Jérôme 50 believes we ask for permission too often. He believes what we need to do is move forward and see what happens. After an acclaimed album – La hiérarchill, released at the end of 2018 – Jérôme gives a voice to children, and re-invents the codes of nursery rhymes on Le camp de vacances de Jérôme 49, an album with no holds barred.
If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands; but if you’re not happy, that’s OK too. Such are the types of suggestions the singer-songwriter – who hails from the suburbs of Québec City – offers on his latest surprise album.
“I don’t know if camp songs left a mark on me, but when I have an idea that I want to carry out, I carry it out,” says Jérôme, in all simplicity. “People have ideas but they don’t see them through.”
The idea of including actual children’s voices on his songs was non-negotiable. He wasn’t going to a half-assed job on this. His songs express his immense desire for freedom, rooted in a youth “very poor in actual freedom, and fraught with a lot of false freedoms.” “MØ launched a demo in 2009 that she titled A Piece of Music to Fuck to,” he says. “She talks about the degeneration of today’s youth, and she does it absolutely free of restraint, without fear of the right words. That’s kind of what I wanted to do with this project.”
There are indeed no limits here, especially when he has anonymous children say some very harsh things, or things based on strong political views.
“Le trafic rend hystérique en banlieue de Québec (Traffic is driving people insane in the Québec City ‘burbs). Oh hé ! Hé oh ! En banlieue de Québec. (In the Québec City ’burbs) Les plus wacks votent pour la CAQ en banlieue de Québec. (Wacky people vote for CAQ in the Québec City ’burbs. [Editor’s Note: CAQ, or Coalition avenir Québec, is a right-leaning political party elected to power during the 2018 provincial election] Oh hé ! Hé oh ! En banlieue de Québec. (In the Québec City ’burbs) Les p’tits bums se tirent des bongs en banlieue de Québec. (Troublemakers smoke bongs in the Québec City ’burbs) Oh hé ! Hé oh ! En banlieue de Québec. (In the Québec City ’burbs)”
That’s but a sample of the lyrics to “En banlieue de Québec.” “The parents were super-cool, and the choir we chose was too,” Jérôme explains. “I believe our system, and planet Earth, are both unwell. Québec as a province is aging, and needs to be shaken up a bit. Young people don’t have enough of a voice. Electing CAQ to power is not the way to go. I gave myself the right, simple as that.”
Like many of his friends, Jérôme is a suburbanite, and feels oppressed, or at the very least indoctrinated, by that status. He believes it’s time we stopped imposing ideas that, he says, aren’t good for youth, or the human race. “Thirty-five hours a week with a condo and a retirement fund, that’s not real,” he says. “One needs to go to CEGEP and get a university diploma? Why? We were force-fed this alternative reality. You see ads for Université Laval in the toilets at the mall. It says, ‘Our students have a better future.’ I say no to that.”
By building his own universe through the de-construction of nursery rhymes from his days at summer camp, he’s advocating for simplicity. “I’m not re-inventing them because I think they lied to us,” he says. “I believe children’s songs are neglected and don’t occupy their rightful place in the realm of intellectuals. It’s very important to me to uplift them.”
La hiérarchill was more about taking a stance on social trends. “Technology helps us make fewer efforts,” says Jérôme. “We’re increasingly immobile and inactive. The human race is heading for a fall. We have a chance to save ourselves, and that will happen if we take it easy.”
Whereas certain artists can’t see beyond what they’re holding, Jérôme 50 makes no bones about wanting to write some of the biggest hits in human history. “I want to write for Céline Dion and Éric Lapointe,” he says, dead serious. “Ten years from now, they’ll stumble on my camp album and they won’t believe their ears.”
To achieve this goal, he’s adopted a very simple strategy: he listens to the same hits over and over, for days at a time. “Lately, it’s been Eiffel 65’s “I’m Blue.” Before that, it was “What a Wonderful World.” Writing good songs means keeping things simple. Minimalism is in. The Beatles knew that when they wrote ‘Let It Be.’”
Rosalie Vaillancourt’s web fiction Avant d’être morte was part of the inspiration for Jérôme 50’s “La chaise musicale,” hence her presence onstage, and in the video for the song. “In the first part, she plays musical chairs with a young girl,” he says. “The night before, my friends and I were playing musical chairs at a party, and somebody pulled the chair from under me. I jotted down ‘unsportsmanlike behaviour.’ The stars were aligned for me to write that, the next day, exactly for Rosalie. I remember borrowing an atlas to stock up on the names of cities and towns.”
Jérôme’s denunciations have not all been spoken; his truth has not been entirely revealed. “I said everything I was thinking, but Céline was wrong when she sang ‘on ne change pas’ (‘we don’t change’). My take on things might change. But regardless, now I feel like talking about communication. We live in a time where communication has never been more important. We’re communicating, you and I, but when it comes to love, we’re so fraught with problems. There are unsaid things, and interactions that lack meaning.”
Jérôme is also writing a book, and has eight songs ready for his next album, but his main project for the coming weeks is going to be the “transcription of the dialogue in the movie Mommy, so that I can recite them on demand.”