Roch Voisine’s 22nd album was released with 10 new, finely-crafted pop songs that are primed to take over radio throughout the Francophone world. Who knows, maybe even the whole planet, with such irresistible choruses, and strong musical hooks that go well beyond any linguistic consideration. The album, Devant nous (which can both mean “ahead of us” and “in front of us”), is a promising return to pop form after 10 years Voisine spent exploring outside his comfort zone, only to re-centre himself.
“During this period,” says Voisine, “I released three albums of Americana, as well as two other projects, Confidences and Duophonique; a crooner showcase with Corneille and Garou called Forever Gentlemen; and, two years ago, I released Movin’ on Maybe, an English album… There’s quite a bit of variety there! But then, I also realized that if I wanted to make something meaningful, that will reach people where they’re at right now, I needed to go back to pop. Life changes, and we no longer touch people in the same way.”
“Before we dove into the production of this album,” says Voisine, “my manager, Mario Lefebvre, and I decided to get up-to-date to figure out how we’d adapt to this new reality: people don’t listen to music the way they used to. I also wanted to change the way I work, with a different team; in other words, I wanted to re-invent myself. Mario put together a great team, everything was in place for me to work the way I wanted to. One thing I knew for sure was that there weren’t going to be a lot of ballads or sappy love songs. I had a head full of songs that make you want to move.
“My problem wasn’t that I’d lost my drive to write songs, but rather that I wanted a more meaningful musical format. You get to a point in life where you want to reach out to more than a small group of people with your songs. More universal themes and looking to the future. It’s possible to make intelligent pop songs, and I believe these 10 songs are proof of that.”
Many Québecois and European collaborators contributed to the music and lyrics of Devant nous, but the most important role in this new odyssey was entrusted to Jay Lefebvre – credited as a composer, co-producer and arranger – who is also a creative partner for pop-punk band Simple Plan.
There were challenges, Voisine admits. “One of them was singing ‘Entre mes mains’ (‘In My Hands’),” he says. “It’s uber-poppy, with broken beats, and I really wondered how I would properly deliver it.” “Tout me ramène à toi” (“Everything Brings Me Back to You”) is the album’s first single and it promptly reached the top of the Francophone Canadian Top 100. “We wrote one chorus and one verse and the magic was there, we didn’t have to change anything,” he says. “‘Devant nous’ started out as a ballad, and as we worked on it, it became more uptempo. Yet, when you slow things down a bit, the meaning of the lyrics becomes more evident, especially in French.”
The album was recorded in November and December of 2016 in three different studios. Two months prior, Voisine participated in a musical tribute to legendary songwriter Luc Plamondon during the 27th Gala de la SOCAN in Montréal. He sang an emotional rendition of Plamondon’s SOCAN Classic “Ma mère chantait toujours,” which Voisine sang 25 years ago.
What’s really surprising, however, is that for the first time in his career, Voisine sings a Plamondon-penned song on his new album. “I didn’t want a Plamondon song, I wanted to write with Plamondon,” he says. Plamondon wrote the lyrics to “Nos Combats”, while the singer wrote the music, and tweaked the lyricist’s words.
Successful Québec singer-songwriter Corneille invited his friend Barnev Valsaint to do vocal harmonies on the song. “He’s a personal friend and we live five minutes from each other,” says Voisine. “I’d tell him, ‘Once you’ve dropped your son off at school, swing by for coffee and to swap a few ideas…’”
Voisine is the sole owner of his entire 22-album catalogue, including the publishing rights; he has long understood that a well-organized company, from the studio to the stage, from production to legacy management, was a must. “Hélène” belongs to him;’ she always will.
“If you want radio play but don’t do pop songs, well, good luck,” says Voisine. “Markets are different from one country to the next, and at the centre of the Francophonie. What I want is to play everywhere! Radio in France is transforming, looking for an identity, while here, we’re lucky, because there’s still adult-oriented radio [AOR] that gives some space to its artists. We want to be able to promote ourselves decently. Whatever might be said about the internet, it’s not always the solution; people who use those platforms don’t want to pay for music, while Facebook is not – in my case, anyway – what helps me sell records to a wider audience, as TV used to do a while back.”