Interview with NMC Artist in Residence, Ariane Mahrÿke Lemire

June 09, 2017

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Interview conducted by Juliette Jagger

Hailing from Edmonton, Ariane Mahrÿke Lemire is a bilingual, multi-disciplinary artist whose distinct body of work has been shaped by some extraordinary life experiences.

From early childhood adventures like the time her mother and father sold half their stuff, packed her and her younger sister into the family’s ‘67 Plymouth Valiant and briefly moved them to Mexico, to a youth spent living in the grassy plains of Saskatchewan, to the chaos that accompanies surviving three major car accidents, Lemire is drawing from a pretty deep well.

Though she’s released four full-length albums to date, it is her current effort, Je Deviens Le Loup, or becoming the wolf, that best encapsulates her identity as an artist: resilient, spirited and a little bit sassy.

Her sound, which moves fluidly between folk, jazz, blues and even cabaret, owes much to her worldly travels, and yet her unwavering affection for both the French and English languages is something that perfectly reflects the diversity of her Canadian heritage.

You can catch Lemire during a public performance at Studio Bell on June 10.

Juliette Jagger: You grew up in a musical family. Your father was a respected classical guitarist and your mother was one of the first French Canadians to sing in her own language in Saskatchewan. Did that set the tone for you as a musician?

Ariane Mahrÿke Lemire: I grew up on 60’s and 70’s music, so it was really the full gamut. We listened to some folk music out of Quebec, and we would listened to Jacques Brel, King Crimson, Jethro Tull, Procol Harum and all the 60’s pop stuff. Then we’d get to hear a bunch of Latin American songs, salsa and some Brazilian stuff, and we’d hear some old country like Roger Miller as well. Then as I got older, I think I always had my ears open for whatever was new and different but well done. I completely went with the grunge movement. Then I got hooked on some Puerto Rican rap and acts like Control Machete from Mexico.

I don’t know, it’s always been a question of variety for me, which makes things interesting and has allowed me to take musical references from everywhere. I’ve also always gravitated toward boundary-pushing things, whether that is in terms of music, films, writers or whatever.

JJ: There is a certain fluidity about the way that you move through genres in that you go from folk to jazz to cabaret, and when I first heard your records, I immediately felt as though your influences must be wider than just music.

AML: Well, I can’t do just one thing. I studied photography, film and video editing, so a lot of times I’ll be writing as if I’m making a small film and telling a story. Then other times it feels like I’m making a song out of an abstract painting or images as poetry, so I’ve definitely always been attracted to a multi-media approach. I think I try to bring that to the actual creation process of whatever I’m working on as well.

JJ: You’re originally from Edmonton, correct?

AML: Yeah! I grew up in Edmonton and I have been here since I was two, with brief jaunts in Mexico and Saskatchewan.

JJ: Mexico?

AML: Yeah, my Mom and Dad decided they wanted to live there, so they put half of our stuff in storage and sold the other half. They had an old tent trailer and a ‘67 Plymouth Valiant I think it was, so we drove down there and saw Medicine Hat, we saw the Painted Desert, the Grand Canyon. Then we drove through Mexico City and Guadalajara until we found this village we liked, and we settled down there for a few months.

I was supposed to be in Grade 1, but my sister and I went to pre-school there together because I didn’t know Spanish. But I learned fairly quickly and got to learn the songs and do crafts and that sort of stuff. Eventually, my mom, sister and I came back to Canada and we went to Saskatchewan. It was a really good experience.

I think a lot of people have the misconception that children need to live in the same spot, but I think it taught my sister and I to be adaptable and to be open to different ways of thinking and seeing things. Also, to make friends with whomever it was that we came across.

JJ: It’s interesting because there is something inherently Canadian about your sound, but also something quite expansive that feels well travelled. I’m seeing the dots connect, and it’s all making sense now. [Laughs] 

AML: I’m so glad you get it! [Laughs] This is the first time I’ve really had someone understand where it all comes from.

I think that as you live you get to know yourself better, and what I’ve found is that I definitely have a restlessness in that I need to travel and I need to leave my homebase regularly, otherwise it begins to get this stagnant feeling. At the same time, I still need that homebase to be there and to be stable. I am definitely a homebody and I love to be able to return and kind of refuel before leaving again.

