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Interview: Chic Gamine

I first heard about the Canada-based band Chic Gamine this April, and immediately rushed here with excitement to write about them. It was like stumbling across this big, incredible secret that you couldn’t wait to share with the world… in this case, the readers of CrayonBeats. Chic Gamine is 5-person band that is made up of four rotating lead lady singers and one man whom is the drummer. They are Andrina Turenne (vocals, keys, guitar, percussion), Alexa Dirks (vocals, keys, percussion), Annick Bremault (vocals, keys, percussion), Ariane Jean (vocals, keys, percussion), and Sacha Daoud (drummer).

They released their album Closer in March, and since hearing it they have made it to my top list of favorite bands. The album pushes youthful pop melodies, vintage R&B rhythms, fun danceable beats, and relatable poetic lyrics. All four women have powerful, unique voices where they can easily stand out when singing solo and also when they sing together to do their notable, pure soulful harmonies.  They are incredible musicians, singers, instrumentalists, and they have charming personalities to match. I feel while they may be compared to, and definitely possess, a 50’s/60’s girl group sound, they also incorporate heavy elements of modern pop, soul, blues, and some rock. They don’t just enclose themselves in a single box. Like a flower that grows between cracks of concrete, they stand out amongst a lot of bands that I’ve been exposed to this year. I hope that you, too, will enjoy them and become a fan.

I had the pleasure to interview the band, discussing things like how they formed as a group, the crazy coincidence of all of their names beginning with the letter “A”, their album Closer, some of their songs, who they’d invite to dinner, writing songs as a group, their “tantrum workout”, touring, and what’s next for the band. Check it out!

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Tiffology: How did you all meet? Were you all friends first, or did you happen to stumble upon one another when forming the band?
Alexa: Andrina, Annick and Ariane all grew up together in Winnipeg’s French quarter known as “St. Boniface”. They all come from families that were very active in the French arts community so they started singing together from a young age and were in many different projects together. When one of those projects was defunct, they decided they still wanted to continue working together but wanted to find another voice to sing with and a drummer. They had met Sacha while working with their previous band, and his other band also happened to have just broke up, so they asked if he would join them and he said yes…even though he lived in Montreal. Then they searched the Winnipeg musical community and stumbled onto [me] singing in a bar one night and asked me to join them as well… and the rest is history.

Is it a coincidence that all the girl’s names begin with “A”, or is there an affinity for the vowel and it was intentional?
Alexa: It’s a total coincidence. Even Sacha’s name on his passport is “Alexandre”, although he is never actually called by that name. Some people think we made it up, but we really didn’t!

How do you relate to the band’s name meaning–stylish mischievous young thing?
Alexa: Well first off, we’re all really into fashion and I would say that all 5 of us appreciate a little bit of mischief every now and then. We joke that Sacha is the ULTIMATE “chic gamine” but actually “gamine” is the feminine form of the French word so it’s more so referring to a mischievous young girl. Sorry, Sacha.

Prior to the band, did anyone have singing lessons or sing in a choir?
Alexa: All of the girls in the band have never really had any formal training aside from some sort stints with voice coaches here and there. Sacha is the only one in the band that went to university to further his skills. He went to McGill University in Montreal and studied Jazz and World drumming. He’s the smart one!

Your music has been described as blending 60’s pop and Motown soul. How would you personally describe it to someone who has never heard your music?
Alexa: You know, I would say we are a lot more diverse then you might initially think. People see four girls that sing and a guy that plays drums and automatically people think we are doing something that has heavy acapella influences, when in fact that is not where we draw our inspiration. I would say there is definite soul in there, but our sound is less throwback than people think. We are adding more instrumentation these days, so I would say we are a mix of Soul/Rock/Pop with a little bit of indie R&B and even a little bit of Blues. It sounds like it’s all over the map, but the voices and drums are what bring it all together; not to mention the fact that we have four rotating lead singers and throw in the bilingual element. Currently I’d say our sound is soulful harmonies and heavy beats laced with twangy rock guitars and bass heavy synths. We’re evolving more and more every day these days.

