Interview: Canada’s very own Ariane Moffatt
Ariane Moffatt is somewhat of a superstar in her native Canada, which was why it was surprising to see her in a tiny club in the Lower East Side of Manhattan playing to seventy five extremely rabid fans. Her publicist had been trying to get ahold of me for weeks to come to the show and a nagging thought of “French-Canada? Really?” overhung the decision of going or not. But then I thought, fuck it, those bastards got poutine right, didn’t they? So I thought I’d give her a shot.
I had gone in to the show expecting nothing and by the end Ariane had performed the living fuck out of the venue. It might not be the punk rock I was weaned on but Ariane packs a huge show into her 5’2″ frame. I caught up with her after the show and here’s what followed.
DT: Hey, you hungry?
AM: No, I had beef tacos earlier.
DT: Where’d you get tacos at?
AM: Behind me, at the [inaudible.]
DT: Oh fuck, I love tacos. So that was a really fucking good show. You translate very well live, and I’m not trying to blow smoke up your ass by saying that. I’m recording now, by the way.
AM: I’m happy you ended up just doing it tonight, because you it was a way to make sure you were at the concert, and if you like the concert it’s more fun to talk after. [Laughs.]
DT: We also have the same haircut, I just wanna make note of that.
AM: [Laughs] Right on, boy.
DT: We should do a thing, we should tour together. I’ll do spoken word. “It was the night, it was very dark…” for maybe half an hour, and then introduce you “And now Ariene Moffatt!” We’d do it that way, but… anyway. Music journalism stuff. I kinda hate this, the stupid, dumb questions at the beginning.
AM: You seem already personal, and in your own way, original. So it’s already fun.
DT: So you’re bilingual, too. How did you master English?
AM: That’s funny to talk about, that you point out. Writing rap lyrics with my brother.
DT: What the fuck, you serious? That’s awesome.
AM: Dr. Dre and Snoop Doggie Dogg.
DT: So you learned English through rap songs?
DT: Shut up. You’re kidding.
AM: No, it’s true. My brother liked hip-hop and so we were writing the lyrics.
DT: That should be your next album. It totally should.
AM: I have this little dream of being black, hidden inside of me.
DT: There’s the quote, shit. We’ve got all these quotes already, it’s like a minute into this interview. Blah blah blah. Anyway. So, lets talk influences — definitely Kate Bush, right?
AM: Well yeah, but I don’t listen to any more of her stuff. As a teenager I was looking up to Ben Harper, Tori Amos, and sometimes now I don’t want to talk about it because I don’t love them anymore.
DT: Ben Harper went off, man.
AM: And Tori Amos, too.
DT: Ben Harper is like the Ja Rule of 2000’s folk. He just fell off.
AM: He became a bit Christian.
DT: You know he’s with the lady in Jurassic Park? [editor’s note: Laura Dern]
AM: The wife?
DT: Yes, he’s with the wife from Jurassic Park. That’s what he does now. That’s his thing.
AM: He’s having dinosaurs home and petting them. [Laughs.]
AM: [Laughs] He’s taking care of dinosaurs.
DT: Anyway. Woof. Back to the interview. So, Quebec is a very insular sort of scene from what I gather.
AM: That’s for sure, yeah.
DT: Do you think musicians can you break forward from this one city and its scene? It’s almost like being really big in, say, San Francisco, to a certain extent. How do you think “Quebec music,” if you will, is viewed by the rest of the world?
AM: I don’t know if it’s better than any other music, but I feel like we are not any more influenced by folklore or Quebec stuff. We like everybody, we are connected to the world, and I think there is something with the Quebec people in the kind of dramatic way of sharing things—emotions, kind of intimate, really dramatic, in our culture—so I think this is a point in musicians that I know are singers that I know from Quebec, that are really close to this, I don’t want to say “the public” but the way they share their music. There’s a point that’s differentiating us from these other places, this warmth. I hope. For the rest, Montreal, my land, is a good spot for creation and indie music. I don’t feel like I’m secluded. I feel like the language is a barrier sometimes, as a Francophone. Because there is an issue with protecting the French in Quebec.
