By: Sun Noor
The Montreal-based vocalist initially started out by lending her wide array of talents to Canada’s largest improv collective, Kalmunity while studying at McGill University. In terms of her sound, Toutain incorporates elements of pop, Neo-soul, funk, jazz as well as afro rhythms influenced by her musical upbringing and cultural experiences. Following the release of her debut single “Bad at Love” last month, Toutain is due to release her first full length record, Grounding Place Vol I, in spring 2020. I caught up with her to get a sense of what to expect from the record.
Why did you choose to release “Bad at Love” as your first single
I chose Bad at Love because it has this kind of catchy, feel good dance vibe, and I thought it would make a great coming out party as my first single. I feel like it’s a great opening statement for me because I really love that whole energy and it kind of speaks to my personality in a general sense.
You’ve played in several Montreal-based collectives in the past, which ones/who have you played with?
I started out with the Kalmunity Vibe Collective, and I still perform with them on a somewhat regular basis. They’ve been really important to my growth as an artist, and my involvement with them created some beautiful opportunities, like playing at the Montreal Jazz Festival. I’ve also hosted Le Cypher with Urban Science, which is another collective of great musicians I’m proud to call my friends and bandmates. I also occasionally sing back vocals for Franky Selector and Ilam.
You play various instruments and include elements from your musical upbringing into your music, are you from a musical background?
Well, not in the sense that either of my parents are musicians, because they’re not, but they’re both huge music lovers and because of that, my upbringing was definitely musical. I think their love of music was very influential in fact, considering that both my brother and sister are also very musical and love to play guitar, sing, and listen to good music. It’s fair to say that the environment in my home growing up, and to this day, is very musical.
Do you recall your earliest musical memory?
I do! It was in solfège class, I think I must have been five or so. The teacher was teaching us how to sing a lullaby, and I remember being in my bubble, and instead of singing with the other kids, I held this long note that was fitting throughout the entire song, and the teacher stopped everyone and said “Nora!” was so scared because I thought I was in trouble for not singing the right part, but she asked me to repeat what I had done because she was pleasantly surprised. I was way too embarrassed and shy to do it, being put on the spot like that.
How did you come about collaborating with Chris Vincent(Busty and the Bass)?
I met Chris through a mutual friend, Stu Wershof, who put this band together called Freak Motif (they’re based in Calgary now, and still killing). Chris played trombone in that band and we used to harmonise melodies together, and we just became friends from then on.
You’re a classically trained violinist, will we be hearing some of the violin in this record?
No, not this time around, but it’s a thought in the back of my mind for future projects.
Are there any new instruments you’d like to explore?
I’d like to dive deeper in the world of the piano, and incorporate it into my live performance. As far as a new instrument I have no experience at all with, I think the next one to explore is the electric bass.
Anyone you’d like to collaborate with in the future?
I recently discovered and met a local artist named Hanorah, and I really like her. I love her sound, and she’s a great songwriter, as well as a wonderful person. It would be really cool to work with her on something.
What are some of the themes that your record explores?
One of the most obvious ones is identity. I have a song that explores cultural identity, which is something that is very relevant and present in my life. I also have a song which I wrote from the perspective of my identity as a woman, and is an expression of the empowerment that comes from being a woman. The rest of the record explores other themes like spirituality and human relationships.
Describe this upcoming record in a few words.
This record is the sound of a young woman searching and discovering herself, and expressing it.
What are some of your current favourite records.
I really like Mahalia’s latest record, “Love and Compromise”. Also “Juicebox” and “Something to Feel” by Mac Ayers. Lately I’ve been obsessed with Jared Brady’s single “Enjoy Your Life”. That song has a bounce that I really love, and it actually reminds me of the vibe of “Bad at Love.”
To keep up with all things Nora Toutain click here.
Watch the video for “Bad at Love” below: