Charlotte Cardin‘s life has always revolved around stories. Whether it was seeing Celine Dion as a toddler or watching Josie and the Pussycats as a tween, the throughline has, of course, always been music. Cardin’s own coming-of-age tale has been already spoken about at length — appearing on a talent show, a (slightly depressing) stint as a model — but it was always music that buoyed her. Storytelling turned into songwriting and songwriting turned into her debut album, the sky soaring 2021 release Phoenix. Following the release of Phoenix, Cardin received critical acclaim and took home a slew of JUNO awards. What fans and listeners alike forget, though, that while all of the hysteria and hype is happening, artists are already in the midst of their next collection of work — what we now know as 99 Nights.
Although the excitement around Phoenix was the push of confidence she needed to pursue whatever musical direction she wanted to explore, she was dealing with a myriad of emotions that would eventually become the catalyst to many of the songs on 99 Nights. The album is, naturally, Cardin at her best. Equal parts vulnerable and delicate, intimate and intricate, the album is a snapshot of a summer — 99 nights in particular — where Cardin was feeling everything and anything at all.
Cardin chats with Schön! Magazine about creating 99 Nights, keeping everything from the visuals to the tour to align with the DNA of the album, and more.
It’s been two years since your debut album Phoenix and 8 years since your debut. How would you describe the way you’ve grown and developed as a songwriter between then and now?
I feel like I’ve grown tremendously from my debut EP until now. I wrote my first two EPs completely by myself. I guess I was a little bit scared of collaborating and co-writing just because I was still kind of trying to figure out who I was as an artist. Keeping full control, or what I thought was full control, over songwriting to me meant writing everything and doing everything by myself. When I started writing Phoenix, that’s when I started co-writing. That opened me up to an ocean of endless new possibilities. I just feel like I’ve grown so much as an artist and as a songwriter. Since I started writing and making music with other people, it’s really opened me up to lots of playfulness in the studio, taking new directions, and being open to new sounds and open to other people.
I feel like it’s definitely made me write songs that are even more personal than they were before. I think when you’re in the studio with people that know you and you start sharing things, it will allow you to express certain things that you probably wouldn’t have, necessarily, admitted to yourself. That’s the main thing as a songwriter, I feel like starting to collaborate more and being more open to other people’s influences and just vibing a little bit more with other people in the songwriting context. It made me improve a lot as a songwriter and as an artist while also making the process more fun. It used to be a very lonely thing for me and now it’s just like hanging out with friends and having the best time ever.
I feel like songwriting sessions can be so vulnerable to the point where it feels like therapy. By doing them, you’re basically allowing yourself to think of experiences and emotions in a different or new way, which helps uncover new avenues to create more songs.
Yeah, exactly. The creative pool is just endless when you’re with other people. If you’re just not inspired that day, someone else in the room will be and then you can just jive off other people’s ideas. You just end up admitting certain things and it definitely feels like therapy in a lot of ways.
I was watching your interview with Zach Sang and they asked you what will happen when you don’t have anything else to write about. All of these other collaborators have things to talk about and explore, which I think is a really interesting thing you can do as a songwriter. It’s nice to write from your own experience, but it’s also nice to write from a different perspective.
Yeah, that’s very true. I also think that music is a very universal thing that really brings people closer together. Even as someone who likes listening to music from other artists, someone else’s story will resonate with me in a very personal way. When you listen to an artist’s song, you relate to it and they didn’t write it about you, but that’s what music does. It really reaches people in a very personal way. I think it’s the same with songwriting. Sometimes we’ll be talking in the studio and my friend who’s in the room with me will say something that happened that I’ll relate to, so we’ll write about it. It’s nice to feed off other people’s instincts and stories, there’s a lot of storytelling involved in songwriting, at least in my type of songwriting. I love that it makes me discover parts about myself as well.
When you think back to your childhood, is there a story that really stands out that resonated with you?
Oh, there’s so many. I was a huge fan of teenage rom coms. It’s probably a cheesy answer, but I loved movies that had music in it, like Josie and the Pussycats, Freaky Friday, and all of those films where the lead role was like a badass band member and there’s a love story. That was the dream! [Laughs] Music really did that for me as well. I remember as a very small kid, when I was probably three years old, I saw a Celine Dion concert. I was completely mind blown and had really no idea what she was singing about because I was literally a toddler. Music really always had that impact on me, like I always felt that I was going through what the musician or the songwriter was talking about or singing about. Celine Dion is probably one of those firsts for me as a true French Canadian girl, naturally.
