The Inevitable Rise of Montreal's Charlotte Cardin

Cardin sat down with us to chat about her debut album 'Phoenix,' her thoughts on the modeling industry today, and her favourite Montreal spots.

It’s been almost a decade since Charlotte Cardin competed on the Quebec version of The Voice, La Voix. She made it to the finals, and the world seemed eager to hear more of the then-18-year-old’s music, but she wasn’t quite ready to commit. 

Over the last couple years, following a stint as a professional model and some personal growth that’s obviously done wonders for the development of her personal style, she’s released four singles, all of which will be featured on her debut 13-track album, Phoenix, available today. Cardin’s soulful alt-pop approach and raw lyrics have positioned her to be the voice of a generation. Now, it seems she’s ready to accept the responsibility. 

Cardin will be launching the album with a one-hour livestream concert dubbed The Phoenix Experience, set to be live streamed from a Montreal studio on April 29 at 8 p.m.

Complex Canada’s Alex Narvaez caught up with Cardin to chat about her debut, her thoughts on the modeling industry today, and the best of Quebec.

Congrats on the new album! From what I’ve heard, you’ve been working on it for three years. How does it feel to put this out into the world?
It feels amazing. I’m so excited, It’s been like a really, really exciting few weeks knowing that the album is finally coming out. As you mentioned, we worked on it for almost three years. So it’s been a really long process, but I’m super proud of the album and I’m just so excited for people to be able to hear it.

You recently did a live stream to talk to fans about the release of your latest music video “Sad Girl.” What’s it like to use tech to communicate with your fans?
It has definitely made my year so much nicer than it would have been if I couldn’t have been in touch with my fans. I think every artist misses performing so much right now, but at least we have the ability to keep in touch with our fans.

Through Instagram and little live sessions and little acoustic sessions that I did in my apartment, being able to communicate with fans has been really nice and really important. We released a few singles in the last few months and being able to get their feedback without actually being with them or being in contact with them physically… It definitely made the year a lot more exciting.

It’s nice to actually have that interaction that’s live and more spontaneous. We’re lucky to be able to do that right now with everything that the world is going through.

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Can you speak to the Phoenix Experience live stream event?
I can totally speak on it. It’s a livestream event where we’ll be performing all of the songs on the album for the very first time. Since there’s so much going on right now and we don’t really know when we’ll be able to actually perform the album live, we wanted to create an experience where people could live the journey of creating and hearing the album with us.

We are working on super intimate moments for the performance and then also moments that are more of a full band all out. We’ve worked on different set designs… it’s going to be a very dynamic performance.

“I had to let go of strained relationships and certain patterns that I might have had that really held me back from growing and being able to explore new parts of myself.”

What was it like working with Norman Wong on the “Sad Girl” music video?
It was an honour for me to be able to work with Norman. I’m a huge fan of his work. He’s a lovely, lovely person, an amazing human being, and he’s so talented that it’s been really, really fun.

I think “Sad Girl” was a little bit more challenging as a visual for the song because the song is a mix of a lot of different genres. So a lot of images would pop in all of our heads when we were brainstorming. We had all these different ideas between Norman, our team and me and Norm had the idea of doing the rain and the water.

But what was challenging is that I really wanted a part of it to be a little bit like flirting with Korean-horror kind of vibe and to mix those two beautiful aesthetics and throwback 2000s rain. It was a challenge, but Norm completely nailed it. He did exactly what I had in mind. He even pushed it much further than what I had envisioned. It’s really lovely to work with him. I hope we’ll get to work together again.

You’ve put four very different singles out until this point for the new album. How do you tackle putting together your debut album different than tackling an EP?
I really wanted to have fun with production on this album. I listen to very, very different kinds of music. I have very eclectic music tastes, so I listen to R&B, hip-hop, jazz and soul. I also listen to pop music a lot, rock and roll and all these different things. I wanted the album to obviously represent me and so it was very natural for my team and I to explore different genres and allow ourselves to push that even further than how we did that on the EP because it was symbolically like a first album for me.

