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.

Rémi Chassé and Guillaume Beauregard

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.”

Rémi Chassé and Guillaume Beauregard

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.”

The upcoming movie Le Mirage won’t be what it is only because of Louis Morissette’s screenplay or Ricardo Trogi’s direction. Frédéric Bégin’s score will also strongly contribute in creating the atmosphere of the comedy-drama. “Ricardo had already placed two pieces of 19th Century classical music in his editing, Strauss’ ‘The Blue Danube’ and Bizet’s ‘L’Arlésienne’,” sats Bégin. “They’re very well-known pieces, but he used them in counterpoint. It also feeds into the aristocratic side of the characters who come from a moneyed environment.” In order to meet the needs of the director’s editing, Bégin re-arranged the classics and recorded them with the 69 musicians of the Prague Symphony Orchestra.
Le Mirage
He then composed a few additional piece,s also imbued with that classical feel. Says Bégin: “I wanted to respect Ricardo’s initial musical intentions, and the result is that when you hear my compositions, they sound like you’ve known them all your life, yet…” Bégin explains that as the movie evolves, there’s increasing silence to create drama. “As a composer, you have to keep your ego in check in order to remain aware of what the movie actually needs. We have a back-up role, a bit like the rhythm section of a rock band. We’re there to back the ‘singer,’ which in this case is the movie.”

The musical needs of movies are diverse as the movies themselves, just as working with the same director for years doesn’t mean that any kind of routine has set in. Quite the contrary. Bégin met Ricardo Trogi just after graduating from Université de Montréal, where he earned a degree in Music. He composed a jingle for an ad Trogi was directing. A few months later, Bégin won the pitch that ensured they worked together again, this time for the music of a TV series titled Smash. This proved to be a defining moment for the composer. “Trogi’s first series was my first fiction project,” says Bégin. “You could say that experience was my birth as a composer. I sourced my writing in all those anonymous creations, themes I composed as a teen and young adult. Smash allowed me to get rid of all those piano riffs that had been haunting me for a long time.”

“We have a back-up role, a bit like the rhythm section of a rock band.”

The rest, as they say, is history. Trogi and Bégin collaborated on further TV series such as Les étoiles filantes and Le berceau des anges as well as on movies such as L’horloge biologique, 1981, 1987 and Le Mirage. But Bégin has also scored other films, notably Jean-Philippe Pearson’s Le bonheur des autres and Nicolas Monette’s Le journal d’Aurélie Laflamme.

The Trois-Pistole native now works in his home studio as well as at Studio Apollo, and says he likes being involved early in the creative process. “I know it’s a luxury,” he says, and cites the recent example of Interstellar, where Christopher Nolan tapped Hans Zimmer over coffee, asking him to start composing music for a movie about a father-daughter relationship. Nolan never mentioned that the movie was going to be a science-fiction one.
Le Berceau Des AngesWith Trogi, Bégin often has the opportunity of reading the screenplay long before a first cut is made. Such was the case for the TV series Le berceau des anges: Bégin started composing immediately after reading the scenario on the topic of baby theft. He was very moved by the story, especially since he was about to become a dad. “That was one of my more inspired sessions,” he says. “I wrote for two months before seeing even one image from the series. Surprisingly, everything fit perfectly. I was super happy, especially since I earned two nominations for that work.” The winners in those two categories will be announced this fall during the Gala des Gémeaux.

Bégin loves those moments of creativity that happen without a safety net. Currently, he’s working on stage music for a show celebrating the 100th anniversary of the presence of the International Olympic Committee in Lausanne, Switzerland. The show is directed by Olivier Dufour, an artist from Québec City world-renowned for his multimedia creations. Bégin is on board to underscore the narrative aspect of this performance music which tells the story, without words, of the parallel between a solo musician and an Olympic athlete. His music will be played over skating, fireworks and video projections. This challenge perfectly matches his constant desire to surpass himself.

“This music must intensely suggest, transport and punctuate without using any words,” says Bégin. “Operas had the same kind of goal and took years to compose. With this, I only have a few months. It’s a unique experience, but it’s so demanding that I realized I need composing for movies to reach a certain balance that is vital for me.”

The name Terry Jacks has become synonymous with one of the biggest songs ever to come out of Canada, his 1974 soft-rock smash “Seasons in the Sun.” But the Vancouver singer-songwriter’s history on the charts began in the 1960s, first as a member of garage group The Chessmen and then with The Poppy Family, a group fronted by Jacks and singer Susan Pesklevits (his former wife). Their debut album featured “Which Way You Goin’ Billy,” a mournful track inspired by the American women left behind during the Vietnam war, which peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard charts, hit No. 1 in Canada, and earned Jacks a JUNO Award for Best Producer. His most recent release is Starfish on a Beach, a double-CD anthology of his four decades in music. He spoke to SOCAN from his home by the coast in British Columbia.

“I had to work line after line, phrase after phrase.” – Terry Jacks

Take me back to 1969 when this song was written. Where were you at in your career?
Well, I had quit university – my family wanted me to be an architect. I was writing some music, and had some hits in Vancouver with The Chessmen. Buddy Holly was my idol, and I wanted to do the kind of thing he did. To make little pictures, little emotional portraits in songs. I was more interested in writing than in singing.

This song was written specifically from the point of view of a woman. How difficult was that?
It was very difficult. When I wrote songs for Susan, the inspiration came from me, then I had to change it into the way a female would think. I had to work line after line, phrase after phrase. That song was originally called “Which Way You Goin’ Buddy?” with a guy singing. I had the melody, and was going to write it about my idol. But I then I read an article about all the young American men leaving for Vietnam, and the women left behind, so I sort of changed the whole thing around, to write it for her.

I have to ask you about Susan’s recent public comments. She is claiming the song was not written about Vietnam and was actually named after her brother.
Absolutely ridiculous! I got the name Billy from one my favourite Canadian groups, The Beau Marks. I was looking for a name, something very common, then on my jukebox I saw their song “Billy Billy Went A-Walking.” And I remember laughing, “Which way you going Billy? Well, he went a-walking!” I wrote the song, I know what it’s about. I know how I named it. I don’t understand what she’s trying to do.

There were very few Canadian groups on the Billboard Top 10 in the 1960s. Why do you think with this song The Poppy Family managed to break through?
Well it started in Canada. It went to the top, with no CanCon either, because that didn’t exist yet. Right in the middle of the British invasion. It was such a left-field song, but I think it started in all the secondary markets, the little towns, and then the big markets started to look at it.

I’ve read that you turned down an appearance on the Ed Sullivan show with this song. True?
Here’s the reason I didn’t want to do Ed Sullivan: I was offered to represent Canada [at Expo ‘70] in Osaka, Japan. I thought that would open up international markets, much more than doing a TV show. We were big in the states already, and I wanted to go to Asia. That was an easy decision.

You were self-managed at the time, right? You produced the record and you were handling all the band’s bookings?
Correct. I also handled the publishing. That was very important, I learned that right away. That if you have control over things that’s the only way. Nobody tells you what you can and can’t do. But it all starts with control of your music, writing what you want to write, straight from your heart.

After all these years, what have you learned is the secret to your songwriting?
Simplicity. It’s the hardest thing to do, in writing, arranging, producing. But to have breathing room in the songs, that’s of essence. It’s like old rock ‘n’ roll was very simple, they portrayed one feeling or emotion. Not like today’s music, which is so scientific and technical and crowded. To me it’s very simple: you have something you want to get across in words and melody. I never wanted to be rich or famous, I just wanted to make little stories, little song pictures, that would do to others what Buddy Holly did to me. I never tried to get complicated. I never tried to be above the people.