Still Lives: How Charlotte Cardin's Classic Sound Shows the Way to the Future

But the Montreal chanteuse also cites Radiohead as one of her inspirations.

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Aug 31 2016, 2:00pm


Charlotte Cardin was born for this life. She is a singer with a seductive voice that was cultivated through years of professional training and a stint on La Voix, Quebec’s Francophone version of The Voice. Cardin didn’t win the competition and that’s likely a good thing. But appearing on the show gave her some temporary thrills and the valuable experience to realize that she is a natural born singer.

Cardin was all set to embark on a successful modeling career—she signed with Elite Model Management in Paris—but her heart belonged to music. She writes soothing, slow-motion ballads pertaining to relationships that are exotic in their production, but completely relatable in their message. As her Big Boy EP demonstrates, she is not one to stick to a formula, flirting with minimalistic R&B, jazz, pop, and even hip-hop, such as when MC Husser comes sneaking in to drop a verse on “Like It Doesn’t Hurt.” It should come as no surprise then that her influences range from the esoteric work of Radiohead and James Blake to the mighty Celine Dion and Francophone alt-rock god Jean Leloup.

We got Charlotte to discuss her style, her music, and how they don’t always overlap.

Noisey: When it comes to art and clothing, what does comfort mean to you?
Charlotte Cardin: For me, comfort means simplicity. I don’t dress in glamorous clothing. I just like very simple, good quality fabrics. I think Roots represents that because they have very simple articles of clothing but they last you a long time and they don’t really go out of style. They’re pretty timeless.

What is the relationship between your style and your music?
Once again, it comes down to simplicity. I love classic sounds, just like I am drawn to classic articles of clothing. I think art is at its best when it's stripped down to the basics.

There is a real fusion of styles on your EP. Do you see fashion as something you also try to fuse in a similar way to your music?
I don’t think I have much fusion in my style. So even on stage versus when I do my groceries, I always dress in a very simple way. I think I’m always just in the same vibe, style wise. I like specific things, like grey or black jeans with a white T-shirt. Even if I have an event to dress up for, it will still be something simple made of good quality fabrics.

Your music has both timeless and contemporary sound. Where did the jazz influences come from?
I don’t know exactly where it’s from. I listen to all sorts of different music. Like, my favourite band of all-time is Radiohead, which is definitely not jazz or close to what I do. I love how the sentences in the lyrics come out in the song, how they roll out the words. I feel like there is a flow in jazz that is just different from all other genres. That intrigues me. That is what I pay attention to when I listen to jazz. But I don’t listen to that much jazz music. I love Nina Simone and Etta James, like the classics. And I do listen to some contemporary artists like Norah Jones, but it’s not the music I listen to the most. But I’m very curious, and I think it’s good to have different influences. And it’s not necessarily conscious for me.

Is comfort something you want to feel when you're making music?
Absolutely. I usually write music on a couch or a chair. I have to be in this really comfortable zone so I can focus and reach this honest place inside me. I can’t be surrounded by a million people or sitting in a café. I have to be in a comfortable place.

Whose style do you admire?
My dad's style He's super original and has his own thing going on. He likes super colourful things and dresses the exact opposite of me. I like very neutral colours, but he wears very bright colours. He doesn’t dress like a clown, obviously, he just has this classic style of his own.

How hard was it to choose music over modeling as a career?
It was actually very easy because I knew being a model would never be my career. Between modeling and music, modeling was never really an option for me. I started modeling while I was in school, so it was a good student job. It was fun, but it was never something I wanted to do for a living. There never even really was a choice for me. It’s not a passion for me. I don’t love it enough to do it 24/7. For a while there I was studying to be a doctor, so I didn’t even know I could do music for a living. And then it just became clear to me that music was the path I wanted to choose for a living.

What did you learn modelling that you use in your music career?
Yeah, it certainly taught me how to be comfortable in front of the camera, which is definitely an advantage. When you do interviews and press photos or perform on stage it’s important to remain yourself because people will see that work. It’s not something that’s easy. It took me a few years of modeling to learn how to chill and feel relaxed in front of a camera.

You mentioned Radiohead and I heard they inspired you to become a career musician. What is your favourite Radiohead album and song?
My favourite album is In Rainbows. It’s the album I listen to from start to finish. I feel the progression in the songs is just so good. And I go through phases of my favourite songs, but right now it’s “House of Cards.” But I really like their new album as well. It’s a lot moodier. I can listen to it in the car super loud or just put it on in the background for some atmosphere. I really like the song “Decks Dark.” So right now it’s those two, but it changes every week.

What made you choose to primarily sing in English over French?
It wasn’t really a decision, per se. I was born and raised in Montreal, which is a very bilingual city. I was always exposed to both languages, and even though I come from a French speaking family, I’ve always been immersed in a bilingual world. It’s always been natural to express myself in both languages because I speak both, but I didn’t know when I first began that it would be easier to write in English. For some reason, I write way more in English than in French. I think it’s because French is the more complicated language, for sure. But I think because my background is French it’s a little harder for me because I don’t have that same distance that I do with English. I don’t ask myself as many questions when I’m writing in English—it just comes out. Whereas in French, I pressure myself a lot more because it’s a language I’m more familiar with.

Cam Lindsay is a writer in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter.

This article has been made possible by Roots.