Genre: Indie Pop
Instruments: Voice and Guitar
I sat down with Chantal from French Press and we talked about her exciting upcoming tour with Micah Visser (For the Winnipeg Music Project interview with him, click here). She also gave some really great advice about starting as a solo musician or finding a band to play with; and shared her experiences with becoming versatile as a musician and finding ways to get or create what you feel is important to you (like a tour or a new album). I loved meeting Chantal, she was an absolute sweet heart, read it all here!
Ashley: How long have you been playing in French Press?
Chantal: French Press is my own creation so it’s something that I started as soon as I finished music school in 2009. It was kind of in the scheming phases at that point because I hadn’t been seriously songwriting at that point. I took some time, I was over seas doing some cover band stuff, thinking and developing songs; starting to put the project together at that point. It really started getting serious in 2011 when I came back to Winnipeg and just worked on it everyday as much as I could.
Ashley: What did you go to school for?
Chantal: I went to Humber College in Toronto and I studied [jazz] music.
Ashley: When you first started working on [French Press], where you performing as French Press over seas?
Chantal: No, I guess it was only incubating at that point, it was kind of an idea and I had to decide what I was doing. Was I playing jazz, I didn’t know if I was staying with the band [I had been currently working with] or if I was going to branch out. IT was a lot of push and pull. You just have to settle before the work could really begin, in terms of songwriting.
I played my first show in the summer of 2012 so I guess at that point I had accumulated enough songs to play a set. So I had given myself a song a week challenge, and it didn’t last forever maybe five or six weeks, but pretty much 90% ended up on the record that I’m going now. It took a lot of focus and dedication, but it paid off.
Ashley: Where did you get project name “French Press”?
Chantal: I‘m French Canadian so I wanted to come up with French name but I was worried about people mispronouncing it or sometime people are awkward about saying a word they don’t say. I thought [that wouldn’t be good] if people were hesitating to mention my band name so I just came up with “French”. It came from a little brainstorm session when I was in Thailand. I also liked the marriage of French and Press. The imagery, the crunch and the tension I think that those are themes that arise in my music so I think it worked it. And people seem to like it.
Ashley: So you went to school for Jazz but now you are doing pop, how does you jazz background influence your music?
Chantal: I think the act of being constantly on the spot. We had to take improvisational classes so you’d get used to finding your flow really fast because you kind of have to. I think that really free me up melodically so coming up with melodies because I was doing that in class, and I had to so and lock into that moment, I go better at that which I’m really grateful for. I love playing music, listening to music, I love everything so I wasn’t entirely sure where I was going in that program but I got complete absorbed by it. I don’t think you can still hear Jazz in what I’m doing other than maybe my chords are not always super standard. I think that I allow myself by being exposed to those jazz options let me get outside of the common pop chord form.
Ashley: What’s your songwriting process?
Chantal: I find that melodies come pretty easily to me and I’m happy that one part comes really easily. Usually, if I’m faced with some kind of strife or some kind of conflict I like to be able to work through it by exploring it through music. Unless there is a good conflict going on in my life or in my morals or something like that, it’s kind of hard for me to come up with a song that I’m going to stick with that I will want to continue to play. If I have a topic to talk about, if I’m feeling a rush or a strong emotional response to something, then I can take that and have it guide the music or the sound. I’ll basically just improvise and riff and try to always make my music as hooky as possible, something that I would get about and I hope that people get excited about.
Ashley: How do you decide if this topic you’re picking isn’t too personal or if it appropriate to write about?
Chantal: Unless you’re making yourself a little uncomfortable, it’s not exciting as the artist or it doesn’t feel worth it. You want to be pushing a little bit; for example, when I wrote the song Back on the Mattress (WATCH THE VIDEO BELOW) I had people saying,“ Wow, that it was really gusty of you to just be a woman and talk about that.” Maybe for reasons of worry of slut shaming or I’m not too sure what; but, it’s by no means controversial but it is pushing a little bit and it keeps me excited and I hope that it keeps others excited.
Ashley: What is it about?
Chantal: It’s about coming out of a break up or a place that you’re single or whatever and it’s about getting back on the mattress, getting back into something after you’ve been jerked around.
Ashley: So how did you meet Micah?
Chantal: I stumbled upon him, I saw a performance he did on breakfast television and I Was like “Who is this guy?” I loved what he was doing so then with the beauty of Facebook I found him. I went to see him play and then we sort of built a relationship since that happened.
Ashley: And made you decide to go on tour together?
Chantal: I wanted to go on tour but I wanted to do it with someone to sort of share the costs and some of the organizing. Also we’re sharing a band so we’re bringing the same drummer, bass player. It’s of course, I sang on Micah’s last record (Ok Night). I love what he does and I’m excited to talk more about music with him and we connected right away musically and he kind of gets me excited about songwriting because I see how prolific he is; he’s just an inspiring guy.