Is it crazy for you to think that you are a ‘Celine Dion’ to some young girl dreaming of being a musician?
Yeah, it’s crazy to me when I start thinking about that. That’s what I love the most about making music.. It’s about the sharing part of it. It’s insane that some stories that are so personal to me will resonate with other people and make them daydream about certain things. I love it. It is the most incredible thing about music.
I read you were working on 99 Nights while Phoenix was taking off. As a songwriter, does it feel quite a juxtaposition to be promoting a past project while working on both processing your current feelings and writing music about that?
It was very motivating because it was a bit of a stamp of approval. Like “oh, people actually do like my first album so I should just use my instincts for this second one.” I didn’t see it as some kind of pressure. It just gave me a little bit more confidence to be a little bit more playful with this next one and explore the avenues that I really wanted to go into musically with this second album. It was a fun experience to live those two things at the same time.
Yeah, it’s like having a foot in the past and present at the same time.
That always happens with music. The songs that ended up being released are usually songs that have been written a few years ago, it’s never a quick process. There is marketing and everything in the packaging of the album. There are some songs on my first album Phoenix that had been written for years prior to releasing the album. Even now I’m writing new music as I’m really in the thick of this album. It’s just always been that way and I think it always will be. It is weird especially when you play live and you’ve been playing the same show for a while but your mind is already in the new music and you’re playing the old songs. That’s always a weird part to navigate.
There seems to be a shift in confidence within the music between the two albums — in particular, “Somebody First” is such an incredible song where you have so much power. Did it feel that way during writing and recording?
Yeah, a lot of these songs on this album felt that way. It was kind of liberating in a lot of ways. I wanted to approach this album with a lot of honesty and feelings that you’re not necessarily proud of having, but you have them. It was what this whole album process was about — embracing those emotions and those feelings. That song in particular is about not really giving a fuck about the person you were with anymore, but still like having that ego and that part of you that thinks, “You’re not going to hook up with anyone before me.” We’ve all felt that way before, like the game isn’t quite over yet.
It felt really good recording it and it was such a fun writing process because I wrote part of it with my boyfriend and then another part was written in two phases with Lubalin, one of my closest collaborators on this album. Lubalin was coming up with the best fucking lines, I don’t know what happened that day. The lyric “You keep the dog/I keep the friends” sets the tone immediately. I can’t take the credit for that one, it was 100% him. We just had so much fun writing that song because we kept joking around, so it’s nice when you have fond memories of the day that you wrote a song. It feels like it was a beautiful moment. The whole process was really fun and liberating.
That one’s going to be fun to perform live.
We are performing it live tonight! I can’t wait.
I find your relationship with your sister so wonderful — she wrote such a beautiful cover story for you last year and you collaborated on the 99 Nights Radio for Apple. What has it meant to you to share this creative journey together in a way?
Yeah, it’s been amazing. Honestly, my sister has always been so supportive of my music and she and I feel like we have strengths that really complement the other person’s weaknesses.
Like two sides of the same coin.
Yeah, we really balanced each other out well so we make a very good team. She’s an amazing writer and she helped me many times in lots of different parts of my project. We did collaborate and co-produce the 99 Nights Radio podcast and she’s always been the person who I know will always be super honest with how she feels about my music. She’s very unapologetically honest and that’s one of the things that I appreciate the most about her because I know she’s not just going to tell me what I want to hear. She’s one of the first people that I will send my demos to and her artistic instincts are really good despite not being an artist herself. I know I can trust her with giving me very blunt advice. We’ve always made a really good team.
I loved that Jim Carrey’s thoughts on personal ego and our desire for acceptance actually holds us back. I don’t know if you’ve seen it, but Miley Cyrus has been reflecting on different points of her life and she mentioned that she’s opted not to tour at the moment because it can be hard for her to manage her ego — turning it on while on stage and off when she’s not. I know you love more intimate shows, was that your own way of keeping things manageable?
That’s very interesting. I haven’t heard Miley speak about this, but I will definitely look up her interview because I find that really interesting. I can totally understand the aspect of being on stage and seeing ourselves from a third person point of view. Performing for other people and then walking off stage and having to navigate the world from a different perspective through your own eyes.
