Launched in late November, Fox, Karim Ouellet’s second album seemed to literally negate autumn like a ray of light and a shot of vitamin Pop. It’s not the most rewarding time of year to release an album, in part because critics are already writing their best of year charts, but that did not prevent the 28 year old to make his mark. To wit: his song “L’amour” stayed at the top of the Francophone BDS chart, beating the likes of Marie-Mai, Sylvain Cossette and Céline Dion for the spot.
The industry is already abuzz with his crossover appeal. From CISM to CKOI, NRJ and Rythme FM, there is cause to, as they say, “mind the gap”, but Karim – who was picked as the 2012-2013 Revelation of the year by Radio-Canada – elegantly lept over this gap. “I have no interest in deciding what is or is not commercial. All that matters to me is ‘what’s good and what’s not?’ The goal of music is to make people happy, so if my song makes some people happy, I don’t care whether they heard it on CKOI or CIBL, it’s still the same song. There will be people who’ll get tired of hearing it or won’t like it, but hey! ‘L’amour’ played on all radios! That song had the opportunity to be heard.”
The young artist admits he’s very inspired by the way Lisa LeBlanc found success: “She wrote something very personal with a 100% free state of mind. Then, one of her songs brought her to everyone’s attention. To some, it takes away a certain aura of exclusivity to the song because it then becomes everyone’s song. But her album is still a very personal work of art that wasn’t planned according to a business model or radio format… That’s what I call ‘democratic music’.”
Karim Ouellet has qualities that make him immediately endearing: ingenuousness, charisma, authenticity, and a classy casualness. This is obviously a free man, and it’s visible in the persona he presents and the way with which he gives in to the temptation of pop music as much as in the way he graciously floats from one style to the next. Not to mention his smooth voice that can reach surprisingly high notes, not unlike M, a warm, caressing, velvety voice – in short, a major asset. “That kind of happened on its own. I always sang over songs I listened to. I’d actually sing harmonies because I thought it was kinda sad that those harmonies weren’t there. Then I started accompanying myself on the guitar and at some point, I figured out that I could really have fun with this. I never took singing lessons, I just followed my instinct. I did eventually learn a few techniques for breathing at the right moment, making sure I sing in the right key and protecting my voice.”
Even though his first album, Plume, came out two years ago, most people will discover him with Fox, a gorgeous patchwork of influences dominated by a neo-soul flavour. In a very short period of time, the multi-instrumentist – who we’ve also seen playing alongside Marième, Movèzerbe and Accrophone – learned quite a lot and was quick to put his learnings to work: “Plume and Fox were studio-recorded with the exact same method and in the exact same amount of time; three and a half months. On Plume, Claude Bégin, Thomas Gagnon-Coupal and myself had not preconceived goal, all we wanted was to record songs. But Fox was definitely thought out by Claude and I as a finished whole. The songs are different from one another, but it was important to us that they all work together.”
This bond bore its fruit and paved the way for the following explorations: “When I went into the studio for Fox, I only had two songs that weren’t even finished! The writing and composing happened as we went along in the studio. The final result is somewhere between a very clear and conscious art direction and allowing ourselves to progress by trail and error.”
“The trick is to not take yourself too seriously while remaining serious enough to do what you need to do and do it well.”
But one thing Karim Ouellet is very conscious of at this point is the fact that his biggest challenge will be taking his music to the stage: “We hired Brigitte Poupart (who did the stage direction of Yann Perreau, Louis-Jean Cormier, Misteur Valaire) and we’ve decided to keep it simple in order to become more efficient. We want to make the show entertaining, turn it into an experience.” As for the rest of his career, Karim will, sly fox that he is, apply some of the things he learned along the way: “The trick is to not take yourself too seriously while remaining serious enough to do what you need to do and do it well. One needs to meets their own expectations before trying to fulfill others’. And have fun.”