singer-songwriters montreal best of mtl charlotte cardin

Charlotte Cardin is living in the moment

“The fact that I don’t live in Montreal anymore doesn’t mean that it’s not still a huge part of my sound now. There’s a very inspiring vibe to the city. I love Montreal and I always will.”

A year ago, Elle Canada described Charlotte Cardin as being “poised for  superstardom.” That line may have literally been written by her older sister, Camille, but it’s really not that far-fetched.

Cardin is one of Montreal’s biggest pop music success stories in recent memory, and has just unleashed another batch of soul-stirring, effervescent bops with her sophomore album 99 Nights, released on Aug. 25 by Atlantic and Cult Nation. The follow-up to her 2021 full-length debut Phoenix — which topped the Canadian album charts for two weeks, earned platinum status in Canada and helped her take home a bunch of JUNOS including Album of the Year and Artist of the Year — arrives equipped with some of Cardin’s most honest and emotionally evocative tunes to date.

Speaking to Cult MTL weeks before the album’s release via phone from Nashville — a “very inspiring city” that she was visiting for about 10 days doing some songwriting sessions — the alt-pop songstress said she was “excited” and “so ready” for 99 Nights to get out into the world. But what could she have learned about herself by the 99th night that she didn’t know on the first?

The title is representative of chapters in one’s life opening and closing, as well as getting out of the place you were previously in. But it’s also a bit more literal than that, since the title doubles as a reference to the summer during which the album’s DNA was conceptualized. “A summer is more or less 99 nights,” she says. “I think it might be like 93, but 99 sounded better. 

“During that summer, I was going through a lot of stuff on a personal level. I was feeling like I wasn’t sure what I wanted to express with this album, trying to figure out where I wanted to go with my life, who I wanted to be as an artist — one of those small existential crises you can go through in your life. That summer, the moments I was spending in the studio in Montreal with my friends starting to write this album were the moments where I could escape that reality. It was therapy for me, this album.”

charlotte cardin cult mtl student survival guide september 2023 magazine cover
Charlotte Cardin on the cover of Cult MTL Sept. 2023

Since she was having fun being among her friends, many of 99 Nights’ tracks were written “instinctively and spontaneously,” all while providing Cardin with a much-needed distraction from the doldrums of her sudden existential malaise. She described this album’s creative process as a very healthy one compared with that of its predecessor Phoenix, which saw her frequently revisiting old wounds and traumas. Instead, this album reflects a desire to live in the now.

“It was like, ‘I’m stepping into the studio this morning. How do I feel? And how does this feeling translate into a song?’ At the end of those 99 nights, I think what I learned is to trust my instincts a little bit more as an artist — to allow myself to be more playful, to encapsulate how I feel in the present moment and to translate that into a song, which I hadn’t really done before.”

By far the fastest song to have been written for the album was lead single “Confetti.” Written alongside her friend (and fellow Montreal artist) Lubalin, it’s an “introverted anthem,” as they both dislike being in crowds and at parties.

“When we came up with the idea, it felt like we had been accumulating lyrics and ideas for the song our entire life without knowing it,” she adds. “We were super inspired by the theme. We wrote it in a couple of hours. It was done super quickly. It just felt very natural for us to write about that, because we bonded so much over the theme of the song.”

On the flip side, the closing track “Next to You,” which she wrote with Patrick Watson, took the longest to complete. The two Montreal musical heavyweights got to know each other quite well while writing it, as it took six months to finish. Across that half-year span, the song would be worked on either weekly or bi-weekly. It was also around this time that Cardin — who grew up in TMR — decided to move her home base across the pond, to Paris.

“I would go to his studio, and the song progressed one word at a time, one sentence at a time, one chord at a time,” she continues. “It was a very slow build. I had never spent so much time working on a song ever. As I was writing that song, I was going through a lot of shit in my personal life, so the song kind of evolved chronologically as I was making the decision to move out of Montreal to go live in Paris. That was hard for me on a lot of levels. It was a big decision. The song is about that, but it kind of evolved as I was making the decision.”

After going 50/50 between the two cities for a year, Cardin has been fully based in Paris since January, though she frequently returns to Montreal to see family and continues to tour within Quebec. Nonetheless, the City of Lights has been treating her well. “I needed new inspirations, and I’ve been finding them in Paris,” she says. 

