Published Oct 18, 2018Helena Deland might just be the Kevin Bacon of Montreal's music scene. Although the singer-songwriter has only been active for a few years now, she appears to be linked to a number of the city's rising stars.
Up until recently she and piano maestro Jean-Michel Blais shared a studio together. "We shared a space in Mile End where there was this beautiful grand piano," Deland tells Exclaim! "We just managed to stumble upon the same place and became studio-mates for a year." Although the two never collaborated on music together, she says she is more than open to the idea.
Just last month, Deland was in the studio working on an untitled project with electronic producer Ouri, who recently divulged news of their collaboration. "We didn't know what to expect at all, and then it turned out to be such a good match," Deland adds. "It feels great to be working on something that's not under my name or my main project — it's a new band. I think we definitely want to keep doing this, but I don't know if we should talk about it yet."
For the past couple of years Deland has been working closely with prog folkie Jesse Mac Cormack. "He's a special guy and he's been my closest collaborator for the first three EPs. I'd say he's a rock star," she says.
And earlier this year she joined the roster of Gorilla Vs Bear founder Chris Cantalini's new imprint Luminelle Recordings, alongside fellow Montreal contemporaries Anemone and Munya.
These connections are merely a side note in Deland's career, however. Since the release of 2016's debut EP, Drawing Room, she has been steadily building a name for herself both at home and abroad. Deland's quixotic songs are intoxicating, be it her whispering style of folk, her minimal take on synth-pop, or when she blends the two ever so meticulously. Her music is cut from the same cloth as a lot of dreamy pop that often finds its way onto the Gorilla Vs Bear blog, it made complete sense for her to sign to Luminelle.
"[Despite all of the Montreal acts on the label] it didn't happen geographically with Chris," she explains. "I had finished recording all of the Altogether Unaccompanied series and uploaded it to Soundcloud for a friend to listen to, but I put it on 'public' by mistake. Chris heard it and published it, but I told him, 'I'm sorry, this isn't out yet. Please take it down.' So he called my manager and talked to him about starting a label where they would focus more on short releases or one-off singles, and if we were interested in working with him. Since Anemone has the same booking agent, he has been connecting through these people, which has brought him closer to Montreal's scene. He's really great, so open and enthusiastic."
Luminelle released Deland's second EP, From the Series of Songs "Altogether Unaccompanied" Vol. I & II, back in March. Now she is following that up with a sequel, aptly titled, From the Series of Songs "Altogether Unaccompanied" Vol. III & IV. Originally, Deland imagined the nine songs as a full-length, instead a four-part, double EP.
"We recorded the nine songs as an album at first, but they had all been written at different moments and come from different angles," she says. "We worked with Jesse [Mac Cormack] on them in a very vertical way. What I mean by that is we'd take every song and really get into a specific mood, and then move onto the next song instead of working on the whole album horizontally. When we finished recording it, to me the pacing of it just didn't make sense to release as an album. I was then seduced by the idea of making it as small as possible, in terms of size of release. For me, having the songs grouped into twos or threes allows me to associate them by colour or just the mood they put me in."
Finding the right mood was intrinsic to Deland. Each volume has been assigned a theme and colour to match its songs: volume one is day (orange), volume two is night (indigo), volume three is dawn (beige) and volume four is dusk (pink).
"I'd love for people to hear it the same way," she explains. "I guess that's how I consume music. It comes to me very vividly, what music I listen to at what time of day, but I know that's not the case for everybody. I recommend trying it though."
Deland says that even though she is working on a debut full-length, she'd like to keep the Altogether Unaccompanied series going as long as she can. "I'd honestly like to throw couplets of songs into the series forever, just to have it as another output," she says. "Maybe one day we'll be at volume 21. But now I'm working on a LP and I really want it to be sonically and conceptually coherent. I'm exciting by the idea of releasing songs that don't really fit into larger ensembles, like I am with the Altogether Unaccompanied series."
As for the full-length, Deland hints that the songs will share more in common with the synth-y sounds of singles like "Claudion" and "Take It All."
"[Writing songs has] always been about the guitar and right now it still is, but Jesse brought in some synths and now I realize that I prefer the sound of the synth," she admits. "So I'm starting to fool around more with my new Korg Minilogue. Now I'll start writing a song on guitar and then arrange it on synth. It's not the instrument I feel most comfortable writing on, but it's the one that I want use more moving forward."
Altogether Unaccompanied Vol III and IV is out now on Luminelle.