Bibi Club and Helena Deland on How the Girl Scouts, a Highway, and Lord Byron Inspired Feu de garde

The collaborators catch up.

Helena Deland is a singer-songwriter based in Montreal; Nicolas Basque and Adèle Trottier-Rivard are the also-Montreal-based duo behind Bibi Club. Helena is featured on Bibi Club’s new record, Feu de garde — out May 10 on Secret City — so to celebrate its imminent release, the three friends sat down to catch up about its creation. 
— Annie Fell, Editor-in-chief, Talkhouse Music

Helena Deland: Bonjour!  

Nicolas Basque: Hello!

Helena: Congrats on your album, Feu de garde

Adèle Trottier-Rivard: Thank you. 

Helena: A translation of which would be, like, “guard light.” But then literal translation would be…

Adèle: “Watchfire.” Watchfire is a word we discovered in — what was the poem? 

Nicolas: “Darkness” by Lord Byron

Helena: Oh, that’s an old ass poem.

Nicolas: Yeah. Mischa [Karam] — who manages us and is really nice — we were working on a song in the studio, and we asked him, “Can you record yourself reading your favorite text?” He sent us a Bukowski text that was perfect, sounded amazing. But then we were like, “We can’t put that on our record because—

Helena: Too dirty. 

Nicolas: No, it’s not public domain.

Helena: [Laughs.] OK.

Nicolas: So we were like, “Can you find something else?” We were so bummed out because it was so perfect.

Helena: Yeah, you need someone who’s been dead for more than 50 years.

Nicolas: Yeah, something like that. And then he sent that text and at first we were doubting it, but then Adèle saw the word “watchfire” in it.

Adèle: And it just spoke to me because we were kind of going around this fire theme. I went to see what it meant, and it’s like the fire you maintain during the night as a signal or to keep people warm in times of war.

Nicolas: Yeah, we evacuate the military aspect of it. 

Helena: Yeah, but at the same time, I mean, the world’s fucked…

Adèle: It’s a war time, that’s true. 

Helena: That’s so cool. It’s really beautiful. One thing that really comes across when listening to the album is its alternating between describing nature, describing the city, describing nature in the city, and it has this feeling of both security and risk in some moments. I think fire is a perfect element to bring that all together. Because it’s both obviously destructive and generative, but also if it’s a feu de garde, a watchfire, then it’s like [it’s referencing] what we can do to protect each other and ourselves. 

Adèle: You’re right. I think for the record, we went for these two elements — [nature and] the urban element — [because] we live near a highway, and that was an inspiration for us.

Nicolas: Weirdly, the ritualistic aspect of the highway — our kid goes to school across the highway, so we cross it every day, and it’s like a weird love-hate relationship. 

Helena: You’re walking with the most precious thing in your life, a tiny, fragile thing—

Nicolas: And it’s going so fast. It’s madness.

Helena: It is the biggest artery in the city, right? 

Adèle: Yeah, probably.

Nicolas: But there was something inspiring in there — the quotidian things that happen, every day life, mixed with the nature stuff. [The highway] represents the community, the city, but it’s so massive and and dirty. 

Adèle: And you also sang on the record. 

Helena: Yeah!

Adèle: That was part of the community aspect of it. I was in the Scouts for a long time in my life.

Helena: Girl Scouts?

Adèle: Girl Scouts.

Helena: What are those called again? 

Adèle: Les Guides. So I guess I wanted to bring back this feeling of community with women, because in the music world, it’s quite a dude world. I’ve been touring and playing with a lot of dudes. 

Helena: Yeah. 

Adèle: Really nice people, but still, I just felt the urge to have women I like with me and singing altogether. That was really important for me.

Nicolas: I like the part where you guys sing together. I mean, I was recording it so I could hear the solo voices, but there’s something [about it where] you can hear all the individuality, but the sum of it all becomes stronger. That was really nice. 

Helena: Yeah, it is very playful. 

Nicolas: It’s playful. But yeah, the community was a big part — the women community for you. It is a dude world, the music world.

