When Charlotte Cardin joins the Zoom wearing an oversized emerald tracksuit, multi-layer necklace stack that Hailey Bieber would approve of, and Chanel Coco Crush ear cuffs, it’s hard to ignore her effortless, cool French girl factor. She’s lounging on a plush pillow top and eating a stick of string cheese (she’s staunchly team “peel”). Languid and relaxed, her demeanour is surprising considering the 26-year-old Montreal artist is just a week from releasing her debut album via Atlantic Records.
Cardin’s career has been buzzing since she quit modelling to commit to her music full-time six years ago and since then, she’s released a couple of EPs, hosted headliner tours in North America and Europe, but most importantly, Cardin took the time to work on her craft and find her own artistic voice – one she’s now sharing with us. With 145 millions streams of her songs, an impressive array of favourable press in ELLE Québec, Harper’s Bazaar, The Fader, Paper, W Magazine and The Kit, and a collection of blue-check followers on Instagram (hello, Dua Lipa and Elsa Hosk shares) she is undeniably one of Canada’s most exciting rising acts.
Full disclosure: she also happens to be my baby sister, and so I’ve been listening to Phoenix almost every day for a year now. Being one of the people who skips tracks constantly, this album – which you can only listen to all the way through – has turned me into a better music listener. Because it’s not every day one gets to interview their sibling, who also happens to have dropped a stellar album, I’ve asked that Charlotte Cardin walk us through the creative process of this album filled with conflicted emotions—from lust and love to wreckage and heartache.
Growing up, you were always singing and performing for family and friends. Was there a moment where you knew you wanted to make a career out of music?
There wasn’t an ‘aha’ moment or anything like that, but as far as I can remember, I dreamt of this. Growing up with the Spice Girls and Céline Dion, seeing them perform onstage, vibing with the audience, I just knew. Part of me saw this dream as unachievable, though. It’s when I was on La Voix (Québec’s version of The Voice), seeing there was an actual interest in what I had to say, that I realized there was a possibility it could work. I could actually become a singer-songwriter, but even after that, I went back to school and took a step back. My instinct was to not jump into something right away because my experience on La Voix was so far from reality. After a TV singing competition, you’re kind of on a fake cloud. For most people, it lasts a minute and then you sink into oblivion. It might sound harsh, but it’s the truth. I obviously didn’t want that to happen, so I decided to allow myself the time to figure out what I had to say and how I wanted to say it. The moment I finally said to myself “Ok, I’m going to make music” was six years ago when I graduated from CEGEP. That’s also when I finally quit modelling.
I remember this as being a turning point in your career. Modelling shook you up pretty badly. Why is that and what, in retrospect, have you learned from this experience?
Modelling gave me the financial freedom to work on my music at first, but it really affected my self-esteem over time. To this day, I have some insecurities that come from my body being criticized or specific things being pointed out during fittings. I was always pretty comfortable with my own body, but I remember just being more carefree. It took a long time to win that level of confidence back. That being said, I have a tremendous amount of respect for models because the industry is so challenging. It takes considerable inner-strength to pursue a modelling career. The industry glorifies people based only on their beauty and you sort of become who we want you to be and that makes it harder to impose your limits and speak up when you’re placed in an uncomfortable situation. So at the end of the day, modelling has made it clear what I don’t want in life and what I’m not willing to accept ever again.
What makes you confident and has helped rebuild your self-esteem?
Music. 100 percent. Writing my own songs. I think investing in a passion or a hobby that makes you happy gives you the most confidence. Making music, being surrounded by open-minded people who love music as much as I do and cherish individuality makes me feel like I can be who I want to be and accomplish anything. That’s definitely not how I felt as a model.
You’ve been working on Phoenix for over two years now. What does this album represent? A beginning, a stepping stone or a pinnacle?
All of the above. It’s the pinnacle of the last two-and-something years of work during which I’ve grown on so many levels. I have pushed myself professionally and personally, exploring parts of myself that I had long forgotten or repressed, so Phoenix is definitely the end of a chapter in that sense. It’s also a stepping stone because hopefully, this album will allow me to be discovered outside of Canada and helps my music shine everywhere in the world. And it’s a beginning because it’s my very first album and it’s the start of something new and exciting.
