"IT'S NOT MY GOAL to impress Americans," admits Béatrice Martin between tour stops, somewhere in the industrial wasteland between Detroit and Chicago. Born and raised in Montreal, Martin goes by Cœur de Pirate ("pirate's heart"), and up until last year's Roses, she had released most of her piano-based, gut-wrenching chamber pop in French.
Martin never intended to court a new demographic—writing songs in English was more in service to her existing fans. "It was just something I could do extra," she says. "I'd play shows in the States and people would come up to me and say, 'Oh, I love what you do, but I have to go on Google Translate to understand what you're talking about.' I wanted to give them something a little bit more direct."
Constantly pushing the physical and emotional boundaries of her success is nothing new for Martin; she's been grinding since she could barely speak. "I'm a classically trained pianist," she says. "From the ages of three to 14, I played religiously. I went to the conservatory. And then very quickly after that, when I became a teenager, I quit. I quit the piano, I quit everything. It was what I needed to do."
She chalks this up to age—the last thing any teenager wants to do is practice for three hours a day—but renewing her ownership over her art at that age and unmooring it from her classical roots allowed Martin to find her voice. "When I turned 17, I went through a bad breakup, because you're 17 and breakups matter." Inspired to express her feelings about her ex, Martin posted an anti-love song on Myspace ("back then, it was still a thing"), and she signed to a small indie label in Montreal just a few months later.
By the time she turned 18, Martin was known in France and Quebec for her viral song "Ensemble." Now at 26, she's got three LPs, two full-length soundtracks, and a baby daughter to her name. "I grew up very fast," she says, belying a tenor of resignation. "That's fine. It just helped me get more confident in what I do now. I get to create without being fearful."
These creations include an album's worth of plaintive covers for the Canadian drama series Trauma, and even the score of a video game. "Ubisoft, this gaming company from Montreal," she says, "they had me in mind to do the music [for Child of Light]... and they really let me do whatever I wanted to do." Of her gaming background, she adds, "I'm unfortunately a big Pokémon fan."
There's ebullience in Martin's voice, a freedom she feels no pressure to translate. She proudly describes the breadth of her current live set. "You're not just seeing a live show, you're getting real ambiance. This time we get to do the real thing."
Such confidence transcends language, too, and based on the evidence of Cœur de Pirate's songs, it's not just well earned—it's only natural.