Songwriter Laurent Bourque came to a very uncomfortable conclusion about the sophomore album he’d just completed, some two years after he’d released his first, the critically acclaimed Pieces of Your Past.
Pieces had earned him the Stingray Rising Star Award in 2014, and launched him into extensive touring, back and forth, across multiple borders and waterways. Bourque says, “I toured for two years, and it was great experience. It brought me to Europe for the first time, and it was a blast, but at the end of my final European tour in the Fall of 2016, I was just really, really sick of how I was performing, and my habits onstage, and everything just felt really stale.”
As a solo performer, sometimes accompanied by his drummer (and occasional co-writer) Jamie Kronick, Bourque felt a strong desire for change. “I didn’t feel like me anymore,” he says, “playing the songs on that album. Which is natural, people grow and evolve.” But the new album he’d just recorded didn’t sit well with the Ottawa-born, Toronto-based artist.
So he scrapped it.
Making as bold a move as any newcomer in the creative world ever could, Bourque canned the unsatisfying album and then set himself three highly improbable goals: He would write 100 new songs; he would start learning how to write with others; and, most frighteningly, he would learn to play and write on a brand new instrument – the piano. These were mountains to climb, but he set no deadlines.
Setting down to write was as easy as breathing to Bourque, but doing it with someone else, and trying to do it on a completely foreign instrument, brought a lot of excitement and energy to the process. Changing instruments mid-career had had a profound effect, because Bourque found writing at the piano completely different from writing on guitar.
“It is for me, because I know very little about the piano,” he says. “I’ve been playing guitar since I was about nine, so I know the guitar extremely well… What that led to, eventually, was a bit of predictability. If I put a couple of chords together, I knew where I would end up going. But in terms of the piano, it was completely new. I had no instincts at all, so it was just about trial and error. Everything felt different, and everything that ended up coming out was extremely different.”
He describes the new music on the final, recently released second album Blue Hour as more melodic and more layered. “I think what I ended up doing is, because I’m not a very proficient player, I wouldn’t end up writing melodies with my hands, it would force me to write the melodies with my voice,” says Bourque. “I mean, ‘Blue Hour’ is a song that has two chords in it, and that’s it, and that’s partly because at that time I wasn’t much better than that. I didn’t really know what I was doing. It forced me to have better melodies with my voice because my skill was so rudimentary with my hands.”
In the end Bourque made his way through about 50 co-writing sessions out of the 150 songs he ended up with at the end of his journey. Only four or five of the co-writes made it onto Blue Hour but the repercussions of Bourque’s songwriting metamorphosis will probably be heard for years to come.