From standard bearer of the protest folk movement to charting pop-rock singer, Paul Piché is among the Québec music scene’s most legendary icons. To mark his 40th anniversary in music, the La Minerve-born singer-songwriter tells us the stories behind of 10 of his classic songs, alongside his closest collaborators from yesterday and today.

“Heureux d’un printemps” (Paul Piché, Éditions de La Minerve) – from the album À qui appartient l’beau temps ? (1977) – a SOCAN Classic

Paul Piché: “I remember perfectly the moment when I got the inspiration for this song. I was riding my car on Saint-Joseph Boulevard [in Montréal] and, when I turned onto Christophe-Colomb, the first two sentences popped up in my mind. I immediately stopped my old beater to jot them down. I was emblematic of how I felt about spring, back then: an appreciation for that season, mixed with the feeling of missing winter. I think everyone in Québec identifies with that song. It’s like you have to have truly experienced winter to understand the special nature of spring in Québec, and its liberating effect.”

Robert Léger, co-producer of the album: “That’s the song that seduced me when Paul opened for Beau Dommage in Sainte-Thérèse in 1974 or 1975. I knew it would be a hit because it had a huge potential to reach a lot of people on the right as well as on the left.”

Michel Rivard, guest musician on the album: “It’s a very unifying song that stands out among his early compositions. With this song, Paul proved that he was relevant, a talented poet and a good crafter of melodies.”

“Mon Joe” (Traditional, Arrangement by Paul Piché, Pierre Bertrand, Éditions de La Minerve) , from the album À qui appartient l’beau temps ? (1977)

Piché: “This is a Québec folk song that I discovered through a bunch of kids who were living in a commune. Someone in their entourage had just died and they were signing it very slowly and solemnly, almost as a blues song. It was quite an unusual way of doing it, because that song is normally very upbeat.”

Léger: “Paul had the idea to adapt this song and record it solo on guitar, with the help of Pierre Bertrand. Then we helped him give it a more rock feel, which wasn’t that easy, because Paul always had a foot on the brake pedal. He was quite the purist, and was wary of American music and anything commercial. Part of my role, therefore, was to get him to try new stuff. I think we went through eight cases of beer before we managed to convince him we weren’t necessarily going to hinder the workers’ cause by adding some bass to his songs!”

“Y’a pas grand-chose dans l’ciel à soir” (Paul Piché, éditions de La Minerve), from the album À qui appartient l’beau temps ? (1977)

Piché: “That’s my oldest popular song. I got my inspiration from Gérald Godin’s poem that spoke of révolutavernes and molsonnutionnaires. [poetic licence word plays that could roughly be translated as revolutaverns – taverns where the revolution is brewing – and molsolutionaries – as in revolutionaries full of Molson beer]. It reminded me of myself and all those tavern revolutionaries who think they can change the world while having a beer. I told myself that such an auto-critique would give me the licence to critique society. I remember singing that song for the first time in the student café of my Cégep. It was super-well-received from the get-go.”

Koriass, a musical guest on the 40 Printemps show: “I discovered that song when I was a teen, through a cover by the band Kermess. I was a big Québec rock fan, back then, and that song became a staple song that we sang at the Saint-Jean [Baptiste Day celebrations]. It truly is a bona fide classic of the Québec repertoire.”

“L’escalier” [Paul Piché, Éditions de La Minerve], from the album L’escalier [1980]

Piché: “That’s a very important song to me. I actually titled the album L’escalier so that people would pay attention to this song. The inspiration for this one came to me as I was walking down a staircase at the corner of Amherst and René-Lévesque [named Dorchester Street, back then]. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but it’s about this empty feeling I had inside from being lonely and having a hard time loving myself. As it evolved, its scope widened and it ended up being a song that basically says we can change the world if we all put our minds to it. It took a long time to get there, though; the writing stretched out over at least a year.”

Léger, co-producer of this album as well: “Paul has always been very meticulous with his songwriting. He sometimes wrote a hundred versions of a single song before he considered it final. Out of the lot, “L’escalier” was the one that gave him the most trouble. He loved a lot of bits from it, but he lost the song’s sense of direction. Then, one night, while having a beer, he said he fixed it. The song would start at the top of the staircase and end at its very bottom.”

Michel Hinton, pianist on the song and the album’s co-producer: “‘L’escalier’ was a true saga. The text was so dense that initially, the song could easily have been 20 minutes long! We didn’t quite know what to do with it in the studio. We operated in a very collegiate way, so we tried everyone’s ideas. We tried adding drums and bass, but it didn’t really work out. Not knowing what else to try, I suggested that Paul record it with only a piano and his voice. And that ended up being the version we kept.”

“Ses yeux” [Paul Piché, Pierre Huet, Michel Hinton, Éditions de La Minerve], from the album Nouvelles d’Europe [1984] – a SOCAN Classic

Paul PichéPiché: ‘This song marks the period where I allowed myself to step out of my folksinger character to explore more modern sounds. A lot of people were upset by that new direction… Even the fact that I cut my beard was almost scandalous!’

Michel Hinton, keyboardist and co-writer on the song: “We were working with sound engineer Paul Northfield, who had brought this incredible synth, and that greatly influenced the sound of this song, and of the whole album.”

Pierre Huet, co-writer of the song: “Before we went to the Morin-Heights studio for a few weeks of writing and recording, I visited Paul in La Minerve [Paul’s hometown, located 180 km northwest of Montréal]. He’d come up with a gorgeous chord progression on the guitar, and we started working with that. Back then, Paul and I were bad boys, hitting all the shadiest bars to drink and cruise the ladies. That’s quite simply where we got our inspiration for this song. It’s the story of our young, single lives.”

