Musician Eric West-Millette dreamed of trains for nearly two decades. From the Trans-Siberian to Japan’s Shinkansen, he rode the rails the world over, gathering the sounds and ideas that ended up on West Trainz, a hybrid project that’s somewhere between a documentary, a travelogue and a musical exploration. This impressive two-CD box set project (with a book included) was brought to life thanks to the indispensable collaboration of Louis-Armand Bombardier’s label, L-A be.
Except L-A be is not quite a label. Its founder and president describes it as a “cultural development agency.” What that means is that Bombardier doesn’t consider himself to be your typical boss, but rather a partner, or enabler. “Since we’re talking trains here, let’s say that I’m not a locomotive, I’m more like an engineer in a control tower making sure all the trains get to their destination,” he says. Then again, what could be more appropriate than talking trains and engineering with the grandson of Louis-Armand Bombardier? But even though he’s aware of the aura that automatically comes from his very name, Louis-Armand does not want to play the Québec Inc. card. His company’s acronym obviously stand for his initials, but he likes to point out that for him and his partners, the acronym first stands for Let Artists Be.
“I would’ve loved to self-produce, because it was an intricately personal project, but at the same time, it was so complex that I’m really thankful I got some help,” explains West-Millette. Louis is a dream partner because he’s interested in everything we do, and because he understands music, both from an artistic and technical standpoint. Plus, he wanted the record to be accessible to all because, in the end, he’s a socialist boss,” says the artist, grinning. Bombardier doesn’t argue, but still points out that he didn’t get into this business, which he’s been running going on 15 years, to lose money. “If you want rapid return on investment, you take no risks, but I like risks! I much prefer bold projects that seem impossible, at first, but that you know will have a long-term impact. My goal with L-A be is first and foremost the human adventure, but also to leave a mark on our culture. It might sound pretentious, but we do want to contribute to society.”
Still, one can only be surprised that in our era of the de-materialization of music, that mark they leave on culture would materialize in such a physical and atypical form. So how exactly does he expect to recoup his investment by selling art objects sur as West Trainz? “Of course the days of the CD are pretty much over, but why not make the best of the time left to create desirable objects,” enthuses Bombardier. In that regard, its mission accomplished for West Trainz, as well as with another exceptional L-A be project, the impressive Voyage d’hiver by Keith Kouna.
Loosely based on Schubert’s Die Winterreise song cycle, the record was first launched in a luxuriously packaged vinyl format that was closer to a book than a record, before being offered in a downloadable format. An underground rock artist with such a peculiar voice, grappling with the work of a 19th Century composer is not exactly formatted for commercial radio, but Bombardier sees further than that, and he believes in all his projects with the same enthusiasm. “It’s the perfect example of that long-haul philosophy I was telling you about,” he says. “I call Keith’s project our Cadbury Egg project, because it’s timeless, the kind of stuff we can strut out every winter in a variety of ways, just as with West Trainz.”
In order to finance his wilder projects, Bombardier tries to find a balance between marginal and popular artists on his roster, hoping that the one can benefit the other. This is why artists such as Jérôme Couture and Jonathan Painchaud, who can rally large audiences, have signed with L-A be. He can also rely on another important asset, however: his own recording studio.
Located in the Bombardier family estate, in Valcourt, a jewel of modern architecture from the ’60s, Studio B12 picks up where the famed Le Studio, in Morin-Heights, left off, hosting many a music legend before being abandoned. “My goal was to create a living environment, not just a studio, he explains. We can record there, but above all, we can live and create there. And I intend to open not just to musicians, but also to authors who would like a residency or to technicians who would like to experiment with new equipment.”
In other words, L-A be has no shortage of ideas and ambition. All that remains to be seen are the projects its chief engineer will put on the tracks in the coming years.