When you speak four languages, you can choose your words carefully. So, it is worth noting that when singer/songwriter Lara Fabian refers to herself, she uses an unencumbered noun. Not “star.” Not, thank goodness, “diva.” No, Lara calls herself “a songwriter with a voice.”
Over the course of three studio albums and one live collection, that voice has taken France and Quebec by storm. Lara Fabian has emerged as one of the biggest artists of the French-speaking music scene, wowing audiences in numerous countries and selling an astonishing 6 million units in the French territories in a mere two years. Yet despite her pop appeal and incredible talent, the voice that has charmed and captivated millions of listeners has been unheard in much of the world. Until now.
Lara Fabian is Lara’s English-language debut. Filled with emotional and evocative songs that speak of love in both its most personal and universal form, Lara Fabian is much like the woman behind it. Honest. Passionate. Direct and unafraid to sing from the heart and speak to the soul. With songs by Lara and production from Walter Afanasieff (Mariah Carey), Pat Leonard (Madonna), Sam Watters (ex-Color Me Badd) Brian Rawling (Cher’s “I Believe”) and long-time collaborator Rick Allison. Lara Fabian is an introduction to a voice that needs no translation.
One of the centerpiece songs from Lara Fabian is the elegant “Adagio.” A marriage of a classic 18th century Italian melody (written by Tomaso Giovanni Albinoni) and contemporary lyrics (penned by Lara with Rick Allison and Dave Pickell), “Adagio” was produced by Allison, co-produced by Pickell, and is, as Lara sees it, a perfect way to link her heritage and her long-standing affinity for classical music. “‘Adagio’ is a connection between the past and today,” Lara explains. “All of us believed that a melody so timeless deserved a lyric and that that lyric could be sung with the kind of passion that I have. And if you mix that kind of passion with Italian and classical music — which is so pure — and lyrics that speak of eternal love, well then you could have something very original.” Which, with its flourishes of rock/pop and its shadings of the old, is just what “Adagio” is, a perfect musical introduction to Lara’s soul.
Another song which speaks to Lara’s dedication and craft is “Broken Vow,” a string-drenched ballad that she simply describes as a song that means the world to her. “I’ve listened to Streisand and Ennio Morricone all my life. Classic people that live and create in a contemporary world. So when I wrote ‘Broken Vow’ with Walter Afanasieff, something came out of me that, once again, spoke to my origins,” says Lara. “Music to me is so personal and I make these old world connections to music and that’s so much a part of my heritage and Walter brings his own connections and together we created ‘Broken Vow.’ The song is the story of a woman who decides to forgive a man’s betrayal, written from a perspective that some might find unusual. Going to that place, with Walter’s help, forged an even deeper bond between us, creatively. It’s my favorite song because it speaks to real emotions and choices.”
With the challenge of recording an English language album also came the excitement of trying new sounds and sensations. One of which is the uptempo, R&B-laced track “Till I Get Over You,” which was written and produced by Sam Watters and Louis Biancaniello. “That was a really fun song to record,” Lara says. “It really brought a very energized American vibe to the album, as did ‘I Am Who I Am,’ which was produced by Evan Rogers and Carl Sturken and written by Lara Fabian, Rick Allison, Evan Rogers and Carl Sturken. Working with new producers and with new songwriting partners really helped me expand my musical horizons, which was one of my ultimate goals on this album: To once again mix my more traditional European techniques with a more pop, immediate sound. To push myself and to embrace a truly international sound.”
Lara Fabian comes by her international lan and appeal quite naturally, in fact genetically. Her father is from Brussels and her mother is from Sicily; Lara was born in Belgium and raised there and in Italy. She grew up speaking Italian and, in quick succession, picked up French and then English; and while she is admittedly not fluent in the language, Lara has also recorded in Spanish. “I’m more of a Latin kind of person,” Lara offers, in explanation of why she has such an affinity for Romance languages. “The flow of the language is much closer to my personality.”
When Lara was a child she realized that she wanted to sing and perform. “I took singing, dancing, piano, anything that had to do with music,” she recalls. At the age of 8, Lara began formal lessons at the Royal Conservatory of Brussels and continued her studies for ten years. Lara started performing — often accompanied by her father on guitar — when she was 14 and it was around that time that she began to write songs. Along with a strong foundation in classical voice and theory, Lara, like most young people, had her ear tuned to the radio. “I always loved Barbara Streisand,” Lara smiles. “And Queen. I adore Freddie Mercury. He had that enigmatic classical-meets-rock thing, and I learned how to combine the two from watching and listening to him. I mean, I am a pop singer but my pop is drawn from so much, be it classical or country, I don’t really have a specific style of music that I felt I had to do. I guess that’s why my records are so versatile.”
