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OTTAWA – Country-folk singer Mélanie Brulée was recently named Executive Director of the Music Industry Coalition of Ottawa (CIMO). An atypical Franco-Ontarian, we owe her two albums as well as the construction of a cultural link between French Canada and the southern United States.
“How important is your heritage as a Francophone from Cornwall as an artist?
My father is a Quebecer from Montreal married to a woman from Cornwall. My mother remarried when I was six to an English speaker. Legally, my name is Melany McDonald, but of Brulee birth.
I went to school in French. I remember we got teased if we spoke English in the hallways. We know what that does to children. What you tell me not to do, I want to do. It was not cool to speak French at school. It’s a shame, because the schools were trying so hard. There were a lot of artists coming.
On the other hand, my school career allowed me to see that there were artists who were doing business cool in French and that’s why I wanted to keep my Francophonie as an adult.
How did you come to music?
After high school, I worked for two years in Kingston and then left for Australia. I met a guy in a hotel in Sydney who played guitar. I started singing along with him while he played. It was nothing special. He had a little book with chords and he offered to show it to me. Playing the guitar really hurts when you start!
He has become a very good friend. We traveled together station wagon big enough to lay back and play guitar. We went to the east coast. It was a pretty intensive three-month guitar course, but it was disguised as smoking joints on the beach, having a beer in the afternoon, having a road trip.
When did you start making a living from music?
I played a lot on street corners to get tips. I gained confidence.
Tell us about your very first street corner…
It was in Byron Bay in Australia: I was 21-22 years old. You have to ask the merchants if you can, otherwise you get fired. I had made some open mic then friends encouraged me to continue. I had no money or job so I thought I might as well sing on the street.
I asked a store owner if I could sing in front of her store. She was hesitant. I asked him to leave me two songs and that I would leave if things weren’t going well. Finally, she came to give me change!
I got to know a community through this activity. Once, I was hungry, I hadn’t eaten. I couldn’t stop, because there were a lot of tourists, it was a rush hour. A Good Samaritan arrived with a sandwich on a plate just when I wanted to stop. When you’re connected with people, it’s like reading other people’s minds.
Then you went from the street to the stage. What was your first gig ?
I moved back to Kingston, Ontario at 26 and was playing the streets. One of my former employers bumped into me by chance and asked me if I had ever thought of playing somewhere other than on the street… Of course!
He owned a pub and asked me to come and do a concert there. I arrive to tell the bartender then I am told that the artist who was to come the same evening had just canceled. I was offered $75 to replace it with a three hour show.
I released all the songs I knew in the world especially covers rock like zombie from Cranberries. I came home that night borrowing a friend’s guitar. The amp was cracking. I didn’t have a microphone. I thought it was going to be my first and last show. They called another musician to help me. Finally, the pub offered me to perform every Tuesday evening. I spent my week discovering songs.
It took me ten years to develop my voice and my artistic personality. I came back to Canada in 2011. After six months in Cornwall, I went to an event folk in Toronto and moved there to boost my career.
In 2013, I applied for a grant from the Ontario Arts Council and was accepted for a residency program in France. I wrote poems every morning and evening in French to re-emerge in my language which I had lost a lot in Australia.
What motivated you to use the native language in your creations?
Coming back from Australia, my vocabulary suffered. I was afraid of losing my tongue. I told myself that by writing poetry every morning and evening, I was going to make songs out of it, then that my first album when I got back to Canada was going to be in French.
A project changes during creation. The poems weren’t good, I just kept a few in the end. But it gave me an impetus to resume French. I listened to music, television, interviews, etc.
We arrive at the first album Unbridled in 2015. In what context was it born and what was the first song?
I met director Benoit Maurier through Anick Granger, with whom I was touring the West. He was coming back from Winnipeg and we saw each other in Thunder Bay. We went to record a few songs at his place in Montreal. We did three demos. The first song was Scared of me, we did a demo with boots on a wooden floor. He really thinks out of the boxwe did some special stuff, but with good results.
After the recording comes the time of the publication. How do you feel with your baby?
Releasing an album is a huge stress. There is a whole area of doubt. A song is never finished. When we go out, it’s that it’s good enough. How the public receives our songs is none of our business. Our job is to make it and get it out. Regarding my first album, it played a lot on radios and satellites. I earned enough to be able to do my second in English (2018).
Beyond the fact that it’s in English, how does this second album differ from the first?
It’s more country, more Americana. I wrote most of the songs during a road trip that I did from Nashville to Las Vegas and obsessed with old movie music western. I have some fans in English and French. I worked a lot on my French-speaking side from 2013 to 2018. I then told myself that I was part of both communities so I had to give an album to my English-speaking community.
Life changed at that moment, because it is no longer making art to make art, but making art to be able to live. Music was my job, that was no longer the way I dealt with my emotions. This was the cause of my stress. That’s why I had a big depression in 2019. I wanted to stop completely for six months and my six months ended in March 2020 and we all know what happened.
We know of your dedication to raising awareness of mental health issues. Can you tell us more?
It’s no secret that my father committed suicide when I was 12. This is what made me want to learn more about anxiety and depression. I suffer from it too, it’s in my blood. When someone takes their own life, all that’s left are a lot of questions.
I got involved with the Canadian Mental Health Association. I did workshops with young people, fundraisers. I have a page dedicated to mental health resources on my website. It’s a mission given to me, I imagine. I see every moment of pain as an opportunity to learn more from others. Everyone suffers from mental health issues, if it’s not you it’s someone you know.
When someone takes their own life, all that’s left are a lot of questions. The pandemic has made us talk more about mental health. Everything that was very small feels really big when you are isolated.
Your artistic career has led you to the direction of the Ottawa Music Industry Coalition (CIMO). Under what circumstances did this happen?
I worked for the Canadian live music associationI made some tracking radio, programs, I worked for a management company. Someone on the board of directors of the association asked me to apply for the coalition. Initially, I wasn’t sure. Do I have what it takes to run an organization like this? Finally I did the interview and they told me that I had done really well. I know how to manage campaigns, I organized big events. I put all my strength into a job and I have the chance to make beautiful changes in the music scene. I know what leads to burnout and how to make a healthier community for artists.
What do you intend to contribute during this mandate?
I want a basic fee for the artists we hire. There are many artists who need work and who are going to do shows for less than it’s worth. There is television which pays well, then we have artists who are paid almost nothing on Spotify. If we don’t get paid with our royalties, how are we going to keep the music scene going?
Finally, I really want to refine our membership system so that everyone can talk to each other, do mentorships, get to know each other to really create a community. »
Key dates for Mélanie Brulée:
1982: Born in Cornwall
2003: Trip to Australia
2015: Launch of Unbridledalbum with three nominations at the Gala Trille Or
2018: Release of Fires, Floods & Things We Leave Behindhis second album
2022: Becomes Executive Director of the Ottawa Music Industry Coalition
Every weekend, ONFR+ meets with a player in Francophone or political issues in Ontario and Canada.