t gone all-in. We’ve been doing a lot of the new music but we still haven’t done our like, headlining Montreal show (for the album). It will become a bit more complex because the summer was so go-go-go, shows here, shows there, that we can’t do it all. We need the time to refine a few of them. But we work with a fucking excellent drummer, and live we’ve been having a lot of fun and it’s bringing a nice element in to what we do, the three of us together.

Gaby: We got inspired to do this live formula when we were touring with Eddy de Pretto. He had a similar approach and we found it so appropriate and fitting for the type of music that we make. Because in the best of worlds, we have every fucking instrument in the world available to us and we can really explore everything organic and digital. But on the smaller scale, live drums mixed with the beats we use, made by people we work with that we consider sound geniuses, sounds fun and makes it really cool. It boosts our live energy.

Emma: Since we started out we’ve stayed independent and not only grown as musicians and artists but also with learning the ropes of how things work behind the scenes and how to keep the machine moving. It all helps us grow and we never stop learning, and I think that really demonstrates itself in when we get onstage and perform live. That’s the moment we shine the most. ■

Festival de Musique Émergente takes place from Thurs, Aug.29 to Sun, Sep.1 and full lineup, schedules, ticket and festival pass info can be found at https://www.fmeat.org/en/