THE CMJ INTERVIEW: Ariane Moffatt
by Winston "Stone" Ford
I’m not a Lana Del Rey, I’m not a 20 year old singer from the Internet. I’m not the flavor of the month.
In the French-speaking world, Ariane Moffatt is kind of a big deal. Before I met her, I was told of tales about her selling out amphitheaters playing festivals of 10,000 or more people screaming her name.
In America, however, she’s just another artist trying to make it. Which is good for us, as she brings the intensity of playing an arena while playing such venues as Rockwood Music Hall and Arlene’s Grocery. Not shabby spots to say the least, but definitely a change from where she has been in her career.
No matter, as Moffatt is seeking world domination with her latest album, MA, an English-language pop masterpiece which sees her updating her sound for a non-French audience. We caught up with Moffatt and spoke about her influences and her choice to wade into the crazy waters of the English language music scene.
You released your English langage debut, MA, this year after spending your entire career in the French language market.
I’m in the part of my life where the ambitious aspects of my career have changed. It’s a balancing thing. One thing leads to another. It’s like little keys that open doors and at one point there will be that key that opens the big door to opportunity. I’m not a Lana Del Rey, I’m not a 20 year old singer from the Internet. I’m not the flavor of the month. With my background it’s interesting to come to this new music area with who I am.
Why release an English language album now?
For the first time I allowed myself to do it because I thought I could write and think and be a bit metaphorical with the English language. I’m totally Francophone so by nature, and my songwriting has been in French since I started doing this. In French Quebec there is a big issue about protecting the French [culture], and I was seen as a new generation of French aritsts that kept the culture going. So it was a bit of a risk, and I know it might be hard to understand from an American perspective but it’s a big issue in Quebec.
There was always an English part of me that wanted to come out, so I just went to the studio and wrote songs. Sometimes there are a few lines that come out in English and I used to translate it to French, but this time I let it go. It was not something I planned. It just came out in the creative process.
I like myself when I write in English. There is a part of me that it a little darker. My voice register is a lot lower when I singin English, and I liked the experience of going to LA to polish up the album with co-writer Simon Wilcox so the whole experience has been super.
It’s interesting. I’m not that familliar with the French lanugage, but I feel like it could be more expressive than English sometimes.
Yes, for sure. There are many ways to say things in French that are a bit more expressive than the English language, so it’s easier to find your own touch. English sometimes…I don’t know. I see what (fellow Montreal artist) Leonard Cohen does with English and I’m like “man, he’s precise!” Sometimes it makes me play a character since the my I know less of the language, so I can dive into it without having full control.
The first time I saw you was in Montreal’s Metropolis in 2008 doing some crazy things with an MPC Sampler with this jam band called Jedi Electro. How did you get started doing some of your Electronic work?
I started as a keyboard player for other artists in Quebec, and the whole producer side is really something I made up myself, getting interested in the gear and such. I love gear, I love playing and tweaking [with sounds].
I noticed this. You’re one of the few lead singers I’ve seen on stage that have a double keyboard setup with percussion in addition to your band.
I pride myself on this. I don’t believe that I’m a super virtuoso at one thing, I like a little bit of everything and I like to define myself through this mix. So if I can buy a looper I will, and I will sit down and figure out all of the things I can do with it.
You just played CMJ (Webster Hall and Arlene’s Grocery) this past week and SXSW earlier this year. What can people expect from your live shows?
I put myself in the state of mind is that they discover me. A lot of people here don’t know much about me so I feel like it’s important to be connected with the people, to open up this dialogue through music. I have a super band who have helped me as an established artist. Most of all I want to enjoy [playing music] as it’s a symbolic experience for me.
One of the most interesting things about your career is your sound. It goes from traditional rock, to R&B, to Electronic and everything in between.
I think my sound is just my taste in all types of music. I feel like a cook sometimes. The way that I can be creative is to take ingredients from all types of music. Sometimes it could seem like I’m searching for something because I have so many styles mixed up together, but the common denominator is my love of melodies and grooves.
I love everything, I relate to everything. I could see an indie rock/folk band then go to a soul or hip-hop show and it’s represented in my [music].
And who are some of the artists that you adore?
Everyone from Nina Simone to Jeff Buckley. I have to admit that I really like Ben Harper and Tori Amos. THose were the two artists [that told me] “wow I could do this as a job.” [They share] my intimacy [and believe] in the things that connect music with the people. Those two artists are really magnetic.
Ariane Moffatt’s album MA is in stores now. She is releasing a remix project, MA Remix, with Ghislian Poirier on November 6th in Canada and the US.