Adèle: [Laughs.] It is!

Helena: Adèle rolls her eyes. [Laughs.] 

Nicolas: [Laughs.] But it’s crazy, because even when we were recording those parts — I’ve been in that music world for a long time, and I always try to think about it when I’m in the studio, to remind myself that I’m an older guy in the studio and it can have an impact what you say. You need to let people…

Adèle: Let them be themselves.

Nicolas: Let them be themselves, let them be comfortable to give ideas and empower themselves so they can, after that, bring in their own project and have the space. I’ve seen it so many times that I’m in the studio with an older producer or engineer and a young singer, often a woman artist. Sometimes you hear what they say and it’s like there’s no open door — they’re closing all the doors on that person and it’s their vision. It’s not trying to enhance that person’s vision. I feel like it’s changing, but it’s not changing that fast.

Adèle: But you can see it changing. We were in the US couple of weeks ago touring, and half of the venues had women as techs.

Nicolas: And sound engineers.

Adèle: So you can tell there’s been a change. And I feel like with Bibi Club, we’ve been working mainly with women.

Helena: That’s awesome. It’s something you have to be intentional about. 

Adèle: Yeah, for sure. It’s a choice you have to make.

Helena: I’m curious — I feel like a lot of your lyrics highlight daily gestures, or moments that are spent in observation, or in gestures that are repeated all the time and then imbued with this energy and poetry because of the music. I just wonder, how do you write? Are you experiencing something and thinking, This is gonna become a song? Or are you in a songwriting context and thinking, What have I experienced lately that I’m going to bring here?

Adèle: I think it mostly happens in the studio. I’ve never tried to go on a retreat and write, never experimented with that. I write when I feel the urge of writing, and the energy of trying to find words for that melody we have. And I mean, having kids in our lives doesn’t give us that much of free time just to contemplate. Most of our demos on our phones, you can hear a kid crying or shouting. [Laughs.] It usually happens when they’re taking their baths and Nico takes his phone out because he has an idea.

Nicolas: Or just the time. [Laughs.] 

Adèle: He’s like, “OK take my phone,” and then I hum some melody. But then in the studio — and going back to what we were saying — my days in the Scouts really was the first time for me that I would sing with a group of people, learning all these really simple rounds, these traditional songs and stuff. I feel that I’m not really into metaphors. I like this honest…

Helena: Face value.

Adèle: Yeah. Just naming the things, and very concrete, direct images. I’m more into that. Working in the studio — usually we go to the studio and Nico starts [setting up] the gear and plugging in microphones, and I just start to write. I feel really inspired at that moment. 

Helena: Is it always the same studio? 

Adèle: No. 

Helena: Do you get vibes from places? 

Adèle: Yeah, it’s happened for sure. I mean, being only two in the band and producing ourselves, we get to try different places. 

Nicolas: We experiment a lot. I think that’s one thing that I learned a lot from Adèle: we don’t fix it in a structure too fast, so there’s space to move. It’s really interesting to see Adèle sing — it’s really while singing that she knows what to say and what makes sense. I don’t know if everybody’s like that. But it’s a lot about rhythm, and it’s almost as if the words feel like taste, when you eat something like, “Oh, this doesn’t go with that.” If it goes together, there’s no doubt. I don’t know how you do it—

Helena: Same. I mean, sometimes it’s a bit of a mystery. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. But yeah, based on melody… I do feel like sometimes you’re like, I want to get to this meaning, but these words in and of themselves aren’t doing anything for this song. It has to be something else. And that’s what’s so different with music or lyrics from poetry. You often prioritize sound in a way that’s completely different. 

Adèle: Yeah, totally.

Nicolas: There’s also a feel. I know you did the same thing with your album in a way — you can write a song, first song and, “That’s it, that’s a single.” A lot of people do that. But I feel there’s also something about when you start having the collection of songs, the album, that it makes [writing] simpler in a way. Because you start feeling like suddenly that theme doesn’t fit with the album, and it’s like, Now I’m too far out. With the first record we did, that struggle was about English or French.

