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Charlotte Cardin Is Counting The Days

Inspired by a summer of big decisions, 99 Nights is a therapeutic journey through spaces both physical and emotional. 

by Ben Boddez

Photos by Aliocha Schneider

Regardless of how successful Charlotte Cardin gets, she hopes that her music is always going to be more appropriately played at a mid-size venue or through a pair of headphones while curled up in bed at home than blasted through speakers at a party or stadium.

The Quebecois alt-pop singer’s latest single “Confetti” – which finds her realizing that she doesn’t really want to be at the party, envisioning death by colourful scraps of paper – has taken up residence in the Canadian charts’ upper echelon. She’s also coming off a 2022 Juno sweep after the release of her acclaimed album Phoenix, where she picked up Artist, Album and Single of the Year awards, beating out heavy-hitters like Bieber, The Weeknd and Tate McRae. Still, she’d prefer to hang onto the mindset that saw her sell out 13 straight dates at MTELUS, a 2000-capacity venue in her Montreal hometown, on her last tour.

“As long as that’s a sustainable way of touring for me, I love more intimate shows,” she says. “There wouldn’t be enough days in the year if the project keeps growing, but I do want to keep that relationship with my crowd, and I feel like my music – especially for this album – is also kind of a little diary. It’s special if we can share it in a way that’s as intimate as possible.”

Coming from two restrictive experiences as she tried to forge a path into the creative world as a teen – first the tumultuous and confidence-shattering world of modelling, and then first becoming known for singing other people’s songs on the Quebecois version of The Voice – Cardin’s blossoming artistry and creative freedom has often gone to deeply personal places. She has described music as the “most healthy” way to process her emotions, learning new things about herself as soon as they come out in the recording studio.

Her latest project, 99 Nights, continues to take up themes of a struggle with self-identity and the pressure of conforming to the expectations of others that have been following her since Phoenix, now couched within the whirlwind of her first global tour and a heartbreaking – but ultimately necessary – decision to move away from Montreal (Cardin now resides in London, England). The title refers to the approximate length of a summer, the time period that the album was written in.

“There was a summer during which I was asking myself loads of questions,” she says. “I was at a crossroads in a lot of parts of my life, and I was using the time in the studio as escapism. The moments with my friends, making music, were moments where I wasn’t thinking about what I was going through, so it was very much a therapy in that way, touching base and exploring those parts of me.”

In Cardin’s earlier days, when she broke onto the scene with the EPs Big Boy and Main Girl in 2016 and 2017, the therapeutic and personal angle of her music-making caused all of her writing to be done in isolation, reckoning with the kinds of thoughts that only come out when you don’t have much else to do. However, she’s recently been finding a lot of strength in inviting collaborators into the studio – especially those who were already her close friends.

It also gives her further outlets for her own feelings, as she bounces her experiences off of others and intersperses some personal stories with friends’ experiences, taking dramatic license where necessary. Cardin calls her latest her most personal album “emotionally,” containing stories built upon raw and unfiltered feelings in the moment they were written, rather than “factually,” as they don’t all come explicitly from her own life.

“There was a crazy heat wave that summer, and my friend Matt had just moved into this tiny little apartment. The only things that he had were a desk, a computer, a few guitars and a couch,” she says. “We spent the entire summer sitting on the floor making music, just laughing throughout. When I would leave the studio, I was a bit miserable because I was dealing with all this stuff, but I wanted to turn the feelings into a sound, into a song, into a beat – the only goal was to encapsulate the present moment. It was new for me to write that way, not to dig into old wounds and try to turn myself upside down.”

For an album based around Cardin fighting through some of her most deep-seated worries and fears, you might not expect to find a track titled “Jim Carrey.” Cardin has long spoken about themes and imagery from her favourite movies finding their way into her work (near the top of her all-time list sit American Psycho and There Will Be Blood, possibly explaining some of the horror imagery in her videos).

She recently found herself watching numerous interviews from the Canadian icon after diving back into some of his more dramatic roles in The Truman Show and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Inspired by Carrey’s thoughts on personal ego and need for acceptance holding us back from our true selves, Cardin takes a more playful approach in asking for the actor that opened her eyes to the truth’s hand in marriage.

“Whenever I watch movies that I really love, they automatically have some kind of impact on the things I want to talk about,” she says. “I’ve seen Eternal Sunshine countless times and I find myself thinking about it often in different situations in life. I guess it’s funny that [Carrey’s] more dramatic films are the ones that really caught my attention.” When asked which character she would take to the altar, she announced that she’s ready to become Mrs. Truman Burbank. “He’s so pure by the end, and he’s really touching to me, but I would probably marry all of his characters,” she says.

Photo: Jean Pierrot

After all, much like a comedian delivering an unexpectedly heart-wrenching performance, Cardin’s music houses emotional turmoil under the surface of a hazy, upbeat alt-pop sound and crisp, catchy melodies. Although they’re not all released to the public, however, nearly all of Cardin’s tracks have a stripped-back version lurking around, whether they were the first draft before being built out or created later to let the emotions fly freer. It’s been the latter as of late, most recently heralding a new version of “Confetti.”  

“All of my songs used to be created just on piano or guitar, and then we would add production. On this album, it was more collaborative, so we would have more layers even on the first draft,” she says. “It’s the opposite way of working for me to go back to the essence of the songwriting, but I love doing that because I touch base with different parts of the song, and different emotions behind the lyrics, even though I wrote them. It’s a way for me to tell the story in a slightly different way, focusing on what’s important.”

When it comes to the new revelations that Cardin has discovered about herself while recording 99 Nights, she’s become a lot more aware about exactly what Carrey was talking about in those interviews: developing a better understanding of who she is, her desires, and the parts of herself that might be stereotypically expected of her as a woman, a celebrity, or a pop star that simply aren’t who she is. Getting more comfortable with excusing herself from uncomfortable situations, Cardin is ready to thrive in a new environment after her big move.

“As far as I can remember, I’ve never been someone who is very confrontational. I’ve always avoided making any kind of waves around me, and I’ve always had a part of me that wanted to fit a certain mould. At the same time, I knew that I was different. I had a different kind of passion, and I really embraced that. So I was always torn between those two parts of myself growing up,” she says.

“A challenge for me is really to just embrace exactly what I am in an unapologetic way. I think most people, even those that are close to me, don’t know that I’m socially anxious and that I fucking hate crowds. I’m very much a loner in a lot of ways. And that’s an example of something I probably wouldn’t have felt comfortable saying a few years ago, because I thought it was expected of me to be good with people.”

If some of the themes on 99 Nights feel a little similar to the ones on Phoenix, it’s because Cardin truly walks the walk when it comes to using her music as the clearest expression of the unspoken thoughts bouncing around in her head, and her journey towards discovering who she is extends both long behind her and far into the distance. For now, she’s once again got all the right ones out in the open – the ones that continue to steer her down the right path.