“I really enjoy reading album credits when there’s a ton of guest musicians and collaborators alongside the band members,” says Élie Raymond, the chief songwriter for Foreign Diplomats. The indie pop-rock band, from the Laurentian mountains of Québec, has just returned from a European tour and will hit the road in La Belle Province to promote the songs on Monami. It’s their latest album, launched last summer – and it has plenty of those musical encounters so dear to the singer-guitarist.
There is, indeed, a lot to read in the credits of Monami, the band’s second album since Raymond founded the band in 2010. There are friends a-plenty, starting with Elliot Maginot, who officially does backing vocals on four songs, “but he’s all over the album,” Raymond says. Choses Sauvages’s Marc-Antoine Barbier and Philippe Gauthier Boudreau also appear. “They’re very good friends, we’ve even been ‘studio roommates,” says Raymond. The Therevox synthesizer, which offers the very first note on the album opener “Road Wage,” is played by Besnard Lakes’ Jace Lasek.
Inviting so many friends into the studio “gives the whole thing a collective feeling,” says Raymond. “One of my favourite bands is Broken Social Scene, and there’s so many members in that band, plus all their friends that pitch in during the recording of an album. I really dig that. It adds different colours of voice and instrumentation.”
It lends a project more of a festive spirit, which is something Raymond and his Diplomats colleagues – Thomas Bruneau Faubert, Tony L. Roy, Charles Primeau, and Lazer Vallières – insisted on, in order to broaden the horizons of the band’s sound.
Raymond considers Monami “much more luminous than our first album [Princess Flash, 2015], which was a total breakup album. It was dark and bitter from beginning to end, but this one is considerably lighter.”
Monami was written on the road, Raymond says, adding that it’s about “being in love or wanting to find love, yet being afraid of being in love. We sought a more dynamic sound, because Princess Flash was very claustrophobic. We opened ourselves to poppier choruses, and opened the studio doors to our friends, so that they can come and play with us – so that people would hear that we had fun recording this.”
Monami is indeed the complete opposite of their first album. There’s an obvious smile in Raymond’s voice when he sings the band’s shameless pop songs, with catchy choruses. There are brass, strings, and synths peppered throughout the groovy rock numbers; they were written to please, but manage to avoid clichés, even though that’s what the singer-songwriter was aiming for.
“Sometimes, you can’t over-think things when you’re writing a song,” he admits to have finally understood. “Increasingly, I try to write in a simpler way, and stop looking for deep metaphors,” citing “Fearful Flower” as an example, the album’s closer – which ends with a French verse: “Ma fleur/Oh oh/Je t’aime à la folie/Mais tu as peur de ton ombre…” (My flower / Oh oh / I love you like crazy / But you’re afraid of your own shadow).
“That’s one of the first songs I wrote, fully intending to keep things as simple as possible,” says Raymond, who adds that he found inspiration in Québecois folk tales, such as Chasse-galerie, which is referred to in the song’s English lyrics (“Flying boat, where will you land?”). “I love the work of artists such as Bill Callahan, his lyrics are so simple, yet so well crafted. I also love Silver Jews,” he adds, referring to the band of singer-songwriter David Berman, who died suddenly in August of 2019, saddening Raymond. It’s obvious even to an untrained ear that he’s a big fan of the Beatles, his voice even sounding like that of Paul McCartney.
“I make demos of the album’s songs that I then send to the rest of the band, and the whole team,” he says. “We’d then go over them to fine-tune [the songs], and find what each song’s hook would be. The whole album was a quest for striking melodies, and we even re-worked the lyrics the find the right word to sing in the right spot.
“Lately, we’ve been composing together, because we feel like creating sonic experiences rather than well-crafted songs. We’re trying to do new stuff with our instruments so that we have a better direction when the time comes to write new songs. It’s tinkering, major tinkering!”