With a sound that emerges from the landscape of dreams, N Nao created a sonic exploration of the hidden world that lies beneath the water’s reflection on previous album L’eau et les rêves. Like a magic trick, her music bridges the gap between the knowable and the unforeseen, aiming for a space of transcendence. Fresh off the plane from a showcase at South by South West, we caught up at Montreal institution Nouvelle Système over poutine and coffee to discuss the power of looping, the importance of collaboration in the DIY and plans for her new E.P (due out today, 30th April). 
You can catch N Nao on her first European tour next month at Tony Collective in Paris (8th May) and Loophole in Berlin (23rd May).
How does it feel to be back in Montreal after playing at South by Southwest?
It feels good! Like I left a month ago, but it’s only been a week. It was chaotic at SXSW, chaotic and intense, so it feels super calming to be finally in Montreal.
What were you up to down there?
I was playing a showcase for Mothland, my label. For me the best part about Austin was meeting real people and going to house shows. The good thing about this festival is that there's a lot of action, you have to curate what you're seeing because it’s really everything at once.
Surely there's way too much for anyone to see it all?
You’re hearing four songs at the same time in the street, it's really busy. And I'm a hyper-sensitive person, so it's a lot.
Were there any other shows you saw that you really enjoyed?
Yeah, I saw a band called Luge. They're from Toronto and they're friends of friends. The singer is so cool, she was singing while doing super arrhythmic patterns with the synths. We also went to a great house show, I don't remember the name of the band but it was at the end of a day full of activities. When we arrived at the house show, we were sitting on a couch in the living room and it reminded me why I'm doing music. Reconnecting, helping my brain connect the dots and get grounded in the real stuff.  Not necessarily the music, but just the context and the people there.
So why do you make music?
You mean at the beginning of my project?
For the project, sure, but in general too. Where did it come from, this dream?
The thing I like with music is the vibration of it, the super abstract aspect of the medium. For me, it all starts with the voice. Since I was super young, I was singing all the time - my mother told me that even before I knew how to say one word, I was reproducing it and trying to communicate with the sounds surrounding me. So I think my sensibility is really intertwined with sound. Music is a mirror for the soul of the person that's making it - I like the sincerity and the fact that it can be unforgiving. If you have an emotion and you sing, it will show.
You can't hide from it?
No, exactly.
What were you listening to back then?
My mother was really into like Björk, Massive Attack, Portishead.  Growing up I understood that it was good music. She gave me the Björk collection on CD, and I started to listen to it as a teenager. I  remember thinking, O.K, that's really nice! For example, the voice of Björk, or the singer from Cocteau Twins, they’re channeling something astral. They really had an imprint in my brain.
Was that the kind of sound you were trying to emulate when you were starting out?
I studied classical music as well and my grandfather was a huge fan of opera, so we went to a lot of opera together, he was always listening to classical music. So I was surrounded by music that had a  lot of visual or performative aspects to it. My friends had a hardcore band too, so I have that fibre in me, punk and hardcore. And then when I was at CEGEP I studied jazz, so that was another corde à mon arc in French, a string to my bow. Jazz was really something I dug deep into.
Did you listen to a lot of jazz before, or did it come as new experience?
I’d listened to the more well known songs before, but after studying it I got into free jazz and forms that are harder to listen to because I better understood the language of jazz. When I dig into something, I go deep. I went deep with that, I was singing Charlie Parker's solos with my voice, I wanted to be a saxophone.
When did you start N Nao?
At the end of my studies in jazz, I started to sing a-cappella with my loop pedals. At that time I sang jazz standards, I didn't have original songs yet. So I started playing in DIY venues around Montreal like La Passe - which sadly doesn’t exist anymore - and Casa del Popolo, Brasserie Beaubien, all these small spots.
How do you find the DIY scene in Montreal?
It's a cycle. When a DIY space become popular, they want to shut down the venue so then it closes and another space opens in its place. The scene is still alive in Montreal, it’s just more anodyne now, and a lot of it is becoming really corporate. But I have friends that work in music, and we see these tiny little shoots, little rooms that open.
Would you say that Montreal as a city has had a particular influence on you as a musician?
It's hard to tell without comparing to other cities. After I finished my studies in jazz in Montreal, I went to Berlin as a way to disconnect from my hometown and push my limits, take risks. When I came back to Montreal, I realised that I already had a music family here. So I feel like what's influencing my practice as a Montrealer is my Montreal friends and the people I’ve met while making music. People like Kee Avil - who I met when I was doing experimental voice sets -  and the harpist Sarah Pagé.  There were lots of nice women doing experimental, instrumental stuff in Montreal, along with my friends who are doing more pop like Klô Pelgag, I played with a few of them as a chorus and as a community, that we kind of came up together. Yeah, and also like the mix of my different communities.
Do you notice a divide between Francophone and Anglophone musicians here?
I think my biggest dream is to build bridges between these different communities. It's starting to mix more and more as it grows, but yeah, I think there is. Right now we live in fucked up times, sometimes it feels like it’s the end of the world. Bringing people together, to help each other more and more - hopefully they will merge as time passes. Music is music and we need to work together, everybody struggles being an artist. That’s universal.
How has the planet and like planetarity shaped your new album?
With L’eau et les rêves I was thinking a lot about transcendence, which for me is something I experience nature as much as with music. I try to connect to that feeling of seeing a rock and feeling that rock was there before you, and will be there after you, forever.  I felt like an archaeologist, I dug deep into myself to write that music. I wanted to create a space of transcendence.