Ashley: You are both solo performers, what are challenges about that other than having to book a band for performances you do?
Chantal: It ends up being that you’re the one running the show; you’re doing all the administration stuff and paying for everything that costs money. But also you have a good amount of control over what happens so having a solo project opposed to band, with a band you have to negotiate and get everyone the same page and convince people to do things. When you’re a solo artist you only have to convince yourself, and that’s hard too. I do have some great collaborators, and that always makes life easier but sometimes you kind of have to take sometime for yourself to figure out what you’re doing before bring in too many influences. I think at this point I’m more comfortable with collaborating like Micah and I have worked on a demo together and you just have to find the right people. If it’s not clicking or if you’re not excited about it; it’s not going to get finished.
Ashley: So for people who want to start their own project, whether it’s solo or in a band, they have their own music but they don’t know if they want to do it in a band or solo; would you say the easier option would be to start solo or if they are shy about it they should start in a band and then maybe one day go solo.
Chantal: Well, bringing on five people can be kind of intense like if you do feel intimidated and don’t really want to take things on it might be better to find one person that likes the same kind of bands as you and also has a similar work ethic and passion. Someone you have chemistry with. It’s almost as impossible as finding a boyfriend; sometimes you get lucky and sometimes you have to keep looking. I’d say bringing on too many people, too many cooks in the kitchen, when you’re starting to bloom as an artist is just overwhelming, or it was for me. I really had to close lock my door and close myself in my room. I like to say throw books around and have a hissy fit until I was able to figure out what I wanted to say because to say something important, you have to have you’re voice. You don’t have to everything figured out but you have to have an awareness of your voice or you may get pushed around or you may get pushed in a direction that is unsatisfying and unfulfilling.
Ashley: And if someone decides to become a solo artists and they want to have a fuller sound that just a guitar or keyboard. How would you recommend they, if they don’t know anyone, find people? You found Micah online, but what other way?
Chantal: I was having that problem not too long ago. I haven’t had a band for too long, maybe a year and a half or something and to get into a room when you are unsure of your vision with other people trying things out, for me I wasn’t comfortable. I’ve tried those things and it just wasn’t working out esthetically for me. You encounter a lot of what you like when you hear it but to conger up something and explain to someone when you’re not even clear yourself is near impossible. Miraculously I met a couple guys from collectors studio, Arthur just came to me one day was asked if I wanted to do a demo and I Was like “You know what, why not? Nothing is really working out for me so far but I’m going to give this a shot.” So we made our first demo and they really helped me define my esthetic, we were all into it and all excited about it. It ended up being kind of edgy but a little garage and grungy because that’s kind of what they did. But because my writing was so poppy, it just made a cool marriage of pop in the writing but a little more edgy of the arrangement.
Ashley: Which song that you’re performing on this tour is your favorite to perform live?
Chantal: I have a couple songs. I like Double Check, that’s kind of a two part song. It starts as a ballad and in the middle of the song it goes into a fast tempo and then it’s kind of our biggest rock out song because for the last 30 seconds we are just wailing away and we’re just singing and it’s really intense. Then it just drops and dissolves. It goes crazy crazy crazy then just falls. We end with that song in the set.
I also really like the song Under the Gun, it feels like so nineties to me. It has this simple mid-tempo groove but every time we jam the song the whole band looks at each other and we’re like “Wow we love playing that song.” It’s a simple song but it’s just about getting it in the pocket and that’s exciting.
Ashley: What was the most stressful thing about planning thing about planning this tour?
Chantal: It’s not really difficult. You just have to follow up. You send messages, you don’t get replies so then you send it again. It’s just a matter of staying on top of it. It’s easy, I think it is I don’t know maybe we got lucky; this is the first tour I’ve booked in like ten years. You ask, you set a date and you keep sending emails even if you’re not getting replies and if their not answering emails then you message them on Facebook or call them at the venue. It sounds a bit crazy but you just have to stay persistent.
Ashley: What’s the best advice you’ve heard since you started working in the music business?
Chantal: I mean it probably has something to do with keeping at it and you’ll be rejected. In a way I feel like I was rejected quite a bit early on for things like grants and whatever but I cried on the floor and then just kept on going. That stuff toughens you up. It’s not good to be spoon fed and handed things because if things don’t work out, it’s going to it hit you hard. I think that getting a good balance of support and pushing through. If someone says no to you, you get smarter about how to get it done. For example, I financed my record that’s coming out hopefully early next year all by myself. I cried about it a little bit but I figured it out. I spent way less money if I would have been funded so [I had a] very DIY attitude about that. Rejection is good for you.
CHECK OUT THIS NEW VIDEO FOR THE FRENCH PRESS SONG "BACK ON THE MATTRESS"!
Support Winnipeg Musician French Press!
Support Winnipeg Musician Micah Visser!