His velvety voice tells you that Jeffrey Piton isn’t one to force things. “When I compose, I don’t push too hard,” he explains. “I sit down to write, and if nothing relevant or interesting comes up, I don’t worry too much about it. I set the whole thing aside, and get back to it the next day. I don’t see any point in insisting. It’s like when you go fishing: you get there with your rod, and sometimes you catch a fish, sometime you don’t.”
The nine biggest ones he’s “caught” since the 2015 release of his first album, La Transition, can be found on his new recording, Blind, released in May 2019. The album is sung in English, except for two songs in French: “Panorama” and, above all, “Californie,” Piton’s favourite song. “It’s an inside joke between me and my girlfriend,” he explains. “Sometimes, when you’re going through a rough patch, you can mentally see yourself checking your bank account, selling this and that, and wondering how long you could last in California on the proceeds… It’s the feeling I think I was able to convey in that song.”
Born in Kingston, Ontario, and having spent stints living in Germany, Gatineau, and St-Jean-sur-le-Richelieu as his father’s military career demanded, the singer-songwriter explains that releasing an album mostly written in English somehow made him feel like he was returning to his roots. “When I was growing up and learning to play the guitar, I was playing English songs,” he explains. “It’s actually when I was first involved in La Voix [during the first season of the televised singing competition, the Québec franchise of The Voice] that I started singing in French for the first time. The reason was that on the show, once the live performance stage was over, I had to perform in French for reasons of [language] quotas on television. And I liked it a lot, which made me want to have my own Francophone repertoire, hence my choice to release my first all-French recording.”
So here he is again, with a proven formula that’s both timeless, and in continuity with his first album. “I often say that I put some pop in my folk. because I enjoy both styles,” says Piton. “The instrumentation is more folk-like, but I have melodies that could qualify for pop music. It remains within the singer-songwriter range, and my new album isn’t all that different from my first one. However, I feel that I’ve evolved as a songwriter, and that I did so in the direction I want to take. I feel that I’ve produced something that’s more and more like me.”
What Piton remembers from his La Voix experience six years ago is the stress, and the “showbiz side” of the production, “but what I enjoyed most were the people I got to meet,” he says. “Guys like David Laflèche, with whom I made my French-language album, and with whom I worked again on this just-released one.” This time, Laflèche produced half of the album, the other half being produced by Piton himself, “which I’d always dreamed of doing.
“I’ve always passionately loved recording and music production, so I decided to take the big jump for half of the album,” he says. Piton hired his musicians – Francis Veillette on pedal steel, Catherine Laurin on violin, Max Sansalone on drums, Laflèche on bass and electric guitar – who joined him at his place for the recording sessions. “It felt like skydiving when I did that,” says Piton. “It was a great experience, both in terms of songwriting and decision-making. ‘Producer’ is a hat that I enjoy wearing, and that I’ll continue to wear as I go along.”
Piton is a great consumer of instrumental and ambient music – primarily Jónsi & Alex’s Riceboy Sleeps, the album released by the Sigur Rós’s guitarist and vocalist Jón Þór Birgisson (Jónsi), and his partner and Parachutes member Alex Somers. Piton delights in the delicate and melodious folk songs that echo the calmer repertoire of Iron & Wine on his new album.
With Piton, the music and the melody always come first. “I always use a guitar to write,” he explains. “I like hearing what I play without having to play it, this is what works best for me. So I play my guitar while humming melodies over the music, without lyrics. Once I come up with a structure that has an interesting sound, I record it on the computer; this way, I can re-listen to it without having to play it again, which allows me to concentrate on the melodies. It’s strange, but I’ve noticed that when I play everything back as I write the lyrics, part of my brain remains concentrated on helping me play the guitar part better!
“So the lyrics then follow. I usually sit down with my notebook, but sometimes I’ll resurrect bits of lyrics that I have lying around on scraps of paper. When I come up with a line, I write it down for later use. I rarely experience strokes of genius… Writing is an exercise. And that’s a good thing, because the more I write, the better I get to be at conveying the feelings that come into a song.”