Some say that you have to be patient and wait for the right moment on the sidelines until it’s your turn. If that’s the case, Émile Bilodeau’s turn came early and suddenly. Barely 21, the singer-songwriter still lives with his parents in the Montréal suburbs, and doesn’t have a driver’s licence. But when he sings, he’s got only one tempo: full speed ahead.
“When I write, I tell myself, ‘if it rhymes, it works,’” says Bilodeau. “I’ve always loved the musicality of words. I only check if the meaning is right afterwards. I like it when form takes over meaning. Then, when you examine my lyrics, you notice the cadence work. It looks uncontrolled, just a bunch of easy-to-memorize words, but I always go over my texts after the initial, automatic writing.”
Self-taught, Bilodeau went all-in to the music world when he ended up in the finals of the 2015 Francouvertes competition. His artistic toolbox might seem empty, considering that he has no music studies to speak of, but he’s adamant that his label, Dare to Care, has found “all the friends he needed,” he says with a laugh. Notably, his first album was produced by Philippe B, and he hopes to work with him again on his sophomore full-length.
Not completely in the margins, but not fully encamped in commercial music, Bilodeau is quite proud of being able to straddle both worlds. Although he’s managed to place a few songs on commercial radio stations, he also boasts other, less-formatted ones that were championed by independent stations. “It’s a privilege to reach all kinds of audiences,” he says. “I’ve wanted to earn a living doing music ever since my childhood. I started school in a sports program… I don’t want to generalize and say jocks only listen to CKOI, but I’m always flattered when my friends from Cégep tell me they’ve heard me on the radio.”
“My career started with a bang! It’s a lot to chew on, but I’ve got great jaws!”
Whatever the case may be, Bilodeau couldn’t be prouder to proffer an alternative, in a less accessible style. He’s particularly fond of the rock/jazz fusion of his song “America,” which finds more airplay on college radio. “I like it when people who discovered me through CKOI come to see my live show and realize, ‘Hey! he’s no Marc Dupré,’” says Bilodeau. “The format changes from one song to the next. In Québec, there are three people who decide what the entire province listens to. I hope I can usher in some new people to start doing their own research, to discover new stuff that wasn’t decided for them.”
The young artist’s first album, Rites de passages, released in 2016, reveals that he’s certainly not a man of few words. As a matter of fact, it’s his straightforwardness, energy and political edge that attract attention, in his sometimes amusing, sometimes militant songs. He’s already been compared to idealistic champions like Dédé Fortin, and he doesn’t mind being identified as a guardian of French-language preservation, or a defender of his generation’s interests. “I think it can be comforting for people to see a young person who cares about the French language,” he says. “I make it my duty to say that French is important, and that we need to say it to people my age and younger. We must avoid demonizing Francophone music, only exposing the younger generation to Céline Dion, and pretending that’s all our music is about. If they like metal, we must expose them to Francophone, Québécois metal.”
Although a second album isn’t on the agenda just yet, the musician’s impressive, prolific creativity never sleeps. “I’m really proud of the fact that my whole live show is nothing but original songs,” says Bilodeau. “I wrote new songs as soon as my album was in the can, so that my show was nothing but me,” he says, while adding that he wants to do a collaborative song soon. “I’m trying to go outside of my comfort zone. I’ve written one-and-a-half songs on the piano, so far. To me, that’s really original, because I really don’t know how to play that instrument,” he says, laughing.
Touring, the road and the stage: that’s the music school Bilodeau chose. “If I put my capo in the wrong place, or start a song a half-tone below what I’m supposed to, my musicians just adapt and tell me I’m an idiot,” he says. “They’re the ones who allow me to be good.” He feels happy and privileged to be allowed to “learn as I go, in front of 5,000 people instead of five,” and he’s adamant that his originality stems directly from his inexperience. “My career started with a bang!” he says. “It’s a lot to chew on, but I’ve got great jaws!”