The last six years of Cardin’s life have felt like a whirlwind, since her 2017 debut EP Main Girl racked up buzz locally and abroad. “Confetti” has also gifted Cardin her biggest hit domestically to date, peaking at #15 on the Billboard Canadian Hot 100. Though she’s yet to truly explode abroad, Cardin saw Phoenix chart in the Top 30 in Belgium, France and Switzerland. The day after our interview, Cardin was announced as a replacement sub-headlining act on the first night of this year’s Osheaga, and she did not look afraid of the moment while onstage.

99 Nights offers plenty of other songs that showcase Cardin’s expansive artistic range. “Looping” flips a sample of Barbra Streisand’s “The Way We Were,” an idea that came from producer Felix Joseph. “We literally just started the song without knowing what we would be writing about with that sample,” Cardin says. He was like, ‘Okay, let’s loop it and make something.’ I wrote the song with Felix, my producer Jason (Brando) and Mr. Hudson, who’s an amazing producer who I love working with as well. 

99 Nights only has one feature, and it’s from none other than the much-hyped Montreal rapper Skiifall, who lays down a verse on second track “Enfer.” He and Cardin previously collaborated on his track “Yuteman Denis,” and the two connected after she reached out to him on Instagram telling him she was a fan. “It was super casual,” she says. “I was obsessed with his song ‘Ting Tun Up’… I went to his studio in Côte-des-Neiges — I want to say a year and a half ago — and that’s when we recorded (“Yuteman Denis”). 

“Then I had my song ‘Enfer,’ and I was like, ‘It’d be so cool to have the second verse be a rapper. I feel like the vibe of the song would be elevated with a good rap verse on it.’ We thought of Skiifall, because I love his music. We reached out and he was down. He loved the song. He cut a verse on it, and it was amazing. It was a very, very easy collaboration.”

There’s also “Jim Carrey,” which not only boasts the best Half Moon Run chorus Half Moon Run never wrote (we may or may not be trying to manifest a collab with that comparison), but the song even scored Cardin a 15-minute phone call with the legend himself. “It was surreal,” she says about the call. “I’m still processing that moment. It was really wonderful because this song is about how our ego is the main thing that’s holding us back from embracing our true self, and therefore being able to reach the goals we set for ourselves.”

At the suggestion of her producer Jason Brando, who had suggested writing a song about ego in the first place, Cardin found herself deep in a Jim Carrey inspirational-speech rabbit hole, as the Canadian comedy icon has done several speeches on the topic. These struck a chord with Cardin, and she used the song to reinterpret Carrey’s ideas in her own way and through her own lens — though she acknowledges it must be weird for him to hear those ideas in a song named after him. “If he hadn’t resonated with the message, I would have been really sad,” she says. “What he’s been saying about the ego and our fears and all of that has influenced me deeply. 

“When he called me and told me that he was really happy with the message of the song, he told me how he was touched that I had made art with something he’d been ranting about all these years. It was the biggest validation I could have ever gotten for the song, because he’s the one who inspired it. I literally asked him to marry me in a song (laughs) — he could have thought that was pretty weird! But he told me he loved the song. It was very validating and very elegant of him to take the time to call me. I really appreciated it.”

Though she’ll continue to work on new music before the end of the year, Cardin will soon be embarking on an extensive world tour, ending in February with three straight dates at Place Bell in Laval, the latter two already being sold out.

“The songs, especially from this album, will make the most sense when shared live,” she says. “There’s a collaborative part to this album that I cannot wait to live onstage with my band and share with people… I play more instruments onstage. I allow myself to be a little more free onstage, as well.”

“Feel Good” by Charlotte Cardin

She’s also currently hosting her own radio show on Apple Music 1, 99 Nights Radio, which has already released six episodes where Cardin plays her favourite music while chatting alongside collaborators and loved ones like her sister Camille, her parents and her boyfriend, fellow musician Aliocha Schneider.

In other words, she’s come a hell of a long way from being a semifinalist on the first season of La Voix a decade ago.

Even if she may be based in Paris now, she hasn’t forgotten where she came from, and Montreal remains a huge part of her identity and her sound. “My closest creative partners are all from Montreal. They all have music experiences linked to Montreal. I’ve travelled to a lot of places and I’ve never seen a place that felt like Montreal.

“There’s a very inspiring vibe to the city. It’s amazing to come from a small-ish city that has so much fucking talent. Having all these incredible acts that come from Montreal that have made it, that have crossed over in a lot of different genres, too, is just a really inspiring thing for an artist. I I love Montreal and I always will. The fact that I don’t live there anymore doesn’t mean that it’s not still a huge part of my upbringing, and a huge part of my sound now. Anywhere you live for a very long time, sometimes you need to step out of it to appreciate it even more.” ■

For more on Charlotte Cardin, please visit her website.

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

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