Purveyors of: Surreal, delicate and dreamy, like water colour paints running down a blank canvas in a cozy home art studio.
File next to: Carla Bruni, Francoise Hardy
Playing: Virtual set from France at Wavelength’s Monthly Music Series “Novembre en Wavelength” on Saturday, November 20, 2021 @918 Bathurst Centre for Culture, Arts, Media & Education. More info here!
French multidisciplinary artist Nina Savary has done it all, having grown up surrounded by art of all kinds and being involved in a number of different artistic projects across several mediums—musical theatre, opera, dancing, and acting. Now she’s diving head-first into music with the release of her 2021 debut album Next Level Soap Opera, a record with delicate, dreamlike sounds and a cinematic, late ‘60s vintage flare, performed in both French and English. Savary will be performing from a virtual set in France at Wavelength’s Monthly Music Series, along with Marker Starling and Animatist, on November 20th, at Toronto’s Bathurst Centre for Culture, Arts, Media & Education. Wavelength writer Jordan Currie spoke with her about her album, her decision to make it bilingual, how she distinguishes herself across artistic mediums, and more.
Hello Nina! We’re so excited for your Wavelength performance on November 20. You recently released your debut album, Next Level Soap Opera. Tell me a bit about the album, from your inspirations to how it came to be.
Hi! Very excited to play for Wavelength too! Next Level Soap Opera is my first solo work and was created with my partner Emmanuel Mario (Astrobal) who arranged and produced the album. It took a few years to take shape between other recordings, touring with bands we had together, and my work as an actress, so it has been tainted with the experiences that I’ve had through this time and inspired by artists that we’re collaborating with and who naturally came to participate in the process. Everything was recorded by him at home, between the French Pyrenees and the Spanish border. It’s like the adventures of a character that could be the heroine of a musical in search of a soft and fragile utopia. The atmosphere is very dreamy and full of fantasy but the tone is quite lyrical and sometimes a bit epic. It is about loss and rebirth, choices and encounters, feelings and doubts… but above all about love of course, and the way it opens up the field of possibilities.
Next Level Soap Opera is sung in both English and French. Why did you decide to make it a bilingual album, and how did you choose which songs would be sung in French vs. English?
I didn’t really think about it. The first songs we recorded were in English, with Blossom Dearie’s cover “That’s Just The Way I Want To Be” and “Second Guessing” that Chris Cummings wrote for me, then a few other songs in English appeared but it felt natural to make French songs as well so we found it very interesting to mix them, each langage bringing very different yet complementary moods and emotions.
Your sound is extremely cinematic and soothing. Who are your biggest musical influences, and did they inform the album at all?
The album is the fruit of both Emmanuel’s taste for cosmic arrangements, Library music and OST from Alessandro Alessandroni to Andre Pop or Francis Lai, and my French Music-Hall and Nouvelle Vague influence, as well as a passion for performers from pop artists such as Laurie Anderson or Kate Bush to jazz or experimental divas like Uma Sumac or Joni Mitchell.
The sound and atmosphere we were looking for were quite obvious to us since the beginning but more than precise influences, we really let ourselves freely explore the needs of each song, following our intuition without any restriction on how the arrangements and songs would be shaped, so I guess they formed a pretty eclectic yet very coherent ensemble in the end which is a great satisfaction considering.
In addition to being a musician, you’re also a dancer and actor. How do each of these mediums differ for you in how they make you feel/how you express yourself through them? Is there one you prefer over the others?
I started performing very young with my parents’ company (Le grand Magic Circus) and the way they mixed theater, music and dance was a great school for me. I always loved learning new things for every show and felt it was very exciting to adapt to different yet complementary mediums. It makes me feel like I have to learn everything from start sometimes, but it’s very gratifying. What I love most is the energy of being on stage with other artists and the interactions we have together and with the audience, so I think I find this as much in music as with a company for a play, a musical or an opera. Changing the way I work and doing very different things is really stimulating.
You’ve worked with musicians such as Julien Gasc, Eddy Crampes, Marker Starling, and Stereolab’s Laetitia Sadier. How important is working with other artists to you? How do you know when it’s the right time to bring someone else into the mix rather than working on a song solo?
After working mostly for theatre I started making a lot more music when I met Emmanuel who produces and makes arrangements for many interesting and talented artists. We installed his studio in an old family house in the south of France and working together felt really good and inspiring. It led me to participate in amazing projects as a musician and singer and to discover a scene that welcomed me so generously that I immediately started to work on my own album with him and close friends, so even if it’s a solo project it’s always been a very collective work. Julien Gasc, Eddy Crampes, Marker Starling, Armelle Pioline and Laetitia Sadier participated in the composition and sometimes played instruments, as well as Xavi Munoz, Joe Carvell (Pink Shabab), David Thayer (Little Tornados), and so many great artists that were involved in the record. All of them are very close friends and people with whom I’ve had the chance to share a lot of projects and adventures over the last years, so it felt really natural to get them involved. The creation of the album has been a mix of solitary moments with Emmanuel and sessions with them, sometimes coming to record and sometimes sending ideas from their own home studio.
You will be performing at our show from a virtual set in France. Now that the pandemic is loosening its reigns in most areas, what are your dream cities and locations to perform live at?
This virtual show is our first live performance for the album. It’s filmed in the old house in the South of France where our studio is. We recorded and rehearsed there so it was perfect for this session. We have a few shows coming in France and are planning to tour Europe and the UK next spring. It’s been so strange to stop playing in front of an audience for such a long time…. When I started touring again a few months ago, I felt this pause gave live performances even more strength and sense. Every occasion to play with people is so exciting… coming to Toronto and touring in Canada would be a dream.
Lastly, take me through your process of writing a song. Are you a lyrics first, melody second kind of person, or vice versa? Do you have any specific rituals or habits that you do while creating music?
I’ve been writing for a long time but using my own lyrics is something that I’m still very shy about, probably partly because I’m coming from the theatre and have always been surrounded by so many talented writers, so I’ve asked friends that I admire and felt intimate enough with to share this for help. Some of them wrote both lyrics and music and sent us a demo that we then arranged together with Emmanuel, and sometimes it was a much longer process, with ideas and music that would come first and the words in the very end, so it really depends on the songs. Recording at home with him was very comforting and challenging at the same time, being able to work in such a luxurious way as well as feeling totally free in the creative process, following my own rhythm. He plays most of the instruments and always found the perfect sounds and arrangements to match the atmosphere I wanted to give to the songs. I’m so lucky to have such a talented partner and friends that I admire so much to support me. For the live, I play with Emmanuel, Vincent Pieuvre who also played and made some brilliant arrangements on the record and Eddy Crampes, a fantastic singer and composer who wrote two of the songs. Opening for Marker Starling who inspires us so much, even virtually is so cool! Can’t wait to tour with him in Europe again and come visit in Canada.
Nina Savary will be performing a virtual set from France on November 20, 2021 at 918 Bathurst with Marker Starling and Animatist. More info here.
Jordan Currie is a writer and editor based in Mississauga and Toronto. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram at @jord_currie.