There’s no reason to take your time when you have enough friends to ably carry everything you wish to say. Pierre Lapointe arrives with his third album three years, produced by a third friend in a row, Albin de la Simone, who’s allowed Lapointe to walk off the beaten path, with his eyes barely open. Déjouer l’ennui is a collection of “lullabies for children who grew up too fast.”

“Each project is the expression of a friendship,” says Lapointe, who tapped David-François Moreau to produce 2017’s La science du cœur and Philippe Brault for the production of 2018’s Ton corps est déjà froid.” I create very fast, so it’s the best way to avoid repeating myself,” says Lapointe. “If I’d made those three records as rapidly, and on my own, it wouldn’t have been as good.” He could have elected to learn the techniques for successful self-production, but that’s not where he wanted to go. “I voluntarily left that hurdle so that I have to turn to others for it,” he says. “That way, even if you work alone, you’ll always come up with something new.”

It is Albin de la Simone, present at our interview, who homogenized this story of ennui, that one can easily mold to one’s heart. “We started from the song ‘Le monarque des Indes’ [‘The Monarch of the Indies’],” says the producer. “We wrote it together and felt it would set the direction of the album. Everything that came afterwards was put through the filter of that experience, and we pushed aside anything that wasn’t caught in that net.”

Lapointe gave Albin a list of what he wanted. The starting point in question is a moment, a memory from the PUNKT tour during which Pierre and his musicians played “La plus belle des maisons” – heard on Déjouer l’ennui – centre-stage, around a single microphone. That emotion had to be re-born with the same essence. “I sent Albin Creole nursery rhymes, and songs by Manno Charlemagne, Haiti’s Richard Desjardins,” says Lapointe. That was how they would defeat ennui.

Several more friends participated, which allowed Lapointe to distance himself from his own perspective, and to inhabit many universes. Among them was Daniel Bélanger, who wrote the music for “Vivre ma peine.” “We had to fit Daniel’s guitars into our molds,” they say. The song “Pour déjouer l’ennui” was written by brothers Hubert Lenoir and Julien Chiasson, and re-worked alongside Lapointe to conform to the chosen direction. Philippe B contributed “Vendredi 13,” which Lapointe plays as “an homage to the one who was always close by.”

Drummer José Major was challenged by having to fit within the album’s soft approach, where big, percussive rhythms were rare. “He had the biggest challenge,” says Lapointe. “He had to play at one or two on a scale of 11.” “We wanted him to caress the skins instead of hitting them,” adds Albin. “That’s what created the instrument’s warmth.” “We brought everyone back to the essence of things by breaking their habits,” says Lapointe. “Like asking Philippe Brault to play guitarrón, which he’d never played before.”

Once he’s chosen his producer, Pierre Lapointe readily accepts all the changes in direction that may come. He allowed Albin’s wind to carry him toward new ideas. “This album actually does fill a gap, from which I thought his discography suffered,” says the producer. “My habits are diluted in Albin’s choices, and in the talent of my friends who collaborated on the album,” says Lapointe. “It allowed me to put my finger on what I needed: cooling down. It’s actually the first of my albums that I listen to for my own enjoyment. It sounds self-absorbed, but I hope it has the same effect on the people who listen to it.”

For Lapointe, whose humility is ever-evolving, all music is drafted from a central point, and the many hands that contribute to the music help it crystallize around that point. “Everyone pours their energy into something that belongs to everyone and no one at the same time,” he says. “I don’t feel the need to appropriate it, even though it’s my face on it.”

In 2021, the Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec will recognize the 20th anniversary of Lapointe’s career, but he’s just thankful to still be around. “I’m not one to do assessments,” he says. “I’m here, now, and tomorrow.” What he chose to do – in order to avoid worrying about the pressure generated by his desire to be counted among the greats – is to constantly take risks, and challenge himself to do new things. “Friends, work, abandon: it’s a lifestyle that I’m comfortable with,” he says.

One thing is clear for Patrick Watson: things will never be the same. “We have to realize how much hip-hop and R&B have transformed the way song lyrics are written,” he says. “Folk’s pretty metaphors are dead. From now on, lyrics have to be direct, and straight to the point. The level of vulnerability displayed in hip-hop and R&B has pushed the limits. And once you cross that vulnerability line, you can’t go back.”

Patrick WatsonMontréal’s singer-songwriter has just launched Wave, his best album so far. It’s a luminous offering, despite having been born out of the pain of losing his mother, and a friend. It’s also a bold album because it marks a departure from the sonic dynamic that has characterized the five previous ones: instead of lengthy songs filled with orchestral flourishes, we’re now witnessing an uncharacteristic sense of self-discipline from Watson, who readily admits that he’s always draped himself in “dramatic” arrangements, as he calls them.

Two things have transformed his approach to songwriting. The first was Frank Ocean’s Blonde, but more on that later. The second one fell on his lap during the writing of Wave. “Adam Cohen gave me a call and said that there’s one of his father’s songs for which they still haven’t found the right arrangement,” he says. “So he sends me this Leonard Cohen demo and I hear him sing over this music – the classic honk honk of synths; it was quite delightful! I got rid of the music and only kept the vocal track, which was quite powerful on its own. Man, the conviction you hear in every single word he utters, it’s so rich and touching!”

That song is called “The Hills,” and it’ll be featured on the posthumous Leonard Cohen album Thanks for the Dance, to be released on Nov. 22, 2019. Watson composed new arrangements, “but to be honest, I don’t know if [Leonard Cohen] would’ve liked them,” he says. “I wanted to enhance the dark side of the lyrics, and maybe he would’ve preferred the opposite, which would have worked, too… I simply tried to be in tune with the lyrics, and the sound of his voice, with more modern, electronic orchestrations,” a sonic element also noticeable on Wave.

