Geneviève Racette just release her first full length bilingual album, which was done in three parts. She’s been the darling of Sirius XM on the French side but is looking at crossing over into the English market with this latest release.
Geneviève is a passionate soul who lights up when she talks about her music and the journey that got her to this point.
La Terrasse St-Ambroise is a happening place, so it was hard to find a spot on a sunny Sunday afternoon to have a chat with Geneviève Racette. We eventually sat down and spoke about her Spice Girls crush, the grieving process, filming in an empty pool and why she started writing songs in English.
Listen to the album on SoundCloud.
Montreal Rocks: I wanted to start at the beginning. You grew up in a musical family. Was there a time where the music stopped being something you heard, but something you felt?
Geneviève: It’s always been something I’ve felt. It’s been a part of my life forever. I can’t even remember a time when I didn’t sing. I’m very emotional when I sing, I feel my music. When I was a kid, I remember singing harmony with my sister, sometimes crying. It was because I loved it so much and it made me feel so good. It’s always been very, very important to me.
Montreal Rocks: All your family is musical, including your brother and sister. What is your earliest memory of playing and singing?
Geneviève: My earliest memory would be singing the Spice Girls with my sister at about 7 years of age. My sister has a great ear and she would teach me how to do harmonies. That’s how I learnt to sing harmonies, singing to the Spice Girls, NSYNC and all the Pop stuff from the 90s. Those were good memories. We just danced, sang, and let it all out.
Montreal Rocks: It might not have had a lot of depth, but it was fun.
Geneviève: Yeah, it was fun.
Montreal Rocks: It was a time where music broke free from the doom and gloom 80s/90s.
Geneviève: It’s funny how each era has a different style of music that really stands out. The late 90s was an era, when I was 8 or 9 years old, where the music was super Pop and happy.
Montreal Rocks: Your songs have been picked up by Sirius XM, mostly on the French channels. Do you remember where you were when you first heard your song played on the radio?
Geneviève: It’s funny because I was not in Montreal, but in Florida. I don’t have Sirius XM. I was with my mother, in a rented car driving from Tampa to Sarasota, which is about 2 hours. My mom suggested we put on Sirius XM on the French channel and hopefully catch my tune.
We drove for 2 ½ hours and we didn’t hear it. I was a little disappointed.
The next day, we put our stuff in the car to go to the beach. We literally turned on the car and boom…my song was on. That was exciting. It was also kind of strange…I was on vacation…there were palm trees everywhere and I heard my own song on the radio. It was really exciting.
Montreal Rocks: What did it feed in you?
Geneviève: I was very proud. It was cool to hear it in the car. Yes, I had heard it on the CD, but then hearing in in the car: Wow! It sounds good, just as good as all the other songs playing.
It’s weird to hear your own voice. Your song finishes and then you hear someone else’s song. Definitely strange.
Montreal Rocks: I wonder what the next song was.
Geneviève: I think it was Phillippe Brach.
Montreal Rocks: The new album is No Water No Flowers. You talk a lot about relationships in your lyrics. What do you do in your relationships to water them?
Geneviève: In a relationship, you have to listen to the other person’s needs, be careful of what they are feeling and not ignore that.
I like that you interpreted it with relationships, but for me, No Water No Flowers is more about the circle of life. Bad things happen in life, so that possibly good things can happen after. Everything happens for a reason. For me, No Water No Flowers was more about grieving.
A lot of the songs can be interpreted as relationship songs, but a lot of them talk about grief, about losing someone you love. I did lose family members in the past few years and it inspired me, as an artist, to write more and to express myself in a different way.
Bad things happened in my life, but they brought on these beautiful things that I created.
Montreal Rocks: You can honor their memory by having something created out of that tragedy.
Geneviève: Yeah. It was almost an accident, all these songs that I wrote. It was the first time where music really felt like therapy.
I used to write music and say: “I want to write music.” This time, it was: “I NEED to write music.”
I had to write these songs. It had to come out.
Montreal Rocks: Sometimes, the best creative visions happen when there are extremes. Extreme happiness or extreme sadness. It’s beautiful when you can turn that around and create something.
Geneviève: I tried. (laughs)
Montreal Rocks: I loved the video for “Magnetic Love” because it was filmed at Bain Mathieu. It’s a really cool venue.
Geneviève: Yes, I love that place.
Montreal Rocks: I keep going back to this water thing. Here you are in this pool that is empty. What was the concept behind the video?
Geneviève: The video started as an idea that we changed a million times. At first, it wasn’t supposed to be a live video, but then I thought of Bain Mathieu. That would be perfect! It just clicked.
Like you said, there is the water thing, and it sounds great because it’s an empty pool. It looks cool as well. It was a last-minute change because they had availability for me to film.
We took the song, which was with a pretty full band and we had to make it smaller. In the original song, it’s the double bass that does the bow. I was trying to think: How can I make this song sound as good, but with less musicians? I choose to incorporate the cello instead. It all fell together so well.
Even the ones I was working with were asking me if I could pull this video off in just five hours. I had this confidence in me that we would, and we did.
It looks great. Jean Philippe Sansfaçon filmed it and he is super talented. I’m happy he accepted to work with me again.
Montreal Rocks: You were thrown into the deep end…literally!
(I then shared the tragic story of Christine Atallah, a friend of mine whom I met at her Bain Mathieu performance. I have bitter sweet memories of that place. Christine passed away on October 29, 2011, a few weeks after falling off a horse during a video shoot.)
It all relates when you feel loss.
Geneviève: There is something missing inside of you, for sure.
Montreal Rocks: It makes you want to appreciate life.
