Maple Leaf

You are looking for something new for Christmas? New songs to change from „Last Christmas“? Don’t look no more! Canadian artists Kristine-St-Pierre (Ontario) and Justin Lacroix (Manitoba) have produced a wonderful Christmas CD in 2019 with 9 original songs: „Noël avec toi“. Voices as soft as velvet, humour, wit and lots of love with wonderful melodies that will warm your heart and bring you joy for a Christmas like none other.

©Marcel Druwé

The sympathetics Franco-Canadian singers and songwriters have graciously accepted to give us an interview.

-Can you please give us a glimpse of your respectives journeys as artists up to now?

Justin- I’ve been playing music from as early as I can remember. I first took violin lessons from the age of 4 until I was 12 and then went on to learn the guitar. I immediately started singing songs I liked as I would get my guitar teacher to show me how to play them. I continued like this for the next 10 years; learning to play the songs I wanted to sing and shared them with friends and family any chance I had. When I was 22, one of my brothers passed away in a car accident. It’s a bit of a heavy detail to share but since it’s when I started songwriting and when I decided I would live a life driven by meaning, it’s essential in telling my story. Since then, I have been following my songs from stage to stage and continue to seek to connect with the beings that I cross paths with on the way.

Kristine- My journey is actually quite similar to that of Justin. I’ve always loved singing from since I can remember. I learned piano when I was young and played in different musicals in school. I particularly loved singing and karaoke! I then learned guitar in 8th grade, but it wasn’t until my early twenties that I picked it up again. I took singing and guitar lessons, even had the chance to learn flamenco guitar in Spain. My first real performance, as I like to call it, was just before my mom passed away after battling breast cancer. It was the first time that I performed my original songs on guitar. Like Justin, her passing is when I really started songwriting and began my path as a songwriter and musician. It’s brougth me so much joy and comfort over the years. I often feel that it was her gift to me.

-How did you meet and how did you know you could collaborate on a project both being solo artists to start with?

Justin – I’m from Winnipeg and Kristine is from Ottawa – a 24 hour drive away! We met in Thunder Bay (not quite midway between our home towns) in 2011 when we were matched up to play the same evening at a concert at the Apollo music venue when we were each on our respective tour. We kept in touch and shared the stage a number of times through the years. Sharing the stage has always been a harmonious experience and so in 2019, when Kristine mentioned a possible collaboration on a Christmas album, it was simply easy to see that it would be a good thing. We both have our personal projects but this one is a great way to join positive forces to shine some joy and love and compassion on the world.

Kristine- Yes, Thunder Bay, 2011! It was my first solo tour in that part of Ontario and the owner of the venue had offered that I open for Justin. I was still so new to the world of songwriting and performance and I was blown away by his voice and his songs! Still am!

-What does Christmas represent for you?

Justin – For me, Christmas represents a time to celebrate family and friends. As of late, I have also begun embracing this time of year as a time to express gratitude for my journey and the people who accompany me and to confirm the path I wish to continue to follow.

Kristine- I’d also say that Christmas is about family and friends. I love decorating the house and going to get a tree. One of the things I love when traveling is buying a small ornament to put in the tree. I’ve accumulated many ornaments from all over!

-Where did you get your inspiration for your Christmas songs?

Justin – I hadn’t really thought about composing any Christmas songs in the past. Maybe because it seems a little like all the Christmas songs already exist. Once I did allow myself to do it, the first one simply required myself asking myself what Christmas means for me and what I would wish it to be and the song kind of just showed up! When Kristine and I started working on the album together, I had that first version of that song and she had one song as well and a couple other ideas so from there, it was just about letting our memories of Christmases past and our imagination lead us through.

Kristine- I have to say that I had been wanting to write Christmas songs for a long time, but hadn’t really taken the time to do it. Once we said we’d do this, I just started thinking about what I love about Christmas, what it is I want the most, how I want people to feel. I also listened to a lot of other folk artists to get inspired!

-You wrote music and lyrics together, how easy/hard was it to agree to a final product?

