Bernard Adamus recently launched a third album, once again with a unique title: Sorel Soviet So What, a total nod to Megadeth’s So Far, So Good… So What! (1988). Nobody but Adamus could’ve come up with such a title. Alongside Lisa LeBlanc, Jean Leloup, Safia Nolin and their ilk, the lanky Adamus belongs to a coterie of charismatic characters that inhabit a certain corner of Québec’s musical panorama — lovely weirdos we yearn to know more about.
Sitting down with his mineral water(!) to tell the story behind the album title, Adamus is on fire: “One Halloween night, I went to a party dressed as a biker, and I wrote that on my arm; I thought it was really funny. But at the same time, it was a way to liberate myself from the judgement of others, a way of saying, ‘Let’s cut the crap, they’re nothing but songs!’ So, that utterly psychedelic title really is nothing more than the punchline of a really good joke. I thought it sounded good, so I kept it.”
Working with words, especially in the vernacular, is really important for Adamus. When you hear his songs, the words are fluid, they flow naturally. On songs like “Les pros du Rouleau” and “Donne-moi-z’en,” he reaches new heights in textual density. His delivery is machine-gun fast, so much so that it’s impossible to imagine anyone else but him breathing life into those words! “I can spend two days on a single sentence until I’m satisfied it sounds good,” he says. “Even if some people think I’m vulgar or whatever, it’s what the language brings to a song that makes it work, first and foremost. Everything stems from the relationship between the rhythm of the words and the meaning of the lyrics.”
In “Le blues à GG,” Adamus went as far as writing music to the words of an author that shares his vision: Gérald Godin. “I tried to find something that spoke to me,” he says, “something I could naturally inhabit. This collage of a poem by Godin, I really could’ve almost written it myself!”
The Wee American Empire
For a long while, the working title of this album was Dix tounes américaines (Ten American Tunes). “In the end, it’s American music,” says Adamus. “I still play a mix of blues, cabaret tunes and ‘chanson.’ but I was getting fed up of being the token singer-bard. I didn’t know exactly where I wanted to go, but I sure knew where I didn’t want to go. The main thing was the groove. I wanted the music to be more alive. This album was built as a band album, not just musicians accompanying a singer.”
This quest for grooves led Adamus in uncharted territories, as on “Hola les lolos,” the Hawaiian-tinged single launched last summer. How can anyone resist the “L” alliteration in the celebratory chorus mantra? And yet, this homage to the female breast nimbly avoids the pitfalls of vulgarity (Ed Note: very loosely translated):
Le poids de ma noix quand l’vert jaunit (The weight of my noggin when green turns to yellow)
Dans l’creux d’tes mains que l’ciel est gris (While your hands gently cradle me and the sky is grey)
À snoozes-tu ben au p’tit matin (There’s nothin’ like snoozin’ in the early mornin’)
Ma belle grande face entre tes deux seins (My gorgeous face between your breasts)
“When I told the guys what I intended to do, they thought it was risky,” says Adamus. “I don’t believe I’ve offended anyone with that song; it’s the most politically correct on the album!” To wit: the song reached Montreal radio station CKOI’s Top 6 at 6.
Is Bernard Adamus on a quest to widen his audience, to win over new listeners? “The goal is to never compromise,” he says. I do my thing, and come what may. I think it’s very cool “Hola les lolos” made it on CKOI rotation, it’s great gift. In the world of pop, albums with two, maybe three good songs – and the rest is filler – are commonplace. I prefer to build a long-term relationship with my fans rather than having a radio hit. I prefer playing to a sold-out room in Trois-Rivières, especially since I really dig touring and playing live.”
Indeed, even before his album launched, Adamus already had more than 20 shows booked throughout fall. As a matter of fact, all of Sorel Soviet So What was written and composed on the road. He covered a lot of road and met a lot of people. “There’s a lot of movement involved,” he says, “and this album is a good reflection of the last three years which I’ve spent on the road.”
Between local legends and self-descriptive fiction, Adamus depicts a small, swarming, colourful, intriguing world. He looks tenderly, but without complacency, at the weirdos who inhabit his songs, before slipping back out of their strange world. “I shed part of my melancholy,” he says. “I’m still me, with the same perspective, talking about my life, but I also talk about others and less about my state of mind.