“Had I known Avec pas d’casque would last more than 13 years, I’d have chosen a different band name…”

On the eve of the release of the band’s fourth full-length album, Effets spéciaux, Stéphane Lafleur reminisces about its beginnings and its evolution. But try as he might to disavow the band’s very name, the guitarist, singer and songwriter can’t change the fact that the expression “avec pas d’casque” has become part of Québec’s vernacular. Thanks to the success of 2012’s Astronomie, the band’s audience has exploded.

“Initially, this band was almost a farce, an accident,” explains the multi-talented artist, who’s also a movie director. “There was a lot more humour in my lyrics. I truly was not expecting this to last so long. Joël Vaudreuil [drums] and I would get on stage to scream our songs as the opening act for punk band La Descente du Coude. To me, humour was a form of protection, because if people in the crowd laugh or don’t like what they hear, you can always hide behind your joke. It was much harder to stand behind my more serious lyrics, because I knew that if people thought it was corny or sucked, I couldn’t hide from it. Luckily for us, the audience jumped right into our more serious stuff. It clicked.”

The opposite would have been quite surprising. Their stunningly beautiful imagery is carried by a refined minimalism, and Avec pas d’casque’s songs express a peaceful strength that’s both modest and disarmingly sincere. “I’ve never been a stories kinda guy,” says Lafleur. “Not in my songs and not in my films, which are renowned for their ambiance. That’s what I’m into. For this record, I wanted to simplify my lyrics even further, in order to make more room for the music. There are still a lot of metaphors in what I write, but I’m really proud to have eliminated the adverb ‘comme’ from the album’s lyrics. Sounds silly, but it was a really helpful exercise. So instead of writing ‘tes yeux sont comme des diamants’ (‘your eyes are like diamonds’), I now write ‘your eyes are diamonds.’ The image is much trippier that way. It almost becomes like a graphic novel, where you actually picture diamonds instead of eyes. The universe expands before you.”

“No matter what stirs your days and mind, seeking calm will always catch up with you.”

Despite the fact that its title is a nod to the world of cinema, Effets spéciaux [Special Effects] isn’t a flashy album. Aside from the increased presence of synths (courtesy of Mathieu Charbonneau), the sound hasn’t changed drastically. “I see the title as referring to personal relationships,” says Lafleur. “There are special effects that occur when people communicate, or when bodies touch. Just before kissing someone for the first time, something happens, there’s something in the air. That idea is the basis for the concept of the album’s cover and the video for “Derviches Tourneurs” (“Whirling Dervishes”). This kind of light trail that connects the characters’ faces.”

And even though Lafleur’s lyrics are cryptic, it still comes across quite clearly that those special effects had a beneficial effect on him. Astromonie’s success (Critic’s Choice Award at the 2012 ADISQ Gala), directing the movie Tu dors Nicole, and a tumultuous love life directed him through an exhausting emotional maelstrom. “This record is about seeking calm and peace,” he says. “The most recurring words in the lyrics are ‘lenteur’ and ‘lumière’ (‘slowness’ and ‘light’). No matter what stirs your days and mind, seeking calm will always catch up with you. Whirling dervishes are dancers that spin and spin until they’re in a trance. That’s how I felt. I felt like I constantly needed to be on the run. Having a ton of exciting projects is good, but it’s easy to forget that one needs to stop and take a step back every now and then, just to understand why we do what we do. I found peace again after meeting certain people. Some people are more reassuring than others.”

And so are certain albums…and Effets spéciaux is definitely one of those.