We reach Peter Peter in Paris, where he’s lived for three years now, to talk about his third album, Noir Éden (Black Eden), an electro-pop gem that‘s already garnered much critical success in France. While Montréal is covered with a thick blanket of snow, the sun is shining brightly over Île-de-France, where an effusive, enthusiastic Peter Peter explains the genesis of his pop-yet-atmospheric album – created with one foot on each continent.
“It was created partly in Montréal, because I wanted to work with the same team as on Une Version Améliorée de la Tristesse, especially Emmanuel Éthier on production,” he says, “and partly in Paris, because that’s where I call home. In fact, it all began in my flat, the place which probably has had the most influence on the sound of this album. I went to Montréal, came back to Paris, and finished the mix in Montréal!”
One might imagine that the singer-songwriter was executing a carefully measured recipe, but be forewarned, you won’t find any maple syrup, wild boar, or Camembert poutine here. Peter Peter’s music exists within his own unique internal geography. “One thing I can assure you of, is that I did not set out to consciously make a ‘French’ album, especially since that doesn’t mean much anymore in this era of globalization,” he says. “Each city has its own personality, its particular context, no doubt about that, but musical genres increasingly transcend boundaries.”
One might think that moving to France was a calculated professional move intended to increase his footprint on the European market, but Peter Peter confesses that his ambition was much more personal than professional – and that it is, in fact, a longtime dream coming true. Call it a promise he made to himself when he was a teenager, back in Québec City.
“When I lived in Québec City, I would listen to Smashing Pumpkins over and over,” he says. “I would dream of running away, hopping on a bus and moving to a city where people didn’t speak French, like Toronto. Clearly, I had a very limited idea of what ‘exotic’ means! I didn’t do it, but it was that very urge that drove me to move to Montréal, and that was an epiphany. It made me more curious, I came into my own, and my perspective on the world changed. But it wasn’t enough, so as soon as I got a record deal in France, I jumped at the opportunity to move to a place where I would feel even more discombobulated – if only because I didn’t know anyone there.”
“I’m not known any more in France than in Québec. The big difference here is that there are ten times more people!”
Far from being a big star who’s all over the media, Peter Peter has nonetheless managed to build a loyal fan base in France since the release of Une Version Améliorée de la Tristesse three years ago. The media are fond of his charming disposition, especially music magazine Les Inrockuptibles, who recently described him as the “damned variety singer that French pop was missing.” From our vantage point, one could get the impression he’s the object of a tsunami of love, but Peter Peter is quick to curb our enthusiasm.
“I have an audience that likes my melancholy songs, and certain media are aware of me, but all in all, I’m not known any more in France than in Québec. The big difference here is that there are ten times more people!” Don’t go thinking that Peter Peter is the next Roch Voisine. When he walks the streets of Paris, he’s not overwhelmed by hordes of delirious teens. “As a matter of fact, I quite like being essentially anonymous,” he says. “I’m sure my label would prefer I’m more popular – and I would too, honestly – but the fact that I have an audience that allows me to earn a living means that I won’t have to make any compromises to reach the mainstream. It truly is the best of both worlds.”
Although he’s long believed that he was destined to a nomad’s life, changing cities or countries with every album, Peter Peter is now growing quite fond of the stability he’s found in his newly adopted country. And despite the unavoidable fact that he will forever be a stranger – his accent giving him away instantly, certain critics happily and somewhat bizarrely pointing out that he is not a “voice” singer, à la Céline Dion – he’s developed his own routine in Paris, his new port of call.
“I don’t know if it’s because I’m now a thirty-something, but I’ve found a certain stability here that I’d never found before, and I like it,” he explains. And Noir Éden is precisely about that. The record touches upon the extreme solitude of being an ex-pat – both geographically, and on a personal level – and on the desire for stability, domesticity, even, that drives the singer nowadays. “Those things are very present on the album, but it also comes from the creative process,” says Peter Peter. “My first two records were done really hastily, using Garage Band. For the first time, on Noir Éden, I had all my equipment and my instruments set up in my apartment. I was in my own bubble.”
Based in the Montrouge, a neighbourhood on the outskirts of the 14th arrondissement, Peter Peter watched as the world was set ablaze while he was retreating into his inner world. “In the days following the Charlie Hebdo attack, I could see the GIGN agents (Groupe d’intervention de la Gendarmerie nationale] down in the streets; there was something apocalyptic about it all, and that’s what I sing about in ‘Allégresse.’” This contrast between the outside world and the cocoon of his flat is also present in “Vénus,” a song where he describes the impassive nature of his cat (whose meow we can hear during the song’s opening) in the face of mankind’s murderous insanity.
Thus, in between his existential reflections and pop sensibilities (to wit, the very radio-friendly “Loving Game”), Peter Peter creates music that’s both melancholy and rapturous, something like a post-modern Pet Shop Boys. There are more experimental passages, acoustic nods (“Cristal Bleu,” the album closer) and synth lines that are dangerously close to being kitsch. Noir Éden, as its title clearly states, is an album of paradoxes where Peter Peter seems to have found his way, and his voice.
“It’s true that I’ve allowed myself to explore more, vocally speaking,” he says. “Even though I’m Francophone, I’ve always found it challenging to sing in French… I was searching for my voice on the first two albums, I willingly avoided certain parts of my vocal range; there were ways of singing that were nearly taboo for me. I still have a flow that I define as Anglophone, but nowadays, I own my French side, such as the way I pronounce ‘no man’s land’ or ‘Shangri-La.’”
For his third album, Peter Peter explored his deepest recesses. He’s now at the stage where he needs to re-connect with his audience, which will begin during the Montréal en Lumières festival at Club Soda. “I’ve honestly never felt so happy to go back onstage,” he admits gleefully. “That’s another one of that album’s paradoxes: I feel like I made big sacrifices by creating this album with a feeling of great solitude and now, all I want is to get out of my own head and meet people.”