When Myriam Gendron sings, people are silent.
Posted at 5:00 a.m.
She empties the air of the room to fill it with her guitar with delicate and never useless notes, and her soft and serious voice, with the tone of one who has no more time to waste.
She sings with her eyes closed, to avoid stares and dive into herself. When she’s done, all that’s left is the sound of throats closing and hearts breaking.
It is something that is hard to describe and impossible to forget. However, the folk artist says she is not a natural. “I don’t have the scene in my blood,” she admits. I’m still taming it, I’m only beginning to feel good about it. »
In the café in Villeray where she has arranged to meet us, she sips her herbal tea while speaking in a low voice. His gaze is calm and oblique. The attention paid to her person seems to bother her a little.
The other customers don’t seem to recognize her and that’s fine with her.
I don’t want the talk about me to take up more space than the music, I don’t want to get swallowed up by the entertainment industry, create a myth around me and lose touch with reality. I prefer word of mouth to do the work.
The plan is working. His two albums (Not so Deep as a Well and My delirium – Songs of Love, Lost & Found) earned him rave reviews from specialized media in the United States. “One of the best releases of the decade,” says Vinyl Factory.
In Quebec too, the good rumor is spreading. But not enough in my humble opinion, hence this interview.
It takes a bit of arrogance or ignorance to claim to make radically original art. Those who affirm it keep their influences silent. Or worse, they are unaware of it.
This is not the case of Myriam Gendron. “Make no mistake,” she reflected. Even when you think you are creating something new, you are crossed by all kinds of influences. »
She draws from traditional Quebec and American repertoires to rearrange them in her own way. She sometimes composes her songs. When listening, we do not distinguish between the two. This synthesis gives it its own signature.
Myriam Gendron started playing music in kindergarten. His school in Gatineau offered violin lessons. In elementary school, she was enrolled in the music enriched program. “We learned music theory, percussion, piano, cello…”
During high school, the family moved to Washington, then to Paris. She takes up the guitar. However, it is in literature and linguistics that she chooses to study, at the University of Montreal.
It will be marked by a course on Jewishness and Quebec identity. His work focuses on The Lost Canadian (A wandering Canadian), song by Antoine Gérin-Lajoie adapted by Leonard Cohen. It deals with the exile of the Patriots after the Rebellion of 1837-1838. Cohen reclaims it. He even adds mariachis. “The dialogue between the exile of the Patriots and the wandering of the Jewish people is very rich. It became an inspiration,” she recalls.
His approach bears the mark today.
Gendron created by pollination. She takes old lyrics or melodies, reworks them, updates them, and interweaves them with other tunes. On his new album, it gives Poor Girl Bluesat the crossroads of Delta blues and French-Canadian song.
She rewrites Poor Boy, Long Ways From Home, classic of the American repertoire, from a feminine point of view. She retains the versions of Mississippi John Hurt and John Fahey, and incorporates some passages from the text of Gérin-Lajoie.
“I don’t want to do a quotation exercise either,” she says. My goal is just to make a good tune. »
Gendron thus perpetuates the folk tradition. Long before sound recordings and copyright, songs were transmitted orally. From one generation to another, they changed and multiplied. Different versions coexisted, without it being possible to identify the author.
With Gendron, the result is both rooted and unique.
The story of my delirium starts at the record store Aux 33 Tours. With her spouse, she searches through a bin of cheap vinyl records. She finds Dominique Tremblay and Philippe Gagnon present: With stainless steel it rolls.
Back home, an excerpt gives her chills: At the heart of my delirium. “There were a lot of reels on the album, but that track was like a UFO. We hear a beating heart. The singer does not articulate, we do not understand what he says […] He sounds like he’s 92. »
Gendron is offered a one-week residence at Bic in an old mill converted into a boat repair shop, owned by the father of chef Colombe St-Pierre. She is working on it At the heart of my delirium. With her recorder, she captures birdsong, her 2-year-old daughter as well as the sound of the radio and tires on the asphalt after the rain. Everything is integrated in the registered version.
Before writing the album, she also listened a lot Anthology of American Folk Musicby Harry Smith, notebook in hand, as well as compilations from the folklore archives of Université Laval.
But Gendron does not see herself as an ethnomusicologist. It does not collect traditional tunes, and it does not attempt to preserve or propagate musical memory. “I am not on a mission! And the past doesn’t make me nostalgic either. »
Rather, old folk allows him to anchor his music in time and link the past to the present. It is also a constraint that stimulates his creativity.
On her first album, she composed the music and sang the poems of the American Dorothy Parker, who died in 1967.
I realized afterwards that I was able to write my lyrics. I wanted to try. But I don’t think it’s necessarily a higher form of creation. Some of my adaptations gave me more trouble. Whatever the process, the challenge is to come up with something good, fair and meaningful.
“By listening to these songs, you can learn how to live,” Bob Dylan once said of the North American folk repertoire.
These songs go straight to the point. They speak of love and despair, of life and death. But their meaning is never fixed. Like others before her, Gendron plays with codes.
” Farewell is a good example, she explains. I was inspired by False True Love, where a guy tells a girl he likes her, but gets caught. In some versions, the girl sinks into misery, she would have liked never to be born. In another, she throws him down a well, she leaves him to mold and she ends up being betrayed by her parrot. I wanted to offer another type of woman: strong and liberated, who overcomes her pain thanks to the power of her imagination. »
Another example, Shenandoah. “It’s an old sea song. The narrator is a woodsman traveling on the Missouri. He falls in love with the daughter of an Onesiout chief. »
The story is said to have French-Canadian origins. Gendron sings it in French. An exception among the dozens of versions in English, such as those by Tom Waits, Harry Belafonte and Bruce Springsteen. “Americans know their musical repertoire better,” she notes. They take it up in all styles. We are less used to this…”
What does this tell us about the debate over so-called cultural appropriation? Gendron doesn’t particularly like the expression. “I understand where this criticism comes from, she concedes. For example, I wouldn’t take up a slave song. When it rings false, we know it immediately. »
But she is sorry for the militant rigidity that separates people and freezes art. “One of the fundamental traits of the human being is his imagination. The ability to project oneself into the other is at the heart of the artistic experience, as much for the one who creates as for the one who receives the work. It is necessary to get to know each other better. It would be sad if we refrained from doing this to look like a good person according to the morals of the day…”
Questionnaire without filter
Coffee ritual: A coffee in the morning, made with my little Italian coffee maker. The rest of the day, I drink herbal tea.
Recently read books: The murderous lifeby the painter Félix Vallotton; Mrs Hayatby Ahmet Altan; When I say nothing I still thinkby Camille Readman Prud’homme; The M Folderby Gregoire Bouillier
A book everyone should have read: Don Quixoteby Cervantes
Music I’m listening to now: Glenn Jones, Robbie Basho, the record Archives by Cédric Dind-Lavoie
People living or dead with whom I would like to have dinner: Leonard Cohen
A person who inspires me: Marisa Anderson [guitariste de Portland formée en musique classique qui mélange l’avant-garde et la musique de racines des États-Unis]
Who is Myriam Gendron?
- Born in Ottawa, she grew up in Ottawa, Washington and Paris.
- Studies in literature and linguistics at the University of Montreal
- Librarian and musician
- Released two albums, Not So Deep as a Well and My delirium – Songs of Love, Lost & Found