Now that we covered that, I think it’s important to mention that Chic Gamine got a pretty awesome compliment from Mavis Staples herself, saying you reminded her of her sisters. When did that happen and how did it feel hearing that?
Andrina: This happened at the 2008 Strawberry Music Festival in Camp Mather, California. We played just before Mavis and had gone to the signing booth right after, but we were facing the stage so we could still see and hear the show. It was amazing and Mavis sounds just as bad-ass as ever. After her show, our signing session was done and we went backstage to put some things away in the dressing room. Mavis was there with her sister Yvonne. We told them what huge fans we were of them, of their family, of their sound. Mavis asked if we were the gals who’d sang before her and and when we confirmed yes, she said that our sound reminded her of making music with her family growing up. The highest of compliments coming from the maven of Soul herself! Lastly, I told her though I loved her show, she hadn’t sang one of my favourites, “Let’s Do It Again”. She laughed and started singing it, I joined in and we sang the chorus together. MAN! What a dream come true. Thinking back to that moment, it hardly seems real. That was a great day.

Let’s do a different style of asking about music inspirations. Let’s say that Chic Gamine is having a dinner party, and you could each invite 1 guest (past or present). Who would each person bring?
Alexa: This is so hard! I have a million people I would want to bring! I will say… Nina Simone.
Andrina: Oooh, I like this question. There are a million answers to it but today I’ll say Lil Hardin. She was a piano player, singer, composer and bandleader in and around the 1920s. Her 2nd marriage was to Louis Armstrong whom she played piano and collaborated with. I would love to hear her stories about that era of music, and about what it must have been like to be a woman piano player at that time, in a man’s world. I feel like she would have some INCREDIBLE stories to tell. There would definitely be a stack of records next to the record player and we would simply flip records, cook food, and sit down for a nice meal.
Ariane: There are so many amazing musicians out there that, I’m sure would be great fun to have around, but I think I would go with Dolly Parton. She just seems like such a sweet person. I think she would be fun and easy to hang around with.
Annick: Thom Yorke. I don’t have many musical crushes and I know lots of people feel the way I do about him. Given the chance, there are a whole bunch of others I’d invite too.
Sacha: Tim Maia, an amazing and unpredictably crazy Brazilian soul singer from the 70s. He would certainly bring some spice and good stories to the table.

Your new album, Closer, was released in March, and I must admit that it’s among one of my favorite albums of 2013. I even featured it in our 3rd magazine issue, suggesting that our readers check it out. How has the reception been for it overall?
Andrina: The reception has been great! It’s exciting to see the music reach new places across the continent. We’ve been featured on blogs and played on many American radio stations including NPR. It’s really motivating to feel the groundwork being laid out as we work to release a new record.

Is there a song from the album that you love performing the most?
Andrina: Hmmm, tough question. Many of them are really fun to perform, for different reasons. I’m gonna say “Don’t Think That I Can Stay”. There’s something really magical and intimate when we sing that song. It’s on the softer side so we have lots of room to play with dynamics and build. When we hit some of those harmonies together, it feels really nice in my soul.

“Closer” is about the desire of wanting to be with someone, but the time isn’t right, so one must go through the motions of moving on. It’s very relatable; I’ve been in that spot before, and it sucks. Then it’s followed by the frustrated, love-that’s-no-longer-there song “Days and Days”. I feel that these two songs are a pair. Despite the heartbroken, melancholy themes on the songs, they have upbeat arrangements and playful melodies. What is your purpose of taking this route? Are you all generally optimistic?
Annick: These songs being paired together wasn’t intentional, yet I can totally see how they fit together. I think we do generally have optimistic views on love and relationships, even though we’ve all suffered minor or not so minor crack-ups in the romance department. Our lyrics generally have a lot of feeling and depth, but I don’t think we equate that to having to sound depressed or overly dark, necessarily. Not that we don’t don’t like the dark side, but we want to keep people dancing while they’re in it. We put our sadness in a happy outfit, and say, “Hey, isn’t this so much fun???”

The gritty soulful song “Shake Off Your Worries” has given me goosebumps; that performance video that was filmed at Triple Rock Social Club was incredible too. Tell me about this song.
Alexa: This song was written with my grandma in mind. She has come from a past of hard work and a lot of grief but always managed to keep her head up and let me know how important it was to stay positive and not to sweat the small stuff. Her courage and patience always inspired me so much… she’s a powerful woman with an amazing soul!

