Jean-Michel Pigeon, Monogrenade’s young lead singer, describes how his creative station was put in orbit. His first trials took place in the touring truck of his first band, Winter Gloves, in which he mostly followed orders as a guitarist. In 2008, after completing three Canadian and U.S. tours, he launched Monogrenade, his new rocket, by recording the eight songs of their debut EP, La saveur des fruits (The flavour of fruit), in a cottage with friends. His brand of imaginative pop with a taste for weightlessness really took off.
Following a much-noticed appearance in the 2010 Les Francouvertes showcase competition, where Monogrenade reached the finals and won SODRAC’s Prix chapeau aux compositeurs (Hats Off to Composers Prize) for “M’en aller” (“Going Away”), the band was signed by Bonsound, and released their first album, Tantale, a year later. This first major opus helped Monogrenade burst onto the bubbling local indie scene and get their show on the road in the rest of Canada and in France, where Tantale elicited high praise in the influential Les Inrockuptibles magazine.
“I’m not very fond of talking about myself and baring my soul through my songs.” – Jean-Michel Pigeon of Monogrenade
That brings us right up to the painstaking creation (with fellow band members François Lessard, Marianne Houle, Mathieu Collette, Ingrid Wissink and Julie Boivin) of their current album, Composite, a recording that was nearly a year in the making and actually placed Monogrenade in orbit. That drawn-out creative experience was perfectly in sync with Jean-Michel Pigeon’s personal style. “It is true that it’s nice to try and take things to the next level,” he says, “but there’s always a chance that a song’s basic essence will get lost along the way. Taking your time is a healthy way to go about your creative work. Personally, I like to create layered compositions. It’s a slower process, but I like to compose naturally without any pressure.”
The results of that more “natural” recording pace are plain to see on Composite, a concept album (retro-futuristic movie style) that is much more cohesive than the more tentative Tantale.
Strangely, in spite of the fact that the Composite lyrics deal with the diversity and complexity of human relationships, Pigeon is the last person you could bring to share his innermost feelings in a song. Is it out of a sense of modesty? “Yes, that could be a reason,” he admits. “I must say that I’m not very fond of talking about myself and baring my soul through my songs. What I like doing best is making up stories, pretending I’m someone else… Not all composers have exciting lives to use as song material, you know. What I like about writing in a more generic style is that listeners can interpret your lyrics any way they like. Your music can touch people even if you stand back.
“I think people could look at us as musical impressionists of some sort,” Pigeon suggests, explaining how the band’s Composite album was influenced by the esthetics of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. “The music often comes first. It generates images in our minds that dictate the topics that we’ll develop. The human relationships theme of that album probably came out of our experience of the previous two years, being together as a group all the time with the forced intimacy and the intense brief encounters involved. The life of the touring musician can prove a bit strange for someone like me, who loves spending time alone and burning the midnight oil when in a music-writing mode.”
Obviously, Monogrenade has not found it easy to reconcile their pursuit of compositional sophistication with the day-to-day realities of concert performance. Admitting that he considers himself to be a studio artist more than a stage performer, Pigeon explains that he compensates by concentrating on the band’s sound rather than on their collective personality: “I’m actually of two minds about performing onstage,” he says. “It’s quite rewarding to go play in real time with people who love your music, but it’s not my main driver. Some people are born stage magicians. Give them a guitar and a mic, and they’re on. It’s unbelievable! With Monogrenade, though, what matters most onstage for us is our ability to reproduce our vision as a musical unit. I’m in music, not show business.”
Though Pigeon maintains that Monogrenade actually has a pop music sound, their recordings don’t get played on commercial radio – only on community and university radio stations. On that topic, the musician says that he must watch his words as this situation has the potential to make him more vocal than he would like to be. “They told us we didn’t have the right format, that the voice was not up front enough,” he says. “I personally think that it would be a good thing for us to broaden our radio-listening horizons here in Quebec. I feel we’re always hearing the same artists in spite of the fact that, over the past five years, a lot of great pop music has been created here. I’m thinking of Marie-Pierre Arthur, Peter Peter, Jimmy Hunt… I don’t understand why the public is not more interested in this new wave.”