Standing still? Not Étienne Drapeau. His fourth album, Le Monde est beau sees him broadening his writing skills, but it also sees him refining his interpretation skills, and through it all, he still found time to write a book. Meet an artist who thrives on challenges.
Étienne Drapeau has a lot to say. The interview, which was slated to last about 20 minutes, lasted close to an hour… It’s true that over the course of about 10 years, his career has bloomed quite impressively. Drapeau was one of the first losers in the second season of reality show Star Académie, in 2004, but that didn’t deter him one bit. His motivation? The naysayers. “When I came out of Star Académie, I wanted to play my demo to the management team, but they didn’t really want to. […] I also remember pitching my first song – “Je l’ai jamais dit à personne” – to the record label, and they told me “what you do ain’t bad, Étienne, but you definitely don’t have a hit.” That really was like a double-whammy…”
From that point on, Étienne decided to get involved in all aspects of his career, being all at once writer, composer, singer, agent and producer, and the result of his hard work was Je l’ai jamais dit à personne, which was released in 2006. He then criss-crossed Québec, stopping in every mall he could to promote his album with free mini-concerts. He thus managed to sell upward of 20 000 units, officially launching his post hockey career.
Beyond Love Songs
Whether he likes it or not, it really does seem like Étienne Drapeau thrives on adversity. His most recent album, titled Le Monde est beau is another good example of this. He’s elected to move away from love songs, his trademark, to sing about Africa, Islam, social networks and even calling out Rivard, Vigneault, Piché, Lévesque and Leclerc about Québec’s sovereignty. “I’ve had four or five adult contemporary number ones with loves songs. I like it, but after four albums, it also became obvious to me that I would not do just that my whole life. I needed to show people that I can do other stuff.”
By moving into delicate social and political territory, Drapeau was confronted with the filters imposed by radio stations, who clearly preferred his usual repertoire. Therein lies one of his pet peeves: the amount of power radios have on the musical style of Québec artists. “They want a specific type of music and if you don’t fit the mold, they simply won’t play you. […] They tell you that what’s hot are people like Jason Mraz, John Mayer or James Blunt, but that’s not our reality… I get the feeling that there is a disinterest for local music, much like in the 80s.”
Even though Étienne Drapeau’s new creations did not get as much airplay as his previous material, it doesn’t mean they had less impact: many school principals have told him his humanist songs were being played in their establishments and “Tous ensemble (Inch’Allah)” took him to Morocco where he played for the opening ceremony of the Planèt’Ère Forum, in the spring of 2013.
Outside of One’s Comfort Zone
After eight years of working by the book, releasing an album every other year, Étienne Drapeau felt the need to go outside of his comfort zone. Thus, he joined the cast of Don Juan, fulfilling an old dream of his by playing in his favourite musical. That is where, however, he realized that being a performer is not as easy as it might seem: “It was a shock, because as a songwriter, I’m used to telling my own stories. I never had to ask myself how I was going to sing something so that it sounds sincere…” Drapeau got acquainted to the basics of theater play and learned how to make his emotions more intense by doing a healthy dose of introspection.
And through it all, the 35 year old man has also found time to write more than rhymes: he’s writing a book. Neither a fiction nor a traditional autobiography, but rather a tome that will explain his personal philosophy. He has no idea when that work will be completed, but admits to thoroughly enjoying the process. As for the singer-songwriter, he’ll be back at work in the fall, a perfect opportunity to meet with his fans once more, singing his newer material as well as his more romantic repertoire. “I don’t know how big a risk I took [with Le Monde est beau], but a human being cannot be defined solely in terms of sales or popularity, it must also define itself through art, words and music.”