Emma Lamontagne hits her stride
Photo credit: Eric Yu
Early success can be lost on some, but for Ottawa's Emma Lamontange it's been a constant source of gratitude. Since winning the She's the One competition at Bluesfest at just 16, Lamontagne has focused in on music as career and is on the heels of a new record. We caught up with Lamontagne ahead of her proposed October release to discuss what's gotten her so far in so little time and how she's found an edge in the industry.
Ottawa Life: So to start I wanted to hear about how your new album started and what you've learned in making it?
Emma Lamontagne: We had the idea of putting out an album after I started working with my manager Giselle. That's when we looked into funding from Factor, so when we applied for a Jury Sound Recording (commonly JSR) grant from them we were recording two songs. I had one song written, and we went to my producer and his partner to write "Love Games." So every two months we would go back to Toronto and record more. So up until a few weeks ago we were just putting things together. It's cool because now I have a timeline of how my style has developed, because before my manager I hadn't considered putting out an album. She put me in the room with a bunch of people. It's really difficult to describe because the way I see my work is different from how my family does. I learned about how I want to talk about my music and how I want it to sound. I feel like the artist in the room, not just the writer. Now that the album is done, I'm more proud of the sound that I have now which I didn't have a year ago.
And how did you find the funding from the Factor JSR award helpful to pushing your music?
It really does take a huge weight off my shoulders and my family's. We have the freedom to pick who we want to work with in terms of publicity, production and promotion. We have the money to support what we want to do. I'm just really grateful to have gotten a JSR grant at 19 as well. For me I'm speechless every time something happens, because I'm 19, I have a lot of time. To get this kind of support from Factor after hearing my music still leaves me speechless and is validating. I know a lot of people who have been working at it longer than I have. When I applied I wanted to see where I stood in terms of other artists. I'm always the one person on my team saying "It probably won't happen," while everyone else is saying "It probably will." We got the grant, and I had just told my dad the day before that I thought I wouldn't. It adds a lot more confidence too.
What inspired you to write "Love Games" and how has it been seeing the reception to that come in?
The story behind the song was I went through a breakup and my friends tried to get me back on the horse by going on dating apps. I personally am not a huge fan of meeting people that way but I tried it. I didn't end up going on the date because I've seen too many documentaries on serial killers. I was talking to a bunch of people and I realized that if I said a certain thing that wasn't typical for a girl to say on the app then I would be ignored. It was a matter of having all these dating rules that if I didn't follow them, it didn't work out. And if I did follow them, it didn't work out either. It's just a lot of frustration to through, and since I know I'm not the only one I decided to write about being ghosted by someone I actually knew. I'm very blunt, which is why I'm still single. Being single isn't a bad thing and I'm 19 so I don't have to be dating either, it was just a lot of ideas to cram into a song. (laughs) So the plan was to have that be the first single, and the more we wrote, the more we had these different songs that could've worked. I felt "Love Games" resonated with more people regardless of age. And so looking at the streams, I think I made the right choice.
How have you found your education through conservatory piano and TARA has helped your work producing your music and keeping control in the studio?
The conservatory training really helped in terms of theory and how things work together, so when I get into the studio it's a lot easier for me to communicate my ideas. I can do it when I'm working with artists who don't have that. Ultimately if I have a certain chord progression and I want to change the key, it's easier because I have studied music. All pop is rooted to classical in a way, even in Mozart and Beethoven, it's all there. My songs at the beginning sucked, but the more I used my classical background, the more it worked because I wasn't ignoring that. But getting into the studio I ran into walls explaining what I wanted. When you're not trained as an engineer you usually need to bring in a third person to communicate for you, so I really just wanted to eliminate that third person. The program touched on production but it was really based on the engineering. We would record live bands and learn to mix and master. It was intense for me, but now I can walk into a studio and understand the basics of programs I don't even use. I'm not fantastic at it, but I know I can lead a session and say "let's take some off of the 5k frequencies." There's not a lot of women doing engineering in the studio so it's useful when you enter a studio with a bunch of guys who know it.
What's propelled you from your win at the She's the One competition at Bluesfest to where you've come in the last three years?
My manager was my vocal teacher and she had been talking to me about the competition for a while. I hadn't really been leaning towards doing music professionally. I went to a show-choir competition in high school and met one of the judges who teaches a lot of high-profile people. She told me she could picture my voice having a place in the industry. So I went back to my teacher and decided to apply. I was so content with just having the opportunity to play in the competition that I didn't even realize when they called my name. Then I started crying to the point that no one shares the pictures of me winning because I cried a lot. That's where I met a lot of people in the industry and my producer. So we put out "I Don't Sleep," and the reception to that was honestly insane to me. There's 420,000 streams on it, BBC Radio 2 continues to play it. The more I worked at it, the more I couldn't see myself doing anything else. So now when people ask about my backup plan I say "I don't want a backup plan to fall on." I had all these little steps that made it feel like the right thing for me. Nothing makes me happier than being in the studio.
What's on the horizon for the next few months, can we expect a show soon and any news on the album drop?
No upcoming shows for now, we're fully focused on the release. We're sending the record off for mixing with a plan to release for October. We'll have a single come out before then too. Man, I'm really sweating just talking about it because I've been working on it for so long, and I'm still nervous about the result. Once my manager gives me the thumbs up for touring and such, I'll post it on social media which is probably the fastest way to hear anything. I'm really anxious and excited to get my work out there!