Geneviève: It was my great aunt that I lost. She was young when she passed. She was the cool aunt and I loved her. She would come to my shows, help me out and even drive me around.
When I say: No Water No Flowers, it’s me saying that since she has passed, I’ve been appreciating life so much. Everyday counts.
It was my first time grieving someone that was really close to me. Some things just clicked. I stopped drinking alcohol, my relationship with it was not good. I needed to live my life fully and stop doing things that were bad for me.
No Water No Flower is more than just songs. My life had changed.
Montreal Rocks: Talking about how personal this album is. I find that language and the heart go together. I don’t find I connect with French music, even though I’m half Québequois. It’s a big part of who I am, but it doesn’t reach my heart like English music does. Was that a conscious decision to move towards English songs?
Geneviève: Yeah. I’ve always done both, but I’ve never released English songs. There was a part of me that was nervous to do it with the climate in Quebec. We are not in the 70s anymore, but especially in arts and culture, there is still friction.
I grew up in the West-Island, in Dorval, so I’m fully bilingual…well…I have a little accent, but I’m working on it. (It’s adorable.) My whole life was half-half. I come from a long line of bilingual family. To me, English is not just this language that sounds good in a song. I have things to say in that language.
The first song that I wrote in English was “Margo’s Song.” I wrote that song for my aunt Margo and she is Anglophone and I wanted her to understand it and to reflect who she is.
“Oh…I like this. I can do more!” So, I wrote a bunch more.
Montreal Rocks: Do you write in French and translate?
Geneviève: No, I don’t like to translate. Like you said, language and the heart. If I’m translating the song, I’m killing the vibe.
Montreal Rocks: You just released the album two days ago. You also had a performance at Sala Rossa. How did that go?
Geneviève: It was crazy insane. I was literally expecting 70 people. The barman was asking me when he was placing the tables, how many would come. Fifty to seventy, maybe one hundred…and two hundred people showed up!
I couldn’t believe it. I’m still shocked! It’s a good shock…awesome. That was the only thing I was nervous about, that not a lot of people would show up. When I saw that the room was full, I was no longer nervous.
We played the whole album, in order. It was a great night where everyone felt very relaxed and happy. I tried to talk to every single person that was there.
I’m very proud. I feel light and relieved. I’m so happy that it’s out (the album).
Montreal Rocks: I’m sad.
Geneviève: You’re sad?
Montreal Rocks: I’m sad that I was out of town and missed it. I do hear that when you play live, you explain the songs before you play them. Why?
Geneviève: As an audience member, when I go to a show, that’s what I like. Even when I love the song and I think I know what it’s talking about, when an artist describes what the song is really about, or the situation around it…I love that.
I love songwriting so I want to know what the songs are about. I try to share that with my songs. Like you said, my album is very personal. I really opened up the other night at the launch. I said exactly what these songs were about. I didn’t name any names, but I really tried to open up. A lot of people talked to me about that, actually, after the show. How they really liked that and how they now look at the songs in a different way.
Montreal Rocks: Vulnerability is something that is becoming more and more important. Anyone can write a song and release it on Spotify or iTunes, but to reach someone with a message, it has to come down to authenticity.
Geneviève: That’s a good word: Vulnerability. I really chose to be vulnerable with this album. I put it all out: “This is me and I’m going through this.”
Montreal Rocks: Vulnerability goes together with strength. More and more we are able to talk about mental illness, depression, darkness, and suicidal thoughts. To talk about that, you have to be extremely vulnerable and it’s very scary.
Geneviève: It’s important. I have a lot of artist friends who say: “I don’t want to allow myself to take a break. I need to make more music right away, or people will forget who I am.”
No! You can take a break. Being an artist, sometimes sucks. (laughs) You live things very intensely. Sometimes you need a break. My audience understands that, especially now that I’m being so open about it. It’s powerful to talk about how you are feeling.
“It’s powerful to talk about how you are feeling.” – Geneviève Racette
I’ve had people in my past, in my teens, who I don’t work with anymore, tell me: “Don’t write that you are sad on your Facebook page.” I’m like…no! I love it if I see John Mayer write something like: “This show was horrible. I feel upset.” Yeah…I can relate to that. It’s important to be human. Artists are not robots; we need to share. That’s what we are here for, right?
Montreal Rocks: The worst part is when people put artists on a pedestal. They become so high that they can’t relate. Then, they are in their own bubble world. To keep that connection and be real with your fans, it’s like you are lifting them up to be more at your level.
Geneviève: Yeah! This has nothing to do with my music, but I remember when Demi Lovato, who’s been sober for a while, fell off the wagon. She opened up and spoke about it online. I thought it was great that she talked about it, instead of letting the press rule the story. She went all out.
Montreal Rocks: She took control of the narrative.
Geneviève: Yeah. That inspired me. Her fans were behind her. I think It’s very important as an artist to be open with your fans.
Montreal Rocks: You referred to yourself at least once as “comforter folk”, or “douillette” in French…like a big comfy blanket. What brings you comfort? Is there a comfort food you have?
Geneviève: I’m very homy. I love to be home with my cat. Soup Tonkinoise is the most comforting food in the world. It’s spicy and amazing.
Montreal Rocks: If were to open up a bottle of non-alcoholic Champagne, one year from now, to celebrate something you just accomplished…what would it be?
Geneviève: A tour throughout Canada. Right now, I have a few dates in Quebec and New Brunswick, but I really want to spread out and go all the way to Vancouver and Halifax.
Montreal Rocks: Canada-wide. The tour bus…the long hours…
Geneviève: Oh yeah…that would be amazing.
Montreal Rocks: The bad food.
Geneviève: Yes! Tim Hortons coffee. All of it.
Montreal Rocks: I hope it happens for you.