Omnipresent hip-hop collective the Alaclair Ensemble released their fourth official album Les Frères ceuilleurs on Sept. 2, 2016, just a few months after the fun and bouncy album by Rednext Level, Maybe Watson and Robert Nelson’s side-project, and just a few weeks before KNLO’s highly anticipated first album, Long-Jeu. The Alaclair fountain clearly isn’t about to run dry of the suave grooves and captivating rhymes that we all love to consume in great quantities.
Leaning over a table on a sunny patio, Ogden Alaclair, a.k.a. Robert Nelson, enlightens us with a bit of Québec history to explain the new album title.
“Strictly speaking, it is a direct reference to the Frères chasseurs, a society founded by Robert Nelson,” and he doesn’t mean himself, but the real one, whose name he has adopted: A revolutionary patriot who declared the independence of Lower Canada in 1838, and who died in 1873 after returning to his medical practice following his militant (and military) political years.
Les Frères chasseurs? “The idea came from the Masonic lodges,” says the current Nelson. “They used hunting clubs in Québec and the American Northeast [as a disguise] to have meetings to plan the second patriot revolution, which ultimately failed.” Nelson was a Lower Canada guerilla whose goal was to get rid of the colonial power. “As for us, the hunters have become gatherers…”
“A voice, a beat, it’s still something special to us, and despite our apparent minimalist approach, it’s still a very rich way of making music.” — Robert Nelson of Alaclair Ensemble
“Our album title is true to our many references to Lower Canada,” adds KNLO, adding his own, more esoteric, explanation to it all, something that won’t surprise those who know him even a little: “There’s an underlying global concept: gather, bring bread home, put butter on the bread… Or better yet, gathering ideas from the ‘musicosphere.’ This notion becomes apparent, now that I listen to the finished album: keeping an open mind [while creating].”
The album was created as a tribe, in a cabin, under the direction of beat-maker Vlooper, who was the de facto producer, composer and musical director for Frères cueilleurs. “Of all our albums, it’s the one where one person really took control,” says Nelson. “He wanted to take on that responsibility and the idea was well received within the group.”
His productions are delectable, fresh, slightly experimental at the onset, and funkier towards the end of the album, notably on the over seven-minute closing jam, “DWUWWYL.” And it’s all interspersed with grooves that hark back to the classic New York jazz-funk sound of the ‘90s. Above all, though, the overall atmosphere of this effort isn’t as crazy as its predecessors: Les Frères cueilleurs is, almost surprisingly, the most reserved of the band’s albums, as if there was some desire to get back to their roots.
“Yes, but not a return to the roots of rap, a return to our roots,” Nelson explains. “As Alaclair, we’ve done a lot of things, we’ve explored a multitude of musical styles, and it was very liberating. But in the end, what we’ve been doing from the get-go is making beats and rapping over them. We really love making good ol’ rap. A voice, a beat, it’s still something special to us, and despite our apparent minimalist approach, it’s still a very rich way of making music, and there’s still room to be original and creative within that framework. It’s our way of celebrating rap as a medium, this thing we grew up with.”
Here’s another example of how these guys don’t do things like everyone else. Says KNLO: “I think these songs will simply tag onto to the couple of hundreds more in our repertoire, and that’s what we’ll perform on stage. Roughly.” Nelson adds: “It took us a long time to admit to ourselves that it’s not out of laziness that we never prepare set lists. As a matter of fact, when we do, it’s generally not a good show. So we just turn the V-shuffle on.”
The what? The V-shuffle, as in Vlooper shuffle. The album producer is also the DJ in charge of their concerts, a conductor who feels the atmosphere, takes the audience’s temperature, and decides what the next song will be. Each concert is absolutely unique. “We don’t even know what the next song will be,” says KNLO. “We have just a few seconds to recognize the song that’s just started and know what to do next. The idea being that each audience is different; you can’t give the same performance in an après-ski chalet in Sainte-Adèle and in Cap-aux-Meules. As a matter of fact, it’s in Cap-aux-Meules that we learned that lesson…”
“We traumatized a lot of people that night,” remembers Nelson. “We made some people very uncomfortable. That’s when we understood that we’re able to play like a boy-band as much as a punk band. It’s the audience that decides, to a certain extent. The best thing to do is still to start the show and see where it’ll go. And that’s Vlooper’s job!”