What was it like working on your first album?
Every single song on Phoenix has its own story, but one thing that ties the whole album together is that it was the first time I turned to co-writing. When I started working on the album, I was writing from my apartment, on my own, I was super possessive of my tunes and I was afraid of letting people in. I got to a point where it felt like I wasn’t really going anywhere. So I started writing with my manager Jason [Brando], who knows me better than I know myself and provided a safe space for me to really explore parts of myself that I wouldn’t otherwise have gone to. He helped me understand my trigger mechanisms and grow past them, which made the whole process liberating and the result is way more personal than if I had written on my own. The whole creative process was interactive. So for example, Jason got to the studio one day and he had brought his guitar and started playing the riff of a song he’d written when he was still in university and had suffered a bad breakup and it went “I don’t want to live a meaningless life without you”. That really struck me like a powerful line that can be interpreted in so many different ways. It could be a person, an addiction, or even the idea of a long-lost presence. We worked on the melody and the words in the studio and then passed it on to Marc-André (the album’s co-producer) who gave it an EDM feel. That’s how we got to “Meaningless”, and in the same way, all 13 songs on Phoenix have had several lives. I’m happy with the result and I’m excited for people to listen to the album and find their own truth in it.
The video for “Anyone Who Love Me” will also be dropping on Friday, April 23. What can you tell me about that song?
It’s definitely one of my favourite tracks on the album and the most technical vocally. It’s the most socially-engaged song I’ve written to this day and it’s about taking control back of what we, as women, have been dispossessed from by society. It’s about overcoming the injustices that women have experienced for too long, shattering stereotypes and leaving those who have taken advantage of the gender gap with nothing. It’s definitely the song that is closest to my heart.
The album launch livestream concert is on April 29. What can you tell me about the virtual show?
It’s going to be huge! We shot the livestream event in several locations, including my apartment and actual movie studios and we’re revisiting the several lives of the songs on the album. We’re taking the audience in our creative bubble, like an immersion in the Phoenix universe. Some moments are super intimate stripped of arrangements and then there are others that are high production, dynamic and shot on different sets. There might even be some special effects (wink). I can’t wait to let the audience in on Phoenix’ creative journey.
The album launch livestream concert premieres on April 29 at 8 p.m. ET. Tickets are $24 and are available until May 2, at momenthouse.com/charlottecardin
25 questions with Charlotte Cardin
In love, you are attracted by… A good sense of humour
Favourite designers: JJJJound and Jil Sander
A fault you don’t forgive: Greed (!!!!)
You never leave the house without… My airpods
Favourite restaurant: Alma and Le Filet in Montreal
Your small gesture to help save the planet: I carry a reusable water bottle everywhere.
Favourite wardrobe piece: A pair of JJJJound x Reebok sneakers
At the moment, you wish you were…At the beach 😭
First person you thought of waking up: My sister Camille
Your friends say you’re…Playful
Latest music discovery: Arlo Parks
Essential beauty product: My Chanel Le Lift Flash Eye Revitalizer and eye patches.
Last SMS received: 😘🤰🏼
Movies that have left a lasting impression: American Psycho and There Will Be Blood
Favourite curse word: Calisse
People would be surprised to learn…I swear a lot
A cause that is close to your heart: Sick kids
The piece of advice you wish you had gotten 10 years ago: Taking your time is always a good thing (and that goes for everything in life)
Favourite emoji: 🥰
Favourite podcast: I don’t know a lot of podcasts, but I really want to listen to Case Notes. It looks awesome.
Favourite aperitif: Wine (!!!)
A smell that transports you: The smell of French crepes. It reminds me of the weekends my sister and I spent at our grandparents’ house as kids.
Favourite Instagram account: Debora Brosa (@deborabrosa). She has the best style and she’s my go-to when I don’t know what to wear, haha.
The person that inspires you most: My boyfriend Aliocha.
Three people you would dine with, dead or alive: My nana, grandpappy and my other granddad “Menum”.
Charlotte Cardin x ELLE Canada
A playlist curated by Charlotte Cardin with the beats she’s been bumping.
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