This past spring, Xavier Caféïne released New Love, a scorching hot collection of 12 solid rock songs. At 37, this Ottawa-based artist is a veteran of the punk rock scene in which he’s been active for the past two decades, yet he’s lost none of his original fire and sincerity, and he’s acquired new creative partners along the way. His is very much a rock journey in progress.
Watching an artist release an album of stirring songs after suffering a heartbreak is nothing new, but seeing a love-affair-gone-wrong produce such raw and contagious energy is a rare thing indeed. Far from being heavy, the new Caféïne opus is a balanced rock album with exhilarating keyboards reminiscent of The Cure, Joy Division or PiL.
“What I look for above all else in art,” Xavier says, “is sincerity. So I decided to go all the way and create small tableaux of the emotions one feels after a breakup. No moral grandstanding there, though. I stay away from these things. Of course, the creative process provided me with a kind of exorcism, and this recent episode brought me to revise my ideas about love and to realize that it can be a much greater thing than I used to believe.”
Recorded in Montreal and mixed in New York City with the Gus Van Go/Werner F tandem (Les Trois Accords, Vulgaires Machins, Chinatown), New Love is Caféïne’s sixth album. “Gus too is in love with the new wave,” he says, “so we hit it off right away, as we realized that we were speaking the same language and sharing the same music references. It’s easy to move forward when everyone is adding their own strength towards a shared vision.”
Although album selections like “Electric” or “Love Disease” are not revolutionizing the artist’s style – there’s a feeling that we’ve heard that sound before – there’s no denying that Caféïne has remained true to himself, that he has produced precisely the album he had in mind, and that he truly knows how to package a catchy tune. He’s a pro. So what does he think of all the changes the music industry has had to make in recent years?
“There is a good side and a bad side to everything new,” he says, “and one’s ability to adapt is a sign of intelligence. Granted, music has become more democratic now, but selling albums is not as easy as it once was, that’s for sure. So if people download my album for free and enjoy listening to it, I can’t get miserable over this, particularly when they come to see me perform onstage, buy a T-shirt and so on. The people who miss ‘the good old days’ often are those who will tell you, ‘I lost track, I no longer listen to new music, I don’t have time.’ I say, ‘If you no longer take the time to enjoy music, you’ve really become an old man, my friend.’”
In terms of years, 37 is a ripe old age on the punk scene. Can we talk about maturity here, or is this anathema to the rock mindset? “All my role models were people who never really grew up,” says Caféïne. “I’m thinking of Plume, Iggy Pop, David Bowie or Joe Strummer of The Clash, who died a 50-year-old teenager. Of course, I hope I’m not going to die that young, but I still try to live life as fully as I can so that if I were to depart from it prematurely, at least I would be able to say to myself that I did my very best.
“Life to me is one long journey with lots and lots of side trips. You have to get out of your original environment, out of your comfort zone. You will never convince me that the purpose of life is to listen to Warriors when you get home at 5:00 p.m. because there is nothing else to do. To me, this is like being dead already, and when I go there myself, I try to shake it away as soon as possible.
“When I do get there for real, however, I want to be able to say to myself “Wow, I almost went all the way around the world, I came up with my albums, I loved with all my heart, I was blessed with great parents…” I want the balance sheet of my life to be positive.”
Speaking of going places, Xavier Caféïne makes no bones about the fact that he viewed the release of a second English album since his 2004 Poxy release as a means of making his music (and himself) travel further along.
“Being from Ottawa, I already speak English, so for me doing an English album is a walk in the park,” he says. “There are two French tracks on New Love – I insisted on it. If I may say so myself, I believe that I have the ability to make French rock lyrics sound natural instead of forced, and I certainly wouldn’t want to lose my spot in the Quebec music landscape.”
With his myriad appearances on the Quebec scene over the summer months and his list of upcoming fall concerts, the artist who gave us Gisèle, one of the most solid Francophone albums of the mid-2000s, is showing no sign of slowing down. Au contraire!