Instead of seeing music as an end in itself, Dear Criminals see it instead as a starting point. By effortlessly transcending art forms, Montréal’s electro-folk trio is following its own course and accumulating major projects, the most recent being scoring the movie Nelly.
When we reach the members for this interview, they’re on the road from Rouen to Vendôme, in northwestern France. They’ve just finished a seven-night run of the stage play Les Lettres d’amour, which they scored, and now the three amigos are embarking on a mini-tour that’ll take them to such unusual venues as a chapel, a movie theatre, a lycée (high school) and an old brothel.
“For real, though, it truly is completely different from one night to the next,” says singer and multi-instrumentalist Frannie Holder. “The real challenge is adapting to each environment.”
Band member Charles Lavoie continues: “Our songs are not designed to make people groove in a bar. On the contrary, they’re quite well-suited to being played outside of a conventional setting. I think we, as individuals, are even an incarnation of that peculiarity, because we’re constantly stepping outside of the music world.”
Formed in 2013, Dear Criminals was born of a desire to do things differently. All three members are involved in various musical projects, most notably Random Recipe and b.e.t.a.l.o.v.e.r.s, and all three wanted to go outside of the typical music industry cycle of launching a record and then touring in support of it. “We wanted to do things our way,” says Vincent Legault, a jack-of-all-trades musician. “We decided on a more pragmatic approach and wondered how we could survive in the music world without having to sign with a record label. It’s from that point that opportunities to express ourselves through other media started happening.”
The catalyst of the whole adventure was no doubt their participation in the OFFTA live art festival in 2014. In the wake of the critical success of the their second EP, Crave, Dear Criminals were invited by actress and stage director Monia Chokri to join her for the creation of Foire agricole, a show that saw the band cover, in its unique, electro-minimalist way, the hits of female pop icons like Britney Spears and Mitsou.
So, on top of introducing the band to Montréal’s theatre scene, the event – whose backdrop was the commodification or women – allowed the band to embark on a deeper reflection on the scope of their art. “It was the first time that we talked so profoundly of the meaning behind our artistic objective. Those questions have become indispensable to what we do, now,” says Lavoie.
As a matter of fact, there were many discussions leading to the creation of the Nelly record. Inspired by Anne Émond’s most recent film, itself inspired by the life of writer Nelly Arcan, the EP required several months of reflection and creation. “We felt that the dark, erotic and fragile side of our music was very close to Nelly Arcan’s writing. So when we saw in the papers that Anne was working on a movie about Nelly, we called her up to let her know we were interested,” Holder recalls. “She quickly accepted and told us she didn’t want a conventional movie soundtrack. We then dove into Nelly’s body of work with an analytical eye, seeking something universal. During the process, we realized that the universe we were creating was so rich, we could re-appropriate it.”
Thus, the band’s seventh EP includes re-worked versions of the songs and themes one can hear in the movie, and it stirs a stark emotional contrast, with its muted textures and chilling atmospheres. “We gave ourselves a lot of leeway for this album,” says Lavoie. “It was unavoidable, because of the very nature of Nelly’s personality and body of work.”
The band’s projects are as plentiful as they are diverse, and the trio’s ability to write and compose quickly ensures its stability. Not counting the aforementioned projects, Dear Criminals released two EPs in 2016, on top of composing the score for the TV series Fatale-Station as well as the contemporary dance recital Things Are Leaving Quietly, In Silence, “We just didn’t have the luxury of screwing up!” says Frannie Holder when asked what the band’s secret is for such an intense production schedule. “Luckily, there are three of us, so there’s always one of us who can take the lead.”
Their next challenge: a project involving the Académie de l’Opéra de Paris in 2018. As a matter of fact, the musicians took advantage of the French excursion to start brainstorming with stage director Marie-Eve Signeyrole. “It’s a show that looks at eroticism in Generation Y. There’s still a lot of stuff to clarify, but we know we will adapt baroque pieces, among other things,” Lavoie reveals.
Other than that, the next few months will allow the band to catch its breath a little. “We all can’t wait to sit down and think about our future. It’ll feel good to just touch base,” admits Legault. “Right now, I feel we’ve neglected Dear Criminals as a band and focused a little too much on Dear Criminals, the company. What’s happening to us is super-cool, but we can’t wait to start composing from scratch again – just for the fun of it.”