Watson is adamant that working with this unreleased Leonard Cohen voice track completely changed his own way of writing and singing. “Just hearing his voice, without any music, and hearing that conviction,” he says. “There’s no need to underscore it with music.” He points out the fact that the suave “Melody Noir,” on his new album, is totally a reflection of this newfound Cohen influence.

“I think the mistake a lot of musicians make is to play music in the hope of becoming someone else.”

The lyrics are self-sufficient, Watson insists. He sees Cohen as a “heavy-duty writer, just like Bob Dylan. For those guys, the text is so important, and at that point you realize that the more potent the lyrics, the simpler the music. You don’t hear them using huge arrangements or extravagant musical ideas; it’s the text that dictates what the music should do. The only genius who might be an exception to this rule is Tom Waits,” someone whose lyrics are as elaborate as the music. “Closer to us, an artist like Fred Fortin is also of that ilk.”

But back to Frank Ocean, who had a profound and transformative effect on Watson, musically as much as lyrically. “There’s no way that rap and R&B have not considerably changed the way we make music, nowadays,” regardless of the style, says Watson adamantly. “It’s not a question of form – R&B rhythms have nothing in common with what I do. It’s a question of sound, of how you mix music. If you sing playing the piano, you record in a single room, while when you use electronics, it’s right there, front and centre, but the voice needs to be front and centre too. That is how production techniques influence the lyrics: everything is more direct. That has an influence on the way I write and deliver certain rhymes.” Songs such as “Turn Out the Lights” – which is delicate and nearly minimalist compared to Watson’s earlier work – and “Wild Flower” are examples of the influence of the modern and discretely electronic production techniques of R&B.

“To be clear, the influence is not in the sound per se, but in how I understand the intention behind that type of production,” says Watson. “I believe it’s important to me, as a musician, to properly grasp and understand the intention behind those songs. It’s a lengthy process, I’ve spent months and months recording demos before grasping that idea.” Four to five times more songs than the 10 that made Wave’s final cut were recorded as demos.

Four years after Love Songs for Robots, Patrick Watson has managed to re-invent his writing and musical approach, and gives us this Wave of pure, unadulterated emotion that, wrapped in self-discipline, become paradoxically more troubling than when he draped his compositions in luxurious orchestrations. Here again, he says, the key lies in the intention. “You can’t just decide to change your sound like you would pin a picture on the wall and stare at it to imitate it,” he says. “I think the mistake a lot of musicians make is to play music in the hope of becoming someone else. One’s music is nothing but the expression of who one is. If you try to be somebody else musically, everyone will hear that. If you want to do something new, if you want to change sounds, don’t change your music, change yourself: the music will follow. Your intentions are what gives the music you create all the colours it has.”

A year ago, Salomé Leclerc came out with a third album that, albeit with some degree of difficulty, would change her path forever. To let out those Choses Extérieures, the singer had to undergo exhaustive introspection – which led to an exercise in stepping out of her comfort zone, to test her limits and take a leap of faith. A year later, she’s glad to see the amount of ground she covered, and has no regrets about the decisions that led to the album.

“There’s no doubt that a third album is an important milestone, but I do feel I’ve really found myself with this record, she says. “By producing the album myself, I chose the harder path, one filled with highs and lows. But in the end, it gave me a tremendous amount of confidence in myself.”

Now, a year later, she’s ready to go to the ADISQ Awards Gala, where she’s nominated in many of the most prestigious categories – including Songwriter of the Year. Her nomination as Producer of the Year offers an unexpected but welcome validation. The road to get there was a long one: after asking singer Émilie Loizeau to produce her first album, and her friend Philippe Brault the second one, she wanted to stand on her own two feet. Brault was still around to provide her with advice in the early stages, but Leclerc fully embraced her project, and even played all the instruments for it.

“I now know I can make albums on my own, but it doesn’t mean I’ll always produce them,” she says. “The pressure is immense when every aspect of your project depends on you; there’s no one around to finish a song for you! That being said, I mostly feel like offering my services to others, in order to better step out of my comfort zone. I talk about that more and more, sending it out in the universe,” she explains.

One of the more judicious choices the young producer made was to let the singer take centre stage. Critics were unanimous when the album came out: they’d never heard her spellbinding tone of voice, with such clarity and power. Her lyrics, filled with melancholy, and even pain, were previously hidden behind a veil; whereas now, they’re out in broad daylight.

“I think that I wanted to present myself as a musician on my previous albums, a musician who can jam in the studio and onstage, which meant the singer came second,” Leclerc admits. “This time around, I wanted to protect the singer and her words, which led me to streamline, to trim the songs, the number of musicians, the arrangements… The confidence I mentioned earlier is what people heard in my voice.”

“I don’t want to make records the way I have up until now – I want to explore.”

Emboldened by these new experiences, she’s filled with new desires – the first being that she doesn’t want to wait another three years – her usual pace until now – before getting back in the studio. “I don’t know what shape it’s going to take: release an EP, work with someone as a duo, work on a project with a specific set of constraints. But one thing’s for sure: I don’t want to make records the way I have up until now – I want to explore.”

Might we one day see her lead a new project? Will she go back to being a session musician, as she was for Vincent Vallières, with whom she toured as a back vocalist and guitarist? Nothing is off limits, as long as happiness is part of the equation.

“During the harder moments, I asked myself what had attracted me to music in the first place,” she says. “I wanted to go back to the source, and I re-discovered the simple pleasure of playing: playing music too loud in my headphones, and just banging on my drums, playing guitar just for fun, without the goal of writing a song. It re-connected me, and made me realize that I want to be guided by simplicity and pleasure.”