Hard Sailing with Chantal Kreviazuk

Published June 20, 2016

Millennials might know her as the woman who incited hysteria with her cover of “Leaving On A Jet Plane,” prominently featured in Michael Bay’s Armageddon (1998), but Canadian singer/songwriter Chantal Kreviazuk can chalk up her success to a lot more than just a spike in 1998’s tissue sales. Although Kreviazuk hasn’t released an album in seven blistering years (she took a hiatus to raise her three kids with husband, and Our Lady Peace frontman, Raine Maida), she has been working tirelessly. As a genre shape-shifter, she’s penned hits for Pink, Drake, Kendrick Lamar, Carrie Underwood, and Pitbull. You hear her voice on Drizzy’s “Over My Dead Body” and Jay Rock’s “Pay For It.” And even when you don’t hear her, Kreviazuk’s lyrics are doing work, work, work, work—a real-life antidote to the single-word chorus.

On Friday, Kreviazuk returned with Hard Sail, an album that takes her signature soaring vocals and torques up the energy; it’s a charged departure from what’s come before. When the 42-year-old sent off a few tracks written for Pink—an artist she describes as the “Queen of Pop” and a “beast”—Kreviazuk felt such an attachment that she asked for them back. In other words, she had finally armed herself with an arsenal of songs that “made me want cry when I sang it.” As a result, Hard Sail is a powerful reminder of her raw approach to music-making, motherhood, and if you listen closely, a newfound confidence that might have been born out of a toe-dip in the hip-hop scene.

TREY TAYLOR: What kind of music do your kids listen to?

CHANTAL KREVIAZUK: Wow, that’s a great question. [laughs]

TAYLOR: I can only imagine what the car tunes must be like when your parents are Chantal Kreviazuk and Raine Maida.

KREVIAZUK: One day I’ll put an M.I.A. track on and one of my boys will be like, “I don’t want to hear that right now.” [laughs] But I’m pulling up to the school and we’re still singing: “My chain hits my chest when I’m bangin’ on the dashboard!” My one son will be like, “Mom, turn it down!” because we’re approaching the school and he’s embarrassed. That couldn’t be more the opposite of my childhood.

TAYLOR: What kind of music do you like that your kids have introduced you to?

KREVIAZUK: Anything that has social justice in it. I love that. They’re really into Macklemore. Sometimes they’ll put on something that’s a bit [makes pulsing beat noise]. Half of the reason I dropped out of the music scene as an artist for seven years [is that] I have a hard time with that era of radio. They’ll bring it in and I’ll go, “Really?” What I try to steer my kids away from, is any time there’s a pattern and you can slap any other track on that track and it would still work. [Makes signature EDM buildup noise] God bless EDM, but I don’t know. It reminds me of when you have to put on special goggles to make the film work. That’s EDM for me; I have to take special drugs to make EDM work. 

TAYLOR: Do any of the songs on your new album, Hard Sail, have any particularly political messages to them?

KREVIAZUK: Absolutely. I don’t like to go off on a whole album without saying something that reflects my frustrations. I also don’t like to make it too much about that, or too in your face, even if there is only one song. “Vicious” is about the days when I can’t believe there are girls in Iraq being sold to ISIS as sex slaves. But then I can’t believe my son told me to fuck off for the first time, and I’m trying to figure out how not to punch him in the head. Balancing all these things can feel so overwhelming.

TAYLOR: Totally. It’s difficult to air your feelings without feeling guilty somehow about diminishing other issues.

KREVIAZUK: Yesterday morning I co-hosted the biggest radio show in Canada called Chum FM. The newsgirl came on and she said that in the 72 hours since the 49 people were killed in Orlando, 93 people were killed from gun violence. That statistic stopped me in my tracks. I just blurted on the microphone, “I want to see a memorial for those people, too.” They are innocent people who are victims of these gun laws. They are just all little, sacrificial lambs for Smith & Wesson and whomever else. It’s disgusting. I said that and it really upset someone. They started tweeting that was insensitive of me, that I wasn’t honoring these 49 gay people. I was like, “Whoa, whoa, whoa.” Now I get that. The moment you put yourself out there, you’re still setting yourself up for all sorts of things. It’s hard.

TAYLOR: It seems these days on social media there’s a “wrong” way to mourn those who died. Everyone’s quick to say, “You’re not focusing on the right thing.”

KREVIAZUK: Yeah, the Anderson Cooper thing was interesting with [Florida AG Pam Bondi]. I watched him and I was like, “Are we getting distracted now?” At the end of the day, a lot of people have now died in the past week from guns and from accessibility to guns. I really see that socio-economic constraints and pressure contribute to our mental health in a big way. You come to realize that it’s all mental health. If they’re using a religion as a means to justify terrorizing other people, committing horrible acts, and then taking their own life—this is not a healthy manifestation. This is psychological.

TAYLOR: How do you see this playing out?

KREVIAZUK: Continuing to strong-arm each other—I don’t see there being any reconciliation or resolution via that strategy. I had this image in my mind when Raine and I were in the Middle East for a charity called War Child: We were driving down this highway in Jordan, overlooking Israel and Palestine, I was just watching the bombs go back and forth. I will never forget that in my life. We get to our hotel in Jordan and the bed was shaking—and it wasn’t from our lovemaking! [laughs] It was from the bombs going off. When you watch that image, you’re like, “This is just one day of 100 years of this.” It’s not getting fixed. It’s the perfect example. So I don’t think it is going to help at all to keep going with this extreme war strong-arming mentality. That’s a knee-jerk reaction and it doesn’t actually do anything in the long run.

