TORONTO — A little over a year ago, Charlotte Cardin was standing at the finish line of Juno Awards weekend, her arms full of golden statuettes.
With a leading four wins in some of the Canadian music award show’s top categories, including artist, single and album of the year for her 2021 debut “Phoenix,” the Montreal singer-songwriter was the show's breakout star.
All eyes seemed fixed on what she would do next.
But Cardin says she didn’t feel much pressure as she readied her sophomore album “99 Nights,” which was released last week.
“I never had time to stop and think, ‘Oh, the stakes are so much higher now,’” Cardin recalled in a recent interview in the Toronto offices of her record label.
“It took us four years to write ‘Phoenix’ and when it came out, I was already working on this album. And right now I'm already on to the next project."
The 28-year-old's career has been in a state of constant motion ever since she landed a spot in the Top 4 of French Canada's version of "The Voice" in 2013. It took her a few more years before Quebec embraced her as its new critical pop darling, helped by early standout singles "Meaningless" and "Daddy."
Like every artist whose first album leaves an impression, Cardin faced how to follow it up with something substantial. Luckily, by the time those Juno wins were on her mantle, she was already nearly finished much of "99 Nights."
Named after the rough time span of its creation, the album explores a period when the Paris-based Cardin was coming out of the darkest corners of a long-distance relationship with Quebec actor Aliocha Schneider. She said the challenge put both of them at a crossroads where they were forced to "reconsider a lot of things" about their relationship.
“The distance really takes a toll on you,” she said. “And we were in a bad place.”
The couple persevered and “99 Nights” finds Cardin feeling better about their future as she reflects on the “endless possibilities” of having her feet on solid ground.
“I was in the headspace where I was realizing that every day with this person — but also every day in the bigger picture of your life – is a choice.
“I was expanding my musical playground in the studio, exploring all these things, and it was mirroring how I was feeling. Like, I could do all of this, I could date all these people if I wanted. But I choose to be in this relationship.”
Her perspective gives the album a playful sense of humour at times, most memorably on "Jim Carrey," a groovy not-quite-a-stalker tribute to the Canadian actor who inspired her with his internet sermons on how to free oneself from their own ego, and "Daddy's a Psycho," a tongue-in-cheek reflection on fathers written with several other songwriters.
"We connected on the fact that we had strange relationships with our dads," she said.
"I have a great relationship with mine in a lot of ways. It's just never been a simple relationship."
Her downtempo tracks "Puppy" and "Next to You" bookend the album with confessional takes on romance.
Cardin describes “99 Nights” as “the diary of a very precise moment” in her life over the better part of summer, two years ago, as she hung out in a tiny recording studio at the Montreal apartment of her musical director Mathieu Sénéchal with a few songwriter pals.
“He had just moved in, so it was basically an empty apartment with a studio set up and a tiny couch," Cardin said.
"We were having fun between friends and it was one of those vibes where music can be such a therapy."
As the album finally sees its release, Cardin admits she's already moved past "99 Nights" in some ways.
She's been onto the next album for quite a while, and sees all of these efforts as part of a large, career-spanning catalogue of unwritten albums she affectionately refers to by the all-encapsulating label, "The Project," a simmering series of stories that will chart her growth as a person.
"It's not as if I've had that big viral moment but I'm at a place where I'm so happy to be able to share my music with an audience.”
“I feel like my music has grown in a very organic way."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 31, 2023.
David Friend, The Canadian Press