We recently visited the acclaimed Canadian singer Ariane Moffatt at her Montréal studio in the Mile End section neighborhood of Plateau-Mont-Royal just days before she launched her latest album, MA. Having written in both French and English, Moffatt holds an eclectic, multi-genre appeal, incorporating elements of folk and jazz into her distinct electro-pop sound. With seemingly so much of her musical inspiration stemming from her creative space, we asked Moffatt to show us her favorite instruments. Here she explains how she used these tools to develop some of the brightest songs yet.
Supro Dual Tone Electric Guitar (1960)
This electric guitar is the first instrument I ever bought on the Internet. It was purchased specifically for a performance at Victoires de la Musique (France’s equivalent to the Grammys) in Paris. I love its retro punk look, its heavy shape and dark tone—David Bowie agrees! We sometimes call it the baseball bat because of its thick, heavy neck. While recording MA, every time I had an idea for a riff, I couldn’t help myself from grabbing this baby and plugging it in to my small Vox amp. A really good-looking electric couple.
Steel Drums from Tobago
I bought these pans during a trip to Trinidad and Tobago. I always loved Calypso music and the warm sound of this metallic, percussive instrument made from old oil drums. It always surprised me how such warmth could come from a metal surface. I always wanted to transpose that magical aspect into a different style of music. I tweaked the sound using different effects, and played the instrument instinctively, since I have no formal training.
Even before leaving for my trip I had the idea to bring home pans in my suitcase. I bought mine from a young, talented player who was moving away to attend university in the U.S. He delivered them to my hotel room late one night, and included a case, the drums, stands and proper sticks. I was all set to bring them back to Montreal’s -25-degree weather! I have never been able to tune them properly since.
Roland Jupiter-6 Synthetiser (1983)
This was bought off of a friend of mine a while ago. It took me a long time to get used to this ’80s tank of a keyboard. It really is the main player on my most recent album. I love playing with its big buttons while crafting my sounds. It’s a huge machine that is totally impractical to bring on tour, but it represents the audio aesthetic of my album and I am profoundly attached to its infinite creative possibilities and strong personality.
Roland ’70s Beat Box
On the road I have a habit of shopping for vintage instruments the way some people shop for antique furniture. Finding a hidden shop or market where you can get treasures at ridiculously low prices is totally satisfying. That’s how this old wooden analog beat box and I met. It emulates beats from the foxtrot to the rhumba in a full and soft way. I can sample its different parts and construct my own beats to integrate into my songs anyway I want. During an acoustic set a few years ago the audience and I baptized it with the name “Tapageur”. It is the grandfather of all the toys in my studio.
Heintzman Upright Piano (Toronto, 1877)
There’s an old piano shop in near my home called Montreal Pianos. The owner’s son, JR, restores old pianos and brings them back to life. My Heintzman was a love-at-first-touch encounter. I keep it at home and only half-dressed to show off the gold keys and hammers inside. I find a piano in one’s home to be an important decorating element by bringing calm and openness to a room. This inviting instrument is not only an inspiring friend for songwriting, but playing around on it keeps our home feeling alive!
Photography by SPG LePigeon