Love can wear anything from scuba diving gear to confetti. On Petite plage, Ingrid St-Pierre’s lyrics are about getting married, and the concept of “us” in day-to-day life – motherly love, love that ages, love that’s ageless, first-date love, love lost forever, and self-love, even when it’s hanging by a thread.
“I gave myself permission to go where I’d never gone before,” says St-Pierre resolutely. Anchored in the present, and in the heart of emotional life, she’s poised to deliver her fourth album, a collection of all-too-human stories, carried by a groove we’ve never heard from her before, and that she wears like a custom-fitted dress.
“I feel like a lot has changed, artistically and on a human level,” she says. “I’ve had a wake-up call about a lot of things in my life. I feel freer, and it shows in my arrangements and lyrics.” If her voice sounds more grounded, she believes it’s because she’s “more grounded in life.”
Her major artistic influences are avatars of calm, dream-like worlds, like those created by Sufjan Stevens and Bon Iver, but the stylistic field is vast, and sometimes you have to err in order to find a better way home. “I love Regina Spektor’s immense freedom, for example,” says the St-Pierre. “Even if she’s a woman at a piano, just like me, and she does a lot of ballads, she can also do other tempos without being untrue to herself. That’s where I decided to go.”
Petite plage wasn’t created under the pressure of creating an album, but rather because St-Pierre had things to say. “Stories are more important than songs,” she says, adding that she was convinced there wouldn’t be an album. “I really had a lot of doubts,” she admits.
SOCAN’s Kenekt Québec Song Camp was among the major triggers for the creation of Petite plage. “My minutiae and fine-tuned nature is still there, but the freedom to write without restriction and fear became really important while I was there,” she says. “I also realized that the artistic barriers I had were those I set for myself, out of fear of losing myself, or of straying from what people expect of me.”
She was propelled by an entirely different writing method thereafter. “I felt like all my songs already existed, and that all I had to do was to let them come to the surface,” she says. “Also, it’s an album I wrote in my head.” So, how does one write without writing? “When you become a mom, you can spend your whole day at a café in front of a blank page. I found inspiration in my daily life, I was writing when I gave birth,” she says, laughing. “But as soon as I sat at my piano, everything just flowed out of me.”
St-Pierre admits to having put a lot of pressure on herself, bu.t not anymore. “No one was asking me to be the perfect mom, the perfect artist. I did that to myself,” she explains. “While I was writing my songs, I would ask myself, ‘Does the music universe really need another song? Why should I add one more to the lot?’ In the end, each song on this album was created purely out of self-satisfaction.” The past two years have also taught her to choose herself, and do her best. “My son never sleeps. I haven’t slept in two years,” she says, laughing softly.
The song “La lumineuse (lettre à mon fils)” is among the singer-songwriter’s greatest songs, the kind that make listeners’ eyes well up with tears. “I wrote it for my son, sure, but also for myself, in part,” she says. “It’s a maternal song, but also a song of kindness. You know, it’s OK to wish good things for yourself. Petite plage really is just that. It’s me giving myself a hug.”
As our conversation continues, I tell Ingrid that “63 rue Leman,” a song from her 2015 album Tokyo, was the soundtrack to an emotional family moment, the day when my grandparents sold their house. The song runs like a movie; you can almost see and feel the walls and their wallpaper. Her writing is just that precise. “I’m so moved when people tell me things like that,” says St-Pierre. “When I sing a song on stage, it’s like I press a Play button in my head and a movie starts, I see the same images. Each song is a place, a home to which I always return.”
She meets people and hears their touching personal stories after her shows, but St-Pierre believes it’s important to provoke a communion, meetings, between generations.
“When my friend Khoa Lê told me, ‘I’m leaving for Vietnam and I’ll film images for your music video,’ [“Les joalliers”), I immediately said, ‘If you’re going to Vietnam, I’m going too.’ The video isn’t staged, we really filmed it in a place where people go to dance at 4 a.m. I simply mingled.”
Petite plage stands like the light of a winter day, like a lamppost that doesn’t turn off even when the day dawns. “It’s a positive album, and I want people to absorb it. It’s so easy to absorb negativity, while beauty is tougher,” she says. We’ll work on that.