Hailing from Montreal and channelling a sound just as majestic as the Canadian terrain, we decided we had better get to know the mysterious Groenland. Having just released their second album A Wider Space, vocalist Sabrina Halde took some time out to lift the veil on the band, their new album and what led her to a life making music.
“Groenland” is a beautiful word that is a French variation on “Greenland”. You’re from Montreal, Canada; what was it that drew you to it as a band name?
We basically liked the originality of the word and the mystique of this extraordinary place that none of us have seen. To us, this word represents nature, surviving the winter together, mysteries, beauty. It was an opportunity to invent a world where wild things come together to thrive and go through the many trials of life. Also, we just liked the sound of it.
You have a grandiose and expansive sound that combines orchestral arrangements with a colourful pop sentimentality. Was it a shared vision that drew you together as a band, or was it a long process to find your signature sound?
We all met through school, jobs or old projects. Jean-Vivier had a band with Jonathan. Jonathan had played with Simon for a long time. We met the string players in school, through side jobs or common friends. I met Jean-Vivier in CEGEP and we reconnected at the University of Montreal. I was working at the student cafe, and he often came to chill and listen to music. We quickly realised that we liked the same music and that we both wanted to start a band. We wanted to be an electro duet until we realised that two people working on a computer was kind of boring, haha ! Adding people to the band felt more organic and right for us.
On your new album A Wider Space you combine emotive string arrangements with pulsing synths. The combination is quite surprising – but it works! How did you push yourselves as musicians on your new album? Did you feel any pressure to improve upon your also impressive debut The Chase?
Actually, I write the lyrics by myself, and the others aren’t so interested in them, so I’m safe ! Haha !
What is your most personal song on the new album, and why was it important to write it?
All of the songs feel pretty personal to me. I struggled a lot through the writing process because I wanted every line of the album to feel personal and more realistic. When I wrote the first album, it felt like I was putting down on paper blurred, surrealist impressions of my life and of the lives of people around me. It came out naturally that way, and I know there’s a part of me that felt safe singing about an octopus instead of real people in my life. The most personal song on the first album was “Criminals” because it talks about our student strike in 2012 and about how I met my best friend while hiding in a back alley, waiting for policemen to go away after they chased us for being in a demonstration. It was really difficult to put my feelings into my words without it feeling too obvious. For the second album, I wanted that for every song. “Cabin” might feel more intimate because it’s the only song that talks about a love relationship.
Montreal is a French-Canadian city, yet you have opted not to use French within your music. What made you come to that decision? Have you ruled out incorporating French in the future?
A lot of people feel like it was a conscious decision for us, but it never really was. The first time we rehearsed, I remember having English words come out of my mouth. I was vocally trained by my favourite American and British pop singers, and then by jazz. Every sound I know how to sing is mainly in English. I’ve tried hard to write in French, but never felt satisfied. Some people have a real, raw talent for writing in French, and I admire them a lot. But I don’t, haha! We never ruled out writing in French, I would love to be able to do something I’m proud of in French. I’m sure it will happen someday. For this album, I didn’t have time to start over and learn how to write and feel good singing in French.
Would you say that your music has a sound similar to French pop artists?
We don’t have a guitar player in the band, so I feel like it rules out a lot of French pop artists who could be similar to us. We listen to a lot of French-Canadian artists like Jimmy Hunt, Laura Sauvage, Alaclair Ensemble, Koriass, Dead Obies, Safia Nolin… but none of them have a similar sound. I think we find inspiration in the attitude, the personality and originality of the music. They inspire me emotionally. I feel like we’re similar in some ways, although it might not sound like it.
Where will you be touring in support of the album? What place have you not had the chance to visit yet that you would like to in the future?