Chanty Très-Vain is a creative, hard-working and super-talented young English singer-songwriter and guitarist now living in Berlin, Germany. Her pleasing, accessible style of music draws upon an eclectic mix of folk, Country, alternative rock and art pop, and her honest, poetic lyrics express sentiments and situations we can all relate to. She released her debut EP Daffodils in 2016, which was produced by her brother Minky Très-Vain, front man of the London scratch rock band Brain Ape (who I’ve featured numerous times on this blog). In 2018, Chanty began releasing a series of singles, starting with “Home” and following up with three more – “Miss My Friend”, “Cup of Tea” and “From Hello”.
On May 8th, she dropped her wonderful debut album Autrefois via her brother Minky’s label Scratch Rock Records. The album was once again produced by Minky, who also played some of the instruments on many tracks, and the drums and percussion were performed by The Siberian Alien (who was drummer for Brain Ape from 2013-15). The album features the four previously-released singles noted above, along with seven new tracks, all exploring such themes as platonic and romantic relationships, cultural identity, heartbreak, and mental health. Chanty states that the album was inspired in part by “times gone by” and her own past: “Each song on ‘Autrefois’ is a moment that changed me in some way. To have these mementos is very important to me, and I’m so glad to have them to remind me of the lessons. They also remind me of the good moments that might otherwise have got lost among the bad.” Autrefois is a French word meaning “once upon a time”.
The first track “Shine” has a rather quirky intro consisting of clicks and what sounds like a kitten or some other baby animal cooing, accompanied by a muffled lo-fi recording of Chanty singing and playing acoustic guitar. After 55 seconds, the song bursts open with fuzzy electric guitars, thumping drumbeats and her clear, fervent vocals singing of a relationship that has survived its ups and downs to become stronger than ever: “Don’t give up, carry on, feel the beauty in the air. Hold my hand, keep me close and I know that I’ll be fine. I know we’ll survive. Cause you and I are stronger than before. You and I shine.”
The moving song “Undone” is a fine example of Chanty’s excellent songwriting and vocal abilities. Over a haunting melody, she’s layered a mix of acoustic and electric guitars, including delicate chiming guitar notes that give the track an enchanting feel during its quieter moments. Her vocals are lovely, going from tender croons to impassioned pleas as she sings to someone struggling with mental health issues: “I know I’m one to talk, I’ve been there, I’m still there… but please, stop blaming the weather. Stop blaming the alcohol. Cause I know you better and your smile is coming undone.”
The delightful “Cup of Tea” speaks to cherishing the little things, both good and bad, about a loved one and feeling really in tune with who they are: “The day you don’t want your morning cup of tea is the day I’ll start to worry. The day you decide to stay inside is the day I’ll drag you out. The little things that annoy me about you, make up who you are. And given the choice, I would not change a thing, flawed as we are.” The song features sweetly-strummed guitars, delicate keyboards and gentle percussion that make for a pleasing listen. Chanty’s produced videos for several of her songs, and one of my favorites is the one for “Cup of Tea”. She designed and created the figures and wonderful dollhouse set for the charming stop motion video:
And here’s a cute behind the scenes video showing her painstaking creative process:
“Home” is a poignant song that strongly resonates with me for a couple of reasons. First, I too have lived in several cities I felt close connections with, yet still felt restless while living in each of them. Secondly, I believe that only through people and nations working together in cooperation can we have lasting peace and make progress toward solving some of the major problems facing humanity and the world. I personally mourned both the election of Donald Trump and Britain’s vote to leave the European Union. OK, enough of my soapbox.
