Matt Stern: be gentle, be understanding

Montreal-based Kanen and Victoria-based Matt Stern will blend their respective brands of singer-songwriter music for Coup de Coeur Francophone, a concert which is (tentatively) scheduled Nov. 28 both online and at Studio 16.

Stern, who is also originally from Montreal, speaks of his experience as a bilingual anglophone solo artist making music across different lands and languages.

“And while it can feel isolating sometimes to be in a city like Victoria, I find the longer I’m here there are these pockets and niches,” Stern says, “and it’s easier to be connected with the City of Victoria itself, for example. And I couldn’t really do that in a bigger city like Montreal.”

Changing location

A francophile, Matt Stern sings in both French and English. | Photo courtesy of Le Centre culturel

Switching up one’s scene as a musical artist can pose quite the challenge. Before moving to Victoria, Stern sported a steady flow of Montreal-based releases since 2010 having found ease in performing both solo work and in finding like-minded musical collaborators.

“Montreal is such a melting pot, and I find that I would constantly be meeting new musical friends and kind of blending our inspirations,” he says.

And while moving to the Island wasn’t the plan all along, it’s a decision Stern is far from regretful of. In Montreal, the bustling scene comes with a hustling vibe; and as Stern says he found others encouraging him to be consistently promoting himself and his music. And while Stern says that’s fine for others, his move out west, unintentional as it was, proved to be a great opportunity to slow his pace down.

“Here it’s so much quieter, which is what I was seeking when I came here seeking a more peaceful environment. I spent the summer here before moving. I didn’t know I was going to end up moving here,” Stern says.

Stern has found friends in B.C.’s francophone community, having performed twice at the Victoria French Festival, among other events. For Stern, being involved in the francophone community in B.C. has been good for the spirit as well.

“I get nostalgic because I really miss [French]. I get homesick about French, which was such a part of daily life in Montreal. And so I find like when I’m in francophone environments, I feel like I’m home, which again, as an Anglophone, is kind of surprising,” he adds.

Intentionality in music

For Stern, the slower pace of the Island has allowed for a greater focus on “intentionality” in his work: being deliberate with both his music and message.

“The word intentional comes to mind because I’ve never really been inclined to just like play for the sake of playing. I kind of want to be clear about why I’m doing it sometimes, sometimes that gives me a lot of existential angst,” he explains.

This manifests in two key ways for Stern. First, while his message might vary with each song or album, there’s a common strain of “gentle activism” in his work, including songs which promote kindness, understanding, and that, at the end of the day, everyone’s story is worth being heard. And second, it means providing his own experience to his art, but at the same time decentring himself from the performance and music.

“I took a workshop with a dancer, Margie Gillis, and she talked about performance being a ritual space,” he says. “The term always comes back to mind because I was never comfortable with taking up space in an ego-based way, like ‘everybody look at me, I’m really good.’ It’s something completely different from that. It’s like we’re in an experience together.”

Going forward, Stern hopes to continue writing more original music in French, and working with others in creating shared musical experiences, de-centering himself in both his collaborative and solo work alike.

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