Nature and dreams both feel like go-to sources of inspiration for any artist, and that’s certainly the case for Naomie de Lorimier. Best known by her stage name N NAO (pronounced like “and now”), this chanteuse/multi-instrumentalist excels in making ethereal, delicate soundscapes defined by dreamlike pads and synths, lush echoing vocals, acoustic guitars, synthetic beats and a heavy use of loops — each in varying doses from track to track.
Chatting with Cult MTL via videoconference as she gears up to release her sophomore LP, L’eau et les rêves, on March 24, N NAO’s quietly bewitching dream-pop/folk hybrid comes together across 12 tracks on an album she considers the most important project of her life to date. It’s also an album several years in the making.
“I started writing these songs five years ago. The process was kind of slow,” she says. “I can’t wait to release them. I already have new music to release, so I have to clean that up to have another (project) going.”
All of this comes in spite of the album being the follow-up to her 2021 debut, À jamais pour toujours — an album she feels she’s lived two lifetimes since releasing. “I feel like I’m more calm now,” she adds. “When you start to write songs, the stories are from your childhood to adulthood. I feel like now, I’m really reset. That’s a good feeling.”
N NAO — not to be confused with the British songstress NAO — was raised by artist parents in the Plateau/Mile End during the ‘90s “when it was cheap.” She considers herself fortunate to have grown up around art and music, having also studied classical music at a school in Parc Lafontaine.
“I was lucky to experience art at a young age,” she continues. “I’m a hypersensitive human being, and I think it helped me cope with life to be surrounded by people like me.”
Outside of music, N NAO is also a florist, and used to work at Jean-Talon Market. This is where she met Laurence Veri, a ceramist who did the artwork for L’eau et les rêves. Aside from gaining a new creative collaborator, working as a florist taught N NAO “a lot about visual textures and colours,” and how to work with form.
This helped her develop her skills before studying fine arts at Concordia for three years, where she’s been taking classes in intermedia, sculpture, ceramics and performance. She’s taken a year-long break from her studies, however, to finish the visuals for her album.
Being someone who finds sanctuary in nature (which also helped her enjoy working as a florist), N NAO has endeavoured to spend plenty of time in the countryside during the pandemic, something she feels “disillusioned” with at this point.
More specifically, she’s been to musical partner Charles Marsolais-Ricard’s parents’ cottage in Saint-Jean-de-Matha, an hour and 20 minutes northeast of Montreal. The album was made both in her home studio and in Montreal’s les Studios Greenroom, but pre-production was spent at the cottage. Being surrounded by waterfalls and other gorgeous scenery — with some great hiking spots, to boot — has been a good way to centre herself during a truly chaotic time.
“In nature, you don’t feel the same way during the pandemic as in the city,” she says. “I went to a cottage in the forest most of the time. I had bad days and good days — it’s a bit lonesome, but I’m used to it with music and creative lifestyles.”
The influence of nature doesn’t just seep into her work musically, either: N NAO’s also doing image compilations for a multimedia study about freshwater. Documentary research about freshwater also influences the music video for “La plus belle chose,” the album’s eighth track.
“I think it’s a nice wrap-up to all the themes in the album,” she says about the multimedia study and image compilations. “I bring my cameras when I’m travelling in Quebec. Because I’m a swimmer and a skater, I’m really drawn to water all the time.
“When I started to film, I didn’t really know what (the project) was about. Then when I re-watched all the footage two years later — it’s on a tape, so I didn’t really re-watch it — I found that all the documentary was about water because that was the most beautiful thing I had to shoot, and I was always surrounded by water. I can talk about that for a long time! (laughs)”
The press release for L’eau et les rêves says it draws inspiration from “encounters, magic, nature and intimacy,” something she attributes to her work and life experiences being intertwined. “These themes are things I experience every day,” she adds.
“For me, bathing is a ritual. It’s really based on my daily routines. As a florist, a filmmaker, a musician and a performer, I do these rituals often. Being a good musician is being a good person, because we work with people. It’s really important to be better with all that stuff.”
