Safia Nolin broke onto the scene in no time flat, last fall, with a debut album that didn’t go unnoticed. Limoilou landed on many a year-end “Best of 2015” list and was even rated 4.5 out of 5 stars by the influential French music mag Les Inrockuptibles French chanteuse Lou Doillon so fell in love with the “young, fragile and deeply moving songwritrice” — as Les Inrocks called Nolin — that she invited her to open for her for 10 dates on her December 2015 tour. “It was always packed and we had a few sold-out dates,” says Nolin. “We played on big-ass stages, as well as small bars and a few showcases. It was nice all around and Lou is f__king cool.”

Safia NolinA whole ocean separates Montréal’s Le Lion d’Or and the Casino de Paris, an ocean that Nolin courageously flew over for the first time flanked by her cosmic twin, guitarist Joseph Marchand, and soundman Francis Beaulieu. “The first time I played in a big venue was at the Paloma, in Nîmes, a brand new magnificent and impressive venue; I was floored,” says Nolin. “That’s when I realized it was a major gig. But once you’ve played a couple of those, it’s OK. Whether there are 800 or 2,000 people, it doesn’t change much.”

It was also Nolin’s first time on a plane. “I was scared, the whole city knew about it, but in the end it was fine!,” she says. “The takeoff is even one of my fondest memories. I slept a whole five minutes on the plane. Joseph woke me up because the sun was coming up. I played that Beach House track, PPP, and I wept. When we took off to fly back home, I was listening to Gila Now, when I hear those songs again, I relive super-intense emotions.”

It was, obviously, her first visit to the continent. Was it a shock? “I didn’t expect it to be so different and yet so similar!,” says Nolin. “We could learn a ton of stuff from them, but they could also learn a ton of stuff from us. I don’t eat meat… I had a f__king hard time! I didn’t eat any vegetables for three weeks.” What did you eat? “Brie and f__kin’ bread!”

On Dec. 21, a few days after she returned from Europe, the following post appeared on Nolin’s Facebook page:

“Playing “Igloo,” that mother__kin’ sad song that saved my life, in front of 1,200 people on another continent, thousands of kilometres from that goddam end-of-time black hole that inhabited me, that was the biggest emotion I’ve ever felt.”

Nolin poured all of her mal de vivre into her debut album, and especially into that song, her most powerful emotional and melodic statement. “When I wrote that song, I was really deeply in my shit, my life sucked, big-time,” says Nolin. “It’s different now: my life sucks, but differently. I have problems, but they’re not the same anymore. It’s always very special when I play it. It’s bizarre and fun at the same time.”

Her songs are pure and very melancholy, her voice is pristine, and her guts on the table. It could easily become unbearable, but Nolin’s dazzling charisma and sense of humour balance everything out. She can’t even begin to imagine writing anything but “sad songs. But you never know, maybe if I smoke a big fat spliff… I’m just starting to like music that is not extra-down. That’s a huge step for me.”

Safia NolinThis contrast between the melancholy songs and the fun girl with an endearing persona, is exactly how Nolin immediately and unfailingly got everyone in her back pocket. She’s all too aware of this paradox, “but it’s not done consciously.” Live, she addresses her crowd with uncanny ease. “At first, I wondered what the hell I was going to tell the crowd — it happened to me in France, too —, but I just stayed true to who I am, I said the same stupid stuff I say here, and it f__king worked,” she says. “They laughed a lot… Now, I have no idea if it was because of my accent or because my jokes were funny. We’ll never know, I guess.”

Nolin began 2016 pedal to the metal: Her schedule is booked solid until May, either opening for Louis-Jean Cormier, or doing solo gigs. And what about France again? Any offers on the table, yet? “No idea,” she says, “but I’m pretty sure I’ll go back.”