Here’s the latest in our series of stories on the creative meetings of songwriting duos. But rather than looking at a collaboration between two singer-songwriters, we met with one of our most brilliant and consistent songsters, Luc de Larochellière, and one of Québec’s most ingenious producers of late, Philippe Brault, who’ve recently worked together on the album Autre Monde.
“My albums were sometimes like song collections. With this one, I wanted something more musical, more thematic. From that point, the production work was there to ensure there’s a common thread through it all,” says Luc de Larochellière during our interview, at the café around the corner from his place.
Autre Monde (Another World), his eighth solo album, is a turning point in his career, while at the same time harkening back to Un toi dans ma tête, released seven years ago. The common thread here, if we look beyond the delicately crafted lyrics and graceful melodies, are the string arrangements on which his 12 new songs rest – hence the link with the soundscape of the magnificent Un toi dans ma tête.
As for the turning point, it’s named Philippe Brault – the prestigious producer renowned for being open-minded; being able to adapt his style to the musicians whose albums he fine-tunes (from Koriass to Philémon Cimon); and who came to the forefront of the scene thanks to his work with Pierre Lapointe. He caught up with us a little while later than de Larochellière, after dropping off a bass that Michel Robidoux had lent him.
Autre Monde is also de Larochellière’s first solo effort recorded without the help of his “big brother,” producer Marc Pérusse, who’s responsible for Serge Fiori’s comeback record, among other recent projects. One hopes that Pérusse didn’t take the news badly when de Larochellière’s told him he’d be looking elsewhere for the producer on this project. “I gave him a call and we had breakfast. I didn’t just tell him via text!” says de Larochellière.
“It had nothing to do with competence,” he quickly adds. “As a matter of fact, I personally think that my previous album, and the one with Andrea [Lindsay, C’est d’l’amour ou c’est comme, 2012] are my best. My decision was simply based on the fact that we’ve been working together for almost 30 years.
“When I started out,” says de Larochellière, “I wasn’t a very good guitar player, I was still green, and Marc was my mentor. He did all the arrangements, all the programming. There were a lot of machines involved on my first two albums. Then we explored working with session musicians on Los Angeles , and especially Vu d’ici . We explored so many things, really. And precisely because I believe the last album we did was the best, I became convinced that it was time to look elsewhere and try something new.
“As a matter of fact, Marc told me, ‘You know, Luc, when you always work with the same methods, you always end up with the same result.’” Moreover, de Larochellière’s recent musical ventures, especially the Sept Jours en mai project, stimulated his desire to be in contact with new ideas and different influences.
So de Larochellière wrote up a list of producers he’d like to work with and contacted them. He already had ideas, certain musical colours and emotions in mind, but he didn’t share those initially. “It was kind of like a test,” he says. “Philippe came to my place and I played a few songs for him.” There were about 40, “but his favourites were also my favourites.” The producer picked two that were going to be recorded as a first demo: “D’état en état” and “Dis… tu te souviendras?,” recorded in simple guitar-and-voice form.
The first demo is very quiet, and was supplemented with electric piano, muted drums, strings, and a gorgeous melody played on the oboe. The second is more raging: electric guitar, funky drums, a rock song that keeps on growing right up to the bridge, which hangs from the strings of violins.
It sounds like classic de Larochellière, but with the elegance and intelligence of Brault’s orchestrations. The producer clearly listened to his “client” and never seemed to impose his own signature. “He called me a few days later to listen to his versions,” says de Larochellière. “I listened and I loved it. I immediately felt like he totally understood what my songs needed,” says the songwriter, at the very moment that his producer, Brault, enters the café where we sit.
“You really let me run free with your songs,” he tells de Larochellière. “That’s quite a vast creative expanse. After those two demos, Luc gave me 20 songs to work with for the album – quite a luxury when you produce an album, something that doesn’t happen often enough. Usually, artists give me, like, 14 songs, and keep a dozen in the end.” Separately, they established a list of their 12 favourite songs. “When we compared our lists,” Brault recalls, “10 out of the 12 Luc picked were also on my list.”
“Philippe chose songs that mattered to me, and that’s a good start,” de Larochellière, who only expressed his own ideas later. For the most part, they matched those of his producer: a sense of classicism (“almost like classical music, which I’d done on the previous record. But I also felt these songs needed a drumbeat”); and a more robust, rocking feel that serves the lyrics, which are less cutting and less cynical than those to which the eagle-eyed singer-songwriter has accustomed us.
“I try not to shoot blanks with my songs,” says de Larochellière. “I feel the atmosphere [in our society] is quite aggressive lately, so I didn’t want to throw oil on the fire. I also feel a sense of urgency: I’m a father again at 50, and my older daughter is 21, so I feel I have to offer more than simply, ‘Life sucks.’ I wanted something more open, hence the title, Autre Monde.”
Brault totally picked up on that. Autre Monde is a record of rare elegance, yet very contemporary in its rhythms and guitar sounds, as well as in its dynamic and timeless lyrics. Says de Larochellière: “When we’d meet, I’d say stuff like: ‘This one needs to open up at this point, it needs to go big,’ and all kinds of details on the songs, and he would take notes…But it turned out he wasn’t taking many notes after all!”
Brault grins. “You weren’t very annoying!” he says. Their both agree that their collaboration happened organically. “It was quite easy,” says an almost surprised de Larochellière. Using the basic guitar-and-voice tracks, Brault crafted the songs to his liking in his Mile-Ex Masterkut Studio. All the string tracks were recorded in one afternoon; additional voice tracks were laid down in another afternoon. “I’d heard about Philippe’s knack for understanding the artist he’s working with,” says de Larochellière. “Even if we didn’t see each other that much throughout the process, he came up with the album I was looking for.”
“Luc’s composition work was perfectly respected, even more so than on other albums I’ve produced, because we started from the basic guitar-and-voice tracks and we built on them,” says Brault. “The song is there, at the core, in its simplest form… The heart of the album is his voice, even though the finished product is quite orchestrated.”