Allison Russell fights for social justice in everything she does. Her music is one of the facets of her commitment, carrying today a creation made in communion with 16 other women, but also carrying a potential meeting point between those who do not understand each other. The Montrealer will present The Returner on Friday, the fruit of a work that aims to be unifying and luminous.

The spacious apartment where she welcomes us, just south of Sherbrooke Street in Montreal, doesn’t let in much light. But Allison Russell herself is beaming. Her aura is magnetic, the atmosphere changes when she enters the room. Always smiling, she is generous with her time and in her confidences.

Her second solo album is an extension of this light that she carries within her. On this more danceable record than the previous one, the Montrealer talks about healing and resilience, emancipation, the reality of black people, community spirit, queerness, in texts in English, but also in French.

Allison Russell values ​​her French, she tells us, during a brief visit to Quebec this summer. During the hour during which we discuss (about music, but also about social commitment, her attachment to Montreal, her life in Nashville), she takes the time several times to search the Internet for the right term in French for express your thoughts. When we offer her word suggestions, she writes them down on her cell phone.

“I practice when I can when I’m on tour,” she says. Just write in French, read in French. When I was very little, we were in Verdun, it was French-speaking, so it was a big part of my childhood and it was part of my evolution as an artist, as a human being, as a woman. That’s why it’s important for me to try to keep it. »

For the artist, prejudices against language have the same tenor as those “linked to skin color or sexual orientation”. And Allison Russell is one of those people for whom fighting against injustice, discrimination, is an issue of the utmost importance. She is one of those artists for whom creation is a channel for this struggle that she carries out on a daily basis. She doesn’t write often protest songs, but she is well aware of what her music can accomplish.

She continues, “When you have that connection through the arts, when you’re together at a show, it allows you to look at others and feel more like them, to open up to compassion. »

“We are all connected as human beings, but there are those who forget it,” she adds. We created this record in a very queer circle, with people of all kinds of beliefs and all kinds of origins, but with the same radical love. If people find any familiarity in these personal stories, hopefully that can have the power to take their blinders off. »

When we talk about his music, each subject inevitably deviates towards frank observations on political and social divisions, ambient misogyny, environmental issues too, and, in general, his wish to see our societies come into communion rather than to tear apart. Everything brings her back to that.

So that her daughter can immerse herself in Quebec and Canadian cultures, but also because Montreal remains “at home”, Allison Russell has always wanted to come back as often as possible. But since the release of her first solo album, Outside Child, things have changed a lot for the Montreal artist now based in Nashville. A three-time Grammy nominee, she’s on the road most of the time, if she doesn’t have other commitments related to her music or her social justice projects, including fighting for rights. of the LGBTQIA2 community.

She notably organized last spring a major benefit concert, Love Rising, in which Hayley Williams, Sheryl Crow and Jason Isbell participated, for the benefit of foundations for the rights of queer people.

At the heart of the great frenzy of recent years, she brought The Returner to life.

The album is part of a genealogical trilogy that Allison Russell had in mind from the conception of the first disc, Outside Child. “You don’t have to listen to the first one to skip to the second, but in my heart, that’s how it happened. Outside Child was my way of transcending my childhood trauma through art, thanks to my chosen family. That’s what saved me. »

The Returner is rather an ode to the present, the return to happiness.

In fact, to make this record, Russell worked “in a circle”, without hierarchy. “It’s a difficult thing, it’s messy, it’s a process where you have to confront your own demon and that of others,” she said. You have to sit in discomfort, but the path is sunny all the same. »

Allison Russell sat down with 15 other women, including her idols Wendy and Lisa (Prince collaborators), and three “chosen brothers,” including her husband, musician and director JT Nero (Jeremy Lindsay). In six days of communion, during the winter solstice in December 2022, they created the ten pieces that form The Returner in the legendary Studio A

“I love collaboration, that’s how I’m most inspired. Addition is greater than individuality. There is a certain magic. It was 16 souls, 6 days, and it was completely magnetic. Some of my childhood heroines have become my big sisters, it’s a miracle that I’m so grateful for. »

Now that The Returner exists, Allison Russell will be able to (try to) put a little more time into writing her memoir, which she will be releasing with the major publishing house Flatiron Books. “It kicks my ass trying to write this book,” she says. I have three-quarters finished it, but I want to tell my whole story and the hardest part is going back to my first years of life. »

When we met her, during the summer, she was already planning to return to Montreal to bring back the images of her childhood. A deeply difficult childhood, during which she suffered sexual violence from her racist adoptive father. “I want to find my foster family, who I haven’t seen in 20 years. I talk a lot with friends from my elementary and high school. »

The project is underway. At the same time, she writes “every day” songs. Which she does even on the road, unlike writing the book, which she will have to finish in a moment of calm.

In all of this, how is she? The question concludes our long discussion during which she told us a lot about her worries about the state of the world, but also about her hope. After a moment of reflection, she explains to us that she feels in “the urgency to use [her] words to try to make things a little bit better”. “You have to build a better world in any way you can. With our songs, our community, our joy. With everything we can. »