The world is in a constant state of adjustment right now. Plans that people have had for months have been derailed and everyone is scrambling to figure out what they are able to do next. In the music world this is being felt double fold. While albums are still coming out, tours have been scuttled and everyone is trying to find a way to stay active and promote their releases all the while not being able to do anything in a tangible way, like playing a show. One of the more enjoyable albums that have been released over the last few weeks is Made In Heaven by Montreal mainstay and, for the last little while, Los Angeles based Cecile Believe. The record, a thoughtful and exciting dance floor affair showcases the writing and production skills of Believe aka Caila Thompson-Hannant. You may know Thompson-Hannat from her work in Mozart’s Sister as well as her collaborations with artists like Austra, Kero Kero Bonito and her work on the Grammy nominated album Oil Of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides by SOPHIE. She was recently in London, England starting rehearsals as a part of Austra’s live band but with the pandemic causing everyone to have to quarantine when we reach her she is at her parents home in Victoria, BC.
“I was in London in March and was supposed to be there all month,” Thompson-Hannat explains. “I’m playing in Austra’s live band and rehearsing with them but we had to leave and my room in Los Angeles was rented out so I came to Victoria.” While the move was obviously unexpected, Thompson-Hannat is rolling with the changes. “It’s actually been okay,” she says, “I have a visa so I can go back and flights are opening up again but, yeah, it’s been a really interesting time. When you are staying with family you always growing a lot.” Thompson-Hannat’s initial move to Los Angeles was precipitated by what she has described as “a collaborative chapter to her craft”. The talented producer and songwriter has had an extensive career already in Montreal working with a ton of unique projects but this was an opportunity to expand on that learning. “I went to LA just because I know there is a different culture around collaboration. It’s more the way that music is made there. It’s all derived from more of a commercial place and it’s interesting to break apart from the more individual auteur style projects that I had been working on. People writing in their bedrooms and working alone that way, to being in LA around Sophie and things like that. Doing sessions all the time and trying new things and different approaches. That’s more the culture there, this top 40 and mainstream charting music. You end up getting a session with someone you don’t know through a recommendation and I found it really good to be challenged like that. Writing for other people and producing, to a certain extent, it’s generally more work as far as time goes. Writing is more intense and challenging and with writing for other people I tend to push myself a lot more and also am less precious about things, which can be really fun in the moment and liberating. At the end of the day with a lot of these projects you don’t have control over the production and even if it’ll be released at all so in certain aspects you don’t have much power but in the moment it can fill up your life a lot working with other people so I found it is important to carve out a space for myself.
The work that she had previously done and the space that she ended up carving out for herself helped shape Thompson-Hannat’s new album under her Cecile Believe moniker. Made In Heaven is a beautiful album that seamlessly jumps through musical tropes and genres yet always feels cohesive but as she says the album came about relatively quick. “To be honest, the majority of those songs were written in a day and then filled out in the studio. They all happen quite quickly for me,” she explains. “When things are flowing like that I can write quite fast. I feel like I can be a bit of a slippery artist,” she says with a laugh, “I like to bend and surprise and morph between things. To use my voice in different ways, low registers and high registers and these things tend to just happen more than I plan them.” Thompson-Hannat has described the work as “post genre” and it is fitting as the record jumps from hypnotic shoe gaze to hyper pop and even to drum and bass. “It was more about the structuring of the overall album once I had the material,” she says of the record’s differing styles. “The material fills in the blanks. I think a lot of artists fear not being cohesive but most of things you do on you own will always sound like you no matter the genre. I had a lot of ideas and support and shared the music with a lot of people and workshopped it in that aspect but in the end it was me except for a couple of little things here and there. I still haven’t really found space for other people in my own music. I don’t know if I need to try to do that. I’ve found that as things progress and my life fills out artistically that it is okay that it’s just me by myself.”
With her shows with Austra and any other touring she was going to do with Cecile Believe on hold now, Thompson-Hannat has been given some time now to reflect on the constant grind of her job over the last bunch of years and she has found that she is alright with taking a bit of a rest from the hustle. “Releasing a record during this quarantine was of course not what I was planning. With being able to tour, I know it’s a great way to promote a record, but touring can become just 100% your life. So it is a bit of an upside in being in this Spotify type of world in that things are there forever and you can come back to them. The records are able to be discovered openly and they can grow in a different way. I’ve realized how much I travel and how much of my world is constantly moving around, not just physically but it also manifests into a spiritual and mental state which can breathe a lot of new life into me so now I can actually take bit of space on my own, in my own house and meditate on what is to come next.”
interview by Adam Fink