“This is something from me, not interpreting someone else’s thoughts and emotions. It’s purposeful and direct. It’s more real, a real gift.” Margot Pierard
Margot Pierard and Kurt Yates first played together in the Tropical Downbeat Orchestra in 2005. Amongst a full band of up to nine regulars - but sometimes with many more on stage - they heard something special in each other’s sound. Their specific musical styles come from very different roots – hers, jazz, his, classical - but their way of making music resonates with each other. Here, they talk to HBAF about their duo Canopy and their painstaking process of making songs.
Kurt explains, the creation starts with him, playing guitar, freewheeling, improvising, letting inspiration come.
“Something will appear and I just let it. Some of our songs just completely arrive, sometimes I sit down and have to find bits and pull them together, it’s like I’m a conduit.”
Once he has something he’s happy with – something that is as formed as possible - he records it and sends it on to Margot as a sound file.
Margot picks up the story. “It arrives and it’s really exciting. It’s a like a present.”
From there she listens to the track over and over, in her car, in the kitchen, through headphones while she’s doing other things.
“I have to listen to it a lot, I mean A LOT, 100s of times, on repeat all day,” she explains.
Kurt gives each track a title, which is then often a jumping off point for lyrics.
Margot: “That immediately gives me a relationship with words, a suggestion, before I’ve even heard it, it’s like a head start.”
From there, Margot builds the song lyrically, and melodically. Through this part of the process she’s constantly aware of wanting to only add something, rather than ever treat Kurt’s work as a backing track.
“I’ll be sent something that’s so beautiful I don’t want to add to it,” says Margot. “I am singing together with his music rather than on top of it.”
She records her contribution to the song, often multiple times to get it exactly as she wants it, then sends it back to Kurt.
“With her voice she brings that song to life.” Kurt explains the anticipation of seeing his creation take on a more established shape. “I write with that sense of space and form for her singing. It’s her that brings it to life with her voice.”
Once the song has a structure, lyrics and balance between guitar and voice there’s hours and hours of practice ahead of the two of them. In terms of time and energy Canopy is a hungry beast, but something both Kurt and Margot are passionate about and dedicated to.
Kurt says the difference between working this way and playing other people’s songs is night and day. “This is immensely harder, but I do it because I have to, it’s been a pull since I was a kid and I’m more than sure that when I’m an old man it’ll still be my foremost thought.”
Margot agrees. “It’s so safe to be a communicator of someone else’s work. When you sing other people’s songs you’re not doing anything but entertaining. This is a new thing, it’s exciting because I love the songs we’ve made, I love making music with Kurt.”