Jerome 50

Photo: Rosalie Beaucage

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.’”

Writing Tips
“On my first album, I wrote in a very spontaneous way, I left it aside during three months, rewrite a verse, etc. On Le camp de vacances, I used a lot of SQDC products. (NdT: SQDC, Société québécoise du cannabis, the state-run organization that sells marijuana products since its legalization in Québec. ) The words to my version of “Trois petits chats” took me 48 hours, and I was stoned solid. Some say drugs are useless, but that’s the use they have for me. I like it when verses support the chorus, using mind games embedded in the rhymes. In a verse with ABAB rhymes, I like the last B to be a nod to the chorus, like in ‘Wéke n’ béke,’ (‘Wake ‘n’ Bake’), where I say the future belongs to those who wake up stoned. I like taking rules, re-creating them, and then setting them on fire right in the middle of the song. I think one thing that’s really obvious is my one-liners, like “prendre une douche, je t’aime tellement que je vomirais” (“take a shower, I love you so much I could vomit”), etc. All I’m doing is using a sentence like that and repeating it. I build my songs that way, because it’s a habit I picked up from the work of Angus and Julia Stone.”

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.”

The first question that comes to mind when speaking with Glass Tiger singer and frontman Alan Frew is: Can’t you take a hint?

While you might have known about the stroke that felled Frew in 2015, it wasn’t the first, last, or worst of his tribulations. Just before the stroke there was the detached retina. Then, more recently, 11 days before the band’s recent 2019 spring/summer tour opening for Corey Hart, “I ate something really bad, and in the middle of the night I was violently ill,” he says. “I was losing a tremendous amount of fluids. I just stood up, maybe a little too quickly, and that’s when I fell. They said I probably went down like I was shot in the head with a bullet. I smashed my face and broke my neck in two places… It required major surgery.” Was someone up (or down) there trying to tell him something? “No, no,” he says, laughing, acknowledging though that, “it’s been a brutal few years.”

The fall happened on May 20th; Frew had the operation to fix his neck on May 25th; and the tour started May 31st. And he did it, as befits a man whose motto is “No Surrender.” Looking back over the previous few months, Frew sounds surprised at himself for having found the silver lining in the grey clouds that have bedeviled him of late.

“If you look for it, there’s always a positive light shining at the end of that tunnel.”

“As wacky as this sounds,” he says incredulously, “if you look for it, there’s always a positive light shining at the end of that tunnel. So, my body language has been extremely limited for this tour. It’s not like, at my age, I’d have been runnin’ about like a crazy person anyways. But the funny thing is that my voice is at the top of its game. I may be the only one noticing it, but the relationship between the trauma and the pain, and then the delivery of my vocal, has actually been a little more emotional, a little more elevated, a little more passionate.” The glowing reviews have indicated that he wasn’t the only one who noticed.

The tour was timed to promote the band’s new six-song EP, 33, Glass Tiger’s first release of all-new music since 1991. Some of the more ominous song titles would seem to have come from a deep, dark place of self-reflection, post-trauma, but Frew thinks not. He calls it “an eclectic gathering of songs and lyrics, pre- and post-stroke.

“The big song, ‘Dying is Easy (With You),’ was written pre-stroke. It didn’t come from a place of, ‘Wow. I hit the goal post there and almost died.’ But ‘This is Your Life’ was very recent. Even though I didn’t go digging deep for a relationship between what I’d gone through and the delivery of those lyrics, obviously – subconsciously – there’s something there.”

Frew says that he’s particularly proud of this EP. “No two songs quite the same,” he says, calling it, “an homage to the band that we were when we were growing up, pre-EMI… When [we] mixed covers of The Police  or Duran Duran with songs by Led Zeppelin, Def Leppard, and The Scorpions.”

Four of the original five Glass Tiger members from 1983 are still together (Frew, Sam Reid on keyboards, Al Connelly on guitar, and Wayne Parker on bass, with comparative newbie Chris McNeill on drums since the year 2000). “Sam Reid is the foundation,” says Frew. “He is my rock. Without him as my wingman, this band wouldn’t exist. Al and Wayne are our brothers. We complement each other. I think this little EP could only have been put out by a band who’s got a good 40 years of history together.”

Glass Tiger will be doing occasional Canadian dates in August, October, and November and then a five-city tour of Quebec at the end of December.

Tatiana Zagorac grew up surrounded by pop music. Whether she was sitting in a car listening to the radio, or taking in the latest music videos on TV, she says “the structure of a pop song is something that has just always been clear to me.”

That ingrained understanding of pop arrangement now plays multiple roles in Zagorac’s life. As a songwriter for CYMBA Music Publishing, the Edmonton native gets to exercise her songwriting skills for artists all over Asia – although she often has to re-work her North American aesthetics to fit a more J-Pop or K-Pop mould. “I think writing there has changed and developed my skill set in a huge way,” she explains. “I’d been a lyric person all my life, and suddenly the lyrics were the least important part. It forced me to develop my melody writing quickly.”

Satisfying her urge to churn out Top 40-style hits through her work with CYMBA has allowed her personal project, Talltale, to skew in a more electronic direction. To Zagorac, experimenting with electronic music gives her the opportunity to “completely shape the sonic landscape that your songs live in.”

Her latest album as Talltale, A Japanese Fever Dream, draws inspiration from her years of working abroad. Opening track “Tokyo,” feels like a stroll through the city’s neon-soaked anime centre, Akihabara, while “Shed My Skin” sums up the surreal state of drifting through a foreign place, in the lines, “Already feels like a memory/ already feels like a fever dream.” It’s a lush, cinematic record that’s an ode to a country, but also celebrates a wanderlust spirit that’s always seeking new perspectives.

Back at home, Talltale is also finding success. Zagorac was named an “Artist to Watch” at the 2018 Edmonton Music Awards, and she took home the Electronic Song of the Year Award at the 2018 Canadian Songwriting Competition. While Zagorac says Talltale may lay low for the rest of 2019, save for a few upcoming music videos, she has her eyes set for new music in 2020: “It’ll be a big year for me!”