Running at Le QUBE, a mobile venue installed by the Montréal Casino, Gregory Charles’ interactive show entitled Plamondon provides a career-spanning review of one of the greatest lyricists of the Francophonie

Just a few months ago, Luc Plamondon and Gregory Charles had never met. They walked past each other a few times here and there in TV studios and such, but that’s about it. Yet, today, an obvious affinity has grown between the two men over the past few weeks, while rehearsals for the show Plamondon were going on. The show features Johanne Blouin, Brigitte Boisjoli, Marie-Ève Janvier, Jean-François Breau and Martin Giroux.

During an onstage interview at QUBE, they finish each other’s sentences. When the younger of the two men can’t stop raving about his elder, the latter chuckles, comments, and doesn’t hesitate to reveal captivating anecdotes that shed new light on his catalog’s iconic songs, songs that have forever been a part of Gregory Charles’s life. “I’m a Plamondon child,” he says unabashedly. “His first hit, ‘Les Chemins d’été,’ sung by Steve Fiset, was written in 1970 and I was born in 1968. Plamondon’s songs have been the soundtrack to my whole life.”

The table was set. How did those songs influence Charles’ life? And also, what was going on in Plamondon’s life at the time? Here, then, is a condensed version of a sprawling dialogue on 45 years’ worth of songwriting.

A wee-one and his tricycle

Gregory Charles: People who remember me in the neighbourhood where I grew up remember this kid that was always roaming about on his tricycle, singing his heart out. I must’ve been three or four years old. My Québécois mother listened to a lot of Francophone music. “Les Chemins d’été (Dans ma Camaro”and Diane Dufresne’s “J’ai rencontré l’homme de ma vie,” are among the first songs my mom taught me. Let’s not forget that, at the time, Plamondon brought a whole new dimension to Québec’s pop music. We were coming out of the bubble-gum pop era of Jeunesse d’aujourd’hui, and he clashed with that, with his serious lyrics written for pop songs. He had this knack for writing strong sentences that summarized exactly who we were at a precise moment in our lives.

Luc Plamondon: I was lucky I started working with the best composers right from the get-go: André Gagnon, François Cousineau, Germain Gauthier, Michel Robidoux. I studied modern languages and art history, I was getting ready to become a teacher. I even got my licence in pedagogy at Université Laval, but I secretly wrote songs. One day, I showed my lyrics to André Gagnon. He told me they were poems, not song lyrics. I immediately took it the wrong way. But then, he told me Québec lacked good lyricists. Somebody who could lay down words over music. He then played me the melody to “Les Chemins d’été (Dans ma Camaro),” and three days later I came back to him with the lyrics to that song. The inspiration didn’t come from very far, either. I’d just gotten back from San Francisco, where André Gagnon had this convertible Camaro. Shortly thereafter, Monique Leyrac and Renée Claude asked me to write for them. When I met Diane Dufresne, that was the ultimate spark.

Luc Plamondon, Gregory CharlesParoles & Musique: You wrote more than 70 songs for Diane Dufresne, most of them with François Cousineau. What was your impact on Cousineau’s melodies and those of the other composers you’ve worked with over time?

LP: I think my impact was mostly on the structure of the songs. For example, to create a musical, you need a composer who’s able to adapt his compositions to the lyrics, stretch out the verses or chorus. Michel Berger (Starmania) and Richard Cocciante (Notre-Dame de Paris) didn’t change a single note of their melodies, but we had the capacity to play around with the songs’ structure. In the case of “Le Blues du businessman,” we already had the whole first section. Then, six months later, I got the epiphany for the end of the song: “J’aurais voulu être un artiste!” (Loosely translated: “I wish I was an artist/All I wanted was to be an artist.”) I asked Berger to play the first part of the song for me. When he got to the end, I showed him my lyrics for the second part. He paused to read them. And he sang “J’aurais voulu être un artiste,” and played that chord. We both felt the hair go straight up on our arms.

GC: Anyone who hears that song gets that feeling. My parents took me to Comédie Nationale to see Starmania. They loved musicals. They’d take me to New York to see Oliver or The Wiz with Michael Jackson and Diana Ross. This type of stage show did not exist in Québec before Starmania. And that rock opera is so full of hits that you can identify with all of its characters, whether it’s the one who sings “S.O.S. d’un terrien en détresse,” the one who sings “Blues du businessman,” or the one who sings “La Complainte de la serveuse automate.” It’s like a big soap opera; you identify with a character that speaks to you, and a whole lot of songs come with it.

LP: People often tell me that Starmania changed their life. Starmania also changed mine. Before, I wrote for Diane Dufresne, Renée Claude, Françoise Hardy and Catherine Lara. After Starmania, I wrote for Julien Clerc, France Gall and Robert Charlebois. A whole new pool of talent opened up for me.

Gregory Charles

The Madness of Genius

GC: There is a lot of talk about Starmania, but “Le Parc Belmont” still is my favourite song penned by Luc. When this song about madness came out in the late 70s, my grandfather was already very sick. Nowadays we call that Alzheimer’s, but back then he was only labelled as senile. My mother was very concerned about the responsibility of children when their parents lose their minds. To her, this song hit very close to home. Now, she has Alzheimer’s too, and it’s me who’s gone back to that song in order to reflect upon the situation.

