Typically, you have the singer-songwriters on one side, the performers on the other side, and the authors, composers and songwriters somewhere in the middle. Occasionally, these roles become blurred, and the end result is a rich and varied repertoire such as that of Hugo Lapointe, whose two most recent albums out of four in a 10-year career – Hugo Lapointe (2010) and La Suite (2013) – contain collaborations with a staggering number of Quebec stars, including Daniel Boucher, Luc De Larochellière, Daniel Lavoie, Jamil, Lynda Lemay, Térez Montcalm, Maryse Letarte, Edgar Bori, Alexandre Poulin and Alexandre Belliard.
Unlike most artists, Lapointe released two collections of original songs – Célibataire (Unmarried) in 2004 and La trentaine (The Thirties) in 2007 – before turning to collaborations. Was this due to a loss of confidence, a failure of inspiration, or the need to do something different?
“I definitely needed to try something new,” the singer reassures us, in a raspy voice that leaves no doubt about the familial link with his famous rocker brother Éric Lapointe. “In the very beginning, I mostly performed other people’s songs. That was my school. But I soon realized that if I wanted to stand out in this business, I needed original material. So I decided to start writing songs. After releasing my first two albums, however, I felt the need to go to places that I would not necessarily explore if I were to continue writing my songs all by myself.”
“Dealing with someone else’s lyrics is certainly touchy.”
That said, Lapointe admits he experienced some relief in being able to lean on the pens of writers other than himself: “I’d be lying if I said it didn’t make it easier for me and didn’t lift some weight off my shoulders… Having access to outside help also allowed me to involve myself more deeply in the recording process, whereas before, I remained fixed on lyrics until they shut off the recording console and locked the studio’s door. I was too absorbed with that aspect of music at the expense of all the rest.”
As he began the process of putting together a dozen songs (including a few self-penned pieces) for his next album, Lapointe started looking for people to help him with words or music contributions: “In most cases, I was presented with turnkey songs. With artists like Bori or Jamil, I did the music myself. For “Te retrouver” (“Finding You Again”), for instance, I set Bori’s lyrics to a music I had carried with me for five years without being able to find the right words for it. With Jamil’s “Moi j’suis qui?” (“Who Am I?”), it was more like a remote work in progress, sending each other words and music back and forth.”
“However,” Lapointe continues, “even with a turnkey song, there was always room for a little tweaking with the author when there were things that didn’t sound quite like me.” In his mind, this possibility should always be negotiated ahead of time to avoid misunderstandings along the way. “Dealing with someone else’s lyrics is certainly touchy, but I’ve always been working with incredibly generous co-writers.”
Lapointe freely admits to milking that generosity when that special connection is there. His repertoire includes three songs by Maryse Letarte (“Soleil couchant,” “Mon grand air” and “Valse d’ici”) and two by Térez Montcalm (“Complice” and “Inconsolable”). Considering Lapointe’s “dude” image, this choice of female songwriters may come as a bit of a surprise, but he can explain it away: “At first, I thought working with a woman’s lyrics might require a bit more adapting, but then I thought, Who better than a woman to know what women want to hear? After all, the majority of my audience is female…”
“After receiving the first song from Maryse,” Lapointe goes on to explain, “we took a chance asking her for more, and each time she was able to focus exactly on what I wanted to express. Same thing with Térez and the way she capture how I relate to music on ‘Complice.’”
Lapointe often suggested topics or themes to his co-writers. One of these songs, Alexandre Poulin’s “L’incendie” (“The Fire”), is based on Lapointe’s activities as spokesperson for Maison Carignan, a Trois-Rivière alcoholism treatment centre. Daniel Boucher’s “Tu l’sais même pas” (“You Don’t Even Know”) is a quasi verbatim reproduction of a story Lapointe told him about not necessarily being recognized on the street.
“When I first receive a song,” Lapointe explains, “I learn it the way it is. Once that’s done, I allow it to mature in my head for a few weeks or months without listening to the original version. Then I go back to it and perform it my way. That’s how I can make a song my own.”
Isn’t this use of other songwriters’ material depriving Lapointe of some performing right royalties in an industry with waning revenues? “Could be… However, these works also help me reach a wider audience and possibly do more shows and generate additional revenues. Plus the fact that I think that the opportunity this gives me to meet and work with all these artists and perform their songs is payment enough. I feel privileged.”