As 2022 gets underway and we see a world that shows no signs of getting any less strange or chaotic, you may be in the mood for seeking out musical sanctuary. If so, Heaven, Wait by Ghostly Kisses may well be the record for you. The music hits some familiar spots – you can hear in Margaux Sauvé’s soft voice the almost whispered ASMR syllables becoming familiar in the mainstream through huge artists like Billie Eilish, but there’s also significant use of the alien AutoTune ubiquitous in the last decade. There’s eerie electronica, but also deft use of unprocessed piano and other classical instrumentation. It’s kind of in chillout territory, but the more you listen, the more it’s clear that Heaven, Wait is an intense singer-songwriter record at heart Many of the album’s structures hint at the kind of euphoria that you’ll hear in commercial trance and EDM, but it remains suspended, any dance beats softened and distanced, never giving into the drive for an easy resolution – which only adds to that emotional intensity. We spoke to Margaux to find out more about how she has found her own place among all these influences.
How are you feeling about the album now it’s complete and going out into the world?
I've really loved the process of making Heaven, Wait. The album feels like a turning point for me as an artist that makes me feel very proud and happy. The songwriting has developed to the point that this is the first time I’ve written and felt like I’m part of a bigger conversation. With the previous EPs, it was a bit of an emotional process to witness the transformations of the songs from demos to finished pieces. I was having a hard time letting go of them. With Heaven, Wait, I’ve felt more confident, I’ve learned from my experiences with the previous EPs, and the relationship and communication with my partner Louis-Étienne Santais has also grown, so it really was easier to create without limits. I felt like I knew what I wanted and that I was able to express it more accurately. Same for the visuals – we’ve explored different ways of expressing a rebirth, but once we were decided on the underwater concept with the team, I never looked back. At some point, I think I've learned to just do something and follow through an idea without second guessing all the time.
How much do you think about where you're 'located' as an artist with regard to classical, pop, electronica or any other established categories?
When I started to write as Ghostly Kisses, it was mainly to escape, to dream. I was looking for a sound that was far from my reality, inspired by artists like London Grammar, Royksopp, etc. In a way, living in Quebec City (which is a predominantly French-speaking city) brought me to discover my own sound which was far from what the local artists do here. I tried to free myself from the influence of the local scene and forced myself to explore something completely different.
That being said, I also think that, to some extent, we can’t fully escape the inherent cultural references that come with growing up in one place or another. What will instinctively resonate with an individual, at least when it comes to artistic taste. I feel like there’s some elements of what we could call a more Nordic sound in Ghostly Kisses, as well as melodic and harmonic structures that were inherited from occidental musical tradition.
I could be wrong but I feel like I hear the influence of recent post-classical / minimalist stuff like Nils Frahm in your sound. Is that something that has influenced you?
I write all the songs with my partner Louis-Étienne Santais, who is also a neo-classical pianist and composer – therefore almost inevitably influenced by Nils Frahm! I’ve also learned the violin since the age of 5. I think our classical backgrounds influence us mainly in the sonic textures. We like when it feels organic, intimate and natural.
There are some parts in the record where it sounds naturalistic – just voice, piano and reverb that sounds like a room – but others where processing reminiscent pop and R&B makes you sound a little... post human? Do you consider the contrast between the synthetic and the natural in what you do?
Absolutely! We’ve been on a kind of artistic quest to explore these contrasts. In a broader sense, we were always questioning ourselves as to what natural and synthetic really means in music. We’ve found that, even though there’s still a clear line between the two concepts when considered at their extremes, the gap is tightening and there’s a grey zone at the center. For instance, sometimes you can’t fully tell if the sound you hear is an organic sound that’s been processed, or if it’s a synth or VST that sounds more “real” than real instruments. Same goes for the voices and it’s fun to play with that sonically.
The album reflects transitions and rebirth – still talking about difficult situations, but with the ability to cast someone else in the lead role, giving the music a deeply personal yet universal appeal. I talk about things with a more mature, adult way of looking at it and it just felt natural to explore this evolution in the music; some songs mark a transition and are meant to make you dance, to let go of the music, to feel free, etc. Other songs are more intimate, exploring difficult situations which were naturally meant to be expressed in piano-voice versions.
A sense of intimacy in singing and recording – close-mic'ed, soft singing – seems to be becoming a big theme in modern popular music. Do you feel like you're fitting into a modern tradition in that sense?
I think that today there are no longer really barriers to art, which has allowed different voices to express themselves and to be able to share their music. For my part, I grew up listening to Céline Dion, telling myself that I would never be a singer since I didn't have the typical voice for that, believing that you had to have a strong and powerful voice to be a singer. Naturally, I have a voice with a lot of air in the sound, when I talk as much as when I sing. I had the idea to try to sing while listening to Hannah Reid of London Grammar a few years ago – it was thanks to her singing style that I had the courage to start.
What is the thinking behind the amount of wordlessly sung passages?
I think sometimes the music, or the voice, doesn't need words to express an emotion. The instrumental passages in the album allow the listener to settle into the music and be carried away. It also gives a little air to welcome the emotions.
How much do you think of yourself as a Canadian – or Québécoise – musician? In a world where the traditional dominance of US and UK pop culture is waning ever faster, is locality important to you?
I grew up in Quebec City and I still live there. I speak French mostly. As a person, I feel very Québécoise in my day-to-day life. However, as an artist, I feel a bit like an artist of the world. I don't necessarily feel that I belong to a movement or a genre. I create by expressing emotions, inspired by my own experiences, but in the end, these emotions are universal and can touch anyone. Ghostly Kisses’ music touches an audience who is all over the planet. In that way it makes me feel free to create without barriers.
All the while I feel like local culture must be protected, I also think that the world is changing fast and it’s not a bad thing to exchange ideas, get inspired by other sounds, and borrow elements from different parts of the world. If anything, I feel like it can eventually enrich the local culture and give more depth to what artists do.
Preorder Heaven, Wait vinyl here.
Images: Fred Gervais-Dupuis
Writer | Joe Muggs
Joe Muggs is a writer, DJ and curator of many years standing, covering both mainstream and underground. His book 'Bass, Mids, Tops', covering decades of UK bass music, is out now via Strange Attractor / MIT Press, and you can subscribe to his newsletter at tinyletter.com/joemuggs.