DT: Can you talk more about that? Do they come to your place and [knocks] “Are you doing French music?”
AM: I’m doing English music. But for this one, which is half English, half French, I was surprised that people just understood. It was the creative process, it was just about showing this reality of French and English from my neighborhood. I didn’t have any problems with it. I have this sort of Rocky Balboa attitude, too. I like the struggle, I like the challenges. I believe it makes me grow, to face new challenges. It’s not easy to be between indie and this kind of commercial pop at the same time. This record is more in the left field, and that’s what I wanted, but it’s hard in France when you’re eclectic and you like to have a lot of inspiration—they want to tag you in a style.
DT: You strike me as a really fucking honest performer.
AM: Well that’s the best compliment.
DT: It’s not even a question, I just want to throw this thing out. There’s something that comes across live, where you can tell you’re really enjoying it.
AM: That’s for sure. I feel like a child in a sandbox when I’m on stage.
DT: But you’re not a dick about it, that’s the thing! You’re not a performance artist “fuck you for looking” kind of person yet its a powerful performance.
AM: “Look at my song!”
DT: “This my song, motherfucker! And it’s gold, no one’s gonna touch it!”
DT: Massive segue here. So I read that you came out as a lesbian in February?
AM: (sigh) Yeah.
DT: Do you feel that affects audiences in any way – their perception of recently-out artist?
AM: I don’t feel it yet, or I’m not conscious. I felt I was really welcome being totally myself. And I think it took a long time because I didn’t want to be stigmatized and really like “the lesbian singer,” and I wish it’s not going to happen. But at the same time, in this kind of era, with the cult of personality—you want to know who is in front of you, as an audience. I thought it was also respectful for my partner to talk about it. Because I did this record alone, I played every instrument on it and I produced it.
DT: How the fuck did you manage to learn every instrument? That’s amazing.
AM: I put myself in the studio, and I wanted to get back to the roots and having no compromises, and just try to do it. Plug and play the thing, jump on the drums, and then I did.
DT: So you’re up until 4 in the morning, and someone’s like “I want to change this” and you’re like “No!” and you punch them in the face?
AM: Well, there was nobody around to punch. There was a sound engineer in the end, but for a long time I was by myself in this kind of flow of creation. I didn’t start by thinking I would do it all by myself. It went on and on and I talked to my friends, producers, just to say “You want to work on this with me?” And they were like “I don’t know. You go back in the studio, finish it. And if you have a problem we’re gonna be there.” Everybody pushed me to do it and I ended up having played a lot of the record.
DT: Do feel that French-language music will get taken seriously in America, a predominately English speaking place?
AM: I’m not a psychic, I don’t know. I think what is important is that my music talks to the people. For now I feel when I’m singing French I don’t lose the people. They’re still connected to this room and this experience. I know it’s hard for me. It’s not easy for a label to sign an artist with half songs in French and half in English, it’s some kind of extraterrestrial—
DT: So you’re an alien? Can I run with that in the article?
AM: [Growling] I’m an alien! We’ll see what happens. It wasn’t planned at all, to do half and half. The songs were coming out, some in French, some in English. I just decided to go there. And after, why not go to Toronto, go to a bit of the States, I’ve been to South by Southwest. I signed with the agency, which is already a good thing, a good booking agency. And we’ll see what happens. What makes me do music is to put words on the hidden stuff we all have. It’s a lot about love and relationships. I’m not into this political kind of writing, and I feel that music is a tool to put out words on some stuff we all share but don’t say. It’s a way to make the soul visible, and people can touch their own intimacy through the music.
DT: Do you feel like you have to present a blank slate in order to do that, or do you bring your own thing into it and let people read what they will?
AM: What is a blank slate?
DT: Like a clean piece of paper.
AM: Okay, okay, okay.
DT: It’s an X-factor with your performance. Where I think you’re almost putting this blank slate if you will, this blank piece of paper with your song, and letting people read their own stuff into it.
AM: I like this image. Write their own vision. Yeah. I want to touch the little thing that people feel and can relate to. Everybody writes about love anyway.
DT: That about wraps it up. Anything you want to say to Death and Taxes readers?
AM: Pay your taxes or you’re gonna die.