Song and poetry have always been akin. Yet, strangely, poems tend to be confined to bookshelves. Could the wind be turning? In the wake of the success of Douze hommes rapaillés, an album where Gilles Bélanger celebrated the poetry of Gaston Miron, Yann Perreau has teamed up with Claude Péloquin while Thomas Hellman has decided to immerse himself in Roland Giguère’s body of work.
“There’s already music in poetry, and when I hear music, I hear words, remarks Claude Péloquin. It’s all connected. To me, it’s a single universe. Besides, it’s not because it’s written down that it does not go through your ears. Your eyes and ears are quite close together!” It is true that throughout the years, many a poem has bee treated to a musical version or literally became songs thanks to the talent of giants such as Léo Ferré, Jean-Louis Murat, Villeray, Robert Charlebois, to name but a few. But how do songwriters that can very well express themselves through their own writing end up defending the words of another? Well, apparently, through happenstance and love at first sight.
This is how, one day, Thomas Hellman was offered a book of poems by Roland Giguère by one of his friends. “What I discovered was an artistic opportunity, explains the musician. I definitely felt like there was music in those lines. There was something beckoning and I had a definite impression that my musical world could bring something to that universe.”
The same scenario happened to Yann Perreau. Following an unexpected meeting with Péloquin, the two artists from different generations talked about a possible collaboration. Pélo, as he is known, sent a massive collection of hitherto unseen texts to the young singer and it wasn’t long before Perreau was roaming the vast lexical plains of the author of “Monsieur l’Indien”.
Shedding New Light
There is one unavoidable challenge any artist wishing to put music to verses and rhymes will have to face. They will need to give it a second wind or prolong the momentum of the written version. But how does one do that? Does one grant themselves artistic licence or remain staunchly true to the original? For Yann Pour Yann Perreau, the process that lead to the creation of À Genoux dans le désir was not that disorienting since he often adapts his own poetry into a song by reworking them and adding music. “My melodies always come from the words, explains the artist. I don’t have a regular meter (number of syllables). Often times, my music contains unusual structures or added 2/4’s because I need a certain tempo to make my sentence fit in. I don’t like it when things are too regular.”
It’s interesting to know that Péloquin gave Perreau carte blanche to adapt his words as he saw fit, which does mean that Perreau added rhymes where there were none. Rather than that, it’s the images, the prosody and the alliterations that are the basis of the song’s dynamic and, as a result, carry the songs into uncharted territory. “Every now and then I’ll throw a rime in just to tame your ear, but poetry has freed itself from the tyranny of the rime over the past few decades and, just as is the case with songs, it has done it a lot of good. […] It’s good to let the meaning take precedence over the rhyme, it opens the way for more precise emotions.”
As for Thomas Hellman, he stayed very true to the words published by Roland Giguère. But it was crucial to him that the words and music bond seamlessly with one another. In his mind, it is precisely when this bond happens that songs become like a treasure map to Poet’s Island. “Poetry doesn’t need music to be good, he reminds us. When a poem is good, it stands alone. What I wanted to do is shed new light on this poetry, to clear a pathway towards it. It’s the magic of music: it can turn a more opaque poem into something more accessible.”
Throughout his career, Claude Péloquin has dipped his pen in the inkwells of spoken and written word. He is, of course, most known for penning Robert Charlebois’ classic “Lindberg”, but he’s also released many albums and he’s working on a new recording with Michel Le François with whom he had released “Les Chants de l’éternité”. The man – who prefers “looking crazy than looking lost” – is therefore in an excellent position to gauge the impact of a song. “If we can make more people appreciate poetry through music, all the better! Songs are more in the moment. You can always close a book and come back to it later, but music is right now. It’s akin to karate!”
Yet, both Perreau and Hellman believed that by following in the footsteps of a poet, they were embarking on a relatively marginal side-project. In both cases, they were surprised by the scope of the reception they got. In Perreau’s case, it turned out to be a “regular” album in his own discography, but even better than that, it has led him, since last February, to a series of important concerts. “I played the demos to people early on and they didn’t bat a lash; they were convinced those were my songs. When I told them it was Péloquin’s words, the were blown away!”
This scenario was true for Thomas Hellman chante Roland Giguère, even though Hellman chose to go the way of a CD-book, which associates it more closely to the realm of literature. The artist – who is also a radio host on occasion – insisted on addressing Giguère’s work as a visual artist, more so since the late poet was also a publisher… What happened is that Hellman noticed that his fans followed him in this adventure and he acquired new ones from the world of literature. This, just as for Perreau, has led him on stage for several concerts here and in France.
Clearly, perfect rhymes and vivid stanzas are still relevant. Nowadays, they take the glorious shape of a counterweight to the lightness, and even frivolousness of vast swathes of pop music. “There are still people who aren’t afraid of going further, and there is an audience for that,” realizes Yann Perreau. “You have to take chances and tear down walls, acquiesces Claude Péloquin. The audience is able to accept a lot more than we think. And one must be weary of lulling them too much…”