On a nice and cold though sunny spring morning, meeting with NEeMA is the most heart-lifting experience I’ve lived in a long time. There she was, at café Les Empoteuses offering her most genuine smile, and telling me about the release of her third album entitled Leave The Light On (release April 8th, Neemaste Productions), her new live opus that feeds upon the best pieces of concert performances given during her European Tour and in Montreal.
A local world music and folk singer, in addition to being a draughtswoman, poetess and writer for a children’s book, multi-gifted artist NEeMA shares a cup of chai latte with Montreal Rampage. And we’re all ears…
Mylene Chèvreul (MC): After Masi Cho (2006) and Watching You Think (2011), what was the impulse beneath the release of a live work?
NEeMA (N): The other CDs were recorded in a studio, and were meant to be albums. This is all recorded live onstage. So, it’s all organic with the band, and most of the shows are from the European Tour in 2011, and a few from Montreal. We were not in a studio constructing the song but rather onstage playing it. There’s something raw to it.
MC: It’s made up of various performances at different places, yet it sounds like a complete journey as a very coherent set… How did the trimming and song selecting work?
N: Basically, we recorded all of the shows and I went through all of them and I listened to all of them so that for each given song there were different versions recorded. So basically I went choosing the ones that moved me the most.
Then, I started thinking, “How can I string them together to make it feel like a single journey, a single concert?” I had a wonderful mixing engineer, Fred Bouchard, who is also the drummer, who did a great job at it, for example, by making the sound of the clapping continue from one song to the next.
MC: Could it possibly spring from a need to renew the connection with your audience, meaning something like, “Guys, the light hasn’t been turned off yet. I’m on my way back”?
N: I guess so, and the title actually comes from one of the songs, Unspoken. There’s this line, “When they were apart, he’d leave the light on”. But yes, there are other reasons; the light is symbolic of giving a concert, and there’s also the “walking towards the light” imagery from the cover picture.
And partly, it was to give my audience something to listen to. And I’ve been told that my live performances were moving, and some people even prefer them to my studio versions, so I wanted to be able to capture that.
MC: Three covers are present in this opus, Bruce Springsteen, Charles Aznavour and Felix Leclerc. You grew up listening to them as a child. Now, what other influences fed your work, apart from Leonard Cohen?
N: When I was lot younger, Pink Floyd was a big influence. I don’t know if you necessarily hear that now. Another influence was Ani DeFranco she is an independent American folk singer. She started her own company and also is a beautiful poet. All folk musicians have been major influences, like Tracy Chapman, Joni Mitchell, and Bob Dylan.
MC: Will those songs feed a future studio release?
N: Yes, absolutely. I am working on a new studio album at the moment. I’m pretty much done writing the lyrics. I have ten songs written, and now I’m currently exploring the sounds. For this one, I listened to a lot of Nick Drake. I love the whole world of string arrangements and jazz and I’m exploring a little bit with that, and also with beats. So now, I’m still searching. It’s still going to be folk, and Leonard Cohen and Pierre Marchand always give me their comments and advice and I really appreciate that.
MC: Where are we likely to find you onstage?
N: There will be Canadian dates after the release of the studio album, it will also include the European live tour album, so it should be really soon. For now I’m still nurturing the studio piece.
MC: Altogether new projects on the way?
N: I am actually working on a children’s book for the Tlicho Aboriginal territory about their history and how they became their own self-government. There will also be a short film about Egypt where I went to sing during the revolution. Other private projects are on the go. I like to go into multiple disciplines. That’s where I feel the most complete, the most whole.
We wish her luck with all her projects and are impatient to see her onstage soon again. In the meantime, fill your ears with all the European smoothness and bohemian feeling with what Leave the Light On has to offer. It’s a cheap trip away.
Mylène Chevreul’s full interview can be found here:
Mylene Chevreul writes the blog La Chouette Eclairée