This past Tuesday, January 15, I had the pleasure of attending the Mirador Album Launch at Club SAW. Mirador, which means focal point in Spanish, is the fruit of the close collaboration between Saskatoon singer-songwriter Alexis Normand and visual artist Zoe Fortier. Normand, who wanted every song to be accompanied by a visual representation, teamed up with Fortier and consulted her throughout the entire creative process to ensure that the project incorporated both art and music.
Once I arrived at Club SAW for the launch, I was soon greeted by the organizer who offered wine and a selection of tasty sandwiches, cheeses and marinated goodies. Some of Fortier’s artwork was hanging on a nearby wall, a demonstration of the pieces created for Mirador. Along with paintings, Fortier creates live visual projections that change from one song to the next as Normand performs.
Normand began her set by greeting the sizable crowd and thanking the public warmly for their presence after which she presented a few songs from the album. Her roots folk and at times jazzy sound was pleasing to the ear and she not only sang, but played the piano, strummed her acoustic guitar, and even brought out a ukulele for one song. Although the pieces on Mirador are mostly in French, she did perform one song in English, made an effort to speak English between songs and provided the public with leaflets containing the lyrics in both official languages. This multi-talented francophone artist, who performed with a band composed of a drummer, bassist and pedal steel guitarist, has a beautiful stage presence and gives off a comfortable charismatic vibe thanks to the numerous gigs and open mics that she previously performed at.
While Normand gently unveiled the songs from Mirador one by one, Fortier supported each of them with a unique live projection meant to provide visual support to the stories being presented. Together, they brought the crowd to their native Saskatchewan and allowed us to perceive their shared environment through a combined creative perspective.
After the launch, I had the opportunity of asking Alexis Normand a few questions related to Mirador and the creative process involved to produce it.
Elly: Mirador is the fruit of a close collaboration between your music and the artistic creations of Zoé Fortier. You both consulted each other during the creative process to ensure the project represented both visual art and music. How do you ensure that both sides of the project are brought to the forefront?
Alexis Normand (AN): Zoé and I decided to share a creative journey and see what happens when music and art come together. There are three independent results from this collaboration: an album, a series of paintings and a live concert. Although each result stems from a shared creating experience, they also exist independently and bear the traces and signature of the artist responsible for the work. In other words, the paintings are distinctly those of Zoé Fortier: one sees her fauvist approach to colour and her use of motives and patterns and the contrast of bold and thin lines. They are her interpretations of the same subjects I explore on the album, which bears my jazz-folk and intimate colors. Since Zoé is included on stage with the other musicians, the live show is where we see it all come together at once: we hear the songs as Zoé manipulates visual projections in real time during the show.
Elly: Having won a theme song contest organized by Radio-Canada and the Assemblée Communautaire Fransaskoiseen and having studied at l’École nationale de la chanson in Granby, you have quite an interesting career path for a young artist. Not all singer-songwriters have the opportunity to mix with big names of the music industry at the Granby National School of Song like you have. What is the most important lesson that you have learned so far since you’ve started your music career?
AN: The most important thing I have learned is to keep on keeping on in order to become more confident in my creating process. I have learned to start ignoring the “what ifs”: “What if my songs are terrible? What if there is no crowd at a show? What if no one ‘gets’ it? What if…?”… Fuck the what ifs! Part of paying less attention to these questions is due to the acceptance of who I am as an artist and musician and being confident in what I have to say and how I decide to express myself. The process has also become more personal as I explore topics that are closer to me; ones that vibrate heartstrings other than those that resonate to heartbreak and love stories.
Elly: As a Franco-Saskatchewaner artist in a bilingual country, you put alot of effort to ensure that your show incorporates English. What is the biggest challenge for you who works primarily in French in a province that is principally English? Would you like to work in English more often or do you prefer to continue in French to honor your first language and reach out to Francophone communities across the country?
AN: I write my music in French because it seems to be what comes easiest and most naturally. I am really enjoying the opportunities to meet people from francophone communities across the country and the world. This is what lights my fire and I think I will always continue songwriting in French. I am just beginning to launch my francophone project and am really enjoying all that I have learned in the process.
That said, given the anglo-majority situation in Saskatchewan, where I am currently based, I have developed ways to adapt my show for a bilingual or mostly anglophone audience: I speak in English to provide context or anecdotes that relate to the themes and messages of the songs. I also made booklets with the translated lyrics so that people can follow or read through them before or after the show.
I am also part of a side project called Rosie and the Riveters: we are a 4-piece female quartet who sings folk-gospel music in English. We each enjoy an active solo career in addition to the Riveters. So, I guess I have a foot in each pond!
Elly: Where can people purchase the Mirador album?
The album is available on bandcamp at http://alexisnormand.bandcamp.com/, on iTunes https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/mirador/id592516375 and after a live performance of course!
Elly: Now that Mirador has been launched nationally, what are the next steps for you?
Tour tour tour! I’ll hit the road in Manitoba in February and will pass through Ontario and Quebec in March and more dates will be added over the next few weeks. I invite you to sign up to my mailing list at alexisnormand.com for the most recent information and to find out about upcoming shows.