Photography Maya Fuhr

premiere: helena deland’s new video is part david lynch, part 80s power ballad

The Canadian songsmith shares a fresh visual and discusses the power of pop.

by Emily Manning
12 March 2018, 7:05pm

Photography Maya Fuhr

In the 35 years since Bonnie Tyler released “Total Eclipse of the Heart” in 1983, the epic power ballad has continued to inspire artists across the musical spectrum. It’s been covered by Irish boy bands and Mexican pop powerhouses. An uptempo disco remake topped charts in 1995. The Glee cast did a fittingly melodramatic rendition. And, according to a UK poll, it’s the most popular song to sing in the shower.

Helena Deland’s new music video (premiering exclusively on i-D) is also inspired by “Total Eclipse of the Heart.” But the Montreal-based singer-songwriter puts a dark, Lynchian twist on her visuals.

“The idea came to me when I was on a long drive with my boyfriend listening to ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart.’ We imagined an older guy singing this would be very moving and somewhat tragic, and also somehow likely,” Deland tells i-D. “It makes sense to me that the video feels a little lost and random, because that's the feeling the song conveys.”

That song — the hazy, hypnotic, and elegantly layered “There are a Thousand” — is lifted from Deland’s recently released From the Series of Songs “Altogether Unaccompanied” Vol. I & II. This pair of EPs (two tracks a piece) collects songs Deland wrote over the past five years. Each composition was recorded individually, and without working towards a common sound. Together, the results don’t feel disjointed, but distinctive and exciting.

Below, Deland shares more about her episodic approach, and experimenting with synths for the first time.

Did your parents or family members make music growing up? Or was it something you became interested in on your own?
My dad comes from a large Québécois family. They’re really into French folk songs that everyone sings together in a call-and-response style. So [music for me] has always been super positive and festive. My dad’s a musician, too. He’s always encouraged me to do it without being too uptight about it either. I’ve always had a relaxed and positive relationship to it. I’m lucky! Growing up, I wanted to do music, but didn’t think it could be as serious as it has become. When I moved to Montreal, I found the music scene to be as warm and active as its reputation, which was motivating for me.

What kind of music did your parents listen to?
When I was young, they were into The Cure, The Smashing Pumpkins. My mom’s relationship to music is very much dictated by what’s cool. She’s always keeping up to date, buying a lot of records, listening to the radio nonstop, looking for the next it thing. We used to have huge — not serious — arguments about whether they introduced me to music I like. I argued the opposite!

Was there a moment you felt like you made your own taste?
There’s always been stuff that, because of age, they didn’t relate to. My relationship to listening to music was most intense in high school, when things feel the most intense. I still have the mixtapes I made when I started driving, because they define that period of time. But I never feel like there was a rebuke of what my parents listened to. I’ve always been influenced by them in a conscious and accepting way. I remember when I’d like something my mom didn’t, I’d feel kind of self-conscious about it. Like, ‘...Why?’. [Laughs].

That’s so funny. And it makes sense. When are you not gonna like The Cure, you know.
True, but I think the [musical] upbringing I had might have kept me further from pop music where female sexuality was put forward for a while. Actually, I feel like I just discovered pop.

That’s interesting. You’ve described your own music as “sincere pop,” which I’m curious about. Not all pop music is “sincere,” but I do feel it’s frank.
Yeah, you’re right. You can’t really detach pop from someone or something that’s up-front. But I feel it can — and this might be a misconception — be Machiavellian. It’s tempting to seduce with it, maybe. I think that using the term “pop” to describe what I do — and the the “sincere” part of it — references the fact that I don’t try to hide, or be enigmatic and mysterious about stuff.

Tell me about your writing process.
There’s something kind of perverse about songwriting where whenever a situation becomes emotionally intense, you’re kind of hunting for the song that’s hidden in it. The thinking being: the more intense, the better the song. [Laughs]. That’s how it’s worked for me so far, but I want to work towards controlling that inspiration better. For now, it’s more compulsive, or instinctive.

Understanding that you’re experiencing a situation that might yield a song it makes sense to want to be up-front with what you’re exposing. To say it like it is.
It wouldn’t feel relevant to do it any other way. Especially these days, I tend to be drawn to very up-front stuff. I was just listening to SZA before you called. [Ctrl] is so genuine, and there’s no compromise. I admire that.

Your first EP, Drawing Room, seems shaped by a folk sensibility. This new series of songs, Altogether Unaccompanied, incorporates more electronic elements. There are definitely common sounds between the projects, the guitar lines for example. It’s cool to hear that development. What compelled you to shift things in a more electronic direction?
I come from a folk background, so I feel like what was possible for me two years ago was more folk-oriented. Now, as my tastes shift and I try other stuff out, it’s changing. It’s really exciting, because I’m enjoying the electronics a lot. I hadn’t worked with synths ever. I think my stuff will always be in some way guitar-based, but it’s nice to be writing synth lines and fooling around with them.

When you’re writing a song, do you hear the music simultaneously to the lyrics? Or does it take more experimentation to figure out how it’s gonna sound?
It changes a lot, but it always shows what I’ve been listening to when I write something. “Take it All,” for example. I wrote it when I was listening to a lot of David Lynch’s music. I thought his dark mix of country and trap-ish moments was very interesting. Writing the lyrics, I was imagining it having elements of his song “I Want You.”

How about “There are a Thousand”? The guitars on there are great.
Thanks! It’s funny: the first production elements I wanted were “Out on the Weekend” Neil Young drums, and kind of built it from there. The producer I work with and I worked on those guitar lines for what seems like forever, trying different stuff out. And at that point, I’d just gotten home from a tour with Whitney, so Max’s guitar lines were very present for me. I don’t know if it shows, but I hear their influence in there, too. I feel permeable, but I think that’s inevitable.

Speaking of touring, you’re about to play SXSW.
I can’t wait! It feels like such a ritualistic step in a career. I’m going to SXSW with the band, and then touring solo. I love traveling alone as much as I love traveling with the band. But playing alone, I enjoy less. You have to construct a totally different show, and make it something else. So I’ve been working on it, and I’m feeling better about it. But it’s harder to play alone!

Do you write when you’re touring?
It’s a weird type of busy being on tour. You don’t do much except drive, but you feel overwhelmed, which is weird. Like, ‘I haven’t done anything today except drive for hours and I feel exhausted.’ [Laughs]. It’s not like traveling for pleasure where you’re more sensitive and open and probably would write more. It’s an inspiring experience; you just have to accept that you’re doing that and not creating.

Is there anywhere you’re particularly stoked to play?
I’ve never been to Seattle and Portland, so I’m excited about those shows. We have two days off to get to Madison, Wisconsin. So we’re gonna drive through the Badlands, and I can’t wait. The routing is ridiculous — everything I’ve wanted to do! I’ve only been to L.A. once, so I think playing there will be special. San Francisco, too. We end in New York, so we’re going all around. I’m so excited for this tour, and I feel really lucky to be doing it.

Helena Deland’s From the Series of Songs “Altogether Unaccompanied” Vol. I & II is available now via Luminelle Recordings . Find full tour dates here.

Total Eclipse of the Heart
Helena Deland