Bed-ridden in a Montréal hospital, Amylie could no longer move. Surrounded by her loved ones, she “didn’t have anything to offer anymore.” Even smiling was impossible. Stricken by Lyme disease, the singer-songwriter just didn’t have the energy. As proudly displayed on the cover of her current album, Les Éclats, her body was nothing but a shipwreck back then.
“I was unable to even utter a full sentence,” she says. “I spent weeks trying to figure out what was happening to me. I was constantly exhausted, I couldn’t keep up with my friends at night. At first, they thought it was cancer, then HIV,” remembers the musician, who needed 18 months to get back on her feet. “Once I got to the hospital, surrounded by the people I love, I understood something. Something clicked in my mind. I always thought that to be loved by the people you feel close to, you need to have something to offer. At that point, I was nothing, but they were still by my side. I realized at that moment what unconditional love means.”
Some people need years of psychotherapy to reach that same conclusion. All Amylie needed was being bit by a tick carrying Lyme disease. That fateful bite occurred during a hike in Bromont, where she was taking a voice training course. That tiny bite kept her out of the scene for months; oh, the irony.
Yet, her story takes on a completely new dimension now that she’s launched Les Éclats, a magnificent and calming third album that’s the direct result of her ordeal. In contrast to the romantic, orchestral atmosphere of her previous offerings, Le Royaume, and Les filles, the new album is a locomotive of song, much more raw and minimalist; the music has space to breathe. The electric guitars of Amylie, Gabriel Gratton and Olivier Langevin – sometimes reinforced with just a tad of barely biting reverb – lull us with grace and subtlety. The sounds and atmospheres are reminiscent of Feist’s The Reminder, a reference Amylie doesn’t deny.
“I started the preproduction of this album alone in the studio,” she says. “I played the guitars, bass, drums and Pro Tools! I wanted to keep things simple and remain true to what I’m able to play and need to say. It gave me a lot of confidence. I embraced that stripped-down approach. I wanted to put the words forward.” Out went the string arrangements and electronic programming that defined Le Royaume. “I wanted an album that would be easy to take to the stage without needing a whole bunch of musicians.”
“The job, shows, records, it’s all cool. But it’s fleeting. What you have, at the end of the day, are your family and close friends.”
Her lyrics reflect this wisdom:
Ne me regardez pas comme ça/ Vous avez tout déjà/ Je suis là/ Mais je ne vous appartiens pas, she sings on “Tout” (Loosely translated: Don’t look at me that way / You already have everything / I’m here / But I don’t belong to you).
Debout sur la branche d’un chêne/ Imposante comme la plaine/ Je me fous d’être à la hauteur, she goes on singing on “La Hauteur.” (Loosely translated: Standing on an oak branch / Imposing as the plains / I couldn’t care less about not living up to it)
She hits the nail on the head once more on “Mille fois”: En chemin rager contre moi-même… / Je devais être folle pour m’éprendre de mes chaines (Loosely translated: On my way, enraged at myself / I must’ve been crazy to be smitten with my chains).
This desire for freedom, and letting go of other people’s expectations, are everywhere on Les Éclats. Family becomes a haven on “Grand-maman” and “Système solaire.” “Because of my illness, I could no longer keep up with people,” says Amylie. “I could follow my friends on social networks, getting ready to go out while I was already in my pyjamas, exhausted. It was almost like grieving. The general grief of letting go of a constantly connected life. It takes a lot of strength to let that go. Social media feeds us from the outside, by looking at what others are doing. It becomes a type of pressure. Being in the hospital, surrounded by loved ones, made me realize that what’s most important was right there next to me. The job, shows, records, it’s all cool. But it’s fleeting. What you have, at the end of the day, are your family and close friends.”
Some would call that going back to your roots, others a renewed maturity. Let’s just call it life.