Photo by @danyaa
Interviewed by Franki Calabrese
Since their first official release in 2015, Montreal-duo Heartstreets, composed of Gab Godon and Emma Beko, has been an integral part of the local up and coming R&B scene. Keeping it real while staying driven and focused, they demonstrate that success doesn’t mean having to compromise themselves. Soothing, sultry and always smooth, the girls are a breath of fresh air amongst an industry of hustlers. With their contagious energy, inimitable style, and unique sound, they are truly an act to look out for.
On August 5th, the duo performed at the Green Stage at Osheaga Music and Arts Festival to a crowd of eager friends and festival goers. It was a beautiful Saturday afternoon, only made more beautiful by the complementary sounds of Gab’s harmonies with Emma’s raps and their gospel-influenced backup singers. Afterward, they sat down with contributor Franki Calabrese to talk about everything from how they got started (hint: some wine was involved) to the importance of positivity and staying grounded as well as their plans for the future. Read the full interview below:
Photo by Simon White
Festival Squad: All right, so first of all, thank you so much for being here. It was a great show! Since releasing your first official EP in 2015 you’ve played the International Jazz Fest, Blues Fest and now Osheaga… So, how do you guys feel?
E: Really really really happy, especially for this one because we’re from here and to perform at a festival that’s very close to us in terms of the audience that attends, it’s awesome.
FS: Totally. So did being on stage today feel like home? Did it feel different than other times you’ve performed?
G: It was most exciting because we put a lot of effort and time into this specific show. The production was different from all of our other shows. Everything was structured for Osheaga and so we were really happy to share it with everyone and finally be able to just DO IT.
FS: That’s amazing. Yeah, I saw you guys had your backup singers up there. That’s what you’re talking about mostly?
E: Yes, we had three male back up singers –
G: and all the other musicians as well I mean it was the first time we were playing with everyone on stage and it was a really amazing experience.
FS: That’s so fun and you could tell everyone on stage was jamming and really having a great time.
E: Oui – it was awesome.
FS: So what was your favorite song to play today?
E: One of my favorite ones every show is How I Got Over.
G: And honestly this set is where I’ve heard a lot of comments about “How I Got Over” is the strongest song of our set, especially with the backup singers… it’s very intense.
FS: Cool! So tell me a bit about your background. I know you guys have been friends for a while but how did you start making music together?
G: We met at elementary school so since a really young age we’ve shared a passion for hip-hop culture, whether it was because we danced or liked to listen to music or learn songs by heart together just for the f*** of it. We already connected on that side and then Emma left for a couple years to finish high school in New York and when she got back we met and caught up and chilled, had a little wine –
E: You always talk about the wine, it’s so funny!
G: Well because it was important! I’m sure it wouldn’t have happened the same way if we weren’t a little tipsy and like wanting to do a little freestyle. We always liked to do acting and improvisation but we never really went on the musical side of it and that night, with a little wine in the body, it was natural for us. I started singing and she had told me she had started to write in New York but I didn’t know it was actual lyrics and potential raps. And yeah we naturally did the first song and never stopped –
E: It happened so organically that I think the first six months that it was happening, even though we had played Metropolis, which a big venue here in Montreal, we weren’t realizing it was happening because it was so out of pure fun and just enjoyment of music. It became something more serious but we’re still doing it out of love and for the fun of it. We just love music.
FS: It shows honestly. It’s amazing and it shows that you guys enjoy yourselves up there.
E: Yeah, that’s what’s really important. Definitely.
FS: So, how important would you say that emotional connection that you two share is when you’re on stage?
E: Dude, we’ve known each other since elementary so we were like 8 years old –
G: Then we went to high school together afterwards so like on a rencontré les mêmes amis –
E: Yeah, we met all the same friends. To this day we have the same crew of friends and its crazy because on stage we feel the connection… like Gab’s my friend but it’s so much deeper than that. It’s more like a sisterhood. Honestly, we feel it on stage and we know the crowd and audience can feel it as well.
FS: I was going to say for someone watching you guys on stage, you seem so in sync like one of you is going to walk this way and the other will walk the other way but it doesn’t seem planned.
E: That’s it. It’s not. We just know each other!
FS: That’s awesome. So, I’m definitely a lover of Hip-Hop and R&B genres and that’s why I was drawn to your sound but who inspired you guys in terms of your musical influences?
E: Like in the new ones? Let’s talk about the new ones because we often talk about the old influences, which are super important, but it’s fun to notice the new people coming out. We really really like Solange and her new album. I mean SZA’s latest album is amazing. We love all of J.Cole’s music and there are a million others.
FS: So how do you guys write the majority of your songs? I know Emma you mostly rap and do the verses and Gab sings more the harmonies and chorus but is that how you write?
E: We definitely help each other and we do it together. It’s always different how we write and it depends on the producer but in every circumstance, we’re together and we back each other up and help each other out when we’re stuck on something. Just like how our band started, it’s very organic the way we write. We just go with the flow.
