Music is becoming Habit forming for Gabrielle Shonk

Gabrielle Shonk will be performing in Ottawa Feb 16.

Gabrielle Shonk is looking forward to a break.

She’s planning a visit to her brother in Florida for a couple of weeks and then, when she gets home to Quebec City, she’ll turn right around and head to London, Ontario. That’s because the 30 year old singer songwriter has been nominated for a JUNO award for her self-titled album.

Meanwhile, she’s glad to get out of the grip of winter and get some vitamin D from the sun. Maybe that will will inspire her to write. The weather does seem to help set her musical mood. After all she does have a song called Raindrops on the record.

“I feel like I am in sync with weather,” she told ARTSFILE in an interview before her performance as part of the Come See and Hear the World Festival this Friday night. “Cloudy days, sunshine, the weather definitely affects my mood when I am writing.

“Music for me is instinctive. I am into intuition and feelings, I’m not cerebral about it, so my writing is pretty emotional. I want it to be about that.”

Shonk said she remembers writing her first song when I was about 10.

“It was like a pop chorus. I was very much into the Backstreet Boys then.”

She comes from a musical home. Her father Peter is a blues musician.

“I loved to listen to music before I started creating it. I guess I have always wanted to be a singer. I started playing guitar in high school and started learning guitar while covering songs.

“At one point I decided to put a few chords together.”

When she’s writing, the words come later for her.

“Even now I am writing a new record. The music comes first. The chords and melody come and then I have to put words to it and that’s very complicated. For me music inspires the words.

“I am discovering this whole creative side of myself. I have no formula. That’s why every song is different.”

Shonk left high school and studied jazz at CEGEP in Quebec City and then she did a BA in jazz vocals. In all she studied music for seven years.

“I had never gotten the musical basics so I had to catch up on theory and notation and vocal technique. I wanted this to be my job so I needed the  theoretical background. I had to learn all that and it opened me up to a whole world that I didn’t know existed.”

The seven years learning is one reason why it took her awhile to release her first album of original material, she said.

On that album, she co-wrote a lot of the music with her band mates.

“I am very much a team player. I like working with others especially when they get me out of my comfort zone.”

While she was at school Shonk started a jazz band with some friends.

“That’s when I started playing professionally with bar gigs and small festivals.”

There is a great music scene in Quebec City, she said.

“We are seeing more and more artists come out of the city and get exposure. It’s a great music fraternity. The music scene is friendly and motivating,” she said.

Shonk’s life changed totally when the bluesy anthem Habit hit big (heard more than two million times on Spotify sicne 2016). By the time she was 29 she was an overnight sensation.

“It was a shock. It was super-welcome but I found myself in the middle of this huge tornado. It was very positive attention but it was pretty overwhelming honestly. I wanted it to happen and but I had no control over it.”

She self-released the song to great acclaim and all of sudden she had records labels from around the world reaching out.

“I was just basically sitting in my apartment answering these international e-mails. I had no management at that point.”

That became job 1.

“I got good team assembled and then got a booking agent and then picked a label and then released the album and now it’s up for a  JUNO” in a basically one year.

She says she is glad success came later.

“I would not have been ready if it had happened when I was younger.”

She is working on a new record but it is early days.

“My first record was my life soundtrack. I am 30 and I have been making music since I was 14 and singing professionally since I was 20. The record included these songs I had been carrying around for most of my life to that point.”

Now she writing new songs but she admits “I am so slow. I am a very slow person. That’s why I like writing with my band. Together we are super efficient on the music.” The music is laid down, now Shonk is writing lyrics.

She knows a song is finished “when it rests a bit before I release it. I need to be really sure about it. It does need that digestion.”

No surprise her parents are her No. 1 fans.

They live in Quebec City and Shonk sends her dad new songs all the time.

“He is very emotionally involved in my project.” He’s even played on her first record playing harmonica on a song called The Cliff.

“I wanted to have him on the record.” And he’s often getting up on stage to play a song with her in shows.

Shonk was born in Providence, Rhode Island. Her father is from New Jersey. Her mother, Sylvie Pouliot, is a recently retired professor of graphic design at Laval University in Quebec City.

Her parents met in the U.S. and when her mother got her teaching post they moved to Canada. Sounds like that’s worked out.

Gabrielle Shonk with NEFE
Come See and Hear the World Festival
Where: Fourth Avenue Baptist Church, 816 Bank St.
When: Feb. 15 at 7:30 p.m.
Tickets and information:

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Peter Robb began his connection with the arts community in Ottawa in the mid-1980s when he was the administrator and public relations director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. After a long career in journalism with the Ottawa Citizen where he served in a number of different posts he returned to the arts when he became the Citizen's arts editor.