Talented and down-to-earth, Louis-Jean Cormier, the singer and guitarist for Karkwa, now has an audience all his own. Following a stellar performance at the most recent ADISQ Awards (when he received prizes for Best Songwriter, with lyricist Daniel Beaumont, Best Rock Album for Le treizième étage (The Thirteenth Floor), Show of the Year – Singer-Songwriter, and Critics’ Choice of the Year), the prolific artist takes a short break to reflect on the solo career he embarked on just over a year ago.
Booked into June 2014 according to his official website, Louis-Jean Cormier is a busy artist who, when we called him, sounded much more like a zen dad than a rock star, saying: “I’ve just made the kids’ beds and put the macaroni in the oven. I have the whole house to myself at the moment, which doesn’t happen very often.”
A little over a year ago, Cormier released Le Treizième étage, a début solo album that brought him more good luck than the proverbial thirteenth floor might be expected to have. Now that the dust has settled a bit, how does he feel today about his transition from group member to solo artist? “It’s like nothing really happened,” he answers, “because the actual transition period lasted from long before the release of my solo album until shortly thereafter. I’m well on my way.”
With his first entirely solo project, Cormier claims to have re-connected with himself as an artist. “I realized I’m a guy with ideas. In Karkwa, there were five of us making decisions… So I needed to prove to myself that I was able to make things happen by myself and not only by relying on my longstanding musical partners,” a test he passed with flying colours.
By getting more deeply in touch with his inner self, Cormier was able to re-connect with the anger caused and the consequences left by the recent “Maple Spring” of Quebec student protests. “I have a feeling that every artist who has created works in the wake of those events feels the exact same way. Thousands of people took to the streets – this was a true popular upheaval! My generation had not seen the likes of this very often compared to the previous one, who experienced the great protests of the 1960s and 1970s. I was impressed to see the likes of Michel Rivard, Richard Séguin and Yves Lambert joining us, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed… Plus, I was still under the spell of Gaston Miron’s poetry in the wake of the Douze hommes rapaillés recording saga.”
Cormier’s legitimate indignation finds its expression in some angry guitar riffs as well as in statements like Daniel Beaumont’s striking line for the second Treizième étage single, which reads, “We’re playing solitaire all at the same time.” Such anger, Cormier contends, is timeless. “It reminds me of Gaston Miron’s response when someone accused him of not writing with a modern pen, and the poet shot back that ‘modernist’ was just another word for ‘bygone.’”
Miron’s influence on Cormier’s writing is palpable. Although the songwriter’s imagery is more direct while the meaning remains somewhat encrypted, his aim was to come into his own as a songwriter. “For me, it’s important that listeners be left free to come to their own interpretation of my lyrics. I was looking for clearer imagery. That’s why I turned to [Tricot Machine songwriter] Daniel Beaumont. To me, he is a great Quebec poet of everyday life.”
One of the new things Cormier had to get used to in his new role as a solo artist was the placement of his own voice at the front of the mix instead of having it tucked away as part of a collective rock sound. And, in the voice department, this very winter of 2014, Cormier will serve as a voice coach for the extremely popular Quebec reality show La Voix, hosted by Charles Lafortune. Is he looking forward to this new role?
“Well, they approached me twice before and I brushed it off. They tried again this time by telling me exactly what I needed to hear – that they expected me to stick to my guns and be the contrarian element of the program! They gave me free rein for my team’s repertoire, which means I can choose songs that are less popular while remaining great classics in my mind. It’s a platform that has nothing to do with my role as a music creator and appeals more to my producer side (Lisa LeBlanc, Douze hommes rapaillés, David Marin). The prospect of having contestants sing lyrics by Miron and Martin Léon totally pleases me. Using this type of TV show to paint a more accurate and realistic portrait of what’s going on in Quebec music is the role I cut for myself in this new venture.”