Alfa RococoOne thing stands out, looking back on the four albums released by Alfa Rococo over the duo’s 14-year career. The covers always show the singer-songwriter couple – Justine Laberge and David Buissières – but on L’Amour et le chaos, launched in early May 2018, for the first time we don’t see their faces. They’re sitting on a dirt road with their backs turned to the camera. Says Buissières, “The cover perfectly summarizes one of the album’s main themes: we’re sitting quietly and watching the end of the world, some kind of apocalyptic scene, like that bomb that went off in the desert.” Laberge finishes his sentence: “Yet, we’re there, grounded. It’s dramatic, but the sky is pink…”

Love and Chaos, as it were. There’s hope, even a bit of light hidden in the rhymes, yet, “there still is a fatalistic assessment through it all,” says Laberge. Buissières adds, “It’s a realization that we’re living in a troubled time, the realization of our environmental dead-end.” Hope, and the same sort of pessimism that appeared on 2010’s Chasser le malheur, both show up in songs such as “Soldat de plomb,” “Rêve américain,” and the title track, whose “super happy music” was the backdrop to a story about “not having enough time, and feeling stuck in the endless cycle of the daily grind.”

What might have just been a figure of speech eight years ago has indeed become their daily lives. In the time that separated Nos coeurs ensemble (2014), a “more luminous album celebrating union,” in the words of Buissières, and this fourth one, the lives of the musician couple was transformed by the birth of two babies. Nowadays, every minute counts, Laberge says with a cough, a symptom of the bronchitis she caught from their youngest. “Obviously, I’m always the one who catches everything,” she says. David never gets sick! My vocal cords are in bad shape.”

“I always say we haven’t written songs about having children,” says Buissières. “But we did write about the effects of having them. The two main ones being one’s relationship with time,” as can be heard on two of the most beautiful songs on the album, “Le temps qu’il faut,” parts I and II. The first is propelled by a house music rhythm, the second floating in an atmospheric electro-pop glow. According to both artists, this album is very much influenced by the beacons of French electro pop, such as Fakear and Petit Biscuit. “Our relationship with time is completely changed,” says Buissières. “Now we realize how precious it is, and how we didn’t quite exploit it properly before. There’s also the question of seizing the day.”

The other effect, as they explain in tandem, is the need to stay away from pessimism. “We try to see the light through the cracks,” says Buissières, paraphrasing Leonard Cohen, “in the hopes that when the dust settles, something more beautiful will emerge. That’s what the album is about.” As for Laberge, she says she has never felt so much angst as she does now that her family has grown larger. “All that we see that’s going awry is no longer just our problem, but the problem of the ones that will come after us,” she says. “Our youngest daughter was born six months ago. She’ll never know a world without Trump.”

Regroupement des artisans de la musique (RAM)
One surmises that Alfa Rococo’s worries about their trade led David Buissières to create the Regroupement des artisans de la musique (RAM) in early 2017. RAM, which is governed by a steering committee composed of musicians such as Gaële, Stéphane Bergeron (Karkwa) and domlebo, wants to give a voice and a political compass to musicians to provoke “a review of the revenue-sharing model of commercializing music, in order to ensure the continuity of music in Québec,” as stated on the organization’s website. It’s about musicians speaking as one to answer the arguments of producers, distributors and internet service providers. “Let’s pretend that we, all the players of the music industry, are in a painter’s workshop,” says Buissières. “In the centre of the room sits a thing that we all have to make a painting of, and we’re all surrounding it: producers, distributors, promoters, streaming platforms, and, over here, the musicians. Everyone will paint the same object – an album, a tour, a career – but no two have the same perspective on it. Plus, the musicians have not shown up that much at the workshop… Our idea is to make sure artists start showing up at the workshop, and take a good look at the thing in the middle. What’s even more exceptional are people who are willing to come over to the other side to better understand the other perspective. What we want to do is explain the musician’s perspective to the other parties. It’s quite stunning to realize how little people in this industry talk to each other.”

Generally, each of their albums’ overall theme is clear from the onset. “Often, it’s one song that kind of dictates an album direction,” according to Laberge. “But after four or five, that’s when the album shapes up.” The proximity of home and studio allows for more finely tuned demos, and being constantly in the frame of mind of the album direction. “We have the chance to be able to spend a lot of time in our studio to work on the arrangements,” Buissières agrees. “Then, something clicks, a song emerges, and we say. ‘Ah! that’s it!’”

Buissières is in charge of the recording process and of the bulk of the orchestrations, but it’s under the scrutiny of Laberge, who considers herself more of a melodist. “We play ping-pong with our ideas,” she explains. “As for the lyrics, we start by writing together, and then we each write separately.”

For example, the album’s title song was written as a duo. “But it simmered for a long time,” says Laberge. “It’s the last one we wrote, and it’s the one that gave the tone to this album. It’s the first time that the last song we wrote became the album title.” Buissières continues, “It feels like the longer a song gestates, the easier it gets to write songs. A song like ‘L’Amour et le chaos’ took three months to finish. You might be on a bike ride, and an idea pops up that works for your song.” Most of their songs take that long before they’re ripe. “It’s more often three months than two weeks, sadly!” says Laberge with a smile.

“I write in quite a classical manner, like classic and romantic poetry, that kind of wording, using inversions,” says Buissières. “But sometimes, it gets to be a little too much, and thanks to Justine, we find the right balance.”

Thus, for the couple, working on a new album is divided into two distinct phases: one active and one passive. Says Buissières, “The passive part is everyday life, accumulating ideas, small notepads in hand, that idea that came during a bike ride. Being tuned in and filling up the inspiration book, I guess. The active part is being in the studio, making sounds, finding riffs, or sitting in a café and writing lyrics, getting hands-on. But that passive part should not be frowned upon, even though it’s sometimes long, because there are a ton of little ideas, of words, of grooves, of melodies that simmer for a very long time. So when we get to it, all that has evolved in our minds, we know the time has come to take all of it to fruition.”