To put it lightly, I am OBSESSED with French-Canadian all-around musical genius MUNYA (Josie Boivin), so I’m super stoked to let you know (if you don’t already) that she’s set to play a show at Elsewhere tomorrow night! She’s had a bit of a whirlwind year, what with releasing two EPs and joining Cults on the road in November and December, and from what she told me during our phone catch-up last week, she’s looking forward to getting back in the studio in 2019 to put out even more material. This is GREAT news considering how incredible all the tracks she’s put out thus far have been, so be sure to keep your ears peeled for all of that. In the meantime, internet-eavesdrop on our full conversation below, in which we talked about linguistics, aliens and more!
Happy New Year! What’ve you been working on lately?
I’ve been working on this show that we’ve got at Elsewhere on the 16th, because I’ll be performing with a full band for that one. I’m also working on new songs.
Is there a full-length in the works?
I don’t know yet. I’m working on songs right now, but I’m not sure how we’re going to release them. I’m also mostly trying to get inspired at this point, listening to a bunch of music, and it feels good to have the time to do that. I was so busy in November and December, but I definitely feel the need to create music, and finally being able to sit down and do that has been great. My laptop did freeze yesterday, though, so I was really freaking out. [Laughs] But I’ll be back on track from today onward.
Good! Now, I’m really interested to hear about your musical history and how you sort of arrived at this particular project, because I know your trajectory (at least from what I’ve read) sounds like it’s been long and rigorous, from being classically trained to taking up an interest in jazz. When did your interest in music actually start?
I started playing piano when I was four years old, and I played classical piano until I was…well, I never really stopped, but I trained until I was fourteen or fifteen, and then I started singing opera. So it all started pretty young.
Was there ever a point that you felt burnt out on it? And how did you sort of reconcile these more “traditional” musical styles and techniques, eventually arriving at the more modern, indie sound you’ve got going on with MUNYA?
Totally. But to be fair, it just came naturally to me. I started classical music, and I was doing it, I loved it, I liked it, but wasn’t passionate about it. I was a kid, and so you don’t really think about it so much. My mom was supporting me, and I just kept with it. When I started singing opera, you know, I never thought I’d be doing that. I wasn’t a “singer” when I was a kid, but one day I heard an opera singer and tried to imitate her, and the opera teacher heard me and told me I should pursue it. I was like, “What?! Really?!” So I ended up doing that, and I really liked it because it’s very technical. But it was very conservative, and it’s pretty difficult to forge your own path. So I took a year off before going to college, because I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do, but when I did go to college I started jazz music, and I really loved it. Jazz is still one of my big inspirations, but the whole thing was very natural.
After college I didn’t know what to do, had all those existential questions like, “Who am I?” When you study music, it’s very competitive, and I’m so not a competitive person. So I was like, “I love it, but I don’t see how I could do this. I’m not an artist, I’m not competitive enough…” So I went traveling, explored life for some time, and then I started playing keyboards and collaborating with artists in Montreal. I’ve always created music, but not seriously. And then last year, I was just like, “This is now or never. I have to be serious, work hard and put myself out there.” I think I was just scared to sort of say, “Okay, this is who I am.”
Was it Pop Montreal the moment that really skyrocketed everything?
Yeah, so I learned how to produce music by remixing other songs, and I had a few remixes that I shared with friends at the time, and one of those friends was curating a show for Pop Montreal. A few months beforehand, I sent her remix ideas, and she was like, “That’s dope! You should make more music!” And then she invited me to participate. But at that point, I only had like, one original song, and the rest were remixes. You can’t really do a show with just remixes. Or, anything is possible, but it’s kind of weird to do that, especially for this show that she was curating. So I said, “Okay, I’ll do it!” but in my head I was like, “Oh, shit. I have to make songs! I have no material!” So I wrote music for like, two weeks, and then the show was not…it was a funny, let’s just say that. I was trying to play songs that I’d written in two weeks! [Laughs] But basically the show opened the door for me to be like, “Okay, I can do this. I don’t want to do this last-minute, either. I want to take this seriously and make original music.” So Pop Montreal was a revelation of, “I have to do this and I want to do this.” After that, my laptop actually broke (this is apparently my life story) and I couldn’t make music for a month, but I think it was in October that I started writing music, scheduled studio time with my friends to put ideas together, and eventually I wrote the songs, and my first EP came out in May of 2018.
Tell me about the process of writing lyrics in your songs, because I’m interested in how you (as a French-Canadian artist) decide whether a song will be written in English, in French, or (like with “Hatley”) if it won’t have lyrics at all.
Before I was even thinking of doing my solo project, I thought, “If I ever do have a project one day, I want to sing in English.” I don’t know why I had that thought, but I just think I thought it sounded better. I listen to French music, but then I’d say that seventy percent of the stuff I listen to is in English. But when I started to make my songs for MUNYA, it just came out so naturally. The ideas I put down, you know, they started out with riffs and melodies, and I heard the words in French in my head. So I thought, “Okay, this is just going to be in French. Interesting.” And then I wrote another song, and it was in French, too.
I don’t think about it when I write music, it’s just natural. And tomorrow I might make a song, and I can’t say if it’s going to be in English or French until I create it. Words come to me, and sometimes it’s in French, sometimes it’s in English, and sometimes it’s both. It’s very spur the moment, never planned in advance. I’m a very spontaneous person as well. And the reality of being a French Canadian is that your day to day life is half in English, half in French. I wish I could speak Spanish and write lyrics in Spanish, but I can’t. I write lyrics in French in English because my reality is both languages.
Totally. Alright, I also do feel like I need to talk to you about aliens since I read the backstory about “If I’m Gone Tomorrow (It’s Because of Aliens)”. You believe in aliens, then, yes? We can assume that? (I definitely believe in aliens.)
I don’t know, but I’d like to see them! Every day I read about how they found a new planet or a new galaxy, so the possibility of aliens existing is near a hundred percent. [Laughs] As a kid I was really afraid of aliens, especially after watching the movie Independence Day. After I watched it, and I was very young when I did, I was so scared. I remember we were at my parents’ lake cottage, and the sky was so dark (it was in wintertime), and we’d been watching the movie at my aunt and uncle’s cottage nearby. I remember I had to walk back on the icy lake to go to my parents’ cottage, and I was so scared! For months afterwards I was waking up my mom every single night to be like, “I heard a sound! I think it might be an alien!” [Laughs]
I was the same way; my sister is five years older than I am, so she wanted to see Independence Day at the movie theater, and I thought, “This is fine! I can handle it!” (I definitely could not handle it.)
[Laughs] There are a few movies that definitely traumatized me as a kid. That’s what happens when you’re the youngest! But growing up, I loved science and space and planets, and now I really like to believe. I hope I’ll see aliens one day, maybe not, but I do like to believe that they exist.
SAME. Alright, and finally, what’s on the docket for you in 2019? Any big goals?
I definitely want to play more. It was my first tour in the US with Cults, and I had such an amazing time with them. At first I was scared, because I’m an emerging artist, and as an opener, you never know what kind of attitude people will have towards you. But it was like a summer camp, you know? We were just having so much fun, and when the tour ended on 12.23, I was so depressed! [Laughs] When you make music, especially in my case, I made those songs in my mom’s basement, and even though I’d gotten some attention from the US and music blogs, you really don’t feel it or fully understand it until you go on tour. And I hadn’t played live much up until that point, and I wasn’t sure if I’d like it or not, but I just loved it. So my goal for 2019 is to play more and more, and then also I have singles that I’ll be releasing soon, an EP coming soon as well. So overall my goal is to release more music and play more shows.