How do you prepare to try and reach that space?
Through looping, through repetitivity, repetition. As I was writing, I was looping my voice with the pedal for hours in my bedroom, trying to build something on it. It was becoming a meditation in a way, I was trying to find words and melodies that I wanted to be in forever. That's what I like with looping, that you can create complex meaning by adding layers on top of one another, it adds a magic layer.  For example, in Tout va bien, I'm singing “Si tu tombes avec moi”,  and we were adding on top of it “Si je tombe avec toi.”
Because looping disrupts the linearity of time?
Yeah, exactly, like a spiral. I was also like recording some guitar on tape and listening to it and bringing my tape recorder with me all the time to parks. For that album, it wasn’t like we had one month at the studio, punch in, punch out. Instead it’s a continuous thread of time, to re-actualise the process each day. So it's still very spread out, but I think that's what you feel with the album, that there's a lot of time.
Do you remember the first idea you had for the album?
It's funny, I’m trying to think of what the first song was. I think the first song of the album that I wrote was Aquin. It's a song about Hubert Aquin, and it's a breakup song. There’s a story of a broken heart that's reconstructing across the album. But it's not chronological. And after that Tout va bien is like the pre-fall of falling in love.
How about the new record, was there anything that you felt you wanted to do differently this time?
L’Eau et les rêves was a collaborative album, with Samuel Gougoux (drums), Lysandre Ménard (piano and synth), Étienne Dupré (bass) and Charles Marsolais-Ricard (guitar). Those are the credits: the collaboration was super important for that album. For the next one, I feel like I'm trying to push my limits. What if I try to mix a song? What if I try to do a bass line? Because I feel like as a woman, it maybe takes some time longer to get confident, and I want to give myself that confidence. As time passes, you realise that your experience is legitimate, and it's worth sharing it. I’ve been helping other people with their records for a long time, so I feel like I want to give that input into my own music now. 
Do you have an idea at the minute of when the new project is going to be out?
I have an EP that's coming out in the spring on April 30th. It's called Mirror. Maybe it's a spoiler I don't know, is that ok?
We'll take an exclusive for METAL!
It's a mirror, the new project - a transition between L’eau et les rêves and the next album.
Are you working with Charles again?
Yes, yes, yes. Charles has been there since the beginning, he's the first person that listened to my songs. I was super shy, and we went to the studio, like the practice studio on Crémazie and Parc, by the highway. It's a very trashy building. We did our first show as a band at la Brassette (La Brasserie Beaubien). And yeah, I feel like we really found each other as a duo, as a a partnership.
Do you enjoy playing live?
Yes, I do. I really like the performance aspect of music, because it's the best way to take risks. Making music is to connect with people, with the voice, with the singing and the vibrations. It's the best feeling, to share that with the audience, and to take risks. We have a lot of performative aspects in our set, and I like to cut through and have that direct aspect in the show.
What format are you playing in on this tour?
For now we're building on the duo thing, going back to basics. Right now it feel like we're stripping everything back to the core.
Is it challenging to play so many sounds and textures with just two people?
It feels like a magic trick in a way. When we're rehearsing, we're always trying to figure out what the next trick’s going to be or finding another piece of gear that makes us think - what can we do with this? We have a hard time doing the thing twice, so each show is a new surprise. The project is really based in songwriting, but I'm interested in adding an abstract and improvised feel to these songs. It's the mélange, the équilibre between these two poles.
Is there a dream location that you'd like to play?
It would be to play at a pool! There's a lot of nice pools in Montreal, and the acoustics are super reverb-y. I like the aesthetic of the neons ,and the proximity you’d have with other people in that small rectangle of water. So my dream would be to perform in the lifeguard’s chair, and to have the audience swimming in the pool.
The imagery of water is a very strong presence across your work.
Yes, of course. It’s really part of me that mermaid, nymph aspect, all these female figures. As I said, when I'm digging into something, I'm digging deep. I try to understand the complexity of that matter, the water. The title of the album - L’eau et les rêves - is from a book of Gaston Bachelard, a French philosopher. He wrote it maybe [almost] a hundred years ago, saying that water is the very matter of dreams, and I wanted to add my feminist perspective to what he said. I feel like my songs are inspired by my dreams, I use my subconscious with looping, with dreaming and writing in the morning just after I wake up. It’s a form of auto-rééctriture. I’ll have strong images or ideas emerging because I was cultivating them in the dream realm, like a garden.
Do you feel like you’ve consciously tried to absorb that aspect of the landscape?
For me, water is the reflection. When you have a camera in your hand and you're filming water, the water is becoming the screen, in a way, because the water is a mirror to other objects. All that reflection was making sense while I was recording the music, it really glued everything together The title emerged at the end of the process, and everything made sense when I found out.
Is there a conscious link between the fashion or visual elements of your performance and the music?
It's funny that you say fashion because I don't feel like I’m really into fashion at all! L’Eau et les rêves has a documentary aesthetic, I was documenting my real life. It feels like my life and my practice are really intertwined, so the aesthetic of the visuals are the documentation of the process.  For the press photo, we went to the same place where I shot the artwork for a weekend to see the waterfall there. I brought my cameras and did some auto-portraits, it was quite a sober mise-en-scene. For the scenic aspect, I collaborated with a few artists like Arlee who made the dress for the launch, and Flavie with the lights. For me, it's really about collaboration. I like to bring friends in the process because we have that chance with music, it’s super 360. So I'm really happy to collaborate with artists that I trust, just to give them a tribute in my music for me is like a gift.