Helena Deland's Homecoming

Photo: Colin Medley

“I hope that show becomes my most important memory of 2018,” says Montreal’s Helena Deland with a laugh.  Deland is referring to her headline performance at this year’s edition of M for Montreal, the four-day festival spotlighting rising local talent for industry folk and music fans alike.  The show is the culmination of a whirlwind year of gigs for the singer-songwriter, including a U.S tour in the spring (including a performance at Austin, Texas’ venerable SXSW festival) and European one last month.

“SXSW was very intense for me, that I found left a very strong impression on me,” notes Deland of the first shows her band played abroad.  “I felt like it was kind of the Mecca of artiste emergente,” says Deland.  “It felt very homogenous but I really enjoyed it too.  It was a place where I felt a lot of stuff could happen.”

Deland and her band’s European dates brought them back to the U.K., but also to the Netherlands, Germany, and France.  While Deland notes that the time to explore each of the new locales was brief, touring goes some ways to fulfilling the desire to travel.

“I had the best time honestly [laughs], it was really cool,” remarks Deland.  “We get along very well first of all; I think that’s a real lucky point. Being together 24/7 is hard for anybody but it doesn’t get unbearable for us, so that’s nice.”

Of course, there is a reason Deland has such a busy schedule this year,, which was to promote Deland’s four volume series of songs entitled Altogether Unaccompanied, released in two separate installments this year.  They are the follow-up to Drawing Room, Deland’s debut EP released in 2016.  The four volumes of Altogether Unaccompanied display Deland’s range as an artist, whether it be the plaintive melodies of “There are a Thousand,” the sparse pop of “Body Language,” or the synth-driven arrangements of “Claudion.”

The songs making up Altogether Unaccompanied are the culmination of older material Deland treasured, but did not feel added up to a cohesive album.  Included is “Rise,” which Deland wrote a few years ago and represented what the songwriter described as the first meaningful song she penned.

“As it is about someone, that’s what I’ve most been preoccupied with,” reflects Deland about the song.  “Just the fact that that person has heard it before, but now in spite of them has to deal with the fact that everybody can now hear it.

“That is what I find weirdest with the delay between the moment I wrote it and when it comes out,” she says.  “I like this song a lot also so it’s a really good feeling, but it is very strange to work with something I wrote such a long time ago.  It was so sincere that I wouldn’t want to abandon it ever, so I’m really happy that it’s now out.”

It is with songs like “Rise” and others from Altogether Unaccompanied that have brought Deland growing recognition from not just the average listener, but critics as well.  Publications such as The New York Times and Pitchfork now write about the artist, something Deland admits has felt strange in crossing over from a readerof such outlets to an artist covered by them.

“I think it’s definitely dangerous to put too much importance on those things,”  remarks Deland, “because they’re unreliable and completely out of my control personally, so I try not get too excited about it and not be too disappointed by the absence of that.”

“I think releasing the series of songs has been a real intense thing to deal with because they’re such old songs and because releasing music is so anticlimactic these days, where you just sit at home and watch social media all day [laughs].  [I] try not to, but it’s kind of something to get used to, it’s a process.”

Even after releasing an album’s worth of material this year, Deland is sketching songs for an eventual debut album.  Knowing an audience expects new material keeps the artist from staying too content with partially satisfying songs, but also adds new anxieties.

“Having a Pitchfork review really stressed me out,” says Deland, “because I’m kind of in that circuit now, being graded [laughs], so that’s pressure which I definitely shouldn’t take into account when I’m writing because it just stifles whatever there would be.”

The songwriter also notes wanting to seek out collaborations with her artistic peers.  One such partnership is with Montreal electronic producer Ouri, a pairing suggested by Deland’s manager between the two friends (Ouri even played cello for Deland’s earliest shows).  In the future, Deland wants to engage with more artists she admires for collaborations.

“That is what’s really, really exciting about pursuing this is that you kind of gain credibility and you can eventually go towards anyone,” explains Deland.  “Well, I wouldn’t hit up Frank Ocean [laughs]. The music world is beginning to seem smaller and smaller, and people I’m excited about who I feel are in a similar position no matter where they are in the world you can just hit up and [ask] ‘would you be interested,’ and the worst that can happen is being rejected.”

Nevertheless, despite all the tour dates and increased attention Deland has had in 2018, the artist’s sights are set squarely on her homecoming show at M for Montreal and Deland’s most daunting audience.

“I just think of every person I know who’s going to be there,” admits Deland.  “I feel like whenever you kind of want to impress someone, you kind of play for them, and now all my closest friends are going to be there.  There is something very comforting in it, but also they are basically the people whose opinion matters most to me.”

Helena Deland plays Theatre Fairmount (5240 Park Ave) with Tess Roby on Friday, Nov. 16, 10 p.m., $15/$20

Alex Viger-Collins is the host of Ashes to Ashes, your weekly dose of modern pop, every Tuesday at 1:00 p.m.