Q&A: musician Gabrielle Papillon

Papillon hopes her new album makes people "feel powerful and strong and brave"

Halifax musician Gabrielle Papillon released her seventh album, Shout, in October and took it on tour the following month. The record was a collaborative project both in writing and production, with a total of seven songs and seven producers. Papillon herself helmed the production, even communicating back-and-forth with producers overseas. “I’m quite proud of that because that was the first time I really attempted having such a heavy hand in the production of a record,” she said in a December phone interview. “I really love, and I’m really proud of the way I went about making this record.”

Read on to learn more about how Shout came to life.

Gabrielle Papillon headshot
Photo by Lindsay Duncan

How did you approach this album differently from albums you’ve recorded in the past?

I suppose I approached it by not approaching it. I wasn’t actually writing a record; I was doing a lot of co-writing. There’s sort of other projects, or open-ended co-writing, where there’s not really a particular goal. A lot of the instances, I wasn’t really writing for myself, I just was writing with another writer or a producer, and the goal is just to write a good song.

It wasn’t really something that I intended to do. It was just sort of accidental. After I had been writing with my most frequent collaborator on the record—after like the fifth time we’d written together—I sort of realized that we might actually be writing a record for me, and a bunch of the songs we wrote together ended up on the record. It was sort of a happy accident. I was writing very unselfconsciously and without myself in mind. I really wanted [these songs] to see the light of day, and they really represented where I was, and were very much written from the headspace I was in. It just felt like I had a really cohesive journey of seven songs, and I really wanted to share them.

There was a lot of collaboration on this album. What are some of the benefits of collaborating, rather than working solo?

The thing about collabing is that you have to trust someone else’s instinct, so somebody will suggest something that you wouldn’t have thought of on your own. And sometimes that presents itself really positively; you hear it and you’re like, “Yes!” You know, it’s like improv with actors: somebody pitches something, and you go “yes, and…” And you have to do that, both when you don’t really feel like it’s working, and also when you do.

 Sometimes the ping-pong is really positive back and forth, and you feel like it’s going really smoothly, but there are other times where somebody will do something, and you’re like, “Oh, OK, I don’t get it, but you’re really keen on that, and I wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t willing to trust someone else’s instinct, so let’s go with that.” I find it really varies, most of the songs on this record were more of that really easy volleying back and forth, and each person is putting in something where the other person is going ‘yeah, that’s awesome,’ and so that’s what the partnership, at least for these songs was like. It also takes away some of the emotional labour, and you do a lot less questioning because there’s two of you. If two of you are like ‘yeah, that’s great,’ then you’re perhaps less likely to second guess everything and almost over-labour each song.

Having had both experiences, collaborating and working solo, is there an experience that you would say you enjoy more?

No, I really prefer variety in my creative life. I like working on different projects on different days. I go through periods where I’m purely performing, then I go through a period of writing, I do these writing trips where I’m writing every day for two weeks, and finishing 10 songs in two weeks, and then I go through periods where I’ve been working on a long term project. I’ve been working on a musical, and that just seems endless. I like to be able to pick away at things, and for things to be different. I mean, even in my writing, my co-writer scenarios, they’re all different. One day, I’m working with an artist, and the next day I’m working with a producer, and perhaps doing completely different genres. I don’t really have a preference, I think it’s just a different way of working. I enjoy them both.

What’s your favourite song on the new record?”

When I wrote “Shout it Out,” I just couldn’t get enough of it, it was just a banger. “Don’t Want to Go to Bed” really speaks to me because there’s a very Radiohead kind of vibe to it. I love performing “Last Deep Breath,” it’s so much fun to perform, and it’s so powerful, and I kind of love the whole record. “New Age Faces” is important to me for the message [and] because it’s catchy, and “Among the Queens” is such a powerful song as well. I don’t know if I could pick a favourite, to be completely honest with you.

You shared some personal things in your songs, particularly about your anxiety. Was that something you were nervous to do?

No, not really. I’m pretty open about talking about depression and anxiety, mostly because I think it’s important. I don’t exactly want to talk about all the time, I don’t know if I want to be an ambassador for these things, but I think it just happened very organically, to talk about it onstage. These songs were being written while I was on this pretty serious journey: trying to find mental health stability, which is something we have to labour over. The songs are generally more powerful when there’s some context behind them.

I don’t really like attaching specific stories to songs, because I think that takes away from what they can potentially mean to other people. But certainly, talking about emotional state and headspace, and opening that dialogue, I know that’s really powerful for people who are going through that, and it’s important for me to be able to offer that.

What do you hope people will take away from these songs?

I hope it makes them feel powerful and strong and brave. I hope it allows them to dance with abandon and joy, and be proud of who they are, and maybe it gives them the courage to talk about it or talk about whatever they need to talk about.


Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for length, clarity and style.

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Rebecca Dingwell