Montreal’s Groenland are the kind of band that are just as musically accomplished and complex as they are fun. Their strings-laden take on uplifting, bluesy piano pop could both satisfy the admirer of classic singer/songwriters and soundtrack your routine for prepping a Friday night out on the town. Their debut LP, The Chase, dropped last year and is as impressive as it is delightful. The band have spent much of the summer touring Canada, including dates with Local Natives and St. Vincent. At the core of the group is Sabrina Halde and Jean-Vivier Levesque and Sabrina was recently kind enough to take some time to chat with us about the band’s history and process of making music.
High Voltage: So, unfortunately, those of us outside of Canada don’t know a ton about the band. Is there anything you think is especially important for fans and potential fans to know about Groenland, or is it all in the music?
Sabrina Halde: We have always written our music with a lot of intuition so I think it is right to say that everything is in the music. It has always been our priority. But it might be interesting to know that we put as much heart and effort in our shows and that we love to play together and share the love, so the songs end up pretty energetic and heart-lifting, maybe even more than on the album.
HV: Your debut album, The Chase, was released more than a year ago. What have been the highlights of promoting it, for you?
SH: We have met so many great people along the way, people with a true will to help us getting known because they liked the music or felt they could relate to it or simply because they felt inspired. I’m still pretty astounded every time someone confides to us that our album helped them in any way. It motivates us to go on.
HV: Do you have a particular song that stands out as your favorite, whether one you’re most proud of, or just one that’s really fun to play? “26 septembre” is super satisfying in both its whimsy and its epic nature.
SH: Well, to me “26 septembre” is the one song I will never get tired of. This is one of JV’s songs. It really speaks to my soul, and I was able to find lyrics and a melody surprisingly fast. It just felt right, and still does. The strings were just meant to speak through the piano, I love them! It lifts my heart whenever we play this song. I like that it’s the second song of the show because I can really get in the mood and find the energy for the rest of the night.
HV: And how would you characterize your process of writing and recording together?
SH: The writing process is pretty loose. Jean-Vivier and I usually bring songs we would like to work on and find a structure, let some ideas pop out and try to make some sense out of everything! *laughs* I usually find the melody first so that we can build the song around it. Lyrics come sooner or later, depending on my inspiration and of my melody. Most of the time our drummer and multi instrumentalist, Jonathan, comes to help us when we’re ready to add other instruments. Then we bring out the big guns: bass and strings. We find the ideas together, we let them try some musical lines if they feel inspired or we give them our ideas, if we have some.
The first album was recorded very quickly, due to some budget limits. However, we did play our songs for a long time before the recording, so we felt like they were ready. We stayed in an intuitive state of mind. We wanted an acoustic sound for the instruments, a very raw feeling. The second album should sound pretty different.
HV: What do you consider to be the band’s most significant influences, both musical and otherwise?
SH: Our inventory of influences is wide and diversified. We all love Beck, Thom Yorke and Radiohead, Feist, The Dodos, Vampire Weekend, Mac Demarco, Grimes and so much more. We also get inspired from french artists from Quebec: Jimmy Hunt, Forêt, Dead Obies, Fanny Bloom, etc.
HV: You’ve released a few videos that are not only very cool, but very cinematic, in a lot of ways. What is it that inspires them? Are there any cinematic movements or genres (or just individual films) you’re especially into?
SH: I would have to say that the videos we released were the results of the inspiration these directors have had after listening to our music. We didn’t have anything to do with the results! *laughs* But I think our music does have this cinematographic feeling, this epicness that translates well in a dramatic tone. I’m always happy to witness what happens when their ideas come to life. We love Wes Anderson, and I think he has been a great inspiration for the cover of the album, for the naiveness of the music. I really enjoyed Martin de Thurah’s video he made for James Blake’s “Retrograde.” I love the beauty shots kind of videos.
HV: What are your most significant hopes and goals for the remainder of 2014? Any chance of some dates outside of Canada, or possibly even some new music?
SH: We would love to travel. We are hoping to tour in Germany in the fall, possibly in the States, too. We are writing music all the time, crossing our fingers to be ready to record a new album in the spring. The rest is mystery and magic.