“Cochez oui, cochez non”  [Paul Piché, Pierre Huet, Michel Hinton, Éditions de La Minerve], from the album Nouvelles d’Europe [1984]

Rick Haworth, guitarist on the song: “I remember we did this one in Morin-Heights, in Paul Northfield’s small house adjacent to the studio. We spent two or three days there and, at some point, I came up with this small, super-cheesy, tacky guitar riff. To my surprise, though, both Pauls loved it, despite the fact that I felt I was only playing something stupid, as a joke! But when I realized they were dead serious, I was upset, and when we played it onstage and everyone knew that guitar lick in an instant, I understood that it worked, and was quite efficient.”

Piché: “People got the impression this song was about the [Québec independence] referendum, but it wasn’t, really. Pierre and I wanted to shed light on the soullessness of bureaucracy through a social commentary, not a nationalist one. But I’ve always let people read what they want into it. I didn’t argue with them when they talked to me about it.”

Huet, co-writer of the song: “Paul came to visit me when I lived on Casgrain Street. We sat in his car so he could play the demo tape with the bass riff he just recorded. We went around the block a few times and then went up to my place to write the song. It’s one of the last writing memories I have of Paul, because after that we had a little falling out. We rapidly became friends again, but we never worked together again. As I’ve said during an homage to Paul at the Francofolies, it’s a good thing we had that fight, because after Nouvelles d’Europe, he recorded Sur le chemin des incendies, which sold four times more!”

“Car je t’aime” [Paul Piché, Éditions de La Minerve], from the album Sur le chemin des incendies [1988] – a SOCAN Classic

Piché: “This song is about experiencing love, but it’s not about a specific experience of mine. What’s special, though, is that I actually experience exactly what the lyrics talk about shortly afterward. One could say it was a prophetic song.”

Haworth, guitarist on the song: “Glen Robinson was in charge of sound recording for this one. He compressed the guitar and drums to get a very warm, wide sound that I really liked. Listening to the song again recently, I realized it had a lot of elements that are now an integral part of the way I play guitar. I was quite young back then, and Paul afforded me a lot of freedom.”

“J’appelle” [Paul Piché, Robert Léger, Michel Hinton, Éditions de La Minerve, Éditions Mouche à feu], from the album Sur le chemin des incendies [1988] – a SOCAN Classic

Piché: “This one was an introspective observation, where I let the words guide me. At the time, I was hurt inside, almost constantly sad. I went up to my shack in La Minerve to hide. As I looked out, I imagined a wolf, as lonely as I was. And I had the idea of putting myself in his skin. The more I wrote, the more that wolf became a symbol for Nature, and how we spoil it.”

Co-writer Léger: “When Paul came to me, he had about eight lines written down. The wolf was already part of the song, but the challenge was to make him talk, to find out how he feels. For 10 or 12 nights straight, from 9:00 p.m. to 3:00 a.m., we wrote, finely going over each sentence. During an especially productive night, we came up with maybe three good sentences, which was quite satisfying for a songwriter like Paul.”

“Voilà c’que nous voulons” [Paul Piché, Audrey Benoît, Rick Haworth, Éditions de La Minerve, Éditions Nigowarh], from the album L’instant [1993]

Co-writer Rick Haworth: “I came up with a draft version of this song at home, playing banjo, and Paul thought it was really cool. It was a tad too folksy, so we worked on it quite a bit in the studio until we found the right tone. Ultimately, it ended up being one of the most ‘rock’ songs we’ve ever done together.”

Piché: “This was a much purer and raw song. We dropped the synths, the icing, the deep reverb… I wrote the lyrics with my girlfriend at the time, Audrey Benoît [a famous model in the ’80s, as well as a novelist, and creator of Québec’s first crowdfunding platform]. What we wanted to say was that Québec’s desire for sovereignty was not motivated by a desire to isolate ourselves from others, and that there was nothing racist or religion-based in there. On the contrary, we wanted to express that sovereignty was the best way to bring our differences to the international scene and make citizens of the world out of all of us.”

Co-writer Audrey Benoît: “‘Voilà c’que nous voulons’ is a heartfelt cry that speaks the truth, the raw and the essential. My participation in this call out, my deepest conviction, was to confirm the contemporary nature of that question. The fact that ‘no, it’s not just an old dream, it also sowed the seeds.’ ‘It’ was this project for a country, and this ‘project for a country’ didn’t appear out of thin air, and deserved our attention, just as we pay attention to our forefathers, or to Gilles Vigneault. Initially, Paul and I had a few debates about this song, which I felt was a little too simple, or maybe too direct. I was stunned when I saw the people’s reactions during live shows.”

“Ne fais pas ça”  [Paul Piché, Éditions de La Minerve], from the album Le voyage [1999]

Piché: “This song has more or less definable Latino, flamenco and calypso influences. What’s clear, however, is that I was really into Latin rhythms at the time. I wrote the lyrics in a way that came across as a little clumsy, as if I was a Latino man trying to speak French.”

Marc Hervieux, a musical guest on the 40 Printemps show: “‘Ne fais pas ça’ really gets to me in the way it talks about heartbreak, without using the cliché of a person curled up in a ball in a corner, listening to hard, depressing songs. It really speaks to me as a person.”


The 40 Printemps de Paul Piché tour will stop in Montréal on March 17, 2017, at the Bell Centre, with special guests Éric Lapointe, Koriass, Marc Hervieux, 2Frères, Safia Nolin; and at Québec City’s Vidéotron Centre on May 20, 2017, with special guests Safia Nolin and Vincent Vallières.