Hildegard is the project of singer-songwriter Helena Deland and multi-instrumentalist/producer Ouri, neither of whom are strangers to collaboration: before releasing her debut album Someone New, Deland notably teamed up with JPEGMAFIA (who called her the “Young Thug of indie rock”), while Ouri dropped a self-titled EP with Mind Bath in 2017. But with Hildegard, the Montreal artists allow themselves to get lost in an entrancing world full of possibilities: if there’s an air of mystery to their respective solo work, here their shared sensibilities collide and meld into one endlessly malleable piece. Each song on their debut self-titled LP, out now via section1, is named after the eight days they spent together in a studio, and the fluctuations in mood and tone are a reflection of their state of mind: there’s a nocturnal thrum and a pure magnetism to the electronic production, but Deland and Ouri are just as capable of commanding the shadowy, in-between spaces whose lingering glow can be just as hypnotic. Drawing inspiration from Hildegard of Bingen, a 12th century nun, healer, and composer who became a symbol of nurturing strength and has influenced records by Grimes, Devendra Banhart, and countless others, the duo developed the visual and conceptual language for the project, opening the door to a realm where anything can happen.
We caught up with Hildegard’s Helena Deland and Ouri for this edition of our Artist Spotlight interview series to talk about how they formed the project, the process of making their debut album, and more.
What was your impression of each other when you first met?
Helena Deland: We met at a café – we had met in parties and social situations before so we were familiar, but I remember going for lunch and it being so funny and silly already.
Ouri: We exchanged music, it was super chill, super fluid.
Helena: And I remember not being stressed by it at all, which I feel like maybe I would be if… [laughs]
Ouri: Yes, me too. If I do a session with this artist I would be super stressed, like try to prepare stuff.
Helena: The lack of preparation was definitely rewarding in this situation.
You’d both collaborated with other artists in the past, but was there something that immediately struck you as different about working with each other?
Ouri: We just shifted roles all the time, resonating, exchanging ideas. It was just this constant ping pong of ideas all the time. Sometimes you have separate goals and it’s a bit more structured, and this felt very alive – minimal, but very much going in all directions.
How did the historical figure of Hildegard enter the conversation, and what does she mean to both of you?
Ouri: I was taking composition classes at university, and I discovered this composer, Hildegard, discovering the Canticles of Ecstasy, and I showed them to Helena because I thought they were super inspiring. They were less dark than all the other channts I was analyzing in my classes, and her figure just became so interesting, fascinating, so many aspects of her – all her ideas, her relationship to faith and female identity.
Helena: She seems to encompass so many different things, and it’s interesting because she’s such a rare woman to have survived the erasure of women in history in medieval times. And she seems to have had so many roles, like the healer, the visionary, the powerful head of an abbey. And wrote so much and had visions too, which I think is something that resonated with us in the context of this experience of inspiration which you can’t really plan. It’s very hard to describe and explain, and even the vocabulary I use to describe inspiration can quickly meld with more mystical vocabulary.
Was it something that came after you had spent these days in the studio?
Ouri: It was after. We really went to the studio with no intention, some club and pop common references that we shared in a playlist but nothing extremely deep. Eventually, after finishing the tracks we talked about names and stuff and we had a lot of very bad ideas, and then we started to go in the direction of Hildegard.
How do you see the relationship between the idea of Hildegard and your music?
Helena: I think she’s become very symbolic on a personal level for us. It is definitely like a hot projection spot because she was alive such a long time ago, and in such a diverse manner, that she’s kind of a malleable figure. We bring her up a lot in the environments that we try to create for ourselves. She’s so inspiring even in – this is a concept that’s definitely modern, but in a feminist approach, in an ecological approach, and it feels very pertinent these days to bring those values to the forefront.
Ouri: There’s also something – viriditas – encompassing a very strong and luxurious…
Helena: Life energy.
Ouri: Life energy that I think we tried to express in the music. Kind of vegetal but still very strong and unstoppable, like you cut the roots and it continues to grow.