Justin – It was definitely a good way to keep momentum going. And though it’s not always easy to comprimise, I have come to enjoy the discussion that is had on the way to that final product. And yes, it’s a very supportive space so I think that is the key.

Kristine – It was actually really easy to write with Justin. It’s not easy to find someone that understands your approach and your pace and gives you the space to explore different avenues. I think we both did that for each other. Some songs were very quick, others took more editing or revising, but it’s great to have someone to conspire with musically!

-Justin you play numerous instruments, how many of them did you use for this album and which ones are they?

Justin – The album is mostly based around Kristine and I’s acoustic guitars. I have often accompanied Kristine on the mandolin over the years so that instrument naturally found its place on some of the songs as well. We also wanted to have some upright bass and some cello but unfortunately I haven’t had a chance to learn those yet so we had some musicians from Winnipeg to record those. After that, our good friend and the one who engineered and mixed the album, Joël Perreault, recorded lead acoustic guitar on „Il neige“, and a bit of electric guitar, some slide guitar and a bit of banjo… oh! and some little bells for the last song on the album. I also recorded some electric guitar, banjo and the rest of the percussion.

-A prominent figure of Canada fairly recently claimed that the francophone community in Canada is dying which angered many people, among them many young French-Speaking people of the said community, what are your views on this?

Justin – I understand the anger. Having grown up as francophone in a mainly English speaking population, I have a very strong bond with my french community in Manitoba (the province in which Winnipeg is located). When somebody says something like that, it can feel like a denial of a community’s existence and nobody likes to be told they don’t exist. In any case, I don’t think I really felt that same anger when those comments were made. I feel like at this point in time, though existence itself is a bit of a question I ponder, I don’t question where I come from and how those roots are forever a part of who I am. After that, I don’t necessarily like the idea of fighting for the survival of one’s culture – I rather choose to put my energy towards celebrating it (though I do recognize that people have fought for the right to keep this culture alive and I am grateful for those resilient guardians).

-How easy or hard is it to do music in French in Canada (and outside of Quebec)?

Justin – It’s not hard to do music in French anywhere, it’s just that it’s not always easy to find an audience for it. As I said, I am from a French community in a mainly English speaking city so I grew up with both those languages being very present in my life. I enjoy writing and singing in both of these languages and enjoy shaping each concert to fit the audience. If there aren’t many francophones in the crowd, I may not play as many french songs, but I always like to do at least two or three. After that, well, a life trying to live off of playing music is pretty challenging no matter which tongue you sing in… but very gratifying.

-Do you plan to work on other projects together and if so, which ones?

Justin – We have already collaborated on one of Kristine’s recordings this past year between last Christmas and this one. To tell you the truth, it seems Christmas time, for the foreseeable future, will be spent continuing to work together (and that means pretty much working a little bit throughout the year in order to be ready for November/December – just like little musical elves). We’ll see what else comes along the way.

Kristine- Sounds like a wonderful plan to me! 😉

-How has the pandemic influenced your career and how do you see your future as an artist?

Justin – It was pretty strange how it went down because I periodically go through a bit of a self-questioning period and kind of reset my heading. I was actually going through a thorough re-evaluation when everything shut down pretty much overnight. No more concerts and no more songwriting workshops in schools(which is an activity that I hold dearly and is also an important part of my making a living as a singer-songwriter) and no sign of when those activities might go back to „normal“. I’m not sure exactly where I’m heading with it but have been working at figuring out how to build a space to share music via internet and am embracing it. In fact, the online sharing of music was something I wanted to work on (as a compliment to playing live for people – cause there’s nothing like the potency of being there in the physical form) so this is kind of like an intensive workshop I suppose. A little intense, and I look forward to playing more for people in the flesh, but I am still happy to be able to sing for folks in any way I can.

Kristine- It definitely forced me to do more things online! I was really fortunate to get a few grants to perform online, which I really enjoyed. But like Justin, it certainly created some doubts as to how to move forward. I did appreciate the time to breathe and take some time to reevaluate things. But I am so so happy we were able to ’save Christmas‘! It’s been so great to be able to perform our Christmas songs again!

©Marcel Druwé

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