It’s done! On June 15, 2016, Alexandre Désilets launched his fourth album during the FrancoFolies de Montréal at the Gesù. The ambitious orchestral project, Windigo, marks the end of a cycle for the singer-songwriter. The 12-track album includes two new songs and 10 re-visited ones. “When I listened to the original demos, I got the feeling that for some songs, I didn’t go to the end of that trip,” says Désilets. “I felt like they were unfinished. It’s not because you burned a song onto a CD that it’s finished. It’s just like a painter who, many years later, decided to add an element to one of his paintings.”

The result, recorded last March at Radio-Canada’s Studio 12 with 17 musicians, including Olivier Langevin, Robbie Kuster and François Richard (piano, organ, arrangements, co-producer), is simply magnificent. Much care was given to the treatment of his voice, which is never drowned out by the orchestra. “The modus operandi was that the voice and lyrics would take centre stage,” says Désilets. “I’d never given so much care to that aspect before; these recordings are, hands down, the best takes of my life. I trained, visited my vocal coach, and didn’t compromise. During the recording, I felt enveloped by the orchestra. At no point do the instruments take over the voice. We used my voice as an instrument, as a matter of fact, creating a wall of sound that makes it all the way to you.”

“Being too obvious with your lyrics when you do pop is like adding sugar to sugary cereals.”

“Tout est perdu,” the last song on Fancy Ghetto, his last album, is now the second one on the new album – and it sends shivers down the spine, truly a gem of a bittersweet song. The impressionist lyrics are a mirror of the narrator’s inner torment; there’s nothing frivolous about Alexandre Désilets.

“At first glance, one could think it’s a love song, but when you dig deeper, you find it’s something else,” he says. “Being too obvious with your lyrics when you do pop is like adding sugar to sugary cereals. When I write with Mathieu Leclerc, I’ve already been living with the music for a few months. We create a universe; the songs are like chapters in a story. Then, I find myself with themes that are in tune with the raw emotion emanating from the music. Writing, for me, is often somewhat of a shock.”

Alexandre Désilets So where does the title Windigo come from? “It’s an archetype that was able to tie together all those songs from different albums together,” says Désilets. “According to the Native legend, the Windigo is a hungry, slightly cannibalistic beast that haunts the forest and eats flesh. In this case, it’s like the forest has been removed but the beast remains. All my characters have one thing in common: they wander aimlessly in the city. They are hungry and thirsty for something, an insatiable desire. It’s a metaphor for our fast-paced, ever-unsatisfied society. It is never sated, and it doesn’t create its own love or its own warmth. It takes and takes and doesn’t really give anything back.”

On “On sème,” one of the two new songs on this album, Désilets deftly plays with the word’s phonetics. One hears “on s’aime” (we love each other), but it’s really “on sème” (we sow), meaning sowing hate. “We forge ahead with such lack of concern for what Mother Nature has offered us,” says Désilets. “We split the atom to go to war, with not a single thought about the consequences, as if we were the only ones on Earth. We sow hate, and hate is what we reap.”

On the day of our interview, he’s wearing a t-shirt with a starry night motif. Now 41, he’s about to become a father, and has just launched an album that brings beauty to our often ugly world. He sings:

Je crois en la beauté, mais elle n’est plus la même
Elle ne s’est pas montrée, et ça, depuis des années
Longtemps j’ai laissé tourner la vie
Comme un vieux disque
Mais j’ai faussé sur l’hymne à la joie

(Loosely translated:)
I believe in beauty, but it’s not what it used to be
No one has seen her for many, many years
For a long time I let my life go round
Like an old record
But I sang out of tune on the Hymn to Joy

Is the creator of “Hymne à la joie” pessimistic? “When I write, it’s the melancholy side of me that expresses itself,” he says, “but I do believe in our capacity to get ourselves out of our predicament. I’m into alternative forms of energy. Thanks to new means of communication, scientists can now instantly share key data. There are solar panels, water-powered engines… I have a lot of hope for the next generations.”