Laurence Jalbert: When authenticity meets musicality

March 9, 2016

Laurence Jalbert

The anchors of her life

Laurence, you are a mother of two, and you have four grandkids. Is it true that your family is the centre of your universe?

Absolutely, yes! From the moment my daughter was born, I knew I had found the meaning of my life. Before becoming pregnant, I was scared of children…because I had no self-esteem. I was so scared of how they might look at me that I would cross the street to avoid running into them!

I was 24 years old and alone when I gave birth to my daughter, and this is when I found my purpose in life. I was flat broke and alone in Montreal, yet I had everything because I was holding my daughter in my arms!

At 37 years old, I became pregnant with my son. My pregnancy was extremely difficult, and I delivered my son prematurely at only 26 weeks, but I had life, and I wanted this baby so much! And now I have two beautiful children that give me so much; they are giving me back just as much love as I gave them!

I always worked a lot. In a single year, I could do up to 250 shows all over the province, so my daughter didn’t see me a lot. That being said, I made all of my personal choices according to my children’s needs. At one point, I had a serious shot at breaking out in Europe, but my daughter said, “Mommy, I don’t want you to go.” She clearly voiced her need for me to stay with her, so I didn’t go to Europe, and I have absolutely no regrets! I’m not a careerist at all, I’m an artist! And I’m passionate about my kids and grandkids. My daughter gave me four little treasures that fill me with happiness.

Music comes second in your life, right after family. Is that right?

Yes! Music and creation. Giving concrete expression to abstract things, through music. Recently, I’ve done this through writing, which has been a discovery for me. I’ve had a passion for music since I was born, I think. I was pathologically shy when I was young, and yet at 17, I answered a classified ad from a bunch of crummy musicians I had never heard of who were looking for a keyboard player to perform in the “big city.” Once I was with them, I found a way to take music classes during the week, and I would play with the band on weekends. At one point, I had to stop taking classes to go on tour.

I have never played music to be a star. I’m not a star, I’m an artist. The only difference is that I get recognized on the street. I’ve never looked for that. When I released my first album, I even asked the producer if there was a way for me to promote it without going on TV! But he explained that my songs were too personal, too meaningful to be anonymous, and people would want to know the person singing them.

Do you wear protective earplugs during your shows?

I wear them now, but I haven’t always. Before my first hearing test a few years ago, I was convinced that I had a hearing problem after all these years in bars and on stages, with the drums, cymbals, and ear-splitting high notes. I was so relieved when my audiologist told me I had the hearing of a 22-year-old woman! He couldn’t believe it himself. He also explained that my tinnitus was caused by stress. And he was right. I eliminated the cause of the stress, and the tinnitus disappeared.

You perform at several charity events, like the Grand concert des prématurés du CHU Sainte-Justine and the benefit show for the Gaspésie youth centres. Is it important for you to give back to the community?

Yes! There are also the telethons and La Ressource, an organization that supports people with disabilities in Abitibi. It is absolutely essential. I get so much out of it! For me, it is unthinkable to say, “Buy my albums, buy my book, come see me perform” without doing something in return. It is my way of contributing to society and giving back to people that are so generous to me.

In the spring of 2015, you released a biographical essay, À la vie à la mer, in which you describe the life events behind the twelve songs on the digital album of the same name. As we speak, the book has attained bestseller status, with over 11,000 copies sold. Were you expecting such a response from the public?

Oh no, not at all! You know, even after all these years, I never take anything for granted. I learned this lesson early. Every time, I have to win back my fans, and I never know if I will. I see it as a challenge to always do better, and I just can’t believe how welcoming people have been with me. I think, “Wow, people still like what I do!”

Resilience—the capacity to get back on one’s feet after hardships—is the theme of your conference/performance. What makes you want to address this theme with people?

I want to tell people it’s all about looking and moving forward. You have to look for the light in all things. What I want people to remember from my conference is: “Look at me! I’m standing up straight, smiling inside and out, despite all the things that life put on me. This is my life, this is the path I follow.”

So, it is not so much a conference as a testimonial of hope. You want to tell people there is always a way to rise up, despite ordeals. Maybe we can’t remain standing all the time, because people do fall.

Yes! I went into a major depression five years ago. There are tools and people to help you get through it; you have to use these resources.

In fact, it is only human and normal to fall, to break down. What’s important is to find the strength to rise above it and move forward, don’t you agree?

Exactly! It is perfectly normal to fall. Some things we can control, others we simply can’t. Control freaks like me need hard blows to understand—in proportion to our strong personalities—because we simply don’t listen to small signals. I’m a lot more careful about that now, but I’m still at risk. You have to keep your balance as much as possible. Be happy as long and as often as possible.

In an interview with journalist Marie-Christine Blais in March of 2015, you said, “I’m a singer who takes things to heart, because my songs get into people’s hearts. How would you explain the strong connection you have with your fans?

To tell the truth, I just can’t explain it! Even when I was a little girl, my friends would come up to me and confide in me. All my life, people have been coming up to me. They trust me. I look trustworthy, what can I say (laughs)?

I listen to them and put what they say into my “emotional piggy bank” that I use to write my songs. Most of my songs don’t tell my story, but other people’s. That’s true of Au nom de la raison. That being said, I’ve used my voice and emotions to sing my songs so many times that I’ve come to live them vicariously. I believe that speech is like a magic wand. That everything we say out loud, we receive. I kind of…forced life to obey me. Things have happened to me because I have sung them so often! I had to stop singing some of my songs, because I was certain that if I kept singing them, the story they tell would happen to me!