“Elle a été rough l’année dernière” (“Last year was rough”), Jipé Dalpé sings on “Lac Renaud.” The sentence isn’t a lie, but it doesn’t paint the whole picture. You see, he probably wishes the rough patch would’ve only lasted a year. “Had I told the whole truth, I would’ve sung that the last two-and-a-half years seemed incredibly long,” says the songwriter, marking each word and laughing softly.
We can hardly blame him for choosing to emphasize the rhyme. Despite this tiny factual twist, Dalpé has never been as autobiographical as on Après le crash, his third full-length album, and his first release since 2015’s L’homme allumette.
“C’est juste une peu d’espoir/Pas une toune pour s’en faire accroire” (“It’s just a bit of hope/Not a song to make believe”), he sings on “Lac Renaud,” two short sentences that perfectly express his bent toward transparency. It’s the naked truth that Dalpé espouses, or seems to.
In July of 2015, Dalpé exited from a bar where he drank merrily with his sister. Being the responsible person that he is, he left his car behind and called an Uber. At the intersection of Saint-Joseph Boulevard and Iberville Street (one of Montréal’s most notoriously dangerous intersections), his driver accidentally ran a red light and crashed into another vehicle.
Out of the smoke, the passenger literally had to crawl across the pavement so he could safely wait for the ambulance. He will figuratively crawl for several months: concussion, herniated discs, labyrinthitis, neurological issues in the arms, hearing impairment, fractured sternum.
“I read that the sternum is the only bone protecting the heart,” remembers the Sherbrooke native, while placing a hand on his chest. “When I read that, maybe I was trying to make sense of the accident, but that’s exactly what was happening: there was nothing left to protect my heart.”
It’s worth mentioning, at this point, that the young forty-something’s heart had already been strained a few months before his accident, when a very long relationship came to an end. The album is called Après le crash (After the Crash), but it could very well have been titled “after the crashes,” plural. Those crashes deprived him of everything inside of him that sought to impress, or fit a certain idea of what a songwriter should be.
“I didn’t really know why I was writing when I started making tunes,” Dalpé says. “I wrote because I wanted to sing. Nowadays, I want everything to be as visceral as possible. I don’t want to sugar-coat, to show I can write. I just need to write and get rid of all the useless shit.”
The body is a duo
“Have you thought of doing something else, sir?” a SAAQ (Société de l’assurance automobile du Québec, which handles insurance claims after car accidents) employee one day asked Jipé Dalpé. Something else, as in, “have you thought of finding a new career now that you have a hard time singing, playing your guitar, and blowing in your trumpet?”
That was a brutal and angst-ridden question, for someone who’s been playing in bars since he was 15 years old. It kicked off a long, introspective process that allowed Dalpé to get over his fear that everything he’s built would collapse if he took even a moment of rest. It allowed him to realize that his deep-seated artistic identity didn’t depend on his usual hyperactivity.
“It’s very difficult in this trade to get your head above water and simply exist,” says this DIY champion of self-production. “Everything is a question of opportunity, being in the right place at the right time, of meeting this person who, the next day, will think of you when they’re looking for an arranger. There’s always an e-mail you should be sending. And since I was never signed to a label, I’ve always considered earning a living with my music a victory. For the longest time, I was convinced I would lose everything I had built if I slowed down.”
Après le crash was produced by legendary bass player Jean-François Lemieux. It’s both an ode to friendship, considering all the musicians, songwriters, and music composers who contributed to it – Ariane Moffatt, Marie-Pierre Arthur, Olivier Langevin, François Lafontaine, Pierre Fortin, David Goudreault – and an ode to the body. A body that’s getting better (“Du muscle”), a body that rejoices (“Avant tes yeux”), and a body that lets go of pride and finally accepts the help it’s offered (“Après le crash”).
“My head has always run 100 miles an hour, and everything else would follow without me paying any attention to it,” says Dalpé. “But I realized that it’s actually a duo. There’s my head, yeah, but there’s everything else.” After the crash, taking care of oneself.