Vanille interview

Vanille welcomes listeners into an enchanted forest

We spoke with Rachel LeBlanc, bka Vanille, about her sophomore LP La clairière, a mostly-acoustic album recorded at a Quebec studio in the woods.

Like many of us during the pandemic lockdowns and curfews, Rachel Leblanc (aka Vanille) was trapped in her “microscopic apartment,” and found her mind was starting to crumble. She needed to get away from the stress of the city and the suffocating noise. She needed a way to think about other spaces. 

“Spaces where there are no humans, no industrial interference. Places like the woods,” Leblanc says, sitting on the couch of the co-working label space of Bonbonbon and Mothland, dubbed “Coollywood.”

To cope, Leblanc started listening to a bunch of late ‘60s folk music from England, stuff like Shirley Collins and Bridget St John, and more singer-songwriter English folk like Vashti Bunyan. She started picking up on the themes of timelessness and nature percolating throughout the music of that era. Nature was already a huge part of her life. Growing up in Laval, she would often retreat into the woods to be alone with her thoughts.

During the pandemic, Leblanc began writing her own mystical ballads, taking inspiration from her visits to Quebec’s Laurentide woodlands and finding medieval paintings over the Internet. She also discovered she was captivated by illuminated manuscripts from the middle ages, and especially the classic “big letter” or ink-drawn creatures that start off a sacred text or other important books.

“There are sometimes animals and stuff, but in the letter, so I began to draw from those images and it helped me to create new sounds,” she says.

All of this led Leblanc to create her sophomore LP, La clairière, a mostly-acoustic album that was recorded at Wild Studio — a luxurious remote cabin studio in the woods near Saint-Zénon, right on the shore of Lac Bernard.

La clairière still follows Vanille’s established style of music, but is much more intimate than her debut album, Soleil ‘96 — which was more inspired by the ‘60s rock of a band like the Zombies. Some songs, like the opener “Hop-hop” and “Le bois,” offer new instrumentation, like the harpsichord or flute ensembles, giving a more bardic, poet-singer edge to the music.

“It was the perfect time and place to record that album,” Leblanc says. “It was Autumn 2021 and we went for 10 days to the cabin, and the first snowfall happened, so it was very magical.”

“Le bois” by Vanille

The lyrics to album closer “Quand la neige tombe” were actually written as Leblanc watched that first snowfall out of the huge glass panel windows outside of Wild Studio.

Leblanc knew from the very beginning that this was going to be a very personal album. She was essentially creating a musical forest she could escape to when city life was, again, becoming too much. She had a vision and no one was going to stop her from seeing it come to fruition. 

“I wanted to be there for every step of the album and have complete control so I produced it myself,” Leblanc says. “For the first album, I was a lot more shy in the music industry and I kept silent. So for this one, I’m a lot more proud of it.”

La clairière is a completely new sound for Vanille, but she’s already thinking about and composing for another new vibe for the next record. Old and new fans of her music should know that she doesn’t want to be pigeon-holed into one kind of genre. 

For the next project, she wants to go for a more joyous “sunshine pop,” feel with big harmonies and references to the 1968 album Roger Nichols & The Small Circle of Friends — an album that had a frontman who wrote songs for Frank Sinatra, the Carpenters and the Monkees. 

We can only wait in anticipation for that one. Until then, get lost in her imaginary medieval forest. ■

For more on Vanille, please visit her Instagram.

This article was originally published in the February 2023 issue of Cult MTL.

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