I’m lucky in that because I have travelled so much, there are now several places that feel like home if I’m not able to be in Edmonton. Through the years, Montreal has become more and more of a touchstone for me, and then Saskatchewan is definitely home because my whole family is there. There are also a few spots in France that I have discovered that are like, ‘Oh wow, I could live here too!’

JJ: I love that you can find the idea of home in different places…

AML: Yeah! And, it’s weird because the older I get, the more I feel this sort of [randomness] in terms of that––almost like I’m living all of these parallel lives at the same time. Because I have the luxury of returning to certain places more and more frequently, I am starting to feel like particular cities do in fact speak to particular facets of my personality. Sometimes a specific coffee house or being around a specific group of people brings a certain part of your personality out of you. And, naturally, we are all more than one person.

It’s interesting because the second I drive into Saskatchewan I start writing lyrics. Saskatchewan is where it all started for me. It’s where I read poetry in front of a crowd for the first time, and it’s definitely just a huge source of inspiration for me in terms of writing. Then in terms of composition, it’s elsewhere. There are also spots that I go to strictly to amass life experiences that you need to digest afterwards. Some cities and some people, when you’re around them, are strictly for living, but then you can pullback and create from those memories and those experiences.

JJ: Is there a particular city that speaks to you when you are writing music?

AML: A while ago, I got to stay in a village about an hour outside of Dublin, and I found that that place really brought out more ballad-oriented compositions because it was very restful and calm. Then I went to the South of France at one point, and it was really dry and warm there. That place brought out these very funky, upbeat, almost beatniky melodies. So, I find that travelling to places I’ve never been before really draws out my musical ideas.

That’s actually why I’m really looking forward to doing the residency at the National Music Centre. Not only is it a place that’s unfamiliar to me, but I get the chance to interact with a whole bunch of new instruments that are unfamiliar to me as well. A lot of the time when you pick up a new guitar for example, that instrument has its own sound and its own notes that it seems like it wants you to play. It’s definitely going to be interesting for me to engage with all of these different instruments that have their own history.

JJ: Do you have anything specific planned for your residency?

AML: Well, when I create an album, I usually create two at the same time, one in French and one in English. But I haven’t yet been able to do the twin to my current album, Je Deviens Le Loup. That said, I have about 20 songs that I’m working on and they’re all pretty well finished, so I’m hoping to record a soundscape of sorts to accompany them and that album.

I’ve also always wanted to play a harpsichord. I’m not a particularly clever pianist or even a particularly gifted one [laughs], but I’ve started to play the piano again because I’ve got one at home now, and honestly, I just kind of want to make noise. Just make noise and record sounds.

JJ: Have you experimented with recording soundscapes before?

AML: This idea of sound samples and adding them as textures and layers to a mix is something that I started to explore on my second album, Décousue. I like toying with sounds, regardless of whether they are made by actual instruments or come from the every day world. On that record we went in and opened up a piano and banged on the strings, but lately I’ve actually been tracking my boyfriend snoring [laughs], so I’m thinking about using that as a rhythm.

I think I just really want to look at electro-acoustics and play around with that, but also to try and push myself. I find that sometimes we hit these plateaus and right now I feel like I’m about to bust through one of those. The timing is kind of perfect for that, so I’m hoping I’ll come out of my residency with the general shape for the next album.

JJ: Je Deviens Le Loup actually translates to “becoming the wolf,” which is a pretty bold album title. How did you arrive at it and what was happening in your world while you were putting that album together?

AML: Well, there was seven years between the release of my third album and my fourth album, and in my mind that’s a pretty huge gap. For me, that time was really about making peace with the idea of letting go of being a girl and completely taking on the responsibility, privilege and all of the scariness that comes with actually being a woman.

Also, that time was really about healing and metamorphosis and about finding equilibrium between the masculine and the feminine sides of me. This album was the first album I did after the three car accidents I’ve been in, so I also had to learn to accept my weaknesses and see the strength in them. Creating it was really about the transformation I went through and the initial shock of realizing that I wasn’t infallible. But, at the same time, there was this feeling of invincibility that came with surviving something that massive.

