Following the release of his first, self-titled EP in 2012, Philippe Brach went on to win a slew of industry awards including the Ma Première Place des Arts competition in 2013, three Petite-Vallée festival awards (as well as the SOCAN Best Song Award for “T’aurais pas pu nous prendre à deux”) and the top honours of the 2014 Francouvertes competition.
Commenting on his achievements over such a short time-period, the young musician explains, “Music competitions are still relevant today, even though I’m through with them personally. They not only provide artists with a certain amount of visibility, they also prompt you to write more songs. I’m a determined artist, I know where I’m going, but competitions helped me meet people. And the exchanges that take place after the awards ceremonies are over are the most valuable prize you can get. Competitions are master classes being taught by artists who have reached various stages in their careers, and you learn a lot from them. They helped me hone my performing and creative skills, and I feel I am a better, more transparent artist for it.”
“I feel more at home exploring dark, grimy, negative corners of the human soul.”
“However,” Brach cautions, “music competitions are not for everybody. I’ve seen artists running out of awards ceremonies in tears and blaming themselves. The main thing with contests is to know who you are and where you’re going. Competing provides you with the ammunition you need to succeed and gain respect,” the voluble musician sums up.
Awash in music industry awards, the 25-year-old musician released his first full-length album, La foire et l’ordre (Chaos and Order) in April 2014. This wilfully untidy folk-rock opus with appealing country touches and simple, effective arrangements has brought some listeners to draw creative parallels between Brach and Bernard Adamus for lyrical irreverence, Pépé for pervasive humour, and Vincent Vallières for sonic quality.
“I had no particular outline in mind,” says the Saguenay-born, Montreal-based musician. “I wasn’t planning on a concept album, but only trying to put the songs first and build the album around them. I must say, I’m rather pleased with the result. It’s crooked in places, but that was on purpose. There are four or five years of writing in there. Some songs are not what you’d call great songs, let’s face it! But it’s OK with me. Some tunes may not be all that accomplished, but I was eager to perform them onstage, and they all contain a message. This recording paints a true picture of where I was at that particular stage in my career. I need references like that to be able to move on and try something different.”
With the help of producer Pierre-Philippe Côté (a.k.a. Pilou), who has been with him since his first recording, Brach deals with sensitive topics (such as a harsh criticism of today’s Church on “Race-pape”) on his first full-length album, and does so with just the right amount of zeal, and without insistence or complacency.
“My songs are inspired by what I see around me – love, death, drugs, religion, travelling,” he says. “But I sometimes also talk about things I know nothing about, and that’s really interesting. All human beings have their own hurts, and I like to adapt mine to song. It’s an excellent creative engine while being an exercise in trying to understand what makes human beings tick. I’ll be the first to admit that I feel more at home exploring dark, grimy, negative corners of the human soul.”
Influenced by the music of Harmonium, Fred Fortin, The Doors and Frank Zappa, Brach is also a lover of hip-hop. “I love the Wu-Tang Clan, and although there are no traces of hip-hop on my album, that attitude is there,” he says. “I’m not a textured sound guy – I’m a feelings guy. The main thing is to remain true to yourself. I’ve been called a ‘bloody sellout,’ but that doesn’t bother me. You know, I have strong opinions on a lot of things, but I always listen to other people, and I am open to the possibility of changing my mind at some point. I’m open,” he says with an amused smile.
While he’s scheduled to perform in a handful of venues before the end of 2014, Brach is basically looking forward to concentrating on writing songs for his second album. He’s planning to go into the studio in June 2015 for an October 2015 release.
“I have a feeling it’s going to be more acoustic, more sedate, maybe a bit less crazy,” he says. “I need to be in control and know exactly where I’m at. Many artists allow themselves to get distracted by things outside of music, but not in my case. I want to put my own house in order, finish the songs I haven’t yet completed, and then see what songs I still need and plan the overall creative feel of the album. Although Pilou is a close colleague, I also want to work with different people each time. It teaches me new ways of doings things, it’s creatively stimulating. What attracts me in this profession is the possibility to keep learning. Who would I like to work with? Éric Goulet, Philippe Brault, Philippe B or Louis-Jean Cormier. I admire their work.” Any takers?