Chiiild Hope for Sale Montreal

Montreal artist Chiiild gets soulful and psychedelic on Hope for Sale

An interview with the onetime Usher, J.Lo collaborator about his new album.

Shuttling around South Shore Brossard from music lesson to music lesson during his early aughts adolescence, Chiiild remembers a fairly typical radio diet of ’80s and ’90s FM radio hits as the early soundtrack to his boyhood. Artists from Moby and D’Angelo to Hall & Oates and Stevie Wonder caught his ear from the passenger seat.

“I was heavily affected by what was on the radio, the music that I listened to from, like, just driving around with my parents and stuff,” says the singer and composer/producer, born Yonatan Ayal, speaking via Zoom from his Los Angeles home. 

“You know, my mom was listening to Q92 at the time. And Mix 96 was always playing everywhere. 

“You’re affected by that.”

Chiiild Hope for Sale
Chiiild is about to embark on the Hope for Sale tour

His new project, Hope for Sale, is a sprawling listen, despite its 31-minute playtime. Its soulful, at moments psychedelic roots blend jubilation and melancholy with a sense of familiar nostalgia for elements of pop music’s past. 

“When creating the music, if we remove the lyrics and just focus on the music part of it, (sometimes) it’s like, ‘Oh, how cool would this be? Like, man, I really want to do this, like, Fleetwood Mac type bass thing.’ And then let’s try it with this synth that didn’t exist at the time.

“You start just melding all these different things together,” he describes. “And then you’re like, ‘This makes me feel good. Yeah! Okay!’

True to his travels with an ear to the car radio as a youth, Ayal (who has produced records for Usher and Jennifer Lopez, among others) describes his experiences working as a hired studio hand as akin to riding shotgun along the creative paths of other artists.

“I like to be kind of a passenger before going off on my own journey. And as I work on my craft working in these, like, pop sessions, I’ve learned the art of finishing a song,” he says. “I got to support a bunch of different artists that were hyped, and just poised to be the next big thing. I did that for a couple of years. And I saw, like, ‘This person that got signed by so-and-so.’ And then I just saw people fumbling the ball over and over again, for different reasons. 

“And that’s something that’s so subjective,” Ayal continues. “There’s a lot of people that are really talented, but don’t know how to finish a song. And that’s kind of like one of the most valuable parts I’ve learned from. I can take your song and finish it. And then you have something that’s tangible.

“Or you can take your song to 80% and never release it,” he contrasts. “And then it’s basically pointless. Because until it’s finished, it doesn’t exist.”

When it’s time for Chiiild to take agency over his own creations, he still approaches his craft with the same sense of pursuit as a music fan seeking a satisfying experience, propelled more by instinct and sensibility than by intention. 

“I think in the creative process, it’s like, I’m just like, searching, I’m searching, and I’m searching,” he explains. “And then I almost only know what we did in hindsight. Like with lyrics, or anything, until I read it back and I’m like, ‘Oh, I guess that’s how I feel. Okay!’

Chiiild Montreal Hope for Sale
The new Chiiild album Hope for Sale came out on July 23

“And then I become the producer,” he continues, “and that’s kind of weird. Because obviously, I’m an artist, but it’s like, I also turn into the third person. And I’m like, ‘This artist wrote this song.’  I need to now honour and produce it in a way that brings up all the emotion.

“I kind of just go for the most potent emotion with anything. I want you to feel something. I try to tap into how I feel in the moment. I can’t make shit up. That’s kind of my rule of thumb with songwriting — if I wrote it, I lived it. Some people can just, like, make up a scenario and write a song. I don’t know how to do that,” he says.

But the result, Ayal insists, is left entirely to the interpretation of the listener, whether that’s the title of Hope for Sale, his lyrics or otherwise. 

“I’ll let you interpret it. It’s not what you think it is. But what do you think it is?” he laughs. “Will you tell me what it is? I’m more interested in that!”

Ayal doesn’t shy away from offering his own viewpoint, however.

“Like for me, ‘The Best Ain’t Happened Yet’ is a sad song. For some people, it’s really optimistic. And so it just is how you interpret it. And that’s actually one of my favourite things. Even hearing my parents say , ‘Oh, I saw the video. It’s about how you always get up after you get knocked down!’ And in my mind, I’m like, well, no. It’s about how you are in your own way. You’re the one that just keeps stepping on your own blessings. And it could mean both things.”

He does, however, make a point of letting people know that he’s an artist from Montreal.

“That actually gives (the music) more context. Because you listen to it, and now you hear the story, and you’re like, ‘Oh, yeah! I remember what was playing on the radio. I remember what this is.’ That’s what you’re getting on this record. Instead of people hearing it and being like, ‘Damn, this is really eclectic, I don’t even know where you get this!’ Instead, it’s like, ‘Oh, this makes total sense!’”

Montreal artist Chiiild gets soulful and psychedelic on Hope for Sale

Before heading out to support Leon Bridges on tour through the U.S. next spring, he’ll first bring his live show to Montreal in September.

Most hometown fans haven’t yet experienced his concert chops. Ayal describes the Chiiild live experience as calculated to balance respect for the fans, the music and his vision.

“For a song like ‘Pirouette,’ I like to live in the theme for a while. And I can go in and out of the songs much more elaborately, and kind of draw them out,” he says. “But at the same time, when you go see any concert, it’s like, people are just, like, hitting you over the head with it. They give you the verse, the chorus, then boom — next verse and chorus. So I’m not quite doing that. You get the songs for just as long as you want them, until you get a song that really does deserve to build slowly. And songs like ‘The Best Ain’t Happened Yet’ and some of these other ones, it’s like, if they’ve got good energy, then I’ll just live in them for a bit. I don’t want to jump out of it too quickly.

“But I think you have to earn people. And I think (this is) earning people’s attention. The way I see it, I’ll only give you a seven-minute song once I’ve earned seven minutes of your time.” ■

Hope for Sale is streaming everywhere now. Chiiild performs at l’Astral (305 Ste-Catherine W.) on Wednesday, Sept. 22, $27.50. This article originally appeared in the August issue of Cult MTL.

For more Montreal music coverage, please visit the Music section.