Sometimes a single song will lead to a whole new album. Such was the case for Michel Rivard with “Roi de rien” (“King of Nothing”), whose words and music aligned themselves so easily in the songwriter’s mind that he could clearly see there was far more to come, a daunting prospect for an artist who was feeling somewhat spent after completing his second season as in-house songwriting teacher for the popular Star Académie reality show, writing songs for the Filles de Caleb folk opera and making a comeback as a stage actor.
“I felt over-stretched,” Rivard explained. “After that mad rush, I was hoping things would slow down awhile. But no, the song “Roi de rien” came to me all in one piece, very much inspired by my daily walks in my new neighbourhood of Plateau Mont-Royal, which I love for its cozy lanes and beautiful trees. This new tune was telling me, ‘I’m the opening song of a new series!’ This all had something to do with my moving back into the city and my desire to reconnect with the Montrealer in me.” For the next two years, Rivard was busy writing, composing and planning intimate concerts in small venues to test his new material. As the lyrics of his song “Et on avance” say, “Tomorrow never is what we thought it would be.”
This applies to the title song of Rivard’s new album, Roi de rien, for if Rivard were king, he would be the king of the intimate, of life’s little things and of acute observations that make one smile. “Styromousse,” a song about a man who leaves a city the same way he would break up with a woman, is a case in point. Rivard agrees that, in real life, he is not the King of Nothing his album is portraying. “You’re right,” he says, “I’m not referring to myself specifically in that song, but using the first person inclusively. I’ve always been fascinated by the infinitely small, by the minutiae of interpersonal relationships. When I came up with the expression ‘king of nothing,” I had no idea of what the rest of the song was going to be about. But, for me, these words expressed the comforting thought of having no responsibilities, of placing oneself above no-one and of not feeling the crushing weight of power. That was reassuring. The connecting dots of the song are that one can feel happy about a radio that’s gone dead and enjoy the silence, and that looking at the rain through your kitchen window can help you see the reality of your life. It’s far from being depressing.”
Wherever he is, Michel Rivard is busy writing music at some level, whether he is walking his dog with his recorder or repeatedly sending himself text message reminders of the words and phrases that go through his mind as he goes about his daily activities. Born in the 1950s, Rivard writes songs the way a novelist creates stories, but without giving way to soul-searching, and always remaining aware of the fine line that exists between private information and public knowledge – even in art.
“Yes, my repertoire includes a few songs that are definitely about me, such as “Toujours pour elles,” which deals with my love for my daughters, but I would be unable to write a song containing painful admissions about myself. It’s not my bag. What I like to do is create small pieces of fiction rather than documentaries. Plus, the moment you start looking for rhymes, you change parts of the puzzle and move even further away from real-life situations.” Rivard keeps writing his way into those magic moments where phrases scribbled in a notebook naturally fall into the lyrics of a new song, when words and music coalesce and an alternate entity suddenly appears. “Yes, you can use tips – writing is a craft – but it is also true that part of the process cannot be explained. And nobody can teach you that.”
The idea for the setup of the upcoming recording of Roi de rien came to Rivard as he was performing a country music version of his song “Maudit Bonheur” (Damned Happiness”) with the Mountain Daisies. “For the recording of L’Open Country de Mountain Daisies,” the artist recalls, we all performed live in the Piccolo Studios as if we were onstage. I wanted to reproduce this experience.” To obtain the particular sound he was after, Rivard hired producer Éric Goulet and spent ten days in the studio with his Flybin Band cohorts (Rick Haworth, Mario Légaré, Sylvain Clavette), recording all 15 songs programmed songs. “We often laid down two full tracks in a single day,” Michel Rivard boasts about the recording of his 13th album, a collection of hopeful and insightful songs by a creative giant whose unshakeable artistic integrity remains a shining beacon of our musical landscape.