A quick search will reveal that L’arrière-saison is a novel, a red wine, and a colloquialism that refers to new beginnings. For Renée Martel, whose career is 65 years deep, L’arrière-saison marks the end of one thing and the beginning of another.
“It’s a fitting title for the album, as much about my career as my personal life,” says Martel artist. “One thing ends and another one begins. I feel like I’ve done so much in my 65 years of professional life, but today I feel as if I still have just as much to accomplish yet.”
Didier Barbelivien and Paul Daraîche contributed their talent to this album – one that’s found at a very precise crossroads on Renée Martel’s timeline. She’s got so many more stories to tell, despite everything that’s behind her. There are numerous collaborations, and young Sonia Cordeau even wrote the lyrics of the album’s last song, “Plus jamais mais toujours.” “This album contains some songs that were suggested by my artistic director, Lionel Lavault,” says Martel. “Writers whose work I’ve never sung before, but shoe songs I loved. There are also writers that I love to sing, and always do – like Nelson Minville, my go-to writer.”
All collaborations imply a certain degree of adjustment since, obviously, it’s hard to sing something that doesn’t feel authentic. “Martine Pratte wrote a song for me that was outside of my comfort zone [‘Où le vent soufflera’].
Nelson Minville writes in bespoke fashion for everyone he writes for. “Sometimes it’s just luck, and knowing the person,” he says, explaining that he often feels completely invested in the universe of the person for whom he’s writing. “When I’m writing for someone, I write for that person and never for myself. It’s not like I write a song and then pitch it around. I Google Renée Martel frequently,” he says, laughing. “She does a lot of interviews, whether it’s in Le Devoir or 7 Jours [a highbrow daily newspaper, and a gossip weekly, respectively, in Québec]. She has quite a pool of beautiful and not so beautiful stories to tell. I tap into everything I think she won’t mind singing about.” An honest and intimate relationship has developed between the two artists and Minville might write eight songs that don’t cut it before finally writing the one Martel will pick. “I once referred to the song ‘Liverpool’ [a song Renée Martel sang in 1967] in a song I wrote recently. She told me that was a song she didn’t want to be reminded of, that she didn’t want to go there.” On her album titled La fille de son père [Daddy’s Daughter, 2014], Minville wrote the title song, and that’s what cemented his relationship with the singer. “It’s the best I’ve done,” he says. “The title came to me in a flash as I was gardening. The song just wrote itself after that.”
It’s something no one would expect me to sing, but I did it anyway, because it felt like a challenge I had to face. That’s the glory of what I do; taking what I’m offered, and making it mine. You can’t make just anybody say whatever you want to!”
Launched on Nov. 2, 2018, this album is something of an assessment, a moment that encompasses everything, a reminiscence, and a commemoration. “I feel this album aptly summarizes my whole life, and they’re all songs I could not have sung 25 years ago,” says Martel. “You can hear what I’ve been through.” During the development process, she listened to countless melodies, and read just as many lyrics. She wanted to make sure that every collaborator would come up with the right words at the right moment. “When I sing, I don’t want people to go, ‘Ah, she’s singing such-and-such writer,’” says Martel. “I want them to feel that I’m the one telling them something. I’m the one saying those things.”
Picking songs written by others is never a straight and smooth road. Mistakes are sometimes made. “There’s an album, Réflexions , that I recorded way too early in my life. It was a marvellous album, but I sang about Marcel Lefebvre heartbreak,” she says, laughing. “He was going through a rough breakup. I sang lyrics that I’d never experienced. In hindsight, today, I would grab that opportunity to sing about my heartbreaks!” she says, amused.
During the last SOCAN Awards Gala in Montréal, Martel received the Lifetime Achievement Award which was presented by her daughter Laurence. “It was such a moving moment,” says Martel, visibly moved. “I was never nominated for the Female Singer of the Year award at ADISQ and I never complained about it; I didn’t get that Félix award, but I got so much more over the years. I take this homage from SOCAN as one of those recognitions that make you feel good, and confirms a lot of things.”
Next March, Martel will undertake a tour that will offer a historical tale of a show, where she’s the only hero. “It’s me, from beginning to end,” she says. “From my teens to this day, everything that left a mark,” says the Grand Dame of Country.
“So much,” Renée says when asked what she has left to accomplish. “I’m so not done yet. I have so many projects. I never really sang in English Canada, and I know I’m popular in Calgary; I once hosted a show for Radio-Canada there, and it was madness. French Canada knows me well already, and I’d like to tap that over there.”
Renée Martel has more than 70 years of life experience that colour her music, and she believes it’s incredibly enriching. “I’ve come a long way,” she says. “That’s something one can say at my age. After all, I’ve been through in life, I hope to keep speaking to people. I was their daughter, their girlfriend, their daughter-in-law. Some even wanted me to be their wife. Now I’m their granny, and it’s just right.”