Gabrielle Papillon not just a Troubadour Singer/songwriting while Social distancing

When we originally contacted Gabrielle Papillon through her Pigeon row Records promoters, she was completely thrown by the phone call.

Words “Shout!” and “Gabrielle Papillon” and a woman against blue.
Gabrielle Papillon’s most recent release is a call to revolution. Image courtesy of the artist.

We had arranged to give her a day’s breather after arriving home in Canada from songwriting work in England, as it seemed likely she’d want some time to recover from the jet lag. Then the pandemic caught fire! Given that the tour she was returning home for was subsequently cancelled, and that there had been some question of her even managing to get on a flight with the Covid-19 wildfire sweeping across Europe, the last thing Gabrielle expected when answering her phone early on that Wednesday afternoon was to be doing an interview. About that tour.

“That trip had obviously been planned for a long time, and I had been in LA just before then, so the Covid-19 is the bad timing part! It didn’t really affect the writing, because I finished the sessions on the (previous) Wednesday, and that night was when I think the Americans closed their border. I think the Canadian stuff started happening very soon after, and in the UK I don’t think they had yet ordered stuff . . . It didn’t change my sessions: I just didn’t go out: I stayed in the neighbourhood I was staying in. People were not social distancing yet, but I just didn’t do very much; like I didn’t get on the (London Underground subway), because (it) makes me feel trapped anyways.

“I came back on the 16th of March: on my flight home, I paid for the Internet because I wanted to know what was happening, so I actually watched the press briefing that Trudeau did where he said that we were going to stop all flights . . . I’m really grateful that flight of mine was already booked! There were no flights available. I could not get a seat on an earlier flight if I had tried.”

purple-haired woman in orange, arms akimbo, looking into distance
Her record company explains this image: “Donning purple hair and an orange shirt, Gabrielle Papillon’s pop-art imagery reflects the tonal shifts towards a poppier inflection on her latest album, SHOUT. Image by Lindsay Duncan.

MUSICAlive! and Gabrielle discuss the niceties of social interactions (with or without a housemate) during the pandemic, and the possibility of excursions for food, getting hugs, and Gabrielle’s reality of immuno-compromised life.

We confirm that The Tempest Of Old, the last album MUSICAlive! heard, was 2 albums before her current release Shout, and how it was based on “reading a lot of newspapers”. Will you be then writing about current circumstances in your next work?

“You know,” she laughs, “I haven’t written that way since that record. (The next album) got really personal, and then Shout was another (thing). I think it’s all a development, but Shout was a further move into being a lot more personal. Because actually, I wasn’t really writing a record.

“I was doing a lot of co-writes with another artist, with the intention of writing a song for them. But a number of my co-writes are just trying to write a song that could be singable for film and television in ads . . . Out of 40+ songs, there were 7 that really felt like me, especially with my favourite writing partner, Jonas Persson, who is in the UK and I do a lot of writing with. It just felt like I was writing even more honestly than I ever had: I was writing without thinking that my name would be attached to it.”

MUSICAlive! notes that , while listening to the new album Shout, we thought of her vocal production like an ‘orchestra of voices’, and looking back at the article about The Tempest of Old we see she had called it “symphonic folk”. Comments?

“I think it would be a much starker contrast if you didn’t have (my intervening album) in between, because (it) got to be much more poppy. So then you could see how I got to Shout.

“the other thing about my voice that’s just an interesting fact: I really feel like my voice is my instrument . . . I play the piano really well, and I play guitar, but generally I hear a million different melodies . . . And there’s a couple differences (between these albums), really.

“ first, with Tempest I had laryngitis for 2 months, so when I was singing those songs I was really struggling. and one of the songs is actually a guide vocal, because that was just the best take we got!

“The other thing is with Shout I executive produced or co-produced the whole thing, so each track has a producer (or two) and me. And nobody knew what the whole album sounded like until I sent it to mastering, besides me.

“So nobody was able to stop me and tell me that every single song has a counter-melody in it, which I love. Whereas a producer may have tried to rein me in, each producer was working individually on 1 or 2 tracks: they had no way of knowing what anything else sounded like, and so I really feel like I got to do the best vocal work, and do those big sounds that I’ve been wanting to do.”

MUSICAlive! notes, given our previous description of her as a Gothic Folk wonderland, the massive differences with a giant song like “Shout It Out” from this new release.

“That one is a perfect example: I had this melody in my head; all the parts came together really quickly; and so did the lyrics. And then I actually thought I was writing it for (Portugal. The Man), and we wrote the song and nothing really happened with it. I think it might have been pitched for a couple of ads, and I just started to identify with it more. I sang the vocals because I was the vocalist in the studio that day, but I sang it in a way I wouldn’t have normally tried to sing, because I was trying to do that falsetto thing, and we just tried to make it sound as good as we could: but it actually sounded really great! In MY voice. I guess what I’m really saying is I didn’t realize I was writing for myself . . . so I didn’t have any preconceived notions about what Gabrielle Papillon should or shouldn’t do.

“I also didn’t really have any insecurities about how it would sound to other people. (Writing for others) gives me this cloak of invisibility because my name isn’t attached to it.”

Yet it’s basically the title track of this new album.

“Those 7 songs are my words: (‘Shout It Out’ is) a protest song! It’s very much about the Me Too movement, and very much about people waking up and feeling like ‘We’re going to stand up for ourselves,’ and gender being much more fluid than the public discourse has really allowed us to believe it was.

“the whole album is pretty much a rallying cry. and I think the way I wrote it reflects that. I don’t fit really neatly into boxes. I’m not just a folk singer: I think I’m a songwriter, and I’m a singer, but singer/songwriter has this connotation like me and my guitar troubadouring around. But really there’s so much more to songwriting!”

Yes, there is, thank heavens! We look forward to Gabrielle Papillon Shout-ing it at us in person someday.

Posted by Carey Rutherford

Author: Carey Rutherford

Swallowed by the mutual loves of words and music (but far too chicken-shit to perform them with a band), Carey’s writing career started slowly as a freelance writer in 2003, starved him nearly to personal bankruptcy until 2008, and changed directions while writing for FastForward, Beacon Calgary, GayCalgary, and Examiner magazines. With the death of many old-school periodicals, and the explosion of musical diversity in Calgary, the modern approach to writing about live music performance in the Calgary region presented uncluttered landscapes for the focussed passion that Carey’s conversations with musicians, drag queens, festival producers and small animals has uncapped. He was moulded by the brilliance of paper-based periodicals old and new (Life, rolling Stone, Swerve! and Adbusters etc.), and sees the info-verse as needing creative, empathetic, but clear-eyed Agents to communicate these performances.