The liberation of Cœur de pirate: How Beatrice Martin rediscovered herself by letting go
'It's important to destroy what people expect from musicians, artists and people in the public eye'
I Fell Out of Love is a series of frank conversations with artists untangling the messy relationships between art, passion, work and money. Do you need to love what you create? Does seeing art as work make things easier or harder? What follows is a conversation about making art: the philosophies, the realities — and the drive to keep doing it.
Montreal-born musician Béatrice Martin — known best under the moniker Cœur de pirate — says she falls out of love with what she does "on a daily basis." But that's a vital part of her process, and part of why she's spent the better part of a decade achieving an extraordinary level of fame making pop music. But while the hard work and passion she's put into her career over the years is undeniable, the artist is frank: making music was never really part of her plan.
Here, Martin shares that the profession wasn't something she felt especially compelled to pursue until some of her work took off on MySpace. Soon after, she found herself catapulted around the world, enjoying great success in Quebec and Europe. Roses, Martin's 2015 English-language record, gave her even more appeal in English-speaking Canada and across the border in the United States.
Whether in her music, in interviews or in published pieces of writing, Martin remains reflective and a stark realist. Her latest record, En cas de tempête, ce jardin sera fermé, deals with difficult subjects including abuse and trauma — topics she felt were imperative to discuss. For Noisey, she wrote a series of essays confronting the myths of pop stars and success, her social anxieties and a struggle with alcohol. She also came out as queer in an open letter to the publication in 2016.
Now almost 30, Martin is similarly candid about what she's learned during her unexpected career, and what art means to her both creatively and in an economic sense. When it all comes down to it, she explains, songwriting is what she loves to do — what she needs to do. But just how that passion correlates with work and success changes often.
Sarah MacDonald: When did you decide that you wanted to be a performer? Was it something you felt a calling to do?
Béatrice Martin: My case is very particular because it was not something I wanted to do — it was something kind of thrown at me. Obviously, I couldn't see myself doing anything else today, but it was really weird how it started. I was in a band and then I started posting music on MySpace, and I got kind of discovered through that. In my head, I thought I was going to play little gigs and [then] go to CEGEP. That was my deal. But it kind of blew up here — [and] mostly in France — so I started doing trips, and then I realized I was making money. That was my life all of a sudden. I never thought I was a good singer. I never thought I wanted to do this.
SM: Once you got going, was there something that excited you in an artistic or creative sense?
BM: I mean, it's really funny. The way I write, and the way I compose, is pretty much automatic writing. I don't go back on it. I do it impulsively. When I'm writing a song — and I hate bragging about this, but it's true — it's very much like I was made to do this. And if I don't, then it's kind of a waste. I have all of this music in my head, so why not write it down and do something about it? I love songwriting and writing music — I don't enjoy the touring part. In the beginning, it was easier because I was younger and it was fun and it was great. I was working so much that I didn't realize what was happening to me. But the older you get, the more perspective you have. That's when you realize there's this whole part of my life that went by, and I didn't really understand what was happening. It's weird because as much as I love doing what I do, there are very specific aspects that tear me apart.
SM: That's a good segue into my next question. Do you remember the first time you felt that your art had become work — something routine or not as creatively fulfilling?
BM: This one time, I had influenza. It was really, really bad and I was very, very sick. I had fallen on my head, too, a couple times. I went to the hospital, and it was horrible. But I had a TV show I had to do, and, you know, I couldn't back out. My manager was like, "You have to do this," and I think because I was younger back then, and I really thought I had no say, I kind of went with it. That's when I realized that I didn't matter as much as I thought I did. People around me were great — they were doing their jobs. But [ultimately] nobody cares about how bad you are [feeling] right now and how horrible the situation is — you still have to work. You still have to do this.
SM: So do you feel that, as a performer, you're not allowed to have those days to just be a person in the same way that someone in an office job would?
BM: Of course. I can't take sick days. I can't get sick. I can't be going through bad stuff, even remotely, because people depend on me. I have this whole band, this company that depends on me. If I cancel a show, there's a chance I might not be able to work. It's this ongoing thing with musicians, I think; it's a problem we all have. And it's a model that doesn't necessarily work, since it depends on one person and one person only. If I can't do the show, then, I mean, the show doesn't go on. [laughs] It's another kind of stress you impose on yourself. Me, as the producer of the show. Producer of everything. I have financial setbacks if I cancel. Also, I want to be there for these people. People buy tickets to the show, and take time and money out of their lives to come and see me, so it's pretty important for me to be there.
SM: Another specific part of your experience is that you're a mom, so you have this whole other person you're taking care of while you're doing this job. How does that factor into your work?
BM: It's very hard to do both — I'm not going to lie. If I have a show and [my daughter] is there, it's very hard for me to be calm and understanding with her. That's the same with anybody else, I'm sure. My whole well-being depends on how calm I am before the show. [And] you know, if I have a deadline to meet, it's important for me to stay focused. If she's there and she needs my attention, and I can't give that to her fully, that makes me very sad. It's hard to do both at the same time.
