“Where have my ideals gone? They’re being held captive. By forsaking my ideals, I built a cage for myself,” Dumas sings, reflecting on his life, with a healthy dose of nostalgia. His new album Nos idéaux (Our Ideals) arrives just as he’s about to turn 40, and finds him taking a look back at the journey so far, 20 years down the road of his career.
“I truly was in a certain frame of mind, lyrically,” says Steve Dumas. “I wanted to reveal really personal stuff, and to write songs deeply anchored around the lyrics.” Alongside author and lyricist Jonathan Harnois, mainly known for the magnificent Je voudrais me déposer la tête, he dove into a writing project initially destined to be a solo tour more than an album. “I hadn’t toured on my own since 2004,” says Dumas, “and I felt like experiencing that one-on-one vibe with my audience on the road again, to meet with the people that were there from the beginning.”
Gus Van Go, the Canadian producer now based in New York City, contacted Dumas and changed the course of things by inviting him to spend a few days at his studio. “In the end, I had an issue with my flight and only got to spend one day with him in Brooklyn,” says Dumas. “We recorded the song ‘Nos idéaux’ in one day. It was wonderful to work with people I didn’t know.” Gus, alongside Werner F, had only one idea in mind: applying the demos Dumas sent him to the musical instruments of Chris Soper and Jesse Singer. “They’re coming out with an album together soon,” says Dumas. “Their band’s called Megative. I’d heard what they do through a common friend, and it was a perfect match right from the start.” Dumas went back to Brooklyn to finish the album.
Playing With the Past
Nos idéaux is a return-to-songwriting album, one that’ll please fans of Cours des jours, those who hummed ‘J’erre’ while strolling ‘Au gré des saisons.’ “I’m fully aware that I was all over the place over the last few years,” says the songwriter. “Now, I want to talk to people in the same way I did in my twenties, but with my present outlook.”
But because Gus Van Go had never heard Dumas’s older material, the finished product has shiny new clothes, a more eclectic sound wrapped around the lyrical landscape where Dumas and his fans have roamed for two decades. “J’errais, j’errais en solitaire,” (“I roamed, I roamed alone”) he sings on “Bleu Clair,” as a clear nod to the past, while singing about the present. “I feel like I’m doing something that’s very ‘now,’” says Dumas. “I had the opportunity to work with fresh ears. It’s every songwriter’s dream. My DNA re-emerged naturally. and I didn’t try to stop it.”
“I challenged myself. The people I worked with gave me my confidence back. I went all in, and abandoned my safety net.”
Dumas remembers when first emerged on the music scene, “at the end of an era,” when it was impossible to do anything without a record contract. “Things have considerably changed when it comes to independent production,” he says. “It makes things more interesting, as far as diversity goes. Québec’s music scene now has a lot more sub-genres. I can count on the fingers of one hand the music that touched me as a teen in Québec. Today, the offerings are much, much wider.”
Dumas’s first album came out 17 years ago, and the artist’s career has consistently grown since. “It’s been exactly 20 years since I became a member of SOCAN!” says Dumas, immediately realizing the implications. “The word ‘career’ scares me, but I’m happy with the choices I’ve made. I like being part of the group of people who barely played any kind of big variety show, but who are still around. It serves as an example for the younger generation that there are several ways to do what we do.”
Pop music, too, has changed a lot over the last two decades, yet we still associate the genre with a simplistic, limited, or even corny creative approach. Yet, it’s a musical genre that Dumas has championed from day one. “I really enjoy making pop music,” he says. “You just need to not push it too much, so that people feel your authenticity. The Beatles are a pop band, but when you listen, you can always feel John in the back. That’s the key.”
Twenty more years?
“We often wonder if we’re going to record another album,” says Dumas. It’s quite normal to wonder about the future of the physical format of music when the methods of consumption are undergoing a disruptive shift. Nos idéaux is an album that arrives at just the right time. “I challenged myself,” says Dumas. “The people I worked with gave me my confidence back. I went all in and abandoned my safety net. I did exactly that on Le cours des jours. I remember telling myself to do things exactly as I wanted, like there wouldn’t be another album.”
For the next few months, Dumas will hit the road. “I really thought long and hard about what you can do alone on a stage,” he says. “With all the DJ technology around today, you can do everything. Mes idéaux will be a solo show!”