FS: Cool. So you guys definitely embody Montreal in your lyrics and your whole vibe; you talk about cruising the streets, smoking rigs… Not many people would understand but we do because you’ve made it easy for fellow Montrealers to relate to you and vibe with you. So, my question is how would you describe this city to someone who’s not from here or never been here before?
G: It’s very laid back and down to earth.
E: It’s also very welcoming, like I come from a family that wasn’t born here but have established themselves here and that’s why I say it’s very welcoming. It’s cool because we have so many different cultures in Montreal that allow us to learn about the world without necessarily traveling. I’m not saying we don’t travel but it’s very very cool and definitely fun creatively to have all those influences.
FS: It also makes the people open-minded, I think.
E: Yes! Very open minded, Montreal. Very open-minded.
FS: Yes, it’s special. So your music videos for “Bubble of Joy” and “Cruising With You” are, like you guys, super fun and unique. Can you tell me how important the visual aspect is to your music?
HS: So important!
G: Yeah, we want to be part of all the creative decisions and really have our input heard; we want to be involved.
FS: Right, so you guys are heard and these are your ideas in the videos?
E: I mean we work with people that we find are talented and we try to associate ourselves with people we respect and admire so we definitely give them the power to go and explore their ideas but we are there throughout that process and we make sure that we’re down with it, which we usually are.
G: And at the end of the day it’ll reflect whatever vibe or feeling or emotion we’re trying to put out and that’s really what’s important.
FS: Yeah. I think you guys have succeeded with that because your videos do evoke a feeling and it is unique to every song.
E: We’re not very present in our latest videos like physically, which I find also reflects the fact that we’re so not in this to be in the spotlight. We want to bring the value to the songs that we make in a visual way that really just pushes the song and not really the people behind it.
FS: That’s amazing. I feel like some of your songs have this anthem-like quality to them. Today, for example, you had hundreds of people singing, “I love myself” to your song “Under My Skin”. What inspired you to write that song and is that intentional?
G: Actually, we did that song for a project we collaborated on with Metropolis Group, which is a foundation in Montreal that brings people together through reading and writing. They’ll focus on a specific theme or cause –
E: Basically to make people more aware of social issues around the world –
G: And that song we did with them was targeting people, more specifically women, with eating disorders and other diseases relating to food and malnutrition.
E: That was the theme that year and they asked us to do a song for it but we definitely thought that subject goes way further than eating disorders and affects both men and woman.
G: Exactly, so we wanted to do a song that was relatable for anyone who feels shitty or insecure for whatever reason.
FS: I feel like that’s why people get so into it and are out there singing to it… because everyone has their reasons to sing along.
E: Yeah, and for us to sing it on stage is so fun too because it helps US feel better. Like we’re all humans and we all share the same set of emotions and it feels good to say it out loud that you love yourself.
FS: Yes, totally. So how important is it for you guys to spread these messages of love, positivity, and self-acceptance?
E: The most important, I think. And it’s not like a conscious effort for us; we’re not saying, “oh let’s write this and be really positive”. It’s that when we write a song we often talk about issues or problems that we’ve encountered and found difficult and we never want to finish a song feeling bad about it so we’ll try to bring ourselves up and keep our head up and just see things in a positive way. Expressing it feels so good like when you don’t feel right it feels good to express it and own it, and then get over it.
FS: Right, it’s like a therapy.
G: Absolutely. I have tattooed on my back: “What is not expressed, prints” but in French: “Ce qui n’exprime pas, s’imprime”.
FS: Yeah, it sounds better in French.
G: (laughs) I know right. But it reflects us, like both of us are really strong with communication like let’s put our cards on the table, let’s not juggle with it inside of us and feel all sorts of pain. Sometimes we think it’s easier to just squish and suppress it and act like it’s not there but it will still print on you in a certain way if you don’t let it out. So, the music helps us help other people do that.
FS: Right. So there’s no doubt that you two are blowing up but I feel like your authenticity and humility has definitely remained. Do you guys have any tips on how to stay grounded in this crazy industry?
E: We surround ourselves with people who are really genuine and authentic and I think that’s really important, especially in this industry. It’s not hard to do.
G: Like it’s still amazing for us that we get to do what we love to do and what is our passion and so we’re just really happy about this and really grateful.
FS: You don’t take it for granted, eh?
E: No, we never will. And we’re there to remind each other not to.
FS: Amazing. All right and lastly, what does the future hold for Heartstreets? What are you working on now?
E: (getting excited by the question) Eeee Tabarnak. C’est fresh!
G: We can’t talk about it but we promise soon there will be a new release with visuals, dope visuals, and a very dope sound.
FS: Okay, so do we have a date in mind?
E: Nope. Very soon.
FS: All right, stay tuned! Ladies, thank you so much for being here with me today. It was awesome getting to know you a bit better.
HS: Thank you! That was so fun!