Having decided to become a singer-songwriter, the film producer, scriptwriter and actor Émile Proulx-Cloutier entered the 2011 Festival en chanson de Petite-Vallée, Quebec’s premier pop music competition, and came out with a whopping seven prizes. In November 2013, after honing his songs on a number of stages, he released Aimer les monsters (Loving Monsters), an album produced by Philippe Brault (Pierre Lapointe, Random Recipe) that tells the kind of vivid, troubling stories that a creator steeped in the worlds of film and theatre was especially well-equipped to tell.

“Exploring emotional environments other than my own is exciting to me,” Proulx-Cloutier explains. “I love being able to walk in the shoes of someone with a totally different background with whom I can still empathize at some level. Deep down, all humans are related. At the same time, I can express myself by sharing personal experiences that give a feel of authenticity to my fictional characters. There is also the need to put the story first whatever happens – I’ve seen my characters have a change of mind in the middle a song! That happened with ‘Votre cochon se couche,’[‘Your Pig Lies Down’] for instance. My experience as a screenwriter and actor is helpful in setting up the framework for a song,” the highly voluble artist explains.

“I try to plan my life so that I always have a couple of irons in the fire at all times.”

Already well-known in Quebec’s cultural life in his other incarnations, Proulx-Cloutier was well aware that releasing a debut album at the ripe old age of 30 was a calculated risk. The pressure was real.  “I’ve already lived through a number of creative processes in a variety of areas,” he says. “I’ve seen many creators work, struggle or fall flat on their faces. I’ve received industry awards and bad critical reviews. So I’ve got experience, but my own path is unique, and I don’t necessarily feel impervious to criticism. For one thing, this is the first time I’ve come up with a deeply personal project, and this is leaving me wide open. Besides, when you release an album at my age, you can’t expect it to be taken as a youthful mistake if it’s not good enough. It’s a project I’ve been working on and refining for a long time. I felt it was a huge risk to take. Some well-known people have branched out to songwriting with not-so-good results. I didn’t want this recording to be seen as some TV actor’s whim.”

A keen observer of human behaviour, a talented pianist and a clever storyteller, Proulx-Cloutier finds it easy to weave his singer-songwriter activities into the fabric of his varied creative life: “I’m a great admirer of people like Robert Morin and Robert Lepage, who can do everything, small and large projects. The professions I’m working in all have busy and slack periods. Acting work is seasonal. At the creative level, I try to plan my life so that I always have a couple of irons in the fire at all times. Any type of project. I love meeting people from other creative backgrounds. I’ve managed to keep busy that way all my life. I’d be miserable in a one-culture environment. That’s the way I am. It’s in my nature.”

Like everyone else, Proulx-Cloutier is aware of the current troubles of the music business he has recently entered, but without worrying himself to death, he remains convinced that listeners remain as fond of great stories and poetry as ever, and that modern artists must reconnect with them from the stage going forward. “When I think of the number of recordings I’ve sold and what that could have been 20 years ago, I have to laugh! But there always will be a space for live shows and the communal experience they make possible. This is where the future lies. We’ve got to find a direct and interpersonal way to share what we create. On stage, you can create a roller coaster ride of emotions with just a few props. We must remain accessible, relevant and interesting. The audience – of “real people” – is willing to follow us much farther than we think. We can still make sense to them, take them on a ride. We are living at a time when fashions coexist, when old and new live side by side. I don’t value external forms. I value what’s true, fair and courageously made.”

Besides appearing in the new Toute la vérité television series from early March, Proulx-Cloutier is working on documentary, Choisir la terre (Chosing Earth), with his spouse Anaïs BarbeauLavalette, with whom he is also preparing a large stage show that will open in May at the Place des Arts Theatre in Montreal. As for concerts, more than a dozen were scheduled for the spring before the Outremont Theatre April series opened, all of which will be followed with what the artist calls “a real tour.” So, there will be plenty of opportunities for people to enjoy Émile Proulx-Cloutier’s special brand of movie-like music. “That’s exactly what I am planning to do!” he promises. “What matters is being able to tell believable stories and put new images in people’s minds. I always see this as some kind of film playing inside the brain. I don’t know if a song can ever produce an effect on the scale of a Michelangelo painting, but that painting is not on your wall for you to enjoy anyway! Songs, on the other hand, are accessible. And French music is magnificent. The language we learned on our mother’s knee resonates in a special place in our hearts. That’s where the beat makes real sense.”