In continuing our series of stories about the creative meetings of a writer and a composer, but with a twist this time, we present the duo of singer-songwriter Rémi Chassé and his “musical janitor,” Guillaume Beauregard.
No, you’re not dreaming: sometimes musicians with seemingly nothing in common do actually work together. In this corner, Rémi Chassé, a runner-up in the second season of La Voix who was recruited by coach Louis-Jean Cormier, who wants to become a pop singer, and who’s currently working on his first album. And in this corner, Guillaume Beauregard, leader of legendary Québec punk band Les Vulgaires Machins and the pope of protest music for the past 15 years.
“My job is to ask the right questions about his work so as to get to the very core of it” – Guillaume Beauregard
Before La Voix, Québec’s adaptation of The Voice, Chassé tried his luck in the U.S. He and his friends lived on a campsite in Nashville, looking for writing partners to launch their careers. But after awhile, they gave up. Back in Québec, “I spent a year singing covers in resto-bars to pay rent,” says Chassé. “Then, at some point, I thought to myself ‘Why not try La Voix? I’ve nothing to lose.’ And that turned out good.”
Beauregard cofounded Vulgaires Machins in 1995 and the band’s last album came out four years ago. He has since launched his first solo album, D’étoiles, de pluie et de cendres, in 2014. Lately, he’s also helped other musicians in creating their albums. “Writing, arranging, that’s what I love doing,” says Beauregard. I’ve helped Caravane, Brutal Chéri, Marie-Ève [Roy, of Vulgaires Machins], who’s working on an album, too. I love working on material that’s not mine. It requires a different form of involvement, an objectivity, a distance, an outlook,” which he can have on other people’s work, and they’re more than happy to rely on his experience.
We met with the pair at the home of Hubert, Chassé’s close collaborator, one sunny afternoon on the terrace while they were fine tuning the words and music of a song called “La Tête pleine, les mains vides,” slated to be on Chassé’s album, whose launch is set for late summer.
Chassé’s rocking his Ray-Bans with a guitar in his lap and a laptop on the patio table in from of him. When we arrive, he’s playing around with a few chords and juggling some rhymes. “This song we’re working on,” says Beauregard, “is one of Rémi’s tracks which inspires me the most, but there’s something bugging me about the melody.” In the days leading up to this work session, Beauregard had re-worked the words and music so that the melody would flow more naturally. “I was just showing him what I changed and why I thought they made sense,” he says. “Then, we talk about it.”
“There were some elements of the song that I wanted to keep, but beyond that, I will take any idea Guillaume has and assimilate them into my song to the best of my ability,” Chassé chimes in. Each song on the album requires a different approach: sometimes it’s the words that need an overhaul, other times it’s the melody and arrangements. “I’ve never written bridges in my songs before,” Chassé admits with a smile.
What Chassé was seeking after making it to the final on La Voix was the input of a seasoned songwriter. “I’d started writing in French before La Voix,” says Chassé, “but I still needed someone to vet my songs, someone who’d take a look at my work and say, ‘Yeah, that’s cool’ or ‘No, this doesn’t work because such and such.’ It had to be someone with a lot of experience in writing songs in French. I asked Guillaume because I like his writing. I guess there must be something in my writing too, because he said yes right away.”
The connection was established through Musicor’s Richard Pelletier. “When he told me about this project, I had no idea who Rémi Chassé was,” Beauregard admits. “But I looked at his pedigree and heard the song Louis-Jean [Cormier] wrote for him. He sent me a demo, it was good groundwork, with some orchestration, drums and bass. The poppy side of his stuff was fully integrated, so we didn’t need to look for a direction for this project.”
That’s why Beauregard sees himself as Chassé’s musical janitor; part writing coach and part musical director, as far as the arrangements go.
“I haven’t changed the nature of Remi’s stuff,” he insists. “His songs are totally him. When I hear [the first single] “Sans adieu,” I do feel that we’ve found a way for me to slip inside this project in the most helpful way. It is Rémi’s song, but I found a way to contribute my own experience to it. My job is to ask the right questions about his work so as to get to the very core of it.”
Let’s just say that if there’s one type of musician who knows how to get to the core of things, it’s undoubtedly punk musicians! Beauregard, the leader of Vulgaires Machins, agrees: “Punk songs are songs just as well as what Rémi does. He brings his own colour to his songs. To me, it’s all the same regardless of the genre: what does this song have to say to me?”
And in case it’s not clear, this collaboration is mutually beneficial. By working with a legend from Québec’s punk scene, the ex-La Voix contestant gets an aura of credibility that will surely help when his first album finally comes out. “Absolutely no doubt about it,” admits Chassé. “It was crucial for me. It’s not because I was on La Voix that I’m a variety singer. The contest, television, that was nothing but a springboard. I was already writing edgier rock songs before that, and that’s the image I want the public to get. Obviously, I wanted to work with someone with a lot of edge.”
As far as Beauregard is concerned, to him it’s a “learning rapport. I’m fully aware that from an artistic point of view, it’s not quite my cup of tea, but I’m learning a lot, and on many levels. Such openly pop material is not a ‘natural’ for me, yet being given the opportunity to work on such material without having to defend it, since it is Rémi’s material, is really cool. I feel like exploring the limits of this pop thing, how far can I take it before losing my relevance as someone else’s musical janitor.”