JJ: Did you still feel that way when the second and the third accidents happened?

AML: When the second car accident happened and we did barrel roles in the car for the second time, I went from feeling invincible to feeling like there is no rhyme or reason for anything––that it’s all just chaos. I really went from feeling like there was a reason for me to be here to having that be completely shattered. Then the third one was just a gear deciding to give out, and we actually managed to stay on the road, so it was like, ‘Okay, hopefully things comes in threes and that’s it.’

During that time, I really had to learn to forgive myself because I think we have a tendency to believe things happen to us, but we forget that no matter what it is, we do play a role in that. Then on the flip side, on a family level, I had to heal a lot there as well.

The father who raised me is not my biological father, and two years ago I finally re-met my biological father who I hadn’t seen since I was two. So, it was a lot to digest. [Laughs]

Anyway, the English songs for the next album are not necessarily songs I’ve written since then because there has just been so much going on on a personal level, but I am curious to see if I am all tapped out or if all this other stuff will be the fabric of what I’m currently creating.

Honestly though, part of me wants to just say, ‘Hey, let’s make a happy album that’s totally nonsensical and that just makes people want to dance or something,’ you know? [Laughs]

JJ: Obviously, there is a strong relationship between the French and English languages in your work as both are imperative to what you do. Do you feel that your sense of self-identity is plugged into language in a way?

AML: Actually that’s been a huge point of contemplation lately, especially in having met my biological father who is from Quebec. I’ve had to reevaluate both my cultural identity and my identity as a whole because I’ve spent years sort of harboring a lot of anger towards Quebec. I’ve had to make peace with it because it is a part of who I am, even though I’ve wanted to deny that. I don’t know, it’s been really strange but I’ve also come to better understand what the whole Montreal versus Toronto thing is all about. [Laughs]

In terms of language and my music, it’s been really difficult because I’m realizing that I’m not a Francophone and I’m not an Anglophone, so that poses the question, ‘What the heck am I?’

When I’m speaking French I’m not translating from English and when I’m speaking from English I’m not translating from French. For me, both languages are a bit like Swiss cheese in that there are gaps in both of them and I make mistakes in both of them. [Laughs] Also, when I speak to Quebecers and I hear their cultural references, it’s like I watched Passe-Partout when I was little but I also watched Polka Dot Door, so it’s a very strange duality. It’s kind of like I had a suit and it fit me perfectly, but now the suit has grown and I don’t know how to fill it. I’m still trying to figure that out. 

JJ: Do you think that’s something you’ll be able to figure out through your music?

AML: Yeah! Well, I think as human beings we’re always changing, but I’m pretty freaking stubborn. Strategically speaking, when it comes to my music, I know it’s not the smartest thing to tackle both languages, and perhaps if I was more focused on one or the other I would have gotten a lot further, but in terms of personal gratification and artistic honesty, it’s most true to what I am living.

I think that as an artist you have a responsibility to create art that reflects your state of being. We’re not that different from each other, but at the same time, no one can tell our story the way we tell it. In my day-to-day life I’ve almost become Frenglish. It’s bizarre.

JJ: Are there any artists, writers or albums that are close to your heart?

AML: I have to say in terms of my favourite songwriters or creators, they’re always the ones that let themselves have a lot of fluidity. Ryan Adams, for example, is truly a songwriter’s songwriter. If you look at his catalogue as a whole you’ll see folk songs, bluegrass songs and rock songs. But, in my mind, he’s also the kind of songwriter that lets the song dictate where it wants to go. Tom Waits is the same way in that he’ll take on a character that the song is asking for.

I mean, I’m pretty old school in that I have trouble throwing out albums, and I have tons and tons of CDs. Sometimes I’ll be completely hooked on an album and then I’ll hit this emotional saturation point where I’m like, ‘I can’t stand this,’ but I usually cycle back to it eventually. Albums are weird like that because even when you’ve recorded one, they aren’t necessarily set in stone. An album continues to grow and change. Maybe it’s because there is a certain energy that is linked to the artist, I don’t know, or maybe it’s just that that energy resonates with you as a person listening to it, but albums and songs continue to evolve with time, especially in connection to cultural and social happenings.

