Only Hearts vintage jumpsuit.
While working on a project called Songs for Sailors, Quebecois singer, songwriter, and pianist Béatrice Martin went through a particularly bad breakup that ended with a guy telling her she had no future, that she couldn’t do anything. To the contrary, she adopted the persona of Coeur de Pirate (French for heart of a pirate) and made waves with her music. The songs are in French, but even if you don’t speak the language, that shouldn’t hinder your enjoyment of them in the slightest. The atmosphere, the cadence, the soul of Coeur de Pirate’s message doesn’t get lost in translation. True, she is bilingual and has recorded some songs in English—such as when she and Jay Malinowski of Bedouin Soundclash recorded as Armistice—but French is her mother’s tongue (her mom, a classical pianist, also passed down a love of the ivory keys).
“There’s a romanticism present in French,” Coeur de Pirate says. “There are ways of creating images in French that I can’t in English. French works better for me when trying to illustrate with words.” For instance, her new album name, Blonde, is a takeoff of her hair color and the Quebecois French word blonde, meaning girlfriend, e.g., “I’m going over to my blonde’s house for Boxing Day.”
When asked if she thinks singing in French pigeonholes her and limits her audience to those in France and Canada—countries where she does quite well, having been nominated for a Juno award, the Canadian equivalent of a Grammy, and winning best original song at the Victoires de la Musique, France’s equivalent of the Grammys—she is at first confused by the term pigeonhole. But after a quick explanation, she says, “I think I’m getting attention because I’m singing in French, and I don’t want to be thrown in the same group as the other pop music girls who sing on the piano. I’ve also received messages from fans who say that they started to learn French after translating my lyrics.”
Web traffic to Google Translate should spike as Blonde permeates iTunes. “My first album was more teenage revenge,” she says of Coeur de Pirate, which she released in 2008 at the age of 18. “[Blonde] is my breakup album.”
“After [Couer de Pirate] I started becoming a little bit famous—which I’m so grateful for—but I got thrown into a world of adults really quickly. I grew up way too fast, and through people-pleasing I ended up feeling really lonely.”
The feeling didn’t last long: “Then I met someone who really understood me, and when we broke up it was really painful,” she says. That someone was Malinowski. Blonde goes through the progression of a relationship, careening from upbeat tracks like “Ava” to the staggering “Adieu.” If you have two ears and a heart, you’ll devour it. “This album was for me to get through the breakup and understand that I loved more than he did—too much.”
Coeur de Pirate’s skin bears her joys and scars just as her music does. She has a tattoo on her body for each important person in her life. Her first tattoo, a blue rose on her ribs, was inspired by singer Dallas Green, better known as City and Colour. “Then I moved really quickly and went straight up to chest piece,” she says. “I pretty much skipped some important stages of tattooing.” She did not, however, skip out on color. “That’s a problem,” she admits. “If I could do it all over I would do black, to be honest. When you are young and your friends are tattooing you, they say, ‘Hey, you have really fair skin—how about we test out all of these colors on you?’” These days, she gets what she wants from Arno, an artist at Imago Tattoo Studio in Montreal, who does amazing traditional work, including her deer and bunny.
So now she’s a young, porcelain-skinned blonde with a cute upturned nose and eyes bigger than Canadian quarters—who also has two chest pieces and the makings of two tattooed sleeves. Of her look she says, “It’s all about contrast—and my music is like that too.”