TAYLOR: Kendrick Lamar really injects politics in his music. When you’ve worked with him, has he brought in the idea of the songs having a political agenda?

KREVIAZUK: No, I’ve just brought him hooks and then he flips it. He has great politics. I think it’s in the “Pay for It” song, actually. We were rehearsing it and I was like, “Are you saying GMO, dude? Because that’s awesome.” [laughs] I got into it with him about how passionate I am about GMOs, what we’re being fed. We’re such sitting ducks. It’s just wonderful when you can use music as a means to expose all these conspiracies and injustices. He’s a bright, young man.

TAYLOR: How did you get to working with him?

KREVIAZUK: My publisher at the time, Sam, on the urban side, put me in the room with Sounwave, Mark [Spears], one of Kendrick’s main partners. Sounwave is single-handedly one of the most wonderful people that I have ever met, or worked with, in the business. I don’t know how he could ever have a bad session with anyone. Once he and I had stuff that he could show to Kendrick, I was introduced to Kendrick and I was able to work more directly with him. Kendrick is a love ball and he exudes so much joy and love. It makes everyone around him feel free to ‘be’, and that is the greatest path to creativity I have ever seen. He’s just so open.

TAYLOR: How do you mean?

KREVIAZUK: I remember one day we were being nuts. I looked over at Kendrick—and [producer] Thundercat is out of his mind— and was like, “Oh my God, man, this is crazy!” And he was just like, “That’s okay, the crazier the better.” I was almost embarrassed with how immature we were being. He makes you feel so disarmed, comfortable, and reassured that you can’t help but allow the best of you to come out. He’s figured it out. He’s like, “Show me you.”

TAYLOR: Does Kendrick just get in the booth and start rapping or does he ask you to make up some lyrics on the spot?

KREVIAZUK: He’ll focus on a song. We have this other song together. It’s not been released yet. I don’t know if it ever will. You never know with him, but it’s brilliant. It’s not fair for me to say, “This is what Kendrick Lamar does.” From what I can tell, it’s a very inclusive experience. Then there’s a moment he goes away, and he does his thing. Then it’s all prepped and he goes in and raps. He does go off on his own. His genius manifests.

TAYLOR: This song that may or may not come out—how do you deal with that?

KREVIAZUK: [Extended moan] I can’t take it when I think about it. It was the greatest recording experience of my life. I would love, love, love to see something happen. You’re making me think I need to make some phone calls. Every once in awhile, I’m like, “Hmm, maybe I should check in on that one.”

TAYLOR: How long has it been since you recorded that song?

KREVIAZUK: It was for To Pimp A Butterfly; it was probably earlier on. Then throughout the making of the album, we kept revisiting it. It was re-recorded about four times until we got it to a certain place.

TAYLOR: You’ve also worked on my favorite song of Drake’s, “Over My Dead Body.” Have you purposely cultivated a relationship with the hip-hop community?

KREVIAZUK: The thing I love about hip-hop is that it’s so creative. It’s so creatively rewarding. When you hit it and you hit it big, there are no words. I mean, what an iconic record. Both of the records I’ve done, Kendrick and Drake—I couldn’t ask for more. I feel so self-realized as an artist because of those songs and being a part of history. Whether I agree with everything they say—sure there’s misogyny in there, there’s all sorts of shit, and I don’t care because it’s real, it’s happening.

TAYLOR: During those intervening years, I heard you speak about writing songs for other people, until one came along and you felt compelled to share it.

KREVIAZUK: There were a couple of songs that I had sent to Pink, to Alecia [Beth Moore], and she loved them and wanted to work on them. I said, “Absolutely.” She inspires me as an artist, as a songwriter—her voice, her angst. She was also going at her own pace. She wasn’t making a record. I said, “Do you mind, I think I want to take those back.” She said, “Sure.” “I Will Be” was one of them and I put it out on my own.

TAYLOR: Do you ever listen to your old music?

KREVIAZUK: I don’t like to listen to my older albums. They frighten me. I can’t explain it. It’s so subjective. It’s so personal. I cannot listen to my first album, ever. Never, never, never.

TAYLOR: Is it more of a cringe experience or a burst-into-tears experience?

KREVIAZUK: It’s like if you had a nose job and then you don’t want to look at all the pictures of yourself before the nose job. [laughs] There’s definitely been a lot of reconstruction since then. I’ve always been excited to hear my album when I just made it. There’s a feeling of accomplishment and joy and validation. But then over time I think, “What was I thinking back then? What happened there?” I’m okay to listen to my music from a little later on. It gets easier and easier. I understand that woman more. She’s more relatable to me now.

TAYLOR: I heard that you have Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s phone number.

KREVIAZUK: [laughs] I don’t know if it’s the prime minister’s, but Justin was my friend before he was the prime minister. I should try it. I think Justin still has his own private phone number. He’s a human, right? Justin’s an old friend of mine.

HARD SAIL IS OUT NOW ON WARNER BROS MUSIC. FOR MORE ON CHANTAL KREVIAZUK, VISIT HER WEBSITE.