No matter how closed-in one might feel during the saddest winter months, Emerik St-Cyr Labbé’s band is rising on the horizon, and will change everything. Mon Doux Saigneur’s 2017 eponymous debut album was a confrontation, daring us to find where we belong, and find our own meaning in a dense musical backdrop, where vocals sometimes got lost. Horizon is like the light of a summer solstice that illuminates the entire road. We bathe in it, and don’t need to wonder; we know everything will be alright.
“We’ve all noticed how Plume, Félix Leclerc or Philippe Brach write, or wrote,” says Labbé. “I’m somewhere in the middle. I want to tell, in Québécois French, stories about things that are possible here and now, for someone my age, who’s going through what I’m going through.” Labbé strived, on this new project, to be up front with his words, his voice, and his guitar. “I’m grounded in reality,” he says, “but I do allow myself to be a little rosy. It’s always possible to be romantic when you make music.”
His finely crafted wordplay is like a tightrope walker carefully traversing the banality of daily life. “You can’t always be epic or vague,” says the songwriter. “The first degree punctuates the canvas.” People familiar with Mon Doux’s live shows know that he’s keen to change his lyrics on the fly. “The melody is just as important as the meaning of the lyrics,” says Labbé, “and I can sacrifice one for the other, and that’s just as true when I’m composing as when I’m onstage.”
The new album is a testimonial to a friendship forged on the road, both literally and figuratively. Emerik voluntarily created a soundtrack to a road trip with his closest friends. And the road travelled by the band starts from a tragic place and moves towards light and growth together. “It truly is a group thing,” says Labbé. “In 2016, the guys played to accompany me, and learn to play by my side. Now, we’re moving forward together, as one.
“I can’t afford to not choose life,” he says, referencing his father’s suicide in 2016, just as the musician was peaking during the finals of the Francouvertes competition. “I could see that my dad, at 50, was being overwhelmed by a lot of things and he didn’t have the chance I have to express himself through music. He’s the one who enrolled me in guitar classes because he noticed I liked that. When I was a kid, I would listen to Rage Against the Machine and System of a Down. It was far from the blues I play today, but that was how I exteriorized my melancholy. My dad was a photographer, a very silent line of work, that made him interiorize everything. His departure was my reason to say yes to what was coming, yes to the record label, yes to the album. I figured that from that point on, all I could do was make my dreams come true, because I had the tools to let those emotions out of me.”
“Our blues-country-rock talks about the dilemma of choosing between isolation and union.”
Each song is concentrated, with sound that can’t really be de-constructed; everything is divinely in its place. The voice is solidly up-front, while the percussion, lap steel, or guitar fill out the remaining space. Everything is on at the right level. “I do my own backing vocals,” says Labbé, “which means I sometimes have up to four harmonies of my own voice. Nothing beats the human voice. That’s what gives you goosebumps.” As do enthusiasm and intention, according to the singer. “No matter how many instruments there are, everything is right up front,” he says.
The album production and mixing were entrusted, piecemeal, to Tonio Morin-Vargas and Jesse Mac Cormack, and they focused on what was best about each song to create a whole that capitalizes on everyone’s strengths without losing the common thread. “It’s a quilt that makes sense,” says Labbé, who chose Mac Cormack’s more alternative forte, and Morin-Vargas’ roots talents, to allow Horizon to become the expression of his many states of mind.
Labbé’s music evokes a school of thought that’s marginal, but accessible. “Our complaints are complaints of consternation about the choices people make,” says Labbé. “Our blues-country-rock talks about the dilemma of choosing between isolation and union,” he adds, stressing the urgency of trading Netflix for anything that’ll get us out of our homes. “There are many valves through which beauty can be released, and we need to find the one that’s right for us.”
The Horizon rises at the confluence of all the sounds that have marked the spirit of Mon Doux Saigneur’s journey. It makes us want to ride along the same road, without having to worry that the neighbours might complain about the volume. “When I was a kid, we’d listen to pop music really loud in the car,” says Labbé. “My parents would crank the volume up.” Let’s all crank up the volume.
Mon Doux Saigneur Horizon album release, Thursday, Feb. 13, Théâtre Fairmount, Montréal.