We reached him at his cozy home, surrounded by apple trees, in the small town of Rougemont, about 45 minutes east of Montréal – where the Granby-born ex-Montréaler is readying the release of his new album. His move to the countryside has had an effect on his writing, because Nevsky’s prose has become even more flowery than when he started his career; his lyrics are now strewn with bucolic images, smelling of lilac and hydrangea. “I wrote ‘On dérobera’ during Gilles Vigneault’s writing workshop in January of 2018,” he says. “To be honest, the bulk of these new texts truly reflect the call of nature. I hadn’t moved here yet, but it’s what I wanted; I was projecting myself here.”
Without going as far as to say this is a break from what the singer-songwriter has released to this point, this new album – released on the Musicor imprint (he was previously signed with Audiogram) – clearly feels like the start of a new, distinct cycle. This new direction wasn’t, however, influenced by his new-found family life, with toddlers. He promised himself that would never have an impact on his music.
“I was really afraid of repeating myself, which is common on one’s fourth album, or when artists become parents,” says Nevsky. “I was really afraid of becoming the kind of artist that starts writing about their child… I’ve seen too many people I really like fall into that kind of creative pattern in their late thirties… It’s something I was really apprehensive about, so I surrounded myself with a bunch of people I find inspiring.”
Gabriel Gagnon (Milk & Bone) and Clément Leduc (Geoffroy, Hologramme) are among those people, and they co-produced Chemin sauvage alongside Nevsky. The talented singer-songwriter went from regular airplay on the charts of CISM (the Université de Montréal radio station) to the set of the immensely popular TV talent show La Voix (the Québec franchise of The Voice) in record time. “Loto,” a song he recorded with the prodigious rappers of Alaclair Ensemble is about the luck he feels he’s had so far, professionally.
He hooked up with the Lower Canadians, as the band call themselves, in “a match that wasn’t necessarily natural,” but that he’d wanted to undertake for a long time, and Eman penned the flow and lyrics of the first verse on the track. Then, on “Courir à deux,” there’s a sample from Boule Noire’s repertoire, and Nevsky reveals an unexpectedly soulful side of his singing. “That came at the very, very end,” he says. “That song was initially much more nervous because of its piano lines, and [it was played at] a much faster tempo. We’d done that one with Étienne Dupuis-Cloutier and Gab, but we ended up throwing it away. When we realized we needed more songs at the end of the summer, I wanted to give it a second chance.”
Going out of his comfort zone, in other words. That was his leitmotif. Now, for the first time since “I’m Sticking on You,” from his 2010 album, Nevsky revisits “Frenglish” in some of his choruses – his duets with Claudia Bouvette and Sophia Bel being prime examples. “After ‘De Lune à l’Aube,’ I felt it was too easy,” he says. “But at the same time, I also felt like it was admitting my defeat when it comes to the challenge I gave myself to make an effort to honour the French language more. Now, I don’t know, maybe it’s more of an era thing. I don’t want to make an English-language album, but one thing’s for sure; when a sentence comes to me naturally in English, I make a conscious effort to give it some breathing room and be less restrictive.”
Free of complexes about linguistic issues, and ready to ignore the naysayers, the musician closes this new album with “Tout,” which he calls “almost a parody of Alex Nevsky.” The song is very likely to make it on commercial radio charts, thanks to its “ooh, ooh, ooh” chorus. Says Nevsky: “I was like, OK, I know I could use words here, because people are going to say all I do are songs with fucking ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs,’ and that’s all I know how to write, yada yada… I needed to make a decision, and it was a very conscious choice. I decided to go for it… That hesitation comes from a lot of comments I’ve received since I became quite popular, and a ton of jokes about me. But you can’t avoid the road you’ve travelled having an influence on your creations.”