As any music journalist will tell you, there are next to no sentences from an artist as tired as “this album literally saved my life.” Throughout the years, artists in all genres have told me those words nonchalantly, but coming from Jason Bajada, they ring true.
The singer-songwriter makes no bones about it: the events that inspired his ambitious double-album Loveshit II (Blondie & the Backstabberz) are the most difficult he’s ever lived through. A series of catastrophic relationships and personal hardships followed by bouts of depression took him to the edge of the abyss. And were it not for music, it’s totally plausible that he wouldn’t have made it. “It is totally true that music was a formidable outlet and a lifebuoy, but it was only part of the healing process,” says Bajada. “If I’m better now, I also owe it to other factors, especially an extraordinary therapist who crossed my path.”
Now serene and philosophical, Bajada also speaks of the inner peace he finds in meditation, the joy he finds in listening to his favourite stand-up comedians, notably Bill Hicks and George Carlin (“truly more philosophers than comedians”, he says), or the wonderment he felt while watching the Cosmos TV series. Yet, he’s a musician through and through, and he fed from the trough of personal experience to create art, pouring all of his blood, sweat and tears in this project.
“I remember the last song I wrote for this album, “In What World Do You Savages Live Where You Thought I’d Be Cool,” he says. “I was at a New Year’s Eve party and a few seconds after midnight, I was floored by a panic attack. I left, alone in the middle of the night, locked myself up in the studio, grabbed my old Gibson and that song came out. That’s how I calmed down.”
Early on, Bajada understood that he’d need two records to tell his story; the first, folksier and more lean, that would talk about the dark aftermath of his separation; the second, a more orchestrated affair that would tell the whole love story, from the fireworks of the early days to its unavoidable demise. Once he settled on the idea of a double album, he went as far as playing almost all of the album’s instruments and imagining the arrangements before he even set foot in the studio.
“It was the first time I got to the studio with almost finished songs, and from that point on, working on them with Philippe Brault was amazing,” says Bajada. “First, because he’s truly an extraordinary human being, but also because he didn’t set out to completely transform what I’d done. The sign of a good producer is not to put his paws all over the place, but rather getting the most out of an artist, which more often than not means resisting the temptation to over-do things. In that sense, Phil is a masterful producer.”
Following two French-language albums in a self-described “atmospheric pop” style, Jason has reverted back to the language of the first Loveshit, released in 2009, and allowed his influences to shine through: the theatrical melancholy of Morrissey, Elliott Smith’s hyper-emotiveness, “and Springsteen, Magnetic Fields’ Stephin Merritt, Devendra Banhart, and so many more…”
Despite the fact that the pain behind the songs is palpable – most of the lyrics are unequivocal – the music is luminous, even when it’s skeletal. “The paradox is that my darkest period was when I was recording Volcano, a highly atmospheric and pop love album,” he says. “Loveshit II is the exact opposite: it was created in an atmosphere of joy and simplicity.”
At the end of this adventure, Bajada thought he’d gotten everything out of himself and could never get back to work after that. But his songwriting instinct rapidly took over. To wit, when we spoke, he was in L.A. with Matt Holubowski and Aliocha Schneider, at a song camp.
“SOCAN invited me to participate in a song camp last year [the Camp Kenekt Québec, where he created the song “Comme les Autres” with Laurence Nerbonne] and I thought it was very stimulating,” he says. “It’s nice out, I’m meeting people from different backgrounds and I’m discovering new aspects of songwriting.” Is happiness on the cusp of killing his inspiration? “Ha! I doubt it, because I think I still have enough material for a whole life of songs!”