Shortlist shortcut to Lisa LeBlanc's Chiac Disco
The Acadian singer-songwriter tells us why ‘Gossip’ is the perfect gateway to her Polaris-shortlisted album
To help music fans get to know the 10 Polaris Music Prize-nominated albums, CBC Music presents the Shortlist Shortcut series. Every week, we will ask a nominated artist for a recommended track off their shortlisted record. Perhaps it's a song that best represents the themes on the album, or maybe it's the most important, difficult or rewarding song they wrote. The question was left to the artist to interpret, but the hope is that the selected track will give us a pathway into their work.
In the fourth instalment of this series, we spoke with Acadian singer-songwriter Lisa LeBlanc, who has now been shortlisted for the Polaris Music Prize twice.
Lisa LeBlanc on 'Gossip'
When Lisa LeBlanc premiered her song "Gossip" on popular Quebec talk show Tout le monde en parle in March 2022, it was immediately a contender for song of the summer. Marrying disco with a James Brown beat and a killer bassline, "Gossip" revels in small-town life, with a whole lot of flair.
For LeBlanc, "Gossip" was also the first song she wrote that made her finally see her now Polaris-shortlisted album, Chiac Disco.
"It's what represents the whole record because it's so inspired by my hometown in New Brunswick, and it's so inspired by the chiac, which is our accent in Acadia in southern New Brunswick. So to me it's full of joy and it talks about the gossip from Tim's in Rogersville. It gives you an idea of what the album is going to be about," she finishes, laughing.
The idea for the song came to LeBlanc one day while she was driving — a picture of the Tim Hortons regulars in Rogersville, "people who are extremely, extremely loyal to their hours," details LeBlanc, and what ended up being the opening lyrics to the song:
J'vais au Tim Horton pour savoir qu'est-ce qu'est la gossip
Un café double-double avec trois Timbits and gossip
Pas d'drive-thru, tu manquerais tout la gossip
J'veux savoir la gossip
The inspiration to connect chiac and disco partially came to LeBlanc from childhood stories of her aunts and uncles, "going to dances in the '70s like super all decked-out with their super disco clothes with glitter and platform shoes, but all going in a pickup truck," she says. It's how she perfectly sums up the whole album: "where glamour meets rurality."
The epiphany to write "Gossip" came at a fortuitous time, too, as LeBlanc had been in a writing slump for years. Normally based in Montreal, she and her partner and bassist, Benoit Morier, moved back to Moncton during the pandemic and found that they had a lot of time on their hands. So they started a new project: a weekly bingo on Facebook Live called Bingo avec Joanne.
"Essentially Ben, my partner, was this lovely lady called Joanne, who is a bank teller by day, fortune teller by night, who reads the future in toast. So yeah, that gives you an idea," LeBlanc says, laughing. "And it kind of took over our lives, and between bingo rounds we needed music because it was Facebook Live and so it needed to be original content because of the copyright rules and everything. So I started writing bingo music with this alter ego called Belinda, who is a lovely, sassy waitress from the '60s. And we were just writing a song a week, but just the fact of being in the studio, having something to do, writing with one finger on a keyboard, you know, and a drum machine. And just still being in the studio, learning a lot and just being in that creative space where I was writing bingo songs."
The pressure was off, and it's exactly what LeBlanc needed. At first, "Gossip" was written as a straight-up disco song, but LeBlanc kept rearranging it while making the rest of her record, never fully satisfied. That's when the funk came in, and the brass. Once LeBlanc let loose, it all came together.
"The thing with this album was — which was really fun, and with 'Gossip' — there were a lot of things that we were like, 'We shouldn't be doing this, but let's do it,' you know? Kind of like, everything is possible with this album. Let's do all the cheesy stuff we can and let's just see what happens. And so on that tune, there's a fretless bass and it's kind of dumb, honestly. It's just — there are chimes on that album. Yeah, it's a lot."
But "a lot" is a description for constraints and judgments LeBlanc had carried with her since she started making music years ago — and that she was ready to let go of. Chiac Disco is the singer's fifth album, and is vastly different from anything she's released under her own name.
"I hated keys, I hated everything, basically," LeBlanc admits. "I was just really single-minded in what I wanted and what I didn't like. I knew what I didn't like. And so it's hilarious to be like, now we have fretless bass and chimes and horns and keyboards galore and strings and all of the things. So it was really a liberation of sorts because it was just like, the sky's the limit. And some things that I didn't like before, well, could be really surprising and be like, 'OK, well, this actually works, this is fun.'"
That Chiac Disco was shortlisted for the Polaris Prize was a shock to LeBlanc. Her first Polaris-shortlisted album, 2016's Why You Wanna Leave, Runaway Queen?, was a critically acclaimed English folk record, and this newest release captures a whole other side of the singer.
"This one to me is incredibly special because it was made with so much love and so much artistic freedom because it was during the pandemic, and this album was such a lifesaver," says LeBlanc. "It was something incredibly positive and creatively fun…. And it was a risk, in a way. I didn't really see it as a risk, people told me that later [laughs], that it was a risk to do that album. But I made it without any expectations. I did it really from the bottom of my heart … plus it's chiac. So it's cool. It's from where I'm from."