We just decided to keep the production as simple as possible and to just put the accent on vocal melodies and lyrics and to keep everything as stripped down as possible while having a lot of fun, just fooling around with production. I think that’s what ties the whole thing together. Even though we do explore different genres, we just kept it as simple as possible, playing around with styles.

It was such a liberating process for me on a lot of levels, even professionally, I felt like I’ve evolved so much. I learned so much making this album. And on a personal level, a lot of stuff happened in my life as well. The whole process was super, super liberating… I felt like I grew a lot from it. And I just hope that when people hear this album, they also feel some kind of liberation.

I heard you talk about the meaning of Phoenix, the idea of sacrifice and growth. From La Voix to now, there’s a lot of growth—what have you needed to sacrifice to get here?
If I look back on everything that’s happened since La Voix, there’s been so much that has happened since, but the concept of the phoenix for me, applied really well to the whole creative process behind this specific album.

I basically had to relearn how to write music because I had always kind of just waited for inspiration to hit me… then I would write a song. It’s such a different approach when you have to write an album. You have to discipline yourself and seek inspiration, but at the same time, there was also a lot of personal stuff that happened.

I had to let go of strained relationships and certain patterns that I might have had that really held me back from growing and being able to explore new parts of myself. That’s what I mean by my sacrifice and letting go of things.

I wanted to ask you about modeling. When I was thinking of the concept of Phoenix, I thought back to your modeling days and wondered, what does she think about that now, especially around the dangers of body image.
Modeling is definitely a really unhealthy business. There’s something so ironic about the fact that the people that society, in general, looks up to the most… are actually the people that I have met who are the most insecure and who are the least confident about themselves and their body types. I have a lot of respect for models that do that for a living… because it takes a lot of strength.

My experience in modeling has really, really shaken my self-confidence. I have experienced crazy situations where I felt completely objectified, completely disrespected, completely judged for who I was. And so that’s why I had to set that aside. Modeling was never an ambition for me. I did it because it allowed me to have enough money to buy instruments, work on my music and have an apartment where I could live… but it wasn’t something I wanted to do because I knew I wanted to do music for a living.

But what I can say is that it’s a super unhealthy industry. It has taught me a lot. It also is completely a part of that idea of growth and self-acceptance. And you are completely right because it has changed my life in a lot of ways. I had to rebuild certain parts of me that were destroyed by that industry… I’m still working on that sometimes.

I wanted to quickly go through a speed round, Give me the first answer that comes to your head… Best restaurant in Montreal?
Alma. It’s so good… right on the corner of my street. It’s like Tapas, it’s like Catalan-inspspired. There’s an amazing wine list… one of the best wine lists in Montreal.

Best quarantine/social-distancing pastime?
I would say learning covers, covering songs!

Quebec is known for its amazing cinema. What would you say is a French-Canadian film or French-Canadian director people should know or watch?
I recently watched a movie called Tout est Parfait, that means “everything is perfect” and it’s a really hard movie to watch because it’s about a gang of a little group of teenagers who decide to to commit suicide collectively. So it’s really, really intense. But it is such a beautiful film. And for some reason, it went under the radar a little bit… it’s not that known in Quebec. It’s absolutely stunning. I think everyone should see that movie. It’s so beautiful and touching.

Favourite Canadian musician of all time?
Oh, my God, that’s so hard. Neil Young is definitely up there, but there’s a French Canadian songwriter, his name is Daniel Bélanger, and I grew up listening to his music. His lyrics are wonderful and he creates beautiful atmospheres. So I’d say Neil Young, Daniel Bélangert and I’m a really big Daniel Caesar fan.

My last question was actually going to be which Canadian artist would you collab with?
I think I would say Daniel Caesar for sure. I just love his style and his whole musical atmosphere. He’s incredible. I’d love to sing with him.

Okay, one last bonus question. What’s one binge-worthy series you would recommend?
Normal People! It’s so good. It’s an Irish TV show and a mini series. It’s just a beautiful love story between two teenagers. But it’s done in such a raw and real way. It’s really not tacky on any level. It’s just so real… almost scary because it’s like you relate to every single dialog in the show. It’s incredible.

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