Emerging unscathed from a severe bout of pneumonia two years ago, the 30 year-old guitrist and composer Simon Kingsbury has now followed up his first solo album, Pêcher rien (2016), after his stint with the quartet Lac Estion (“La question,” get it? – Ed.) . Kingsbury was tossing a few album titles around in his dreaming mind, before settling on the title Plaza for his new collections of nine songs.
“I didn’t feel like having to read articles about wordplay, and mean metaphors, as was the case with Pêcher rien,” he says. (The title refeto having caught no fish.) “But the simple fact is, I live right next to Plaza St-Hubert [in Montréal], which is a weird melting pot of nail salons, bridal shops, hair salons, pawn shops, Carta Magica, a store where nerds queue up to play board games, and, of course, St-Hubert, the restaurant… It’s a lot like my music, I guess. A big party mix!”
Obviously, Kingsbury’s kidding. His Plaza, co-produced with ex-Groenland guitarist Jonathan Charette, and co-written with his old partner in crime Savia Fleury, won’t make you shimmy your way to the dancefloor. Raw guitars and splenetic moods permeate each track, and the songs had a theraputic effect. Plaza tackles death, love, suicide, and abuse, and Kingsbury reminisces on his big health scare.
“Before I went to the hospital, I was working a lot and partying hard,” he says. “When they told me I was sick, I was really scared. It was the warning I needed: time to take care of myself. No more getting wasted. I’d gotten to a point where I needed to take more and more to get high… I needed to devote all my energy to my music instead to wasting it all on getting drunk. When I started writing those new songs, “Dans le corridor” was inspired by the hospital, where I ended up staying for two weeks… I have a hard time writing fiction and creating characters. I’ve tried, and trust me, it didn’t work! I let myself be guided by my emotions. Yet, I’m still young, so who knows?”
What’s the difference between the two albums? “On Pêcher rien, we’d compromised,” says Kingsbury. “The guitar riffs were more ‘hooky,’ but the background was that I needed to vent after a breakup. A therapy, if you will.” Another therapy.
The lyrics glide by on his soft, sometimes quivering voice, the guitars aren’t overdriven, the arrangements very… sober. “It’s never too dark or too sunny,” says Kingsbury. “It’s true that ‘Je t’aime pareil’ [‘I love you anyway’] is quite dark, but the melody and vocal part somewhat lighten the load. There needs to be some beauty about it! Suicide is such a taboo topic, but we do need to be understanding of that state of mind. The song is about a friend about to jump from a cliff. The other character in the song says, ‘Jump if you want, I love you anyway.’”
Being self-taught, Kingsbury willingly admits that he doesn’t know guitar chords. It’s all played by ear, and the music that emerges is an imperfect playground that he explores at will.
“I don’t want to use synths,” he says. “I prefer raw sounds. Electronic music, even in micro-doses, is not me at all. I want to create melodies and ambiance. To me, the pleasure of making music is tinkering with my guitar until I have a song, and then going out to grab a beer. That’s when I’m the happiest dude on earth. Creation is a process and that process makes me Zen. Waking up in the morning with a smile on your face because you know you’re going to spend the whole day in a studio. That alone is motivation enough to keep going.”
In Kingsbury’s artistic mind, there are clearly a million ideas bouncing around. Plaza is an intimate look at some, that might not be fully appreciated in one sitting, but are worth approaching closely. His balance between shadow and light is deftly nuanced. And there’ll be more: “I prefer releasing EPs more often rather than an album every couple of years,” he says.