Though his latest album of original compositions, Fou (Crazy) goes back to 2005, Dan Bigras has been active as an actor in the 30 Vies television series, as a film director for La rage de l’ange (2006) and, more recently, as Éric Lapointe’s mentor on La Voix. This past February, he resurfaced as a singer-songwriter with Le sans visage [Faceless].
On the other end of the line, Bigras took time from his Dominican Republic vacation to answer our questions – the first one being, why had there been such a long break between his last two album releases?: “Having adult attention deficit disorder,” Bigras replies, “the concept of taking a break is alien to me. In fact, I have the opposite problem. I have to jot down all my ideas right away because I know they’ll be gone in three minutes flat. I get back to all of this stuff later on and pick what I need.”
“As a creator, you must involve yourself to the point that there is no bloody difference between you and your work.”
We also wonder how difficult it was, for a creator who had accumulated 50 new songs over the past few years, to make a meaningful choice among a varied output dealing with such diverse topics as contented love, lustful relationships, society’s forgotten people, powerful, life-long friendships, social networks and their opinion overdose, and so on – and to turn this into a coherent album.
“Saying that I wrote 50 songs just to keep 15 in the end makes it sound like a lot of work,” Bigras explains, “but the truth is, you write 10 songs, then 10 more, and the second batch makes the first one sound like shit! So you keep going and, three years down the road, you’re up to 50 tunes. Once you realize you’ve been writing the identical same song three times, you know it’s time to quit. You’re there. All that’s left to do is clean things up here and there, cut off the dead wood and keep the good stuff for an album.”
How, then, can he manage to put both dark and upbeat songs back to back on the same album without making it sound unbalanced? Bigras’ answer to that is tied to his own definition of what balance is: “I learned a long time ago that balance does not mean steering a middle course. Balancing extremes means playing both ends against the middle. It’s the story of my life. Toeing the line has always made me miserable, ever since I was a small boy. That’s what got me attracted to extremes. In my songs, it’s the same thing, I need contrasting feelings and moods. That’s how I was able to find a balance on Le sans visage.”
Bigras freely admits that, as he gets older, he’s more likely to spend time by himself when he gets into a creative mood. Alone in his home studio, he talks to himself, laughs out loud, curses his equipment and generally has a great time doing it all. Since he’s quit drinking, these moments have become his favourite way of letting loose.
Isn’t there a risk, at some level, of a lack of oxygen while working in isolation without a fresh pair of eyes helping you see things differently? “Claiming that a creator has to distance himself from his work is a serious mistake,” Bigras corrects, with the authority of one who’s been there. “That’s what many producers will tell you to justify their big fees… As a creator, you must involve yourself to the point that there is no bloody difference between you and your work. Later, you can take some time to think. Besides, I have a record company with a staff, I have friends I can involve in listening groups along with industry people. But I only do that once I’ve reached a certain stage, not while the creative process is in full swing. I couldn’t work with a producer who would ask me to put in a little bit of this and take out a little bit of that. I couldn’t stand it.”
Another thing Bigras couldn’t stand for a long time was the sound of his own singing voice, a very distinctive instrument he has learned to accept for better or for worse. “I’ve long since stopped complaining that I’ll never be a great singer,” he explains without any false modesty. “I somehow realized that, of all the instruments I was playing, my voice was the only one conveying words, and that these words originated from deep inside me, straight from my heart. I was able to see that this is what matters in the end. I am old enough now to be able to start listening to my own voice. And a good job it is, too, because let me tell you, when you spend the whole day listening to yourself at the mixing stage, if you hate that voice, you’re in for one hell of a time… I’ve created albums where I’ve cut corners just because I could no longer stand the sound of me. Now I can. I suppose you become more fatalistic over time, and you can accept that what there is, is all there will ever be.”