What do you do to shake off worries?
Annick: Interesting question, which can best be answered by saying that we do a variety of the following activities: Run, do yoga, dance, hash it out, sleep, meditate, write songs, jam, hang out with friends, and one of the most effective one of all, the tantrum workout. This workout, which is best done alone for safety reasons, was invented and perfected by our very own Ariane Jean. It involves making like a two-year old and frying like bacon/thrashing around on any kind of soft, protective surface, like a bed or couch. Throwing pillows around is usually involved.

“Tristesse Suspendue” is in French. It’s beautiful and it sounds so poetic. For those of us that don’t speak or understand the language, what can you tell us about it?
Ariane: Tristesse Suspendue translated is Suspended Sadness–which doesn’t sound as pretty in English! The song basically talks about a sadness that haunts you and takes over your life. No matter how you try to run away from it, it follows and you keep surrendering yourself to it over and over again.

There was a silly video when the band was promoting a campaign to raise money for the U.S. launch of the album. Each of you had to take on these odd jobs in the winter (selling lemonade, doing a paper route, telling fortunes, and chauffeuring people) to gather money. At the end, Sacha paints his face and performs interpretive dancing on the sidewalk. I knew he was the drummer, but I didn’t know he was the dancer of the group! What’s Sacha’s best dance move?
Annick: He has sooooo many, but the moves he performs in that video were largely inspired by martial arts, specifically Tai Chi. And the best ever? His Brazilian folk-dance-inspired, pony-trot, cross-step move. You kind of have to see it.

Do you all take part in the songwriting aspect?
Annick: Yes, we do. We all compose music and write lyrics, sometimes separately, but more and more as a group. We’ve always arranged our songs collectively, but this group writing thing is new. We’re really enjoying the process and how all of the different parts of us and our influences come out and play together.

Can you describe the creative process when making new songs? What kind of things happen?
Ariane: More and more, we’re writing songs together from beginning to end. We’ll sit down and jam on a simple melody or lyrical line and it will slowly transform into a song. It’s exciting to see what can happen when we all put our musical brains together!

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The group has been doing a lot of touring this year, including throughout the east coast of the states and now in Canada, how has it all been?
Ariane: There has certainly been a lot of van time this year! The stage is where our music really comes alive and it’s so important for us to share that with as many people as possible. Touring new territories has helped us hone our craft while getting ourselves heard and known by new people all over North America. It’s also a great opportunity to see a few sights, or at least drive through them!

What has stood out the most so far?
Ariane: Finding out we have fans in places we’ve never played before and meeting them for the first time at the shows.

What is your mode of transportation during the tour? What kind of activities take place during the road trips? Who snores? Who has the best snacks?
Ariane: We have a large van with a trailer that takes us all over North America. It’s been very good to us so far. In the van, we like to listen to podcasts, listen to music, watch music and listen to audio books.. Sometimes, we sleep too! Nobody snores, though…

How does Chic Gamine prepare for a big show? What will you be doing the night before?
Annick: I don’t think any of us have any specific rituals we perform, but usually, I’d say rest is involved. I know I drink lots of water to make sure my vocal cords are well-hydrated, do some yoga to get limber and relaxed enough so that I can get a good night’s sleep… And then I hope for the best!

Aside from performing, what are the plans for the summer?
Sacha: Well, we are mainly focusing on writing and demoing new songs for our next record. We are in a process of working on our sound and direction and we are very excited by what is coming out of it.

What’s next for Chic Gamine?
Sacha: Aside of working on a new record, we are planing our first european tour for the end of 2013.

…And a couple random questions!
Annick… on her top 3 movies
The Princess Bride, The Usual Suspects and Fargo.

Sacha… on pets
The band is undeniably formed by pet lovers, but our traveling lifestyle doesn’t permit us to have some. I sadly had to give up my cat two years ago because of that. We also can’t be responsible for fussy plants.

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All the songs found here can be heard on their newest album Closer. Do not hesitate to purchase it! Huge thanks to Drew Fortune at Planetary Group for putting me onto this wonderfully talented band and to the band members themselves for being so cool.

PURCHASE Closer
iTunes | Amazon | CD Baby

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Written By: Tiffany B.

Music and arts journalist, music curator, and co-boss babe of CrayonBeats since 2008! I've published 3,000+ posts consisting of new music, reviews, and interviews. I also do half of everything of CrayonBeats Magazine, so get familiar with our issues! Aside from being a music aficionado, I'm also a freelance artist/illustrator, a creative soul, a natural born lover, a comic book reader, an optimist, and a bit of a weirdo. I hate writing bios about myself, so see ya.