When asked which tracks on the album hold the most sentimental value for her, she says it depends on the day, and that they’re “all based on my dreams and sensations super deep inside” of her. But she does point to “Tout va bien” as a song she holds dear.
“It’s kind of a spiritual journey to sing it,” she adds, later saying the drum sounds were inspired by Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight” — adding to the general ‘80s-like feel of the track.
“When we recorded it in the studio, it was really special. When you share a song with people in the studio, it’s a bit of a relief in a way — you’re not alone with that on your shoulders.”
N NAO joined the Mothland family in November, and they’ll be releasing L’eau et les rêves. Her experience so far with Mothland has been very positive, and she says she feels like she can be herself with them.
“I know that my art seems a bit soft, but I feel like I’m a punk inside,” she adds. “I really can be myself with them. That’s an awesome thing that I don’t really experience all the time with pros in the music industry… It’s good to have real friends that you can trust.”
Having previously worked with Laurence-Anne and Joni Void, she’s also opened for big-ticket Montréalais(e) artists like Patrick Watson and Ariane Moffatt. On top of that, she’s performed alongside Safia Nolin, Marie-Pierre Arthur, Jonathan Personne and Klô Pelgag, among others.
“In all my relationships with musicians, I’m super glad that, for example, these artists invited me, because it’s a mark of respect from them,” she says. “I think I learned to become more confident, and that we all kind of experience the same thing as musicians. So it helped me to understand I’m not alone. It’s nice to have inspiration and people to look up to when you do that, because it can be a bit discouraging.”
January 31 will see N NAO release the music video for her single “Tout va bien” and the self-directed clip gives off strong ’90s VHS tape vibes while staying true to the heavy influence of nature and water on her art. The clip zeroes in on scenes of a waterfall, before later showing a beach and the sky, before fading to static, and then back again. But the video also goes back to where it started, albeit showing the waterfall flowing in reverse and going upwards; a decision she says she made to mirror the song’s lyrics.
“I really enjoy distorting images,” says N NAO, who shot and edited the entire video herself. “I like how magnetic tape can do that. When I’m using cameras, I often break them because I’m too intense with rewinding.
“In nature, there are a lot of weather and temperature differences. That’s why I’m using it, because of the fragility and edginess of the medium. Also, it reminds me of childhood, so maybe it’s a nostalgic, subconscious thing. When I’m making art, I kind of want to become a child again.”
N NAO’s music has garnered critical plaudits from some major French-language publications. Perhaps most notably, France’s Les Inrockuptibles stated in a review of her performance at M for Montreal in November that her music “walks a path cleared by Jenny Hval, while also bridging the gap between Bon Iver, Portishead and Drukqs by Aphex Twin.” That’s high praise to say the least, and something that leaves N NAO “really touched” when her art is compared to artists she and her collaborators love (Hval in particular is a favourite of hers).
“I like the fact that they’re performance artists, but also writers. I’m super happy that influence is getting through,” she says. “Aphex Twin is really interesting. I listen to him, but also I want to do [that style] in the future. We talked about doing drum & bass, and more electro beats.
“In the live set (they reviewed), I think there was… not foreshadowing, but a vision of the future that was in the set that the (reviewer) touched on in that article. Also, my mother used to listen to Massive Attack when I was young, in the late ‘90s and 2000s, so that’s also in my DNA, maybe.”
So far, N NAO’s plans for the rest of this year involve releasing the album, finishing the music videos, and possibly playing shows in Toronto and elsewhere in Quebec. Once this album’s out, she’ll want to start working on her next one, as well as release a standalone single in between. As far as what L’eau et les rêves says about where she’s at as an artist and human being, it’s helped her learn how to become a better bandleader, and allow those she’s collaborating with to directly influence her music.
“I want to work with artists for their personalities,” she adds. “I want to let them be themselves in my music. It’s really helped me to be confident in what they’re doing with the piece, and not want to control so much. I’m controlling all the visuals, but for the collaborative aspect, I wanted to let them be more free.
“As a human being, (I’ve learned) to open up to people, and not be so scared of that. It can be vertiginous, but it makes for good music and good relationships. So, open up to people!” ■
This article was originally published in the February 2023 issue of Cult MTL.
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