The year is 1994, the city, Montréal. Picture Le Hasard, a now-long-gone pub during the afternoon and a disco at night, at the corner of Ontario and St-Hubert streets. An artist and a Canadian Press journalist are sitting in the empty pub, mid-afternoon, talking about the first album the singer-songwriter has just released.
This music journalist is listening to the young twentysomething talking about his songs and aspirations with a passion that’s a close second to the fervour with which he downs a pint. Things aren’t going well for him, though. The record has only sold a few hundred copies, his songs haven’t been picked up by radio stations, and music journalists from all of the major dailies in Montréal have declined the invitation for an interview with him, despite the best efforts of Gamma, his label at the time, and its representative, Patrice Duchesne.
Twenty-two years later, things have changed quite a bit. Éric Lapointe is now a major, A-list star. He’s sold more than a million records, and has lived the rock-star life like very few others on the Québec scene, regardless of the era. “N’importe quoi,” “Terre promise (poussé par le vent),” and “Marie-Stone,” three singles from his album Obsession (1994), will officially be consecrated as SOCAN Classics* at the Gala de la SOCAN on Sept. 12, 2016, at Montréal’s Métropolis.
Two decades after that first sit-down, the two men meet again to carry on with their 1994 conversation, but this time, with no filter, and solely to talk about the creation of those three songs.
“That record was my first production and it took a long time,” Lapointe remembers. “It took a year and a half… They were asking me to write ‘ballads for teens.’ Those were the exact words of [Gamma Records boss] Mr. [Jack] Lazare.
“I already knew Roger Tabra, by then. We met often… I was writing songs, but nothing appealed to the record label. I was about to give up. And it was right after I split with Marie-Stone. But we’ll get back to that.
“That’s when Tabra said, ‘We’ll write you a ballad.’ He said, ‘What do you want to sing about?’ and I said, ‘N’importe quoi’ (Anything). He said, ‘We’ve got a title!’ That was the first of many collaborations with him.”
“Terre promise (poussé par le vent) »
“I wrote ‘Terre promise’ when I was 16, when I left home to go West. I was homesick. Then I just left it in a drawer. When I entered the studio to record Obsession, many years later, I brought about two dozen songs of mine.
“Aldo Nova was producing the album, and he picked up only five of them. And on top of that, he told me to work on them some more… Crazy! I’d play my songs for him, and I wouldn’t even have time to make it to the chorus or bridge, and he’d say: ‘No, it’s not on point!’’
“That’s when I dug through my old stuff and pulled out ‘N’importe quoi.’ I sang it for him, and, again, before I made it to the chorus, he said: ‘Now that’s on point!’ Aldo had spotted the hook. It’s thanks to him that the song saw the light of day.
“It’s ironic. I wrote that when I was 16 and I’m now 46. It’s a very symbolic song for me. I can’t avoid playing it in my shows. But at some point, I didn’t sing ‘N’importe quoi’ for a good five years. And when I dusted it off, it had become a nostalgic song. I can’t do that with ‘Terre promise.’ Besides, it ages very well.”
Normal, isn’t it? On the 1994 original version, it begins with a discreet acoustic guitar. It’s timeless. It’s usually a token of longevity.
“If you can’t sing a song with just a guitar and a voice, or a piano and a voice, it’s simply not a song. After that, you can sing it any way you want, country, jazz or heavy metal.”
“Marie-Stone was in fact Marie-Pier. My girlfriend. And my first major heartbreak. When I was writing ‘N’importe quoi,’ I’d just moved from a three-bedroom flat in Outremont to a one-bedroom in Centre-Sud. I didn’t even have a mattress.
“Marie-Pier smoked weed, which is why I called her Marie-Stone. But she wasn’t a stripper, contrary to popular belief. She was doing her Master’s degree.”
But regardless of the song’s quality, you have to admit that in this case, the video (a stripper in a bar crowded with drunk guys) goes a long way to explain the song’s popularity.
“The video was directed by Alain DesRochers and Podz, who have both become renowned movie directors. We couldn’t miss. Everybody watched Musique Plus back then. Radio had turned down ‘Terre promise.’ It took CKOI a whole month before they decided to give it a try. Guy Brouillard [the station’s musical director] just didn’t want to have anything to do with it. But when Musique Plus put ‘Marie-Stone’ in double rotation, radio had no choice but to follow suit. Musique Plus had kick-started the machine.
“Was it an image issue? I don’t know. Man, they even turned me down at L’Empire des Futures Stars [a now-defunct talent contest sponsored by CKOI]. Yet the demos I’d submitted were for ‘Terre promise’ and ‘Marie-Stone.’ And four years later, I was presiding the jury for that same contest!” [laughs]
So what’s the difference between Éric Lapointe then and now, besides the obvious age factor?
“Well, that’s it. I’m older, I’m a father, and I’ve settled down. But I’m just as passionate as when I was a teen, especially when it’s time to go onstage. And I’m just as nervous now as I was then. It’s a good thing. Besides, it’s a privilege to touch people’s lives. and still sing to sold-out venues with a bottle of scotch nearby.”
* To earn the title of SOCAN Classic, a song must have recorded at least 25,000 radio plays since its launch, at least 20 years ago.
“Terre promise (poussé par le vent)” and “Marie-Stone”
Written by Éric Lapointe, Stéphane Campeau, Stéphane Tremblay, Adrien Claude Bance
Published by Avenue Éditorial, Les Éditions Gamma ltée., Les Éditions Clan d’Instinct inc.
Written by Éric Lapointe, Roger Tabra, Aldo Nova
Published by Éditions Bloc-Notes, Éditorial Avenue, Les Éditions Gamma ltée. , Les Éditions Clan d’Instinct inc.