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Chantal pops up all over

The Globe and Mail, Sept. 5

When discussing her ideas, her songs, her sundry projects, the words "pop out" bounce repeatedly from the chatty mouth of Chantal Kreviazuk. And these days, the Winnipeg-born singer-songwriter has more pop to her than Orville Redenbacher on Father's Day.

Until last week, with the release of her fourth album, Ghost Stories, the Juno-winning warbler hadn't put out a record in four years, and hadn't toured in more than two. Inactivity, then? Hardly.

"I was speaking to an album-mixer in between contractions on my son Rowan's birth," she says with a scratchy laugh, on the subject of popping things out. "I never took any time off. Even after I had both babies, I still continued working."

Thirty-three-old Kreviazuk, nothing if not fruitful, sits lightly on plush leather as she discusses her industrious state. The children she refers to are first-born son Rowan, age 2, and the upstart Luca, who followed a year ago. She's got other babies hotter out of the oven, including Pretty Broken, a short film about mental illness she stars in (as patient #48273), produced and wrote ("It just popped out of me"). The movie has its world premiere at this month's Toronto International Film Festival.

In addition to participating as a mentor on Canadian Idol, Kreviazuk performed at an AIDS conference concert headlined by Alicia Keys recently, and is scheduled to do the same at the upcoming One X One benefit concert, which is to take place on Sunday, at Toronto's Carlu theatre.

If the flurrying artist is being run ragged, it doesn't show -- the toned and tanned Kreviazuk is happy enough to deem herself the "luckiest human being on the planet."

"There's just been a real flow," she explains. "And it might make me look like a workaholic, but it's not like that at all. I'm in this place creatively now that I feel streams of consciousness constantly."

Known to compose prolifically, the artist has her songwriting talents to thank for a more unbound schedule. Tunes written by Kreviazuk for pop stars Kelly Clarkson and Avril Lavigne earned her cash and breathing room.

"It's a funny thing," she says. "Those songs gave me this freedom to be who I need and want to be."

What she doesn't want to be is a fame-chasing pop star, a sentiment perhaps not shared by her record company (Sony BMG). Not that Kreviazuk doesn't want to sell albums, it's just that she's not willing to compromise herself to do it.

"My mother was asking me about the album," Kreviazuk recalls. "I said, 'Mom, have you seen MTV? Do you know what's going on?' It's like, to get ahead in the entertainment business on a musical level, women are strippers now."

Ghost Stories -- a darkly stringed mix of piano-pounders and overcast slowies -- is a true album, as opposed to a collection of disparate singles which might wink and wave to radio programmers. The songs are weighty, in construction and theme. The brooding You Blame Yourself, which addresses lingering hurts from Kreviazuk's teenage years, could be a Meat Loaf-Tori Amos duet, for all its high drama.

The album was produced by Raine Maida, the rocking husband of Kreviazuk and singer-leader of the long-standing band Our Lady Peace. It was Maida's idea to banish guitars from the recording studio, an inspiration that Kreviazuk didn't share initially. "He said, 'You're a piano player, you're a piano player who writes songs on the piano. Let's do that.' " A skeptical Kreviazuk didn't believe it -- an album with no guitars seemed an outlandish concept -- but she soon let the apprehension go. "I trusted him," she says now. "And he was right."

While one of the record's spirits is Kreviazuk's deceased best friend and cousin Brenda ("a ghost who is with me every day"), other invisibles are nameless. Sufferers of mood disorders are the focus of not only her short film, but some of the album material as well.

"They're the ghosts of society," explains the singer, who is not afflicted herself. "We just don't want to see them. We suppress them so they don't bother us or they don't come into our faces."

Speaking of ghosts and faces, Kreviazuk sports an eerie (but attractive) resemblance to actress Courteney Cox, right down to a slightly scraped speaking voice. "I think people who have the same bone structure sound the same," she says. "It's the structure of our nose and jaw that makes everybody sound a certain way."

Actress Cox is not known to sport a tattoo on her bicep, so the two women are distinguishable. Years ago, Kreviazuk endured a motor-scooter accident in Italy, leaving her with a scotched left arm, among other injuries. The scars attracted questions, and so she ordered an inky blue flower to draw attention away from the marks. "I wanted to put something on my arm that I wanted to be there," she says.

The tattoo -- "the only one I have" -- is, in her words, "a sweet, little, fragile flower."

And what sort of bloom does a performer who's been away for a few years wear? A forget-me-not.

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