Helena: Oh, interesting. We should talk about that.

Nicolas: Our friend Mégane Voghell, who did the cover and everything, she’s always decisive with stuff, and we were like, “What should we do? Should we do all our songs in English, all in French?” And she was like, “It doesn’t matter. Nobody cares. You’re from Montreal, it’s bilingual.” So I feel there’s also that that happened with the album. But yeah, it is a bit of a mystery. I guess if you write just singles, it becomes something else, but then it’s also your identity. It’s your style. 

Helena: And I think it’s a bit of a question how many people actually get through listening to the whole album. But for those who do, and for yourself, I think having a cohesive, coherent whole is very rewarding. 

Adèle: I told you this already, but I’ve been listening to your record a lot the past few months. It’s so honest. 

Helena: [Laughs.] Painfully so. 

Nicolas: [Laughs.] You’re not hiding anywhere.

Adèle: I remember before releasing it, we were talking about it and I could feel your reticence. This record definitely means a lot to you. It’s very special. 

Nicolas: It’s cohesive.

Adèle: It’s cohesive, and you just go through it ‘til the end. 

Nicolas: It’s funny because we went to see your show right before recording, and I remember I was like, This is so strong, I’m wondering [how it will translate]. Sometimes, you know, you go into the recording process and—

Helena: Shit gets lost.

Nicolas: Shit gets lost, or maybe just the direction that I saw that day that I liked — maybe it’s not the one you wanted for your album, and that’s fine too. But it was interesting when I heard your record the first time, it felt familiar. 

Helena: I have a question for you — you are so close. Your relationship as bandmates, is it one of many things that you are to each other, or is everything more blurry? 

Adèle: We kind of struggle sometimes with that balance in life — being parents, being lovers, being musicians together. It gets blurry sometimes, all the elements. But I met Nico through music first. I saw him playing a show, and he played a solo—

Nicolas: [Laughs.] Guitar solo—

Adèle: And I cried. [Laughs.] 

Helena: Oh, my god, I’m gonna cry. 

Adèle: It was so weird, I’ve never cried during a guitar solo, ever.

Helena: That is so cute.

Adèle: I tell that story all the time, but it was really special experiencing this musical moment and seeing this person on stage. He was playing and it was like he was dying. He was giving all he had. 

Helena: Did it feel like dying?

Nicolas: Probably. That’s what I try to do. [Laughs.] 

Adèle: But I remember I told myself, I want to play with that person. I want to make music with that person. We jumped the cliff together. 

Helena: It’s beautiful that music is the instigator. 

Adèle: Yeah, totally. It’s kind of the foundation of our relationship, in a way.

Nicolas: In a more boring way, sometimes we also try to book music time, pencil it in the schedule like, “This is studio time.” Because of the kids and everything, it almost becomes a time to ourselves — not necessarily as lovers, but as artists. But then, we need also to have time where it’s like, “This is couple time; this is family time.” So it’s tougher to be fully spontaneous with music. We’ve tried more recently to be like, “OK, it’s 5-ish, we’re cooking dinner, we don’t need to talk about the upcoming tour.” We try to shut it down, because it can never stop. 

Helena: Right. I didn’t even think about that. It’s 3 AM and you’re like, “Have you messaged…?”

Adèle: Yeah, we’re trying to balance it. But it’s a challenge, for sure. 

Helena: Yeah, but at the same time, probably whenever you do or say something within the creative context, you have so much information on each other that your communication is probably really efficient. I’d imagine that you know what the other means. 

Nicolas: It’s easy, the working part, playing shows or being in a studio together. For me, it’s really fulfilling. Like, I’ll say it now: she’s really my favorite singer, since a long time. And musician, too. I find her really inspiring. 

(Photo Credit: right, Lawrence Fafard)

Helena Deland is a Montreal-based singer-songwriter. Her album, Goodnight Summerland, is out now on Chivi Chivi.

(Photo Credit: Sabrina Jolicoeur)