As a young adult, David Marin read obituaries for a community radio station in his hometown of Drummondville (a town of about 70,000 located about 90 minutes Northeast of Montréal). He suppresses a laugh. “It was a major source of revenue for stations back then!” he says, as if to justify the practice that has since been, well, put to death. David Marin, master of puns, will forgive us for our bad one, about technological progress. Nowadays, it’s on the web that we learn of Lisette and Adélard’s passing.
David’s love for the medium, however, never died. Having graduated from an Art and Technology of the Media program, the songwriter sat before many microphones in his twenties, and has found a new one of sorts in Radio Compost, his new live stage show that’s inspired by current and third album, Hélas Végas, released in November 2018.
“When I prepared the show, I did come up with a few anecdotes to tell, but we concentrated our efforts on the music, nonetheless,” says Marin. “But that always made me feel like I wasn’t delivering everything I have. I would improv, and towards the end, I told myself that if I just worked a little harder, it would be much better.”
That self-flagellation session led to the creation of Radio Compost, the radio station that invites – forces us – to tune in when attending one of his concerts. It’s constructed as an FM radio program that includes taking calls from listeners, ads (for Assurance Love, a love insurance broker), live reports from the Beach Club, and more traditional on-mic interventions that link together songs cherry-picked from his three albums.
“I love radio shows of all kinds – and sometimes it’s a bad trip, especially when I’m in Québec City,” he says. (For reasons that remain unclear, Québec City has a mind-boggling ratio of trash-talk and shock-jock radio programs per capita.) “So instead of trying to find the story, the anecdote that best segues into the next song, I asked myself: what element from the world of radio could be used to get people in the mood for the next tune? My idea was to give the audience an [Andy] Kaufman-esque experience: What’s real and what’s not? I think those are important questions to ask ourselves nowadays.”
He actually dreams, more or less secretly, of a virtual radio station that would link the various regions of Québec, so that they have can a greatly lacking dialogue between them. “We are so disconnected from what’s happening elsewhere, outside of Montréal,” says the man, who splits his time between his apartment in the city and his house in Trois-Pistoles (a rural town located about 4-1/2 hours Northeast of Montréal, in the Lower Saint Lawrence region).
“I’d like to create a common space that’s something other than trash-talk radio, something more than bitching, to create a true socio-cultural web of what Québec really is. We live in an era where there are a ton of loud speakers, people who yell their opinions. If we want things to change, we need to find another way of doing it.”
“Chu un été trop chaud/ Un automne humide/ Un hiver trop rude/ Et un printemps timide/ Je fais toutt les temps, toutt les temps/ Je reviens maintenant/ Avec le goût d’me refaire/ Une beauté du monde” (“I’m too hot a summer / A humid autumn / A winter too harsh / And a timid spring / I’m all over the place, all over the place / I’m back now / And I feel like re- creating/ A beautiful world”), Marin sings in “Rue de la Grève,” the piano-and-voice ballad that closes Hélas Végas.
As with all great breakup albums, this one is at once the autopsy of a relationship that’s dying, and the story of the necessary re-discovery of oneself – including all the anxiety-inducing, and not always thrilling, questions that this duel with the mirror implies.
After re-patriating his sentimental assets and mending his heart, a man in his forties wonders who he is, when he’s no longer a boyfriend and not yet a father. “We can devote ourselves to love or to a cause, but sometimes, in life, there may come a time when we decide to devote ourselves to ourselves,” says the singer. “That’s what I did: I gave myself permission that I hadn’t given myself in a long time. I was on my own, with nothing to negotiate for awhile, and I just left doors open to anything.”
The result: David Marin, already known as one of his generation’s most agile writers, penned some of his most brilliant and touching lyrics yet on Hélas Végas, thanks to a poetic style that draws the listener in, and lets them slowly discover its prowess (rather than highlighting it gaudily).
“I found my comfort zone as a writer by listening to the words of Jean Fauque (Alain Bashung’s lyricist), he’s the one who taught me where the limit is,” says Marin. “My earlier albums contain some seriously regrettable puns, and Jean Fauque made me realize that if I want to play with language, it has to be refined, not cheap puns.”
Yet, Jean Fauque is often called “hermetic.” So how does one avoid writing, for oneself, overly opaque lyrics? “When I hear ‘Quelle autre solution/Que de se dissoudre’ [in Bashung’s song “Faites monter,” ‘What other solution is there/but to dissolve’], I go nuts! Not you? There’s nothing opaque there! To me, good lyrics are like images, like the strokes of a paintbrush. It’s having three coats of paint in a single sentence. It’s like beautiful fireworks for your brain, your intelligence, and your heart.” He’s talking about Fauque, but he might as well be describing his own songs.
David Marin presents Radio Compost on Sept. 10, 2019, at Ministère.