Safia Nolin Shows That Heartbreak Transcends Language on 'Dans le noir'

Safia Nolin Shows That Heartbreak Transcends Language on 'Dans le noir'
Photo: Jean-François Sauvé
Safia Nolin's Dans le noir is, fittingly, a sombre folk recording. On this followup to her 2015 debut album Limoilou, and Reprises Vol. 1, a collection of covers released in 2016, Nolin writes about her first breakup, her father, friends and her body. It's an intimate record that, as Nolin tells Exclaim!, is "really, really, really personal."
 
"I don't like to say it is more mature but I grew up and I'm older now," the Montreal-based Francophone singer-songwriter. "For the first album, it was a deep album, but [Dans le noir] is deeper."
 
Nolin describes the initial stages of making Dans le noir as stressful because of her hectic schedule. In between touring, Nolin spent time at the Banff Centre and at a cabin near Lac-Saint-Jean to focus on writing. Before heading into the studio, Nolin nervously shared her songs with her collaborators, and the album's co-producers, Joseph Marchand and Philippe Brault.
 
"I felt like I had nothing to show them. I was trying to play the songs and I was shaking," she recalls. "I wanted to cry. I had, like, three songs and the rest [were] like bullshit. Philippe was like 'cool the fuck down' and so I played my demos on my iPhone and we made a list [of songs] and I had an album. I'm glad I didn't do that by myself, because I wouldn't be able to say that I had a second album. I wrote my second album not knowing that I was writing it."
 
Nolin, Marchand and Brault recorded a few of these songs to cassette using a four-track recorder. Snippets of these takes are included in the album alongside additional field recordings — a fire crackles during "1998" and birds sing in the final moments. These added lo-fi elements heighten the rawness of Nolin's emotional state. "Sometimes songs can be even more deep or beautiful by the way they are recorded," she says.
 
Like therapy, Nolin says that songwriting helps her work through her emotions. The tracks on Dans le noir are vignettes about Nolin's heartache with rich descriptions of her pain. She hopes that her candid songwriting will be a comfort to those who are dealing with similar issues.
 
"Sometimes you want to be quiet and listen to what's going on in your head," Nolin says about her songwriting process. "That's what the difference is between the first and the second album for me, on the writing side: the first album is just like yelling in my head and the second I had to take moments where I could hear the songs.
 
"There are things inside of me and my mind and my heart and my soul and they're super sharp and burning and deep and hurting, and then when I write a song, it calms them down a bit," Nolin adds. "Almost like buffering sharp edges."
 
Nolin also hopes that Dans le noir strengthens her connection with Anglophone listeners. "Lesbian Break-up Song," a bilingual duet with La Force (Ariel Engle), was written in part because she wanted to bridge the gap between the French and English communities in Montreal. When she performed as part of the New Constellations tour last year, Nolin, who had previously only played for Anglophone audiences a few times, was struck by how welcoming they were. Heartbreak, evidently, translates into any language. "They were actually listening, even when it was in French," she says. "And like wow, that's fucking cool."
 
Dans le noir is out October 5 on Bonsound.