For me right now, I’ve been listening to a lot of Gregory Alan Isakov, and this new French group out of Quebec that is just lovely. They’re like a macaroni casserole or like a comfortable blanket [laughs]––in English they are called We Are The Two. But because I am in this mode that feels a bit unsettled, I’m listening to really comfortable music. In the past it’s been more innovative and quirky stuff like acid jazz or acid rock, but right now I just need a comfortable blanket.

JJ: Being an artist of any kind can be trying, even on good days. So, what is it that keeps you going back for more?

AML: It’s hard, and I hear this a lot from my colleagues in the music industry; it seems like we’re all going through these cycles. One day we’ll all be like, ‘Oh, yeah, music is the best thing ever!’ Then inevitably about a month later we’ll be like, ‘Yeah, we’re quitting.’ I definitely go through that. I get to these points where I think, ‘What the heck am I doing?’ It’s just one of the most ridiculous industries. It’s always changing and everybody is panicking. The biggest distributor of French music, DEP, just went under—it’s just nuts!

I’m on my fourth album, barely anyone knows who I am. I’m a Canadian making music in two languages, so that’s working against me as well. [Laughs] But, I don’t know what it is; I’ve just always created songs. Ever since I could speak I made up songs, and I kind of have a feeling that will never go away.

I think the difference now is that the desire to prove myself to the world or to my parents is gone. I do find that people who have that need are more ambitious and they push themselves further, but that’s gone in me. I’d say that the biggest difference in the past couple of years is that I’m less inclined to say, ‘Hey, listen to me,’ because of this or that. I just don’t want to justify myself anymore as any artist—it’s exhausting. I’ve gotten to a point where it’s like, ‘Hey, if you like steak and you feel that my music is steak, great! If you’re a vegetarian, don’t listen to me,’ you know?

The thing is, I’m just realizing that overall I’m a creator, whether it be visual art, photography, movement or music—I’m a creator. I’ve always said I’m a lifer when it comes to music, but the only way I can continue to do that is by giving myself permission to create in whatever medium I need to at the time. The strange thing is that in giving myself permission to do that, it always cycles back to the music even if I say I’m quitting seven times a year. There’s just something about music man; every time I say I’m out, it freaking draws me back in.

JJ: That’s the true lifecycle of an artist, isn’t it? One minute you feel that jolt of exhilaration because you can see the dots connecting, and the next minute you could just as easily not. But, it’s always in those moments when it feels easier to throw in the towel that you get those glimmers of hope and it’s suddenly like, ‘Shit, I’ve gotta get back on board with this now.’ [Laughs]

AML: Yes! [Laughs] Sometimes I’m like, ‘Why can’t I just get a government job damn it?’ But, every time that happens, you get something that actually turns on your light and that would interfere with the schedule of a regular job. It’s funny because I do go through periods where I’ll binge watch a series, but no joke, I will get bored of it. That’s usually when a song will just magically pop up.

That feeling that you get when you’ve completed something and you know that it’s sitting perfectly with you, like you’ve placed every comma if it’s an article, or that every colour on the canvas is the right saturation; it’s such a rush. It’s worth it. I’m definitely an addict for it. And, I think that’s it for artists. Though those moments happen infrequently, once you’ve tasted it, you’re always trying to get back there for more.

Ariane Mahrÿke Lemire will be taking over Studio Bell’s Artist in Residence program beginning June 5 with a public workshop scheduled for June 10. For more information or to purchase tickets, head to: https://studiobell.ca/event/nmc-public-workshop-with-ariane-mahryke-lemire/

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About the Author

Juliette Jagger

Juliette Jagger is a Canadian music journalist and writer. Her work has been published in such media outlets as VICE’s Noisey and The Huffington Post. She has written extensively for the National Music Centre and is the curator of New Music From The Inbox, an internationally-read independent music segment that runs weekly at the award-winning website, AJournalofMusicalThings.com.


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