For the members of Hôtel Morphée, patience always was a virtue. Ever since their very beginning in 2008, the Outaouais-born band chose to evolve at its own pace, choosing to start by releasing a slew of EP to satisfy their core audience first and foremost. Now Montréal-based, the band is composed of Laurence Nerbonne (vocals, guitars, violin), Blaise Borboën-Léonard (violin, keyboards), André Pelletier (guitars, vocals) and Stéphane Lemieux (drums). Lemieux couldn’t be happier that the band took so many years to learn and experiment. “Five years might sound like a long time, but bear in mind that we didn’t know each other. Hôtel Morphée really is a meeting of musicians. No more, no less. Laurence was looking for a project to embark upon, we met, and other people tagged along. Some have left, other remain. We had to get to know each other, to play and create together, to find affinities and a sound of our own. These things take time. Elaborating a bona fide serious artistic approach does not happen overnight. The album is the accomplishment of this,” explains the musician.
Launched with much fanfare by Audiogram, the album landed in record store bins last February. Produced by Philippe Brault (Pierre Lapointe), Des histoires de fantômes is a window on an impressively assured, inspired and adventurous band: solid rock structures with electro tinges, soaring atmospheres, delicate arrangements, and highly emotional yet sibylline lyrics. In other words, it is quite obviously the work of a band that has acquired a glowing maturity and cohesiveness. Laurence remembers the quartet’s roots: “When we first met, we didn’t even know the inner workings of a music band. We mostly wanted to play live and try all kinds of stiff. We lacked direction. We recorded songs for our friends who were following us, but we needed to be more rigorous. Working on an album, however, was quite different. For the first time, we really concentrated on the lyrics and the music.”
Brothers and Sisters
If Hôtel Morphée are adamant about one thing, it’s the fact that being finalists at the 2010 edition of the Festival international de la chanson de Granby was a great learning experience. It is through their participation that they truly learned what being a band really is. Stéphane explains: “It was the first time we left Montréal to get set up in a rented house. That’s where we truly realized that we did get along artistically and personally. A band is more than just a rehearsal space. It’s also the meals, the bedrooms, the beer. Granby was a test for us. After that, we knew we could operate as a band.”
Laurence adds: “A band is like a marriage. It’s fragile. When you start playing, you need to make sure you get along with each individual. It’s a fallacy to think you can play with just anyone. After a few years, it becomes les a family, a unit. The boys have become brothers to me. It is rare that this cohesiveness is perfect and lasting. Whether we like it or not, it’s hard to always work with the same people.”
Doing Things Differently
Laurence is the main writer in the band, having penned 10 out of the album’s 11 songs. She confides being particularly moved by the work of Thom Yorke (Radiohead). While she admires many Québec writers, she believes the province needs a creative renewal. “People who take risks are exciting and I get the impression we have become a little too tame lately in Québec; we’ve had much more rebellious and exciting periods in our music. We need to start doing things differently. We do have an incredibly rich legacy from people like Robert Charlebois and Jean-Pierre Ferland who did things their way. It’s because of rebels like them if our music scene is what it is today. We can write eloquently in French. Jean Leloup did it with a magnificent touch of craziness and incredible poetry. We need to go back to our roots,” says the young woman.
After receiving rave reviews from the influential French magazine Les Inrockuptibles and a performance at last year’s FrancoFolies, Hôtel Morphée wants to keep the momentum going. The band members have paid their dues, and the stage is where they wish to be as one with the public. With shows booked solid for months to come, Laurence reiterates how crucial each of the musicians is. “The work we do in Hôtel Morphée is like clockwork and each of us is essential. Our music is dense because we create it with many, many layers. It’s a collective effort, which is not always easy to accomplish since we all have different energies. Therein lies the challenge when we need to be in unison. I think it’s a challenge for any band. But you know what? I’ve wanted to be in a band my whole life. When the creative muses possess us, whether it’s on stage or in rehearsal, and that we are all on the same wavelength, that’s when being in a band becomes magical, it’s what I thrive on and it’s why I’m still doing music.”