Five Questions With… Melanie Brulée
The award-winning bilingual singer/songwriter has come up with a soul-baring collection of powerful songs on her third full-length album. Here she reflects upon the new record, mental illness, touring in America, and an embarassing Madonna karaoke moment.
By Jason Schneider
The 12 songs on Melanie Brulée’s third full-length album Fires, Floods & Things We Leave Behind explore themes of family and loss and are loosely based around the idea of the 12 steps of addiction recovery. It is a tip of the hat to loved ones who have gotten sober and those who never did, including her dad.
Although the Toronto-based singer/songwriter crafted much of the new material in Nashville with some of Music City’s finest, the album is also an extension of her efforts to promote mental health awareness. These include workshops on self-confidence that Brulée has offered with students across North America, encouraging them to talk about their fears and anxieties, offering tips and tricks on dealing with depression, and sharing her story as a suicide loss survivor.
Born in Cornwall, Ontario to bilingual parents, Brulée has also spent time living in Australia and France. All of those experiences have influenced her style and sound that blurs the lines between folk-rock and modern country music. Until now, she has perhaps been better known in Quebec due to the success of her 2015 French-language album Débridée, which earned her a Stingray Music Rising Star Award as well as other accolades.
Now, with Fires, Floods & Things We Leave Behind, she is ready to formally introduce herself to English Canada with a soul-baring collection of songs that she hopes can be a refuge for others with similar stories. Melanie Brulée next performs live on Oct. 18 in Toronto at the Dakota Tavern, and on Oct. 20 in Montreal at Petit Campus. For more go to melaniebrulee.com.
What makes Fires, Floods & Things We Leave Behind stand apart from your previous work?
Stylistically, it delves a lot deeper into classic country and Americana genres, which has my mother proud—she loves country music! My last album, Débridée, was in French and was quite synth-heavy indie-rock but this record is much more rootsy.
What was your vision for this record going into it?
There’s a spaghetti-western vibe to it as well as some southern rock and bluegrass flavours. Thematically, it takes off whereDébridée left off. Those songs were the beginning of me dealing with my late father’s passing and opening conversations about mental health. This album explores themes of addiction and recovery, something my father struggled with his whole life.
What songs on the album are you particularly proud of and why?
This album was put together almost like a movie soundtrack, so it's hard to choose. The album opens and closes with two different versions of a Tex-Mex tune called “I Will.” I wanted to bookend the album with this tune to add to the soundtrack feel. “Pretty Wasteland” is close to my heart as it was written to empower those struggling with addiction. But I think my favourite track on the album though is “Weak.” It’s a song I wrote many years ago. We turned it on its head in pre-production and it came out perfectly bluegrass-y and melancholy. It’s the underdog of the album, and I think that’s why it’s my fave.
What's been the biggest change in your life over the past year?
I’ve spent a lot of time in Nashville in the past year, as well as touring the US for the first time, so that’s been exciting for me. My shows are always bilingual. I wasn’t sure how Americans would take to it, but it turns out they love it—I’m so exotic! I feel like people need music more than ever right now with everything going on in the world.
Another big change is that I got a dog this past year, so life is different with a fur baby around. He forces me out of the house to walk multiple times per day—what a concept—and I feel much healthier and grounded thanks to him. I’m totally “that person” now though; I’ve started an Instagram account for his adventures on tour with me. It’s @muttfacerocky for anyone interested!
What do you recall about your first time performing in public?
When I was around 8 or 9 years old, there was a restaurant in my hometown that hosted karaoke on Saturdays, and I begged my mother to take me. I chose my favourite song, Madonna’s “Like a Prayer,” but when I got up to sing, I didn’t recognize the song and fumbled awkwardly through my three minutes onstage. It turns out I chose “Like a Virgin.”It took me a few years to understand that it may have been even more awkward for the other people in the room!