“Did I stop to breathe?”

The first words of “Waltzing Disappointments,” the opening song on Pascale Picard’s fourth album, The Beauty We’ve Found, are evocative. “A song about depression; that sets the mood, doesn’t it?” she says, with a tinge of irony. “The message is clear,” she says about her album. “That’s where we’re going! It’s not post-partum depression; I battled depression when I was younger.”

Pascale PicardThrilled by the solo adventure on which she embarked on years ago, Picard has built a brand-new, light-alloy fuselage for herself, 18 months after giving birth to her daughter, and four years after her previous release, All Things Passed.

“When I started writing songs, my pain was my inspiration,” she says. “My life was very tumultuous when I was a teenager, I was truly unhappy. I talked about suicide a lot, and about all the dark thoughts that inhabited me. But it was too intense to express in French. It would’ve split me right in half. Writing about it in a second language allowed me to open up a bit more. Plus, my English got better with time.

“Having a child means I’m not alone in my own, tiny universe,” she continues. “It’s changed me profoundly. I’ve become hyper-sensitive in general. Everything seems more beautiful, or sadder. I look at everything with a magnified heart.”

Like a sneak peek inside a secret closet, this ethereal, pared-down album sees Picard baring the darker side of her moods – over layers of piano and strings, a few guitar licks courtesy of Simon Pedneault, and a silky, harmonic dialogue devoid of sonic overload. All this was achieved with the ideal musical accomplice, multi-instrumentalist Antoine Gratton, a maestro of textures, who offered Picard the perfect musical setting.

“The themes are rather sombre,” she admits, “but I do believe we all need to see both extremes of our souls. I didn’t set out to make a darker album. Antoine and I really connected, and we were all-in. He managed to dress up the songs without altering the demos I’d made.” In other words, the musical magic happened, but without any clearly defined rules.

Recorded in two six-day sessions at b-12 studio in Valcourt (where the collective project Sept jours en mai was recorded in 2015), the nine songs composed by the creator of “Gate 22,” her mega-hit, transcend the endeavour. “I didn’t want to punch in and out, 9 to 5,” says Picard. Both new parents, Picard and Gratton invited their own parents over, so that they could take care of the kids while the duo was working in the next room.

“I look at everything with a magnified heart.”

Picard is happy to share her varied sources of inspiration. “‘The Beauty We’ve Found’ is like the carpe diem song on the album: love isn’t permanent, but you shouldn’t stop yourself from loving someone because of that. ‘Witch Hunt’ is clearly a dark song, feeling rejected, the intolerance of others… ‘La tempête’ is the only song in French on the album, and it talks about the death of my step-mom, three years ago, from cancer. ‘Too Little Too Late’ is about alcoholism, collateral damage, etc.”

There are no drums on the very country “Rock Bottom,” and “In Town” sounds like it’s straight out of a Quentin Tarantino movie. “That song tells a story I could totally see made into a video,” says Picard. “It has a slight alternative-trash side to it that I like.”

One thing’s for sure, The Beauty We’ve Found is an essential bedside record. The lyrics are more accomplished, thanks in part to her participation in Xavier Lacouture’s writing workshops in Tadoussac. “It’s the first time I’ve developed tools for writing,” says Picard. “For a self-learner like me, that’s a bonus.”

Picard is now 36 years old. When Me Myself & Us came out in 2007, her English-language songs immediately shot her to the stratosphere of show business, and to immense potential for international success. Aside from the infectious “Gate 22,” several more radio hits came out of that album, and turned the spotlight on her. The woman from Québec City, who grew up in Sainte-Julie, then Charlesbourg, and Beauport, before settling down with her family in Stoneham, is an avid snowboarder.

“A lot of people asked me to sing ‘Sorry’ last summer [during her solo tour],” she says. “It had been quite a while since I played that song!” The context, however, is very different from when she started. “I played bars and I would get asked to play all kinds of stupid stuff.”

What advice would today’s Pascale Picard have offered to the 2007 version of herself? “I would sing ‘Whole’ [the new album’s closing song], which is about believing in yourself, and listening to yourself.”

We would be remiss if, after her generous conversation, we didn’t talk about the fact that Picard was invited (along with The Stills) to open for Paul McCartney at his 2008 concert on the marking Québec City’s 400th Anniversary. “People still stop me in the street about that,” she says. “I was really at the top, back then. The ‘it’ artist. We didn’t even do a sound check. There were snipers on the roof of the Concorde hotel! If Paul had come a year before or after, I wouldn’t have been the one they called to open. If he’d come this year, Hubert Lenoir is the one they would’ve asked!”