by Keeley Braunstein-Black
Fire & Smoke is the bilingual folk duo comprised of Claire Morrison and Daniel Péloquin-Hopfner. They released the single, “How It Is,” from their FR-EN bilingual EP (Spring-Summer 2023). We caught up with them at Synonym’s office above Electric Lunch.
Stylus: Tell me about the new single “How It Is.”
Claire: With the next release that we are doing, we wanted to bring it back to the source of the project. Doing things as much as possible live off the floor, playing simultaneously together as much as possible, avoiding individual tracking. There are a few overdubs we did on this recording, but trying to keep it in the realm of live recording.
Daniel: It has the magic of what it is that we do, with our two voices and avoiding the studio magic to make a clean polished pop record, to make it the roots track that it deserves.
S: What inspired this song?
C: I had the draft of a song that I couldn’t finish, that I was really stuck on. I kind of had an idea of what the cords were and kind of had an idea of what the melody was. The shape was there, but it wasn’t clear. We knew we were going to be recording a new EP, and one of our first weeks of preproduction I sat down and said, “here, this is what I have got. What do we do with this?” We sat down and workshopped it a bit, and tried options for instrumentation, and as soon as we started working on it together, the rest of it fell into place. The rest of the lyrics emerged within a few hours and by the end of the day we had a new song.
Daniel: Of all the songs we have written, it was like, “this is it. This is the one.” If there is going to be one lead single for this, it is going to be this one. Clair and I work in a really dynamic way. Claire is super business-oriented and very organized in your personal life, business life and artistic life. I am a bit of an agent of chaos, for better or worse. We complement each other well in that sense. We bring out the best in each other.
C: We cover each other’s weaknesses. We fit into each other in a complementary way. In terms of the lyrics and the overall theme and energy of the song, it was because I was coming out of a really long slog, like a lot of people at that time. It was a dark couple of years, and I was having a really hard time. I lost my mom just before the pandemic, and then the pandemic hit, and I lost all of my jobs. Also, in that same year, I broke up with my long-term partner. Lost my apartment. It was one of those periods of time where you start to feel like, “oh, I don’t know if it is going to get better.” When I was writing “How It Is,” it was this tongue-in-cheek, reminder that things get better whether you are expecting them to or not. That, for me, is the essence of the song. You can decide in your own mind that things aren’t going to get better, that things just suck, and that is where you are now, that is where you exist, and then little surprises happen.
I think what is so cool about this song is that I wrote it at a time when things where so many things were looking up that I was almost overwhelmed by how much hope there was. Coming to terms with that you don’t have 100 per cent control over your life, for worse but also for better. You need to be open to surprises.
D: It has a triumphant vibe in an ironic way.
C: It was the first thing that we wrote together after getting our band back together. We were active from 2010-13, and then I moved away, and we focused on other projects. It was during the pandemic that we got back together and said, “we aren’t done. Let’s get back together and make some new music.”
I think those years allowed people to recalibrate and look at their lives and go, “oh, there are things that I am missing here,” or “things that I want to go back and revisit.” It’s given people the chance to course correct.
D: To see what is actually bringing you happiness, and what is meaningful in your life.
C: Meaning-making has become a big part of people’s lives in the last few years, and I think that is amazing.
S: How would you describe yourselves to readers who haven’t heard you before?
D: This band started around a campfire at Folk Fest. We were playing, and this voice came out of the darkness. It was Claire. We played a song together, and it felt like this awesome chemistry. From that moment on, I tracked her down and said, “we should start a project together.” Thankfully she agreed because I had already started booking festivals.
C: I would just like to clarify that the invitation was not “let’s start a band together,” it was “we should jam sometime.” I was like ok, sure. At the time, it was through something funny like MySpace. It’s so funny to think about now. Just got this message from this random person who I played one song with one time. We got to together to play some music and at the end of that jam together, he was like, “oh, I booked this thing for us. Do you think you would like to play this festival?” I said yes. It was terrifying. It was Shine On, a month later.
D & C together: Agent of chaos.
D: What the project sounds like, and the ethos behind it is bringing what that campfire energy really is. The special moments of intimacy, and where everyone is in a circle focused inwards. The ancient tradition of storytelling and oral history is a big aspect of that in our live performances. A lot of what we write is richly painted metaphors that are narrative based. There is a narrative thread through each song. If I were to sum it up, I would say, “twilight, campfire music, and old souls.”
C: It is important to note that it is in both French and English what we do. The EP will be in both.
D: What you will see when you find us is feet in both worlds. We are trying to represent the best of that. Claire living in Montreal, and me living here, being able to span the country and also the two languages and cultures. Build bridges instead of focusing on the differences.
Fire & Smoke will be performing as a trio with bassist Marika Galea at Festival du Voyageur on Feb. 18, opening for Louis-Jean Cormier at CCFM.