Le long chemin, singer-songwriter Nicola Ciccone’s 12th album, was an accident. Literally. In the winter of 2018, Ciccone was driving along on a road in Sutton, Québec, when an unforgiving patch of black ice made him lose control of his vehicle, and Bang! Six months of recovery after whiplash and a concussion.
So, what was he to do? Write songs, obviously. “It helped me heal and reveal myself,” says Ciccone. “No matter what, music has always been there to save my life. Six months of physio, chiro, and osteo sessions. I couldn’t sleep at night because I was in so much pain. I thought I was going to write a super-dark album during my convalescence, but paradoxically, all the songs came out sunny and positive. Writing songs isn’t always straightforward; a lot of it is subconscious, abstract, and emotion-based. I didn’t write a song called, ‘I’m recovering from my accident.’
“Inspiration doesn’t write songs, it only starts them being written. That’s why I consider myself a song builder. Even if I’m sitting in front of a blank page, I work hard! Take the title song, “Le long chemin”; I worked on that one for a whole month.”
After listening to the 11 new songs selected from the roughly two dozen he wrote (among which “Elle,” “Pleure,” “Love Is Like a Loaded Gun,” and “Superman est une femme” stand out), plus the reprise of “Oh, toi mon père” (which originally came out on his 2016 album Esprit Libre), the assessment comes naturally.
“I’m a humanist, I make music for human beings,” he says. “The first song I wrote was to woo a girl. I’m lucky to have a mostly female audience. Men are welcome, too! You might think it’s funny, but I get a lot of messages from guys telling me some of my songs move them and give them courage. It’s nice to read.”
This album is an unpretentious one that flows effortlessly, and makes you want to listen to it on “repeat.” He doesn’t re-invent the wheel, but his mix of intimate songs makes for an interesting cocktail – one that doesn’t end up drowned in over-production. The songs are showcased exactly as they should be.
“I like when things are simple,” says Ciccone. “When I went into the studio, I told my musicians that I didn’t want any loops or sequences, just real instruments. The guys freaked out [laughter]. All that was missing is the key ingredient: emotion. I’m Italian, so I like vocal flourishes, crescendos. However, I don’t have the same vocal personality when I sing in Italian, as opposed to English. It’s quite peculiar.”
Ciccone’s career has been flying high since 1999. Songs such as “Ciao Bella,” “Chanson pour Marie” and “L’opéra du mendicant” are all crowd favourites during his live shows. Another example is “J’t’aime tout court,” a single from his third album of the same name, which was certified platinum, with more than 100,000 copies sold. It was crowned Popular Song of the Year at the 2004 ADISQ gala, and went on, in 2006, to receive the ADISQ Reconnaissance Award for having spent more than 100 weeks(!) at the top of the sales chart. His song “Tu m’aimes quand même” was honoured by SOCAN in 2011 for being one of the 10 most popular songs that year.
“I never received a songwriting subsidy from SOCAN,” says Ciccone. “Maybe I should ask them! [laughter]. Of course, I’m just kidding. I read Paroles & Musique when I started out in 1999; I wanted to learn the ropes, know more about publishing, co-writes, I was trying to network, to get into showbiz. But I had songs such as “L’opéra du mendicant” or “Le menteur,” that aren’t as accessible, and very idealistic. I wanted to be in showbiz, but not by any means, or at any cost. Twenty-two years later, I can say I work this trade without compromise. No doubt that my pig-headedness served me well back then.”
What’s his take on the current state of the music industry, in Québec and elsewhere? Is he optimistic? “There are no miracle solutions,” he says. “Music still has the same value, it’s just as precious in the hearts of artists and their audiences. But when you’re a songwriter with an Italian name, you have to work a little harder. That’s why, in Québec, everyone is an emerging artist. Seriously! Especially songwriters. Nowadays, whenever you release a new song, it’s almost like you’re launching a new artist.”