La nuit est une panthère, Les Louanges’ first album released in 2018 after its presence in the grand finale of Les Francouvertes, placed pawns on a chessboard much bigger than that of his own career. From behind his Les Louanges moniker, Vincent Roberge embarked on a musical journey as a song steward who defines his style one song at a time, allowing each one influence the next. On Crash, he paints an immense fresco of all the firsts of adulthood: the nicer ones that pull us upward, and the sadder ones that transform us.
While his debut left a lot to the imagination, and let the listener take their time to make sense of it all, Crash is anchored in a sometimes harsh, but always undoubtable, truth. “That crash is basically life hitting me head on,” says Roberge from the outset. “The pandemic forced me to take a step back, and that allowed me to digest stuff I hadn’t digested yet.”
That stuff includes the early years of a career that rocketed upward at lightning speed, but also the life-changing experiences one goes through in their early twenties. “I lived a lot of extraordinary things that ranged from exceptional to utterly stressful, but, through it all, I also learned to become an adult, and I did it while burning the candle at both ends,” says the singer-songwriter. “Each of these songs represents a very important event that had an impact, positive or negative, like a crash.”
Any song can be born out of chaos, but the timing for Les Louanges to create his sophomore album was totally unbalanced. After making the Polaris Music Prize short list, and completing a successful tour in Québec, he was forced to return from Europe just as things were taking off there. “The foundation of the song ‘Facile’ was when we came back from Marseille, because the pandemic was declared,” he says. “We were in a depressing AirBnB on Iberville Street in Montréal. We couldn’t go anywhere and I felt fucking alone that day. I was lying in bed playing pads on my keyboard controller. I played stupid chords and I thought they were so sad.” Eager to bring a truth to which his audience could relate more, he wanted to keep that bit of desperation – the demo he saved on his phone was titled “Fuck It” – and turn it into something touching later.
All of that is part and parcel of Les Louanges’ quest for truth, which permeates all of Crash. He believes that the poppier nature of his new music stems from his effort to be concise. “I was tired of hiding behind 2,000 metaphors, I wanted to show that I’m able to create complex arrangements that support clearer lyrics,” he says. “I no longer want people to have to think about it to feel an emotion when they listen to my music. But if you really want to look for deeper meanings, you still can.”
Right in the middle of Crash, Les Louanges borrows words from Gaston Miron as an interlude. The poet’s words are sketched among the lighter areas of the generally quite dark album. “I wanted to achieve a balance between sadness and light,” he explains. “What Miron says, ultimately, is that it’s important to keep your sense of wonder. It’s good for you, and good for your art. Plus, one can feel wonder even from pain. If something touches you, there’s a reason for it. I think it’s like he’s preparing you for what you’re about to hear.”
After jokingly talking about a duet with Corneille for years with his musical accomplice and producer Félix Petit, Les Louanges began seriously considering an actual collaboration. “I always struggle to explain my musical style and, one day, as a joke, Félix said I do conscious R&B,” he says. “I truly believe the king of that genre is Corneille. Then, one morning, I was at Green Room, right next do Planet Studios. I get out of my car, it’s 9:00 a.m. and I hear, ‘Bro, is that Les Louanges?’ This dude gets out of his car, with tinted windows, and it’s Corneille. I know the chances were higher to stumble across him there than in the parking lot of Canadian Tire, but I still couldn’t believe it. I wasted no time and suggested a collaboration for the song “Crash.” I think even the universe was tired of waiting for things to happen.”
Ever since his first collaborations with producer Petit, the latter has been very successful with other artists who asked to work with him. Still, Les Louanges isn’t afraid that his distinctive sound will spill over elsewhere. “Félix truly carries my vision when we work on my tunes,” he says. “He’s a major part of my equation. He’s the twin I never had, and the only person who knows what’s going on in my head. He’s always right where no one else would think of being. Even if we’re at Le Roi du Smoked Meat at 3:00 a.m., he’ll order a veal chop while we have hot dogs and, in the end, we’re all thinking we should’ve ordered the same thing as him.”
Like every other musician, Les Louanges daydreams about getting back onstage, and even considered that aspect of things during his creative process – by including downtime amidst his dance-ier grooves, so that the crowd can warm up for what’s coming. “I kept getting flashes of being onstage while I was in the studio,” he remembers. “But as much as you’d love to control everything, songwriting is savage. You need to be that National Geographic guy who takes a picture of the pelican. You have to manage your ISO, make sure you’re using the right gear, wait for the right moment, sometimes you have to go right to the fucking middle of the jungle, and that’s the only time you’re going to get that great shot.”