On the other end of the line, in rural Québec area code 819, Denis Massé couldn’t be happier to share the 20th anniversary of his band, Les Tireux d’Roches, born in 1998 at the Ste-Élie-de-Caxton’s café La Pierre Angulaire. He was the owner of the place back then. A 16-year-old Fred Pellerin, at the time, swept the floor, when he wasn’t presenting – under the guise of a folk tale – the roughly 100 shows a year that the place hosted.
“It was built on a cliff,” says Massé. “At the end of a rural road. The café printed its own newspaper and Fred distributed it in and around the village to about 60 drop points. It was a great era to own a café venue: Pierre Calvé, Pierre Létourneau and Bertrand Gosselin, to name just a few, were all doing comebacks.”
Six albums later, and more than 1,000 gigs in Québec, Europe and Asia, the fiuve members of Les Tireux d’Roches’ are still going strong, sharing traditional Québécois songs.
“The source is inexhaustible,” says Massé. “We cherish those little gems of memory. I live in the countryside, and on the road to my house there lives an 87-year-old woman who wants to sing me the 21 songs she knows by heart, which she learned from her father, who also learned them by heart. I recorded all of it, and one of them is featured on our latest album, Tarmacadam.
“Every region of Québec has deep repertoires like this. But Lanaudière, an outstanding traditional region, stands apart: St-Côme is the Mecca of traditional songs in Québec. I truly believe each house has its own repertoire of songs. André Marchand (Les Charbonniers de l’enfer) and Yves Lambert (La Bottine souriante) unearthed those treasures.”
Davy Hay Gallant – known for producing for Cirque Éloize, artistic-directing the Mondial des Cultures, as well as having played guitar for the Francophone Saskatchewan band Hart Rouge (1995–2005), as well as for Chloé Sainte-Marie – contributed his studio in Drummondville, Dogger Pound. “Usually, we record in a cabin, we do our own thing,” says Massé. We “weren’t necessarily thrilled to have a producer meddle in our stuff, but the connection with Davy was instantaneous. We got to his studio with fully formed and arranged songs. Usually, a producer will want to put his stamp on that aspect of creation, so you take him aback a little. He did shine bright, thanks to his immense talent as a multi-instrumentalist; you can hear all kinds of new sounds, thanks to him.
“Each new album by the Tireux d’Roches is always a little bit disorienting,” says Massé. “We never have a very precise direction. But this time around, we wanted something closer to our roots, rooted in our territory. And we also write a lot, so much so that now, people can no longer distinguish between a public domain song and one of our new ones.”
Yet, it’s outside of the studio that the magic truly happens. “We exist for the stage, we basically have a rock attitude, but with acoustic instruments in our hands,” says Massé. “Unavoidably, the energy is irresistible, and even people outside of Québec succumb to it, even if the lyrics are unintelligible to them. And although we do hybridize a lot, it’s style music from Québec’s terroir, and people know it, regardless of the fact that they’re Chinese, German or Spanish. Obviously, it’s very festive…”
Ironically, it’s often far from Québec that the band finds its inspiration. There are frequently pauses of several days between gigs. “We rent a house in the hills or by the seaside, we’re like a closed-circuit, and we work relentlessly,” says Massé. “Our most fruitful writing sessions are always on tour, which happens four or five times a year.
“Time has bonded the Tireux d’Roches. While on tour, we spend two hours on stage, and the 22 other hours together, non-stop. Thank God we get along!”
To top it all off, Massé also tours another show: Henri Godon, chansons pour toute sorte d’enfants (songs for all kinds of kids), which he co-presents with Jeannot Bournival, a fellow Ste-Élie resident, and also tours a lot in Europe. “I truly believe in the trade of songwriting for children,” he says.