“Early on in my career, I wrote what I called ‘ethereal poetry,’” Pierre Lapointe explains during our lengthy discussion, one of the first he’s had while making the promotional rounds for his album, La science du coeur. “I was yearning to understand how to write without succumbing to the dictatorship of ideas. That yielded lyrics that had their qualities… and their faults. Therefore, I believed that when I fully understood the art of touching people, while also confident that they’d understand what I’m actually talking about, I’d add, tongue in cheek: ‘Fasten your seatbelts, because you’re in for quite a ride!’”
And that is indeed the first thing that strikes the listener on La science du coeur, his fifth original studio album (not counting his 2014 covers album, Paris Tristesse): lyrically, he goes straight for the jugular. Message received, loud and clear. One recognizes the distance travelled since the rhymes on his first (eponymous, 2004) album and the exceptionally ambitious and fantasy-driven La Forêt des mal-aimés (2006). Lapointe;ls lyrics are now crystal clear – vulnerable, even – on this album, born out of a “professional love at first sight” with French composer and arranger David François Moreau.
Renowned for his movie and stage play scores, as well as for his collaborations with such songsmiths as Cali and Patrick Bruel (who also happens to be his half-brother), Moreau had written a long letter to Lapointe after attending one of his concerts.
“It was almost a love letter – I was a little uncomfortable, to tell the truth,” Lapointe confesses. “Michel, my manager, then met with him. ‘He’s quite cool, quite serious,’ Michel told me. He doesn’t come across as crazy… I then called my friend Albin de la Simone who told me that David is actually one of his good friends, and that his brother is actually a well-known jazz drummer, with whom he’d played before, etc. Albin told me, ‘I’ll organize a dinner next time you’re in Paris, so you and he can meet.’”
Following a convincing first encounter, Lapointe took a few weeks off in Japan, a stay that inspired the lyrics to “Naoshima.” He then listened to every bit of work Moreau had done, finally realizing that he might just have found the perfect partner to finish this new album, a record which was fully realized in the mind of the singer-songwriter. “I told him, ‘I want to bridge the gap between the classical French songbook – which is to say, play with the work of such monumental artists such as Ferré, Barbara, Brel, et al. – and contemporary music, mainly Philip Glass and the minimalists, as well as orchestral music. Are you up for it?’”
“The writing is extremely contemporary: writing like that 40 years ago would’ve been unthinkable, and even I could not have written like this as little as 10 years ago.”
And up for it he was. The pair first tested the concept over a period of two weeks in Paris (with Lapointe taking advantage of the SOCAN House there) by working on three of the album’s more robust songs: “Alphabet “ (“Everyone kept saying it didn’t belong on the album, but I insisted”), “Qu’il est honteux d’être humain,” and the title track (and first single), which is also the opening song. “We tried to do a mash-up of those ideas as we worked on what I was calling ‘my intellectual album,’ by lifting sounds from the pop world as well as from modern music from the ’50s and up,” says Lapointe. “I only had one condition: no synths. Nothing but acoustic, orchestral instruments.”
And it works. The music is rich, the lyrics raw, but the singer – who’s the backbone of the whole experience – grounds the emotions when the orchestration and structure aim for the stratosphere. “We succeeded, I think, in making an album that makes no concessions, yet still seems unified,” says Lapointe. “It’s the result of a highly intellectual approach that manages to still be approachable. The songs sound like classics that have always been around, but they’re totally new. The writing is extremely contemporary: writing like that 40 years ago would’ve been unthinkable, and even I could not have written like this as little as 10 years ago.”
La science du coeur is the sum of 15 years in the business expressing himself, the result of the experience acquired by an artist who describes himself as a craftsperson who fine-tunes his art “and who works, in the studio, onstage, on visuals and graphic design, with collaborators who teach me a lot.” People who spur him on to explore, widen his horizons and create relentlessly. Indeed, this album, which has been mixed, mastered and ready to release since last March and “is already integrated in my life,” already feels almost old for Lapointe, who confesses to already having three other albums recorded! “I don’t know when or how they’ll come out, but they exist.”
Moreau produced the album and penned the arrangements, played by an orchestra conducted by Simon Leclerc, Lapointe’s ever-present partner in crime, with Philippe Brault credited as artistic co-director. Other collaborators include singer-songwriters Félix Dyotte on “Zopiclone,” and Daniel Bélanger on the touching and sumptuous ballad “Une Lettre,” the album closer.
“Daniel Bélanger and I have been friends, and have tried to write music together for a long time,” says Lapointe. “We’d written one piece of music once, which never came out, and I don’t even know where it is now. But you see, Daniel has a way of writing songs that’s completely different from mine. I find myself with a friend, Philippe B or Philippe Brault, Dyotte, whoever, and then we just go: play me a chord, I’ll find a word, and then we just bounce things off each other until we end up with something.
“When I tried that with Daniel, he froze. I could tell it wasn’t going to work, and I told him I’d send him a lyric so that he can work on it on his own. Daniel told me, laughing: ‘It’s like you just whipped out your cock and started masturbating in front of me – I can’t, I’m too shy!’ I thought it was very funny, because I could tell that my way of working would make him very self-conscious. So we wrote a couple of songs where I would send him my lyrics. I call Daniel my ‘elder’, him and Jean Leloup. “Les Insomniaques s’amusent” and “L’Amour est sans pitié” are two records that I absolutely learned by heart.”
In the early stages of his career, the excitement of other people’s attention to his work, and himself, was very present. “Now, I see myself more as a craftsman,” says Lapointe. “Writing songs has become more natural, which doesn’t mean it’s easier. It simply means I can now rely on more knowledge and more experience. Plus, playing live has become less an event and more something I enjoy, most notably the part where I can cherry-pick the musicians I want to play with, based on the admiration I have for their work, and the ease with which we connect on a human level.
“The same goes for the album,” Lapointe continues. “But you see, the album has become a way to understand myself. There has always been something quasi-therapeutic, something that compels me to introspection, to try to become a better human being. It sounds self-absorbed when you hear those words, but I did always use the arts as a way to reconcile myself with what humans can be. As I grow older, my musical projects tend to reach for something universal, at least my definition of what’s universal. Then, if people are moved, good, I’ll be the happiest man on earth. But my prime interest [with each new album] is to position it in relation to where I came from, and where I want to go. When a project is done, what I’m interested in is: did I attain that goal? With La science du coeur, I think I did.”
La science du cœur will be released Oct. 6, 2017.