What was the atmosphere in the studio like those eight days that you were recording?
Helena: I think every song kind of mirrors what it was like. The first night was very excited, very energetically charged. It was the evening, we were having a drink, smoking cigarettes on the balcony, just chatting, and we started making this track it just kind of fed into itself. And then that had a repercussion on how we felt the next day, which is very raw and vulnerable and a bit sad, maybe. I don’t want to reduce it to a hangover, but maybe it had something to do with what had happened the night before. [laugher] And then the next day was really silly. And yeah, it follows the chronology of discovering each other and our friendship. So every day feels very different, and it’s so interesting to have that document of that first collaboration.
That’s something I noticed as well, there’s this clear emotional progression throughout the album. And maybe that’s just me, but I felt like it’s a clear progression at first, but then it becomes just a little bit more ambiguous and hazy, around the fourth track. What do you think that’s a reflection of?
Helena: I think it’s kind of like a slump in the clearness of the first couple of days. There was definitely a slow down in rhythm, and the songs around the half of the record were worked on over more time. Like, we started the idea every day but then developed it to its final form over more time, and maybe it has less… instantaneity. And I feel day 8, the last day, it really wraps it back together and then it’s like back at this very vivid, clear message.
Do you mind sharing some of the strongest memories that come to mind when thinking of those eight days?
Helena: After ‘Jour 3’ – we had just written ‘Jour 1’, Jour 2’, ‘Jour 3’ – and I remember talking to my manager about it for the first time since we had started, and being like, “Oh, we wrote one song per day, and yesterday we wrote a song about… I think masturbation, and it’s like, really playful and fun.” [laughs] And then I remember becoming aware of how easy it had been and how inspiring it was to work together. Long evenings spent in the studio, finishing out one and biking up the hill and going to a party and just being so energized.
Ouri: I think for me it was ‘Jour 2’.
Helena: Yeah, that broke us open.
Ouri: Yeah, it was just ego death and changing roles with such as soft energy. I never experienced that before.
Helena: And that song is so mysterious to us still. It was kind of channeled without us even trying to summon it. And it’s kind of comforting, in a really existential way, that that could have happened.
I wanted to ask you about the lyric-writing process, because with the music it was so intuitive, so I was wondering if it was a similar situation with the lyrics.
Helena: Same thing, yeah. And it was kind of undiscussed. We would take turns going up to the mic and saying things, just kind of bouncing off each other. Day two is a good example, the first voice you hear is Ouri’s, and you wrote that just arriving at the mic saying that, which inspired what I say next.
Because the song titles are in French and you’re both native speakers, I was curious if you considered having the lyrics be in French, too.
Helena: Not really. I think our way of making music has been integrated by an English musical culture far more than the French one. And it’s hard to change that, because they’re so enmeshed, you know. If you’re used to writing lyrics in English, even though we speak in French between each other, for some reason it’s hard to take that language into the music.
Ouri: It creates dissociation in the experience and makes it less personal. It’s easier to step into some sort of universal mindset.
‘Jour 6’ is the only instrumental on the record. Do you remember the day you made that track?
Ouri: It was just a jam that we made. I think I was looking back into folders and I found this, and I was like, “That should be on the album.” It reflects perfectly the sixth day. [laughs]
Helena: It’s kind of when we had decided that every day was going to have, like, a jour. But we have come to love it, I think it makes so much sense in the pacing and it makes sense on its own. It’s a nice constraint to weave something out of every day we jammed and spent in the studio, just because it forces us to be less self-conscious and less paranoid, to some extent, and more like, “This is what happened.”
Ouri: I think we both really love instrumental music too.
Ouri: We were just playing that day, you know, for hours on the synth and the piano. It’s always nice to just create instrumental music.
Were you listening to a lot of music together during those days?