About her inspiration for the song, in an interview with Music Interview Magazine, Chanty explained: “I am a ‘third culture kid’. I grew up in a culture that is different from my family’s culture. I feel loyalty to both while finding it difficult to answer the question, ‘Where are you from?’ I went through a bit of an identity crisis a few years ago, but found comfort in the fact that no matter what happened, I was still connected to both of them through the European Union. However, in June of 2016, the United Kingdom voted to leave the union. This inspired ‘Home,’ because the only safety net I had in terms of belonging and the one thing I found comfort in, would soon be gone. The song is me trying to figure out where my loyalties lie, where I should live and where to call home.” She beautifully articulates these sentiments in her lyrics: “Torn between my family tree and where to find my friends / It’s a country I come back to time and time again / It’s divided, yet united, it’s more than I can say for a place called ‘United’ that tears itself away / Should I go back to the country I never called home? / Go back to the heart of where I feel like I belong?”
The video for the song opens with scenes of Chanty feeling restless in her apartment, then transitions to frenetic scenes of six cities she has either lived in or felt a deep connection with: London, Brussels, Brighton, Edinburgh, Dublin, and Berlin.
The bittersweet “Miss my Friend” is one of loveliest tracks on the album, and also one of my favorites. Another deeply personal song for her, Chanty said it describes a very specific evening when she was stuck in a spiral of sadness, anguish, and loneliness. She was missing someone dear to her, but unable to tell them at the time, so wrote a song to express her feelings. The song has a gentle, languid melody with strummed guitars and restrained drumbeats, forming a somber backdrop for her emotionally-charged vocals that reveal a deep sense of sadness, even breaking at times as she sings “I’d like to think you’re alright now. That you’re healing fine. But there’s one last thing I want you to know. I never wanted to be the source of all that pain. But I tried to do what was right when both of my hands were tied. I hope that you will see that someday, and I just want you to be OK. But I miss my friend sometimes.”
Chanty dials things up a notch on “From Hello“, which has more of a rock feel thanks to a harder-driving beat, more electric guitars, and heavier bass and drums. The faster tempo and her impassioned vocals convey the pain and heartache of realizing a relationship that started out with such promise is now in tatters: “Oh how easy is was to just dive head first. Oh how easy it was to fall for you. Then we woke up and realized that life’s greatest gift is battle lines. To hurry to survive being torn apart, and with one just blow everything fell to dust. Now we see the end of us. We’re drowning at the deep end.”
“Promise” is a tender ballad about making a commitment to another to stay with them no matter what, while “Cambre” is a languid, bittersweet song with lyrics reminiscing about happier times. Both songs consist only of Chanty’s lovely strummed guitar and plaintive vocals, though “Cambre” features what sounds like a mellotron later in the track.
It’s back to a harder-edge vibe on “Silence” and “To Goodbye“, both musically and lyrically. Both tracks feature Minky’s gnarly guitar riffs and The Siberian Alien’s frenetic drumbeats, and both speak to problems with commitment and communication that sadly doom far too many relationships. On “Silence”, Chanty laments “You say you never wanna hurt me. But then you just disappear. All those words that you said to me, about how we can make it work. Were those lies, or were you sincere?” “To Goodbye” sees her at the end of her rope, and giving her lover the heave-ho: “I won’t wait around for you to decide when you want to stay and when you want to hide. I won’t stand by and watch you create walls to my heart and tears on my face. I deserve more than the silence you gave. You walked all over the trust that we made. I won’t stick around for you anymore. So take this goodbye. I’ll show you the door.”
Album closer “With You” is an unusual track, with a harsh and reverby lo-fi quality that gives it an unfinished demo feel. Chanty’s echoed vocals sound quite different, and are accompanied by strummed guitar and what sounds like a sharply-plucked string instrument, probably another guitar. I don’t understand why she and Minky chose to record the track in this manner, unless they intended the sound to go full-circle to the album’s beginnings, or simply wanted a more unorthodox sound. Whatever the reason, it pains me to say that I don’t care for it. Otherwise, the rest of Autrefois is outstanding, and a beautifully-crafted album. Chanty Très-Vain is an extremely talented and imaginative musician, lyricist and vocalist, and listening to her songs is a real pleasure.