“It’s fun to make people dance—it’s a welcome change from head-banging,” says songwriter, singer, guitarist and producer Olivier Langevin, the mastermind behind Galaxie. When it burst onto the scene in 2002, the band – then called Galaxie 500 – was dubbed a stoner-rock outfit; but no longer, as the bombshell album Super Lynx Deluxe confirms. It’s the boldest of the Galaxie albums so far, a collection of infectious grooves that tips its hat to The Beastie Boys, Rage Against the Machine, and other such alternative music heroes of the ’90s.
Langevin will provide many a revelation during our long conversation in a second-hand vinyl record store in Montréal’s hip Plateau neighbourhood – where the axeman dug up an old LP of instrumental improvisations by Robert Fripp, Let the Power Fall, released in 1981, and containing a preface written in Montréal’s own Château Versailles hotel!
Here’s another shocking revelation: he’s a Rihanna fan. “And I’ve always been a huge Prince fan,” he adds. “As a matter of fact, even if it’s not obvious, there are influences of James Brown [on the new album].” The Godfather of Soul is even quoted in album’s title track, in which James Brown and La danse à Saint-Dilon are juxtaposed in the same sentence, to underscore the urge to dance.
“I’ve always loved pop hits,” says Langevin. “I’m like a collector of hits that get on people’s nerves. Just like Rihanna’s songs – those tracks are superbly done! Then, my trip is to bring that pop nature into the Galaxie universe. It’s a universe with strict parameters, and by that I mean there are things I could never do with that band. Yet it’s very much a playground.”
And, oh what fun can be had in that playground! Over the course of 33 minutes and 10 tracks, Langevin and his partners in crime – Pierre Fortin on drums, François Lafontaine on keys, Karin Pion on back vocals, Fred Fortin on bass and Jonathan Bigras on percussion – explore new territories. Here, Galaxie’s usual shaggy “rawk” goes nuts, and flirts with techno and tribal rhythms, most notably in a collaboration with percussionist El Hadj Diouf, who guests on two of the album’s most exhilarating tracks.
Langevin agrees: “Super Lynx Deluxe is the boldest sonic leap forward that band has accomplished so far,” he says. As far as exploring new musical avenues, he says, “It was mostly with the integration of electronic sounds on Tigre et Diesel  that we settled that. Some of our fans really had a bad trip when we came out with that album, by far our poppiest. But it was totally intentional. We had a blast from just daring to do it, and taking the measure of people’s reactions. From that point on, everything changed for us. All of a sudden, we could do whatever we pleased.” As long as it fits within the “galactic parameters,” of course. “I want Galaxie to make you want to dance and to be fun for us to play live,” he says.
Langevin says “we” a lot when talking about Galaxie, despite the fact that it’s his project, and he’s the main songwriter. When working on a new album, he’ll jot down a few sentences, come up with a beat, hit on a guitar riff, and record a minute-long demo in order to avoid, as he puts it, “demo-itis.” “It’s a disease that afflicts a lot of singer-songwriters when they get to the studio to record their album,” he says. “You can re-record it as many times as you want, there’s always something f___ing magical about the demo – pardon my language. Always something great in it that, even though you record it in the best possible conditions and with a ton of the best musicians around, and even though the session couldn’t go any better, there’s always that little something on that demo that you just can’t quite re-capture in the studio.” That’s why Langevin also keeps his demos as short as possible: to avoid the symptoms of “demo-itis.”
“I’ll come up with the songs, the melodies, and then we get together to flesh them out with arrangements,” Langevin says. “The groove will come first, then the melody – on the demos, I sing the melody without lyrics, like a lot of people do. As for the lyrics, I very often write without thinking of a specific song or melody, and later I’ll dip into my lyrics bank to match them to a song. Otherwise, most of the time, I write purely for the rhythm and the groove.
“On the first two albums in particular, I would come up with song skeletons and then call upon my hard core, as I like to call them, Frank [Lafontaine], Pierre Fortin and Pierre Girard on sound engineering. From that stage on, I give the guys a lot of latitude, so that they can come up with arrangement ideas, textures, even though it may take the song somewhere else entirely. “We work in a very instinctive way, but we always know when a song is on the right track, and once that happens, we dive right in. That way we do things is both very abstract and extremely precise.. I don’t know how to explain it any better…”
Alongside his hard core, Langevin plays ping-pong with ideas, because “we need to surprise ourselves, we need it to remain stimulating.” On Super Lynx Deluxe, the end result is striking: the guitars are juicy as ever and, this time around, drenched in the very particular flavour of the flange guitar effect, a bit like a wave coming to shore. “We dug up this old effect that happens to be ‘in’ at the moment,” Langevin admits. “We often record in blocks of three or four days. I think we recorded a lot of flanged guitars!”
This effect injects a dose of tension in the rhythmic, nearly techno tracks that Galaxie offers this time, and they turn into purely tribal affairs once Diouf’s djembe is added on top of it all. Another new addition to the Galaxie sound comes from the two opening tracks, reminiscent of the Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage” (from 1994’s Ill Communication) and its energy, edgy guitars and crunchy drums.
“I played that so much as a teen,” says Langevin. “‘Sabotage,’ ‘Check Your Head.’ It’s something I wanted to do for a long time, and hadn’t done yet. For a while, there, in the studio, we embarked on quite a hip-hop buzz, and then I said to myself: OK, this is when I get that out of my system! The ‘Sabotage’ sound is exactly what I wanted, that kind of hip-hop beat with fuzzed drums; that’s exactly where my mind was at.
“You know, Galaxie has always been a mix of dance music and blues. The songs on the new album may sound like they’ve been worked into something akin to techno, but when you boil it down, we play those songs as if we were an old blues trio. It reminds me of the Rolling Stones’ disco phase, you know, like ‘Miss You’? They were great, hooky songs, but it’s Mick’s thing, you can tell that Keith wasn’t into it so much… It’s disco, yet the guys play as they’ve always played. It’s like there’s something shady going behind those songs…”
The album comes out Feb. 2, 2018.