Even though Montreal-based singer/songwriter Helena Deland is in the middle of rolling out the third and fourth volumes of her series titled Altogether Unaccompanied, it’s not a complete lack of companionship that she’s mourning. Listen to any of her music and you’ll actually be wrapped up in tender recollections of the memories she’s shared with her dearest friends. And Deland is such a charming storyteller that those reflections will inevitably become as familiar as your own — as she sings of love in both its purest and most convoluted forms, you’ll begin to reckon with the times you’ve felt all those feelings, too.
Perhaps, then, the collection’s name has more to do with society’s all-too-common tendency to pin a sense/sort of incompleteness to people that are without a significant other. Deland isn’t necessarily battling any sort of pervasive loneliness in these songs; in fact, she’s incredibly assured in the durability of her friendships.
“I always feel very emotionally satisfied when I write a song about a friendship because I feel like that’s really what I want to give a legacy to in my own life, rather than a breakup or a person I’m into,” Deland said, when I spoke to her on the phone before she was set to play a live session for the CBC. “It’s so beautiful and it can be constant. It’s enough. Thinking about my friendships makes me feel very much like I’ve already achieved a lot, and I’m safe.”
Take “Claudion,” for instance, the synth-pop opening track on Volume IV. “All I remember is trying to get here safe / And your face that I know says / Night falls and day breaks / I was only thinking ‘bout trying it out,” she sings in dream-like stacked harmonies. It’s an affectionate homage to her cousin Claudia.
“She’s someone I grew up with and probably one of my closest people. We took acid for the first time together,” Deland said, laughing. “It was an evening during Christmas, so Montreal was kind of empty, and we just went out walking and we didn’t know what to expect. We spent half the night in complete marvel and the other half in complete panic because we were both working the next day. It was terrible, but it felt therapeutic. In all the chaos of that night, just seeing her face was the most reassuring thing.”
Deland is fully aware of the paradox between the album’s sentiment and its name. Even though we can boldly make statements like, “My friends are my soulmates!” — which we both heartily agreed about in our conversation — there’s still a part of us that lives in the longing (and the feeling of a lack that comes inextricably tethered to it).
“[The title] taps into the terrible little moments where that feeling of confidence in your friends and surroundings comes to falter,” she explained. “It has to do most with romantic relationships and being disappointed by expecting that same kind of closeness from romantic relationships that is not really obtainable.”
That disconnect isn’t lost on From The Series Of Songs ‘Altogether Unaccompanied’ Vol. III & IV, which drops this week. In songs like “Rise,” she liltingly pens an ode to a lover who’s far away, both in physical distance and emotional availability. Deland has the cognitive understanding that the lack of one specific kind of love doesn’t define her ability to be loved entirely, but it still holds the power to diminish her to a pining, almost pitiful state. “Tender, tender, love me tenderly / I want to read your mind,” she sings. “Rigor, vigor, come and shatter me / Until I become skeptical of all the things I like.”
Read a condensed, edited version of my conversation with Helena below.
Were you born and raised in Canada? Do you think living there specifically has affected the way you see the world or create art?
I was born here. My family and I moved around a little between my birth and age five, but I spent most of my childhood in Quebec City, which is two hours away from Montreal. Culturally and with the political situation in Canada, I think it shaped me. I’m from a relatively privileged background, and I’m bilingual in a bilingual province. Canada is such a safe place to be. I think it’s affected my art, for better and for worse. Mostly for better, because I have super supportive parents. I definitely come from a relatively musical background and a family who really cherishes music. My dad is a musician and got me into it.