Seven songwriters –Michel Rivard, Mara Tremblay, Éric Goulet, Luc de Larochelière, Gilles Bélanger (Douze Hommes Rapaillés), Arianne Ouellet and Carl Prévost (Mountain Daisies) – locked themselves up in May of 2015 with the goal of writing and recording songs over a period of seven days.
It was a high-wire act, but there’s no victory without risk. Éric Goulet is familiar with impromptu creative meetings, thanks to the Open Country events he co-hosts with Mountain Daisies at Verre Bouteille, and he came up with a brilliant idea to add suspense to the sumptuous Valcourt cabin where the artists had secluded themselves: every morning, after breakfast, the tone was set for the day by drawing the theme for a song out of a hat, into which each songwriter had placed a paper on which they’d jotted down a few sentences for the song subject, and a writing partner with whom the song was to be created. The challenge was to do it, with full music and lyrics, in three hours – and not a moment more.
Mara Tremblay remembers, “Having a theme helped me a lot, I work a lot better under pressure. Being limited to three hours to create a song, and having a direction and a partner, was a big motivation.”
“Initially, admits Michel Rivard, “when you play within such strict boundaries, having a pleasant environment to work in, in May, with cherry trees in bloom, and spring in the air, and the house filled with light… that helps a lot.”
Says Tremblay, “If we had recorded this album in a context where we all went home at night, it would’ve been a whole different album. The setting played a big part. I worked in my PJs most of the time!”
Ultimately, 14 of the 21 songs created during that week ended up on Sept jours en mai, a magnificent snapshot of this unique creative session that was launched March 18, 2016, on the Spectra Musique imprint.
Bélanger, like the others, was excited but anxious. “We started from scratch and needed to create everything,” he says. “We knew each other musically, even though most of us had never played with each other, and it worked.”
De Larochelière (and Goulet as well) had already experienced something similar through the songwriting workshops they directed at the Festival de la Chanson de Granby. “I would pair up participants and give them a theme,” he says. “We soon noticed that a song written in a set time limit was often quite better than another which had been worked on for three months. It’s like this sense of urgency is a catalyst.”
This time, Rivard says, “When I write my own songs, I can pause and get back to it the next day, but not there. If you hit a snag in the second verse, you have to resolve it right away, because when those three hours are up, you have to sing that song to the others.”
With a career three decades in the making, De Larochelière was thrilled by the experience. “I’ve never had a proper band, so this project was in total contrast with my usual modus operandi,” he says. “My first reaction was, ‘Oh yeah!’ Not everything was easy, sometimes we were missing a verse or a melody, but we always found a solution. And once you get into the groove of things, you can’t wait to start working on the next song.”
Singer and cellist Arianne Ouellet and her guitarist partner Carl Prévost see a definite parallel between that experience and Verre Bouteille’s music lab. “The collaboration process creates bonds, but the key element is sharing and listening to other people’s ideas,” she says.
Will this creative process influence your careers?
“When I created the songs for Les Filles de Caleb,” says Rivard, “I had to come up with 36 songs in record time, way too short a rime, but I had to deliver. So when I started working on my Roi de Rien album, that got transposed, to a certain degree. The Sept jours en mai experience definitely had an impact on my creation time.”
“Letting go and being receptive to your partners’ ideas was a big buzz for me,” enthuses Mara Tremblay. “It’s like getting on a never-ending merry-go-round; it’s addictive.”
But nothing was less sure than the fact that this week of collaboration and brainstorming would end up being an album.
“When I came back home,” says Rivard, “I was filled with doubt: what if what we did wasn’t really good and we’re the only ones that like it?”
Exhausted by the experience, Mr. Rivard? “Exhausted in a good way,” he says. “We rehearsed for two solid days recently, and I was drained, but happy. Everybody turned their ego off and opened their minds. We rehearsed together and we can now call ourselves a band.”
As you may have gathered, Sept jours en mai will tour throughout Québec this spring. Thirty dates have already been confirmed.