Ouri: Yeah, we were partying, we were listening to music, or meditating…
Helena: [laughs] And it’s so fun to just – if we were friends and not collaborators, we would still exchange as much music because it’s so much part of what interests us. I remember my birthday was shortly after those eight days and we had just arrived at the place where my birthday was taking place, and you plugged in your iPhone and just played all the songs that we had.
Can you offer an indication of the sorts of things you were listening to and how they affected your headspace?
Helena: It’s not so much of a genre. The music that we like in common reflects what we make together in some indescribable way. There’s just atmospheres that we relate to both very strongly that kind of make it through in our own music, but it was all over the board, really, and it still is. But I remember with Bendik Giske, Ouri introduced me to this musician and I feel so deeply about it. We both share this intense attachment to some songs.
Ouri: I feel like I’m constantly in a love-and-hate relationship to electronic music, because this is where I started my own sound. And I feel like Helena brings me back to loving electronic music and just finding it fun.
I wanted to go back to the final track, which as you said before is kind of more instantaneous. To me, it also feels like the most direct expression of anger, which is something that permeates the whole record. Did you go in with the intention of ending the album on that note, or was it again inspired by the mood of that day?
Helena: That one is kind of an exception because we started with lyrics that I had written before. It was a way of trying to stimulate inspiration. I just sang the lyrics, and I remember we were both kind of tired by that point and a bit discouraged. But then I remember we both had our coats on our backs, ready to go take a break outside, and Ouri just stayed, sitting at the computer, looping voice moments for like 45 minutes. [laughs] Again, it wasn’t a decision before, but I think the anger it expresses is definitely part of what we share, unfortunately. And also fortunately, because we have each other to express it with.
How much did the project change shape after those days in the studio?
Helena: It became conceptual, with the visual, the name of the band – everything came after the music creation. But the music itself was pretty fleshed out by then.
Ouri: ‘Jour 1’, the first song, we reworked a little bit the structure not long ago, right before doing the final masters. But everything was kind of set in stone, like we changed and enhanced some songs, but the structure, the direction – it was anchored.
How much did the conceptual and visual side that came later affect the way you perceived the music?
Helena: The person we worked with is called Melissa Matos. She’s extremely rigorous and inspiring and goes deep into research to develop visual ideas, which definitely helped us understand what we were going to propose with this whole project. I think it’s going to be brought forward into future pieces of work.
Ouri: She just added a dimension. It’s as if we were in 2D and suddenly she just created something else. It made so much sense, we could never have thought about it. It was an essential pillar, but it didn’t change the perception of the songs, it just enhanced it.
Did you feel that that rigorousness came into contrast with the fluid approach that you had while making the songs?
Helena: Yeah, definitely. It balanced it out in a nice way. Our energy together is often super silly and we’re hard to tame – we’re very, like, childish together, I guess. And to have someone be like, “This is how it’s gonna work,” is actually super helpful.
Ouri: If we stayed in that unidimensional point of view, it wouldn’t have had the same depth, the same…
What future do you see for Hildegard as a project?
Helena: We already have so many new songs that we’re really excited to work on. We kind of go by bursts, like periods of time that we totally devote to that. We have a second album title and ideas about… [laughs] It’s probably gonna change a million times, but we’re very much thinking about it.
Ouri: It was a challenge, because the first day we were in the studio we made a track again like the first time, and after that it was completely different.
In what ways was it different?
Ouri: We have expectations, we have things that we like about working together, so instead of trying to discover and document what’s happening between us, sometimes I feel like we want to bring back the spirit that we had in the first album, which is not something that we should ever do.
Helena: Yeah. We’ve become more unrealistic. We had such a beginner’s mind the first time, we were just like, “Whatever happens, happens.” And it’s fun. And it hasn’t become not fun, it has only become more – there’s more layers of judgment within ourselves just because we know that we’re able to do it, so we expect to do it, so then if we don’t, ‘cause that day doesn’t work out, we’re disappointed. [laughs] And we become stressed…
Helena: You know how it goes.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.