LP: In my case, it was my aunt Marianne who came to live with me after her husband passed away. I was young. I adored her. She sat me on her lap and hummed songs for me. Later I learned she was committed to a mental institution. I went to visit her and she seemed perfectly normal to me. She kept asking me to get her out of there. So I asked one of the nuns who ran the place why she had been committed. “You’ve never seen her when she goes into fits of violence,” the nun told me. It hurt me so deeply. So I wrote “Le Parc Belmont.” I must say, also, that writing for Diane was always very stimulating.

GC: Diane Dufresne was in incredible vehicle for Plamondon. Not the only one, but certainly the most flamboyant and powerful. During the ‘80s and ‘90s, it’s Luc who became the vehicle for singers. Almost all of the songs he wrote during that time became that singer’s biggest hit. “Pour une histoire d’un soir” was the highlight of Marie-Denise Pelletier’s career. Francine Raymond was very successful, but there is no doubt that “Vivre avec celui qu’on aime” is her biggest hit. Julien Clerc relaunched his career with “Coeur de rockeur.” I started hosting a radio show at the end of the ‘80s. I couldn’t play enough of Plamondon’s hits. The album Dion chante Plamondon is a major album. That alone would’ve been enough to allow Plamondon to say that the ‘90s were successful for him, but he still went on to create La Légende de Jimmy and Notre-Dame de Paris.

Luc PlamondonP&M: As a matter of fact, Mr. Plamondon, one gets the sense that there’s nothing left for you to accomplish. What turns you on professionally in 2015?

LP: I’ve got several new projects under way. I’m writing a musical on melodies by Schubert. There is also a new mega-production of Starmania that will open in Paris in 2018. But right now, what I like the most is coming here to watch this Plamondon show. Brigitte Boisjoli takes my breath away when she sings “La Complainte de la serveuse automate.” Martin Giroux sent chills up my spine throughout the rehearsals. That’s what still turns me on.

GC: Luc’s face lights up every time a good singer breathes life into one of his songs, regardless of whether the song is 30 years old or six months old. Lucky for him, and for us, he’s managed to maintain this sense of wonderment for 45 years and I believe he will never lose it.


The hook for “The Downtown Cliché,” the statement track from Toronto rapper Jazz Cartier’s debut album Marauding In Paradise, couldn’t be more blunt:

“I don’t see you n___as downtown, I don’t see you n___as downtown/ I don’t see you n___as on road, I don’t see you n___as on road,” he repeats over and over until you get the message: Run through the 6 all you like, he’s already there.

It’s a frank war cry on an album that otherwise features often complex explorations of relationships, self-determination and the pitfalls of pursuing one’s art. It also signals the arrival of what may be the city’s next great rap act.

Born in Toronto, Jazz Cartier (a.k.a. Jaye Adams) had a stepfather who was a world-traveling diplomat, taking Cartier to far-flung locations around the world like Barbados, Houston, Kuwait, Atlanta, and Idaho. The young man coped by listening to music.

“I literally just listened to music all day.”

“I literally just listened to music all day,” Cartier says of those sometimes lonely moments. “All day. My mom had a good CD collection, over like 300 CDs. Every day was like a task to flip through a different genre, or different time period, just so my knowledge expanded.”

But Toronto was always where he’d come back to on family vacations, the place he felt most at home. In 2012, he bunkered down in the city with producer/right-hand man Michael Lantz and began working on the intensely Torontonian Marauding In Paradise.

“Feel Something,” a rumination on drugs, loneliness and depression was inspired by an evening at Nuit Blanche, the annual all-night, city-spanning art event. In a likely hip-hop first and only, smooth-skating former Toronto Maple Leafs hockey player Mason Raymond gets name-dropped in “New To Me.” Add in scene-setting Kensington Market booze cans, Thompson Hotel parties, and recording studios in Scarborough, and the city is really baked into Marauding.

The album’s masterwork is “Rose Quartz/Like Crazy,” a hyper-modern exploration of relationships that’ll leave you thoroughly unsettled.

Split into three distinct suites, the narrative of Cartier’s relationship highs and lows are split by an extended sample of chillwave musician Toro Y Moi’s “Rose Quartz” and an uncomfortable chunk of dialogue from the 2011 romantic drama Like Crazy, where Anton Yelchin’s and Felicity Jones’ characters argue over infidelity, and what sort of implicating evidence is contained on a mobile phone.

“That’s personal,” says Cartier, who used a message he received to anchor a verse. “It started out with a text that I got, and it literally started with [what became a line in the song] ‘You only need me any time you feel alone,’ and that spawned it. And then the movie Like Crazy has always been one of my favourite movies. So I wrote that Like Crazy part with that scene on repeat.”