SM: Have you ever felt limited by the cliché that artists should struggle and not sell out?
BM: I love selling out. [laughs] I sold out ages ago. No, I think some people who make music need to stay true to, I don't know what...a code. But, in my case, I do pop music. Pop music is for everybody. And I love that! I love that people see themselves in what I write and what I do. So, I don't like limiting myself — I think that's important for me. I love writing pop music. It's what I love to do. It's fun.
SM: You've spent a good part of your career being honest with people and with yourself in terms of the reality of music-making — the toll it takes and what you sacrifice to do it...
BM: I do enjoy sharing [those things] because it's important to destroy what people expect from musicians, artists and people in the public eye. I do have a certain influence now as a public personality, so if I can help with talking about real stuff...I'm not a Barbie doll. I'm a real human, too. I live through things. If people see they can relate to you then there's no star system anymore and that's amazing. The celebrity status is kind of abolished. That's important, I think. I don't think we should be put on a pedestal. We're just people.
SM: Have you ever fallen out of love what you do?
BM: I fall out of love with what I do on a daily basis. But that's a vital part of the process and how you appreciate it, too. It's important for me to realize there are hard parts to this in order to enjoy the better parts. If I struggle at a show then I know the next one will be better because I will know what to do. You live and you learn. You try to make the best of your mistakes. It's not easy. Thank God it's not, you know?
SM: What's your definition of an artist?
BM: I think it's how you make other people feel. If somebody can look at what you do and listen to what you do and feel something, then you are an artist. You can be an artist in various ways, but it's important to trigger emotion. If you can't do that...that's everything about being an artist to me.
SM: Do you have any practices that lead you back to being in love with what you do?
BM: I think writing songs is the one thing [that will do it]. Whenever I finish a song, I get this really weird high. I can't describe it. It's better than playing a show. When I write a song, I manage to put into words and music what I want to say. It's like turning a page. It's a psychological thing that happens. You can get closure on certain events or different situations in your life that made you miserable. It's why I do what I do.
I think the important thing with age is the letting go — that's when the good stuff happens.- Beatrice Martin
SM: Do you carve out certain times to write? Some people have these perceptions that musicians are constantly writing, while others think they only write in cycles — to have something to release at the end of it.
BM: I think it depends on the person. For me, it's either on command — because I do that too; I write for other people — or it's when I can't hold it back anymore and something comes out. It's sporadic. I don't have a [set] period where I do it. It's kind of all the time.
SM: When I think about what musicians go through, specifically today, the job feels like a pursuit of passion that risks real financial instability. Do you feel like that's true?
BM: You will not make money out of music today, that's for sure. There's no way — unless you are insanely successful. I feel bad for the new generation starting out, because people have a very short attention span now. That makes me very sad. When I was younger, I'd still go to an Alexisonfire show, because I'm part of that generation that had to wait for an album — wait for something to happen. We don't have that anymore, and it's really sad. I'm scared for my kid's generation and stuff. Maybe it'll pan out, and I'm being like my parents when they saw us [in the same way]. And they were like, "Ugh, these young people have no attention span anymore." I don't know! [laughs]
SM: Toward the end of 2018, you said something on social media about not being sure if you wanted to make more music as Cœur de pirate. How important is it to you to evolve in your artistry, even if it means — temporarily or permanently — leaving behind one of the things that led to your success?
BM: I'm in the very privileged position I'm in today because I've been doing this for 10 years, and I've been fairly successful. So I have more creative liberty. If I wanted to do a country album tomorrow, I could. It wouldn't be a problem. I'm like, "Ah, it's fine. I can do whatever I want now. It's good." This is how I see myself evolving: having more freedom, getting older and not being as fixated on success and having more, like, you know what do I like to do and I'm going to do it. In order to have that kind of freedom [in the first place], I had to work really hard. And I'm glad I did. If nothing more happens tomorrow, I'll be happy, too.
SM: I mean, I would love a country album. I'm just saying.
BM: I'm trying!
SM: You bring up an interesting point about experience and artistic freedom. In a similar way, do you feel that aging can be really fruitful, creatively speaking?
BM: I think the important thing with age is the letting go — that's when the good stuff happens. You don't have that pressure anymore of trying to be the person you "need" to be. You are just the person you are. That's truly a good gift to have. I've had this conversation with a lot of people. You know, when you're a teenager [you think] life is going to end — your boyfriend dumps you and you write stuff down in your agenda. And now, you're like, "I...don't have...time for this? I'm going to die, so..." [laughs] I'd rather just have a good time, you know? I can still reflect on things and go through major life changes. I just need to appreciate stuff as much as I can.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Cœur de pirate will perform at 2019's CBC Music Festival, Saturday, May 25th in Toronto. Tickets are available now! Find out more.