For Laura Sauvage and Julie Aubé of Acadian folk trio Les Hay Babies (the third member being Katrin Noël), flying solo is a way to release their creative overflow. Launched a week apart, their respective solo albums are the result of very different sonic journeys.
On Joie de vivre, her first solo outing, Julie Aubé chose to record using an analog 16-track console. “I wanted to experience that trip,” she explains, adding that during the recording process, she was “really into Black Sabbath, Thin Lizzy, Captain Beefheart,” and ‘60s psychedelic rock bands. “When we started recording, I realized that the tape I had ordered from the States was defective, it wasn’t cut right. It had an impact, barely audible, on the sound, but it shaped the experience.”
“It’s the exact opposite for me,” says Vivianne Roy, a.k.a. Laura Sauvage, about her second solo album, The Beautiful, which delves into ‘80s garage-rock and new wave. “We used a digital console, but using old guitars and mics. We recorded as many layers as possible, because I really wanted to tinker with effects and sounds, play sequences backwards, add some noise on top of it… And then we cut everything that wasn’t necessary.”
These seemingly opposite ways of approaching songwriting are both tinged with an overwhelming artistic freedom that also infused the creative process for La 4ième dimension (version longue), The Hay Babies’ second album, from October 2016. Far from the pop compromise many young artists have to contend with after a meteoric rise, that album, recorded in a few days in a cabin, was a portrait of intense human and musical chemistry.
That lively and prolific energy carried over to both new projects, created in their spare time in between the various legs of The Hay Babies’ last tour. “Whether we’re working together, or each doing our thing separately, we never stop – because creativity is something you need to work on. If you don’t use it, you lose it,” says Aubé. “When I didn’t have this solo project, I’d sometimes spend two months with a song idea bouncing around in my head. Now, I can express it in my free time, and I feel more open-minded when we record as The Hay Babies.”
“All three of us are rarely together outside of touring. It’s more spontaneous to work alone,” says Sauvage, based in Montréal for two years now. “I really do see writing as my job. I think about themes and other ideas during the day, and as soon as I get home, I turn on my computer and grab my guitar.”
Sauvage, a very prolific singer-songwriter, has learned to trust herself over the last few years. With the support of Dany Placard, who encouraged her to record her first EP in 2015, she used her solo career as a platform from which to live one of her teenage dreams: producing albums. “There was no better way to learn this trade than to just start doing it,” she says. “I didn’t want to shoot myself in the foot by producing someone else… I was too afraid I’d do a shitty job.”
Aubé co-produced Joie de vivre with Marc Pérusse, and her solo venture also brought her a lot of self-assurance and autonomy, both in songwriting and recording. “It’s the type of experience that takes you further,” says Aubé, now based in Memramcook, about 30 km from Moncton. “For the first time in my life, I had to trust myself, because I couldn’t rely on Viv or Kat or Marc Pérusse, who weren’t there during the recording sessions. That was the biggest challenge.”
That learning process will continue soon, onstage. Used to being on stage alone with her guitar, Sauvage now wants to put on shows with her band, in order to triumph over solitude. “Being onstage alone is the loneliest thing on earth,” she says. “You go someplace, spend a whole day not saying a word, do your five-minute soundcheck, you eat alone, do your show alone, go to bed alone,” says the woman who opened for the Barr Brothers and Patrick Watson last year. “Now that I have my band, I’m learning to hold the front. Sometimes I wonder if I’m going nuts. It’s quite weird to be at the front of the stage without the girls. You really are naked onstage.”
Despite having only one solo show under her belt – and that was the one she gave during her record release earlier this month at l’Escogriffe in Montréal – Aubé knows what she doesn’t want. “I don’t want to do solo shows,” she says. “I want things to fucking rock! I already feel I tour quite a lot with The Hay Babies, all I’d like are a few shows a year with my band.”
In short, those new beginnings come with their own set of expectations and fears, and their own moments of excitement and uncertainty. Fully aware that she’ll return to the small venues where she’s played before with her trio, Aubé is optimistic about the situation. “Right now, there are six people on stage during the Hay Babies shows, plus our techs. That means there are fewer venues who can afford our show. I’ve always loved playing in dingy bars, so the prospect of starting all over again and re-living that period thrills me!”
Whereas solo projects often mark the beginning of the end for a band, the solo forays for The Hay Babies are more like rich interludes between albums. “Still, people get ideas,” says Sauvage. “People like to believe it’s way more dramatic than it is; we’re just doing it all for art.”
“Some people have a hard time understanding that we have a life outside of the Hay Babies,” says Aubé. “Even today, if I go to a café in Moncton, people ask me where the other two girls are!”