That multi-part, song-splicing technique is one that Cartier employs a number of times on Marauding, including “Flashiago / A Sober Drowning,” “Forever Ready / Band On a Bible” and “Secrets Safe / Local Celebrity Freestyle.” It’s not an accident. “I love the aesthetic of two songs in one,” he says of the device. “And that’s a thing I’m gonna carry on out as long as I can.”

It shouldn’t be hard to notice if he does. He’ll be the one downtown.

Track Record

  • Tennis is Cartier’s sport. “I’m super-competitive and I don’t like to lose,” he says. “And if I do lose and it’s my fault I’ll take full responsibility.”
  • Cartier doesn’t do many features on other peoples’ records. “If I’m forced to work with you, that’s like having sex with a stranger,” he says. “It may feel good, but afterwards you feel like shit, going, ‘What the fuck’s going on here?’”
  • Cartier has a (barely perceptible) stutter. “Sometimes I’m really on it and it’s flawless,” he says. “Other times, if you were to ask me something I’d have to think about it and find a word, then find another word to push behind it so I could get that word out.”

Publisher: N/A
Discography: Marauding In Paradise (2015)
SOCAN member since 2015

When we reach Antoine Corriveau for this interview, the young singer-songwriter is still in seventh heaven. He’s just won the SOCAN Songwriting Prize (and the $10,000 cheque that comes with it) thanks to his song “Le nouveau vocabulaire,” and he sees this victory as a validation that he is indeed on the right path. “There’s no doubt that a prize such as this one will allow me to relax a little,” he says. “The last year has been completely crazy for me, and that’s the kind of thing that reminds me I must concentrate on music.”

AntoineCorriveau_SSP_CSUp until very recently, Corriveau still earned a living as a freelance graphic designer. But since launching his album Les Ombres Longues (The Long Shadows), he’s reached a new plateau. Without being a radio chart dweller, he’s making new fans nonetheless, one by one, and his gig schedule is getting longer and longer.

“I self-produced my first album and during my first tours, the number of people in the audience was inversely proportional to the distance I drove to get there,” says Corriveau. “Still, I’m glad I didn’t become popular overnight, and had to go through the motions to earn my dues. If I had to do it all over again, I’d do it exactly the same. Nowadays I play in venues where there were only 10 people the first time around, and now there are 50; to me that’s a great improvement!”

If people are catching up, maybe it’s because of his voice’s peculiar timbre, reminiscent of Daniel Lavoie’s. But mostly, it’s for the quality of his songs, which skillfully mix the intimate and the universal – songs that he crafts patiently, like a Swiss watchmaker. “This prize makes me especially proud, because it touches on the very core of my trade,” says Corriveau. “Not the show, the sound or the lighting… just the song and all the work it entails. And I can tell you that there is quite a lot of work in ‘Le nouveau vocabulaire!’ The first draft of it came to me quickly, but after that I spent three or four months just putting the finishing touches on it. Sometimes I can spend weeks on a single word.”

“I often write in a very automatic, informal manner. To me the message always wins over form.”

Sung using the perspective of an all-encompassing “we,” “Le nouveau vocabulaire” is a song halfway between a manifesto and a confession, that can be understood on many different levels. The song tackles two themes that are ever-present on his new album: breakups and, mostly, the Montreal social upheaval of 2012, the so-called “Maple Spring.” “I hope the young people that took to the streets will keep at least part of the spirit of solidarity we felt then alive while they grow up,” explains Corriveau, who remains quite positive with regards to the aftermath of the event. But regardless of where Québec society is headed, Corriveau will remain, capturing the zeitgeist in his own unique way: lucid, sensitive, and aptly poetic.

“I’ve never felt I was mimicking anyone’s style, but I certainly can’t deny I have some fetish writers,” he says. “People like Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan and Nick Cave are all writers I admire, and they all share one thing: they are, first and foremost, poets. These are artists that won’t hesitate a moment to write a song with 40 verses and no chorus, and all three are formidable raconteurs.”

Yet Antoine also has immense admiration for rappers who possess so much lexicological leeway, and fearlessness in wringing the neck of classical poetry’s rules. “I don’t mind truncating a word right in the middle, or not respecting the metrics,” explains the singer-songwriter. “That’s why I often write in a very automatic, informal manner. To me, the message always wins over the form. Even when I did graphic novels, I considered I was much more of a raconteur than just an illustrator: I was great at telling stories, and just good enough to draw them.”

That why Corriveau is still writing stories. For himself, of course, but for others too, as he’s done for Julie Blanche’s album. “I must admit that the first time I wrote for someone else, I was very hesitant at first,” he says “I was wary of letting go of my best ideas and weakening my own repertoire. Nowadays, I’ve made my peace with that, and I tell myself that I can still sing those songs if I want to. They are my songs, after all!”

Besides, it’s obvious he’s not about to run out of ideas, and if all goes according to plan, Corriveau will launch a new album in the fall of 2016. “Until then, I’m just writing non-stop,” he says. “I’ve got drawers full of riffs and lyrics snippets that are waiting to become full-fledged songs. I’ve realized that, in actual fact, creating an album is nothing more that: a deep clean-up session.”