It was that need to be as creative and unrestricted as she felt she could be that motivated Lara’s move to Montreal when she was just out of high school. “Europe is a very beautiful continent but it’s very conservative. When you’re 17, 18 and you’re just starting to write your own songs and explore your potential, you want to be able to do that the way you feel you should. And in Europe, I kept meeting people who wanted to tell me what I should do, their own version of the truth. I wouldn’t compromise, so I left and went somewhere I felt I could be myself.”
Empowered by her decision and energized by her new surroundings, Lara set to work, establishing her own independent label and publishing company under the umbrella of Productions Clandestines. Working alongside Lara was an old friend from Brussels, producer/songwriter Rick Allison, who also made the move to Montreal and who remains a collaborator to this day and is, as Lara says “a crucial part of my artistselopment.”
That Lara would have the courage to not only leave her homeland but set up her own business while barely out of her teens, speaks to her sheer determination and belief in herself. “I always had a sense of what you need to achieve something. It’s not about sitting with your butt on the sofa and going ‘I wanna be a star.’ No way. You’ve got to know how to bake the bread before eating it and there’s just so much you need to know and I knew I had to learn it all. No matter what anyone told me.”
Tell her they did. Lara faced obstacle after obstacle, from dyed-in-the-wool sexism, to the often rigid European belief that women were “just” singers, not songwriters, or that the notion that since Lara wrote for herself her material was too personal. “Obviously, you don’t write for yourself. Even if you write about yourself, that sentiment is meant to touch other people!”
Each negative comment only made Lara more determined to learn more about the industry. “I knew that no one was going to give me anything, so Rick and I just brought all of the components together to make it work. I knew that what ever I achieved it would be on my own terms.”
In 1991, Lara’s hard work began to pay off. Her first album, produced by Allison and co-written by Lara and Allison, was released in Canada. The album featured Lara singing in French and sold some 100,000 copies over the course of three years. By now Lara was touring extensively throughout the province of Quebec, proving decisively with each show and each record sold that female singers could be more than personalities at the mercy of a male producer and songwriter, they could be creative forces as well.
In 1994, Lara’s sophomore album, Carpe Diem, hit the streets. With Lara also singing one song in English, the CD has, up until now, sold over 800,000 copies in the French territories.
In 1997, Pure was released and would go on to sell an astounding 2 million copies in France alone. Among its singles was “La Diffrence,” which called for an end to homophobia and championed tolerance. The song solidified Lara’s status as a significant songwriter and became an anthem throughout Europe. Lara kept up her intensive touring schedule, not only performing in Quebec, but throughout France where her powerful vocals and dynamic stage presence brought her a bigger audience. In 1998, after years of successful touring of France and Quebec, Lara released Lara Fabian Live, a double album of concert performances which debuted at #1 on the French album chart.
As Lara’s sales exploded, word filtered back to the heads of some of the biggest record labels in the world, among them Sony Music, who soon signed her. Bowled over by Lara’s music and captivated by her live show, Sony knew that Lara Fabian simply could be neither denied nor ignored. Nor did she wish to be, either. “I wanted to truly reach an international audience and sing not only in French, Italian and Spanish but English as well.”
Lara traveled to New York City and Los Angeles, where she entered the studio and began the process of recording her English-language debut. She wrote or co-wrote 90 percent of the songs and was totally hands-on when it came to selecting the other tracks to be included. “The whole experience has been incredible,” Lara says. “I have found myself sharing a intense soul connection with each one of these producers and collaborating like this has helped push me even more creatively. I’m hoping that the emotion and the excitement will be felt by my new audience. This album has been everything I dreamed it would be, and then some.”
But then again why wouldn’t it? Whether singing in French, or now on her new album, English (as well as Spanish and Italian), Lara is ready to prove, to the world, that passion and craft knows no linguistic or geographical boundaries. That a great song, sung by a great singer, is a passport recognized anywhere. On her long-awaited English-language debut, Lara Fabian brings that passion and that voice to us. With purpose. With intensity. With love.