Helena Deland was recently in Toronto for the showcase we co-presented with Exclaim! and I had a wonderful chat with her about her music and songwriting.
What are you up to besides playing our showcase?
“Lately, I’ve been recording parts of the next EP, which is going to be like a short album of 8 songs.I’ve been playing with the guys and getting around to learning how to play synths. I’m also finishing a degree in literature right now. I’m in my last semester so that’s pretty exciting.”
You’re from Montreal, can you tell me why you choose to write in English instead of French?
“Both my parents are from Montreal. My mom is an English speaker. My musical culture has always been more Anglophone. I feel like it’s easier for me to write in English because of that. I’ve tried to and will again to write in French but I feel like English is a pretty straight to the point language. I feel like you need less words to get the same idea through. It’s very efficient in songwriting.”
There was actually an interesting article on The Fader about it. It mentioned different barriers artists sometimes face because they write in English in Quebec.
“I would probably have an easier time money-wise and getting subsidies if I was sitting in French in Quebec. And more time on the radio. It’s nice to have a project that can be deported.”
And it was, I think the first time I saw your music was on an American website Stereogum or Gorilla vs Bear.
“I think that the PR company in the States said they were interested In partnering with us and that’s what happened.”
Your most recent EP Drawing Room is a type of eclectic folk and doesn’t use traditional song structure. What influences that sound/style?
“I listen to a lot of different genres. I think that in songwriting, the songs that are on Drawing Room, are very closed to what I was listening to back then, which would revolve around people like Jessica Pratt, Angel Olsen and Sibylle Baier, folky stuff. The song structure always leaves space for every idea I want to exploit. The guys I play with are always very much amused by the fact that I see parts that seem like a simple structure but don’t naturally feel like a chorus. I feel like I’m a bit erratic and that translates into how I write songs.”
How did you start working with Jesse McCormak?
“He approached me when I had 10 or more songs written. I had seen him live a few times and was very much impressed by his project so when he wrote to me I was very happy. I wasn’t expecting it to work necessarily because it always depends on the vibe that you have with the other person. I’ve had experiences where good but hadn’t resulted in anything but with him he really understood and knew what I was thinking for each song.”
Since you mentioned you study literature do you find that you’re more involved with the lyrics or the melody?
“It’s always a constant process. I always try to be alert. When I’m reading, I’ll be conscious of nice sentences or ideas. Generally both the lyrics and the melody happen at the same time. Sometimes it happens when I’m walking and I’ll record myself on my iPhone.”
There’s so much emotion and story in your songs, is there a muse for your subjects? “Aix” sounds like it is about sharing your life with someone.”Baby” has a video where you’re like stalking some guy. Are these real muses?
“Yes there are. Different people. “Aix” is about someone that I met a while ago. It’s about being surprised to lose the precise memories of that relationship. “Baby” was just about a crush that was a week fresh. It’s not the guy in the video clip though obviously. That would’ve been so sneaky.”
When you started, it was a solo project. What made you decide you needed more and to find a band?
“Working with Jesse we decided arranging the songs on two guitars and then we had ideas for drums, bass and synths. We kind of arranged the songs before the band was created. That became the way I wanted to hear the songs. I’m lucky enough to know a lot of people already who are involved in the music scene in Montreal.”
What are your future plans?
“I just finished a dance song that is going to come out soon. I’ll also be touring around Canada in May. It will be my first Canadian tour with the boys. Of course I’ll be recording the EP and figuring out when to released it. It’s songs that I’ve written a while ago, so I can’t wait to get it out of my system. Finishing my degree is going to be great too.”