Appearing seemingly out of nowhere on Nov. 1, 2019, the debut album by quintet Bon Enfant made quite a splash in an already-rich album release season. Featuring the core singer-songwriter duo of Daphné Brissette, of Canailles fame, and Guillaume Chiasson, of Ponctuation, the Bon Enfant album made its way to our ears with shimmering soft-rock, replete with catchy choruses. Daphné Brisette spoke to us about their unexpected critical success.
“Guillaume and I have been friends for a very long time,” says the musician, who remembers meeting on tour when she sang with Canailles. “Guillaume was ‘our friend from Québec City,’ if you will. We have the same taste in music’ and we get along super-well. We had this plan of working on a project together, we thought it would have great potential, except it’s a bit complicated to make a band work when the members live in Montréal and Québec City – I don’t know if anyone has made that work before.”
Sure, the guys of Alaclair Ensemble, for one, have made it work, but that’s beside the point, since the distance issue was resolved when Guillaume Chiasson moved to the metropolis to be a full-time member of Jesuslesfilles. “So, we said to ourselves, let’s try it and see!” says Brisette. “As a matter of fact, we decided to pick ourselves up by the bootstraps by applying for a grant from the Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec.”
Thus, Bon Enfant started as a two-heads, four-hands duo, voiced by Brisette and guitar-strummed by Chiasson. Three songs were initially recorded – “L’Hiver à l’année,” “Ménage du printemps.” and “Magie,” but with a different music – in Chiasson’s studio at Le Pantoum, in Québec City. “When we listened to our demos, it was obvious that we already had a musical signature. So we said, let’s go all-in!”
The duo had songs, and a drive to see where those songs would take them, but they didn’t quite have a clear sound yet. One thing for sure, “We didn’t plan on making pop music,” says Brisette. “We were thinking of doing something like Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra, that kind of ‘spaghetti western,’ that fits with my voice and Guillaume’s guitar style. And as the project progressed, more and more musicians started gravitating around it,” and Bon Enfant’s sonic identity was taking shape, “with a wider palette of sound colours that included synths and a decidedly pop tip… Decisions we’re glad to have made.”
“It’s really a lot of fun to write a resolutely Québécois text on a music that is akin to American pop.” Daphné Brissette, Bon Enfant
Also from the Canailles project, drummer Étienne Côté and keyboardist and backing vocalist Mélissa Fortin joined the pair. Alexandre Beauregard (aka Alex Burger) rounded out the quintet on bass. A producer in his own right, Chiasson nonetheless let Tonio Morin-Vargas man the board in the studio, and the result is an album resplendent with ‘70s pop-rock flavours. “Any reference to Fleetwood Mac is purely accidental,” Brisette insists. “They weren’t even an inspiration! A friend of mine drew our attention to it when he heard our songs. It wasn’t long before that label was slapped on us, but we’re really happy about it!”
One influence they’re quick to recognize, however, are the early ’80s Robert Charlebois productions. “We’d listen to that song ‘Elle avait mis ses talons hauts…’ [“Les Talons hauts,” 1983]. And we realized that’s what he was doing too, writing songs with American pop music to support his lyrics, which is kind of what we were doing, too. It’s really a lot of fun to write a resolutely Québécois text on a music that’s akin to American pop.”
The Brisette-Chiasson duo wrote the songs, which were then orchestrated alongside the three other members. “We start with a guitar-voice base,” says Brisette. “We want that base to be solid, to have a melody, to feel like it works, I don’t know… We focus on the melody. We work on an idea for the lyrics, and then, since I’m the one singing, I have to try and appropriate it. We threw out a lot of lyrics snippets, not because they were bad, but because I couldn’t make them mine. When we write, Guillaume and I, we have to be on the same wavelength.”
Chiasson contributes more to the music than the lyrics, but melodic ideas are shared equally. “We really work together, not separately, and then we pool our ideas. Everything is done progressively, together,” and, additionally for Brisette, in her head and on her cellphone. “I have a ton of melodies recorded in my phone,” she says. “Sometimes I’ll be on the metro and I have to record myself singing, otherwise I’ll forget that melody. Then I go to Guillaume to play it back to him, and we find the right key; it can sometimes be humiliating, but it works!” laughs the musician.
Bon Enfant is already busy writing the songs for their next project, while touring an increasing number of dates over the next year. “We’ll play all the festivals!” Brissette promises.