Gabrielle Papillon: A songwriter that will stretch your heart
I slide into the driver’s seat of my car, turn on my ignition and start to gracelessly back out of my parking spot. I am not looking forward to the drive. I rarely do. Luckily, I have a light and lovely c.d. to get me through the next few hours.
I have been listening to singer Gabrielle Papillon’s album entitled “Little Bug” for the past few months incessantly. This is partly because it is jammed into my c.d. player, and refuses to eject, and partly because Gabrielle has become my auditory lifeline. This Canadian treasure has been lifting spirits and lightening hearts with her folky skip-along slow-sway songs.
I met Gabrielle on a windy day. I was working at a music bar in Peterborough and she was performing an afternoon show with some friends. Standing slightly below my hulking 5”6 frame, and with a voice that could melt ice sculptures, it was love at first sight.
When asked what her songwriting process is like, this bilingual beauty (yes, she sings in French too!) starts with a melody and lyrics, and then decides what the song is about, and can guide it to completion from there. She is working on a new album right now, although she just released her last album not quite a year ago! She’s always plugging away at a few songs at a time.
Every so often, a song will come to her as a gift, requiring only an open heart and willing ears. These songs are less labours of love, and moreso gifts from within. One such song is “Go Into The Night.” Gabrielle shares the story behind this heart hymn.
” That song was a gift. It came to me in February of 2012, in the middle of Halifax winter, and it had been raining for days and I had really been feeling that ache and that longing to write a good song. I had been plugging away at a bunch of different things and then all of a sudden it was just there. All the parts, and all the harmonies—and I knew exactly what it was about because the words almost seemed to write themselves. It’s about a lighthouse keeper who lived in the late 18th century in northeastern Quebec on a tiny island. The only inhabitants of the island were himself, his pregnant wife, their 13 year old niece, and the lighthouse keeper’s assistant. His wife went into labour during a terrible storm, so he and his assistant got in the boat to try and get to the mainland for help. They never made it to land and were drowned in the storm. While waiting for her husband to return, the lighthouse keeper’s wife gave birth to their only daughter (my great-grandmother) while her 13 year old niece tended to her. Neither my great-great-grandfather nor his assistant’s bodies were ever found, and my great-grandmother Azélie told the sad tale of the night of her birth to my mother when she was a child.”
This song found its inspiration in her bloodline, but Gabrielle fears not for being inspired. Residing in the beautiful Halifax, Nova Scotia, and having Montreal, Quebec as a second home, she immerses herself in vibrant and wandering cultures.
Musically she’s inspired by the dramatic and melancholy, lending her ears to the likes of Bjork and Radiohead. She also has a soft spot for film scores, and can’t stop listening to Ane Brun’s song “These Days” lately.
As I sip my ginger lemon tea, and read over my last correspondence with Gabrielle, I am floored by her coolness. I flatter myself by assuming we would be terrific friends, were it not for the distance between our homes. I want to share her. I want to share her with the world.
If you’re lucky, she’ll follow her feet to a place near you.
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Ed: Bryonie Wise