Here’s the latest edition in our series of stories on those happy creative meetings between songwriters that we call duos. This one is about a natural, spontaneous and almost happenstance collaboration, one that united singer-songwriter Marie-Ève Roy (Vulgaires Machins’ guitarist and singer) and Julien Mineau, multi-instrumentalist, producer and leader of Malajube.
“My only goal, with this project,” says Roy, “was to take it to its logical conclusion, and by that I mean writing ten songs that would create a cohesive whole. I wrote these songs very simply, by following ideas that spoke to me, reflected who I am.”
Releasing one’s first solo album should be a milestone that, at least in part, is fraught with insecurity, self-doubt, pressure, and questions. Or so people might rightfully believe, but they would be those whose livelihood isn’t based on writing songs, recording them and playing them live. Perhaps due to her two decades in the business, singer-songwriter Roy is uncannily calm, even though she’s only a few days away from releasing said first solo album.
Maybe, just maybe, this Zen attitude is also attributable to Julien Mineau’s reassuring presence; he’s sitting right next to her in the Villeray café, and never left her side when came time to record Bleu Nelson. First off, what’s with the title? “You’re right, it’s not the title of a song and not even a lyric snippet from one of the songs,” says Roy. “It’s actually a town in New Zealand that I found inspiring when I was there a few years ago.” The blue being, quite obviously, because of the ocean surrounding the island nation.”
From New Zealand, Roy travels to… Place Versailles, a shopping mall in Montréal’s East End, to which she refers on her song “Le monde est triste à Radisson”: “À la place Versailles/Les néons éclairent/La solitude et le béton.” (Freely: “What you see under Place Versailles’ neon lights are solitude and concrete.”) And so it is that we’re taken on a trip inside the artist’s mind, set to music that’s light-years away from Vulgaires Machins’ vindictive punk sounds.
Fans of Québec’s infamous punk rock legends are in for a bit of a surprise indeed: the ten originals are somewhere between ballads and barely faster-paced pop songs. It’s music that caresses and consoles; it’s ‘70s sounding but not retro, as if a sophisticated Françoise Hardy had ditched her yé-yé skirts. Her unconfessed influence? The XX’s melancholic pop songs.
“Initially, I was going for a more minimalist pop sound. But then Julien started playing all kinds of instruments and I went along with it, I liked the direction he was going in, it was perfect.” – Marie-Ève Roy
Says Mineau, “I thought it was interesting to take her there, with her agreement, of course. Tabula rasa, starting anew, recording freely and breaking [her association with punk]. I reckon that someone who’s always been a fan of the Vulgaires will be quite surprised…”
“I’ve wanted to do this project for a long time,” says Roy. “I started writing for it when I ended up alone with my guitar in New Zealand, back in 2010. It was like I decided that it was really going to be my new musical adventure, and the Vulgaires’ hiatus gave me the opportunity to devote myself to it.”
Roy and Moneau didn’t really know each other when she started working on her solo project in earnest, back in 2013. They met when she contacted him to buy a Wurlitzer keyboard. “That’s how it all started, with a piano transaction!” laughs Mineau. “I later offered her to record her album at my place,” in his home studio located in Ste-Ursule, a village of 1,375 souls located about 90 minutes Northeast of Montréal.
All the album’s songs were written and composed by Marie-Ève, save for “Larmes de joie” (“tears of Joy”), the music for which was composed by Mineau. “My work was mainly on the arrangements,” says the producer. Bleu Nelson was a four-handed recording process: all of the richly orchestrated pop songs were played by the two collaborators.
“It all happened at my place over a period of two weeks,” says Mineau. “Marie-Ève had already sent demos ahead of time, and some of them didn’t even need to be changed at all. We set up, we played, I pressed the record button. We didn’t have a game plan.” Says Roy, “We did talk about the direction of the project before getting underway. I’d been thinking a lot about the sound I was looking for, the vibrato, the very intimate production. I always give myself a few sources of inspiration, The XX and Julian Casablancas. That was our starting point.
“Initially, I was going for a more minimalist pop sound. But then Julien started playing all kinds of instruments and I went along with it, I liked the direction he was going in, it was perfect. I was looking for a very specific atmosphere, but I was also totally open to Julien’s ideas.” Thus, Bleu Nelson is not only an album, but a snapshot of a fruitful musical collaboration. It’s no surprise that the whole project was wrapped in a couple of weeks: they’d established the perfect dialogue.
This was also a first for Mineau. “I’d never produced someone else’s album before,” he says. “Working for others means, for me, less self-questioning and, above all, being able to try new ideas, and I have a million of those. I also took away a lot from this collaboration, especially about cutting back – I do have a tendency to record way too many tracks. It made me want to do this more.” Time allowing, obviously.
Before then, Malajube will finally release another album, and there ought to be another solo album from Mineau, most likely quite different from his Fontarabie foray. “Songs more than instrumentals,” he says. “A completely different world.”