So far, that’s not something that I’ve struggled with but I know a lot of artists struggle with that. I’m getting more and more comfortable on stage. It’s definitely not always been that way but I try to focus on the connection that I’m having with the people that are there rather than myself or them or to me. I try to view it as a moment of sharing stuff, but I think it definitely makes it easier to do that when there is an actual connection that can be established because there is a little bit more of a proximity with the crowd. I do love playing bigger shows like festivals and stuff like they’re just fun for other reasons. But, especially for this album, it’s a little bit more raw in a lot of ways. I chose to do smaller venues rather than massive ones in Montreal. We wanted to keep the same intimate feeling throughout the whole tour so it still fits with the DNA of the album.
I read that “Next To You” was the last song you wrote for the album and it took 6 to 7 months to write, somewhat serving as the final chapter to 99 Nights. What did it feel like when you finally finished?
I was trying to remember the moment we finished it. I wrote it with my friend Patrick Watson, he’s an incredible songwriter. It took so fucking long to write that song. I hated it at one point and Patrick kept saying to trust the process because we need to finish the song. He talked about how some of the songs that people connect with the most are the ones he hated and, at one point, I realised I was actually starting to love “Next To You.” It felt really special and personal and it was never quite finished. We kept playing around with the structure, adding a few words because I was going through stuff. I’d say, “Oh, I have this idea. We should add this thing that I just went through.” One day, we had a structure that felt okay so he suggested we record it before I left the studio just to have a demo of it. That ended up being the version that is on 99 Nights.
I love that so much. It makes it so much more raw and real when you’re not re-recording it over and over.
Yeah, it was recorded without a click. It was just one mic that was taking the piano and the vocals at the same time. You can hear the chair at one point [laughs]. I didn’t think the song was finished until I heard the demo. The only thing we changed was Patrick adding some modular synths and strings, but he had to do it without a click. It’s super wonky and imperfectly perfect, but I think that’s what makes it special. The only thing we did was re-record one part of a word in the chorus that I fucked up but the rest is as it was.
I feel like you might be a perfectionist but how do you know when a song is actually done?
It’s always different. I feel like some songs you’ll want to do a bunch of different takes and re-record different parts. But this one… I feel like the DNA of the song really calls for that. We just knew when we heard it, and I can’t remember now but I feel like maybe we tried recording one or two more takes a few weeks later and we knew the first one sounded so much better. I’m not sure this is correct information, but knowing myself I feel like I probably wanted to try one or two more to see if we could beat it. I feel like some songs call for that kind of imperfection and rawness. We actually have a lot of that on the album — a lot of the takes that you’ll hear are the first take. We just want to keep that essence that speaks to the DNA of the album.
Visuals are incredibly important to you — I loved the photo book insert for the Phoenix vinyl and your videos are stunning. When you’re writing and recording, do you already have an idea in mind for visuals or is it something you figure out later?
I always think about music videos when I’m writing music. I like writing songs that have very vivid imagery in my mind even if they often don’t turn out like the video that I had in mind when we recorded or wrote the song. For 99 Nights I didn’t want to do photoshoots because it felt like the songwriting process was like writing in a diary in a lot of ways. I was going through a lot of stuff and I felt like it should be real photos of my life that we use.
That summer my boyfriend had taken a few photos of me when we went to Greece and when I saw the photo [that is now the 99 Nights album cover] I knew I wanted it to be the cover of something. I think it’s perfect because it feels raw, vulnerable and it’s not perfect. It just inspires the same emotions in me as the music on the album does and that’s all that really mattered to me with those visuals.
Since you are a fellow Scorpio, you wrote our anthem “Scorpio Season” and we are almost in it, I want to ask what you hope this next Scorpio season — which typically acts as a rebirth — brings for you?
I love that. I’ve gotten a few messages from other fellow Scorpios when I released that song. I really identify myself as a real Scorpio. What am I manifesting in the Scorpio season… I’m going to be touring a lot in the next few months. I just hope that I can really truly find balance in the touring lifestyle. The last tour that I did was really fun, I just want to manifest for myself to not be constantly anxious. I’ve always loved touring, but it’s the in-between shows that are hard. I just hope I can truly embrace every moment of the tour and be balanced.
Charlotte Cardin’s sophomore album 99 Nights is out now. Dates to her upcoming European tour are now on sale.