Ever since she released her debut album, 2013’s L’alchimie des monstres, experimental pop singer-songwriter Klô Pelgag has been swept up in a whirlwind of activity. The ensuing years of excessive touring, recording, and deserved recognition—including a Félix trophy at the 2018 ADISQ gala for Female Artist of the Year—all took a toll on her mental health. “It was very intense,” the Montreal-based artist, born Chloé Pelletier-Gagnon, tells Apple Music. “When we finished touring for the second album, after around 250 shows, I’d accumulated a lot of stuff that I needed to externalize.”
That overexertion was a catalyst for her third full-length. Its title, Notre-Dame-des-Sept-Douleurs (Our Lady of Seven Pains), is also the name of a tiny municipality smack in the middle of the St. Lawrence River on Île Verte, a few hours west of Pelgag's hometown of Sainte-Anne-des-Monts, Québec. Frightened by the town’s name as a kid, she decided to revisit that fear, but more importantly to rest and reconnect with her art, and went to stay there in 2019. It brought out a more shadowy side of her lyrics and music. “I think it’s a straightforward and honest album. Because my emotions were really running high, the themes are crystal clear. It’s still full of the same imagery, but you don’t need to look for the meaning as much. A lot of it’s about relationships with others, and disagreements, but also our internal conflicts. There’s a long search for well-being in this album.” Here she walks us through the genesis of each of its tracks.
Notre-Dame-des-Sept-Douleurs “I see this one as an introduction to the album. I could compare it to the rising sun: At first, it’s only tiny, but once it has fully risen, there are loads of bursts of light that illuminate the scene. It’s something that’s fragile and slow, that rises very gently.”
Rémora “I was reading One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez, and at one point he talks about the ‘remora,’ and because I didn’t know what it was, I looked it up in the dictionary. It’s a fish that attaches itself to other fish and feeds on them like a vampire. I just felt it was such a powerful and wonderful image. I thought to myself that this truly echoes toxic relationships. I was in one during that period and I was trying to get out of it. It was only after composing the song that I realized it was all about that particular relationship.”
Umami “This one came about so naturally. It’s quite an upbeat track, but at the same time it talks about that kind of depressive mood when you think, like, ‘Fuck, is life really this boring?’ It’s as if the outside world is always pulling the rug from under you, spoiling the fun. Society is, in fact, stifling. It’s something you realize as you get older. You try and change things, you try out new stuff, but doing so is an ongoing battle, because when you’re being passive, it’s the shit that triumphs. It also talks about searching for something greater than what we’ve been given. I think it’s a fun track musically, because you get the impression it’s a lighthearted pop song, but in the end, it’s so anti-‘single’ and you’ve just gone and screwed up what looked as if it could have been played on the radio.”
J’aurai les cheveux longs “It’s a plea for reconciliation. It’s about a failed relationship I had with someone who I was trying to bring back into my life. I struggle with conflict. I’m more of a proactive kind of person; I want to talk things through and sort it out. It says, ‘Let’s not waste our time, let’s love one another.’”
À l’ombre des cyprès “It’s a pretty introspective track that addresses self-destruction, the wish to die. In terms of the music, I had quite a bit of fun. But it’s not really that relevant to talk about, you just need to listen to it.”
La fonte “My father [who died in February 2020] had a degenerative disease. He was a prisoner inside his own body and could no longer do anything with it. So it’s about that, but also about the hope that everything could go back to how it was, that he’d be healthy, that we’d have a second chance to enjoy each other’s company. As if springtime could return.”
Soleil “When I was a kid, I was hospitalized twice with a form of ataxia that prevented me from walking. This song is my recollection of the hospital and the room I shared with children who were much sicker than me, including a little girl with cancer. It touches a bit on her, and the blurred memories, because I was very young at the time, only about five. It’s a track that’s somewhat ‘out’ [compared to the rest of the album].”
Für Élise “This is the last song I wrote for the album. It talks about tittle-tattle, and there’s a lot of that going around in my line of work. People love to gossip about artists. It’s like an exaggerated venting of exasperation, crammed into one song.”
Mélamine “In the last few years, I’ve been in contact with people who envy my lifestyle. It’s kind of fucked up being the object of jealousy when you yourself don’t feel happy about how your life is going. It also talks of those who play the victim. With social media, I feel as though everyone is competing in the righteousness department, like, ‘I’m better at suffering than you.’”
Où vas-tu quand tu dors? “This is the one with the most concise subject. It talks about someone who is like stagnant, who doesn’t have dreams and just keeps in step with the rest of the flock. It’s a strange song, musically speaking, because the tone keeps on rising, but only slightly, so you almost don’t notice it, but the body picks up on the modulation in a weird way. At the end, it’s like the same theme that’s repeated several times, but it goes up and down. It’s a good buzz. It messes with your brain.”
La maison jaune “This one refers to the house where Van Gogh lived for a while, where he was sad and cut off his ear. For me, it represents depression, and the tune says I won’t ever go there again. It’s a farewell to that state of mind: I never want to go back there, so goodbye, yellow house. Depression, it’s all in your head; it’s as if you’ve locked yourself away somewhere and it’s you who holds the key. You’ve shut yourself away and it’s hard to pull yourself out of it. And when you do, you find a way of not repeating the same patterns that got you there in the first place. You throw away the key and try not to return.”
Notre-Dame-des-Sept-Douleurs II “It’s a sort of mini-summary of the album. The intro is harrowing, and then it culminates with some quite gentle piano and the Electro-Theremin-inspired synthesizer, which is actually a Therevox. It’s an instrument made by a couple of geeks in Ontario. It imitates the sounds of an Electro-Theremin, which have a very horror-movie vibe, and I’m crazy about that type of sound. There’s quite a bit on the album. Here, it brings a touch of lightness so you can take a step back from the feeling at the beginning of the track. It’s as though you’re walking in the footsteps of the album, and then you move on to something else. For me, that’s also what this project’s about: You’re strolling along, and you see loads of very dissimilar things that lead to many different states of mind, quite complex things, situations, people talking to each other. It’s like a movie.”
J'aurai les cheveux longs
À l'ombre des cyprès
Où vas-tu quand tu dors ?
La maison jaune
12 SONGS, 42 MINUTES
JUNE 26, 2020
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