Many artists are simultaneously lyricists, music creators, and singers. Yet sometimes the magic happens when separate lyricists, music creators, and singers meet. Such was the case for “Repartir à zéro,” which became a SOCAN Classic in the year 2000 and turns 30 years old in 2018.
One of Jo Bocan’s signature songs, since the launch of her eponymous album in 1988, Repartir à zéro was born of the collaboration between Danièle Faubert (lyrics) and Germain Gauthier (music).
Even in the now-rare instance where the lyricist, music composer, and singer are three distinct people, it’s usually because of a fourth person – the producer, in this case – that all the pieces come together.
Composer and Producer
Gauthier – who had composed music for Nicole Martin, Donald Lautrec, Pierre Létourneau, Renée Claude, Nanette Workman and Diane Dufresne in the ’70s and ’80s – was initially approached to be the producer.
“I’m pretty sure the project was underway when they called me in,” says the man who started his career as a guitarist. “It was Jean-Claude Lespérance who gave me a call to offer me to get on board.
“He said, ‘I want you to do Jo’s album.’ I said, ‘Oh! You know, Jo is quite left-field for me. Do you really think I’m the right person for the job?’ I thought I was more pop than Jo. She’s a very theatrical singer. That’s when he told me, ‘That’s why I’m calling you.’ I told him I wanted to meet Jo before I gave him an answer.
“I didn’t know Jo, but it really clicked between us artistically. There was some kind of magic operating. We launched into artistic discussions, and it was endless. I was amazed by her incredible open-mindedness. By her charisma. And I fell in
love with her voice. Meeting her created beautiful sparks.”
When working on an artistic endeavour, it’s a natural tendency to invite colleagues with whom you’ve worked before. That’s why Gauthier contacted Danièle Faubert. “I met Jo,” remembers Faubert, who’s written for Beau Dommage, Francine Raymond, Pierre Bertrand and… Germain Gauthier. “I can’t remember exactly at
what stage of the album, but it was just a meeting with no specific topic. It’s important for a writer to meet the person for whom we’re writing. We try to understand that person, what they project.
“Writing is meeting chemistry. Part of the song has to resemble the singer. If there’s something they’re not comfortable with, we changed it. But I need to be happy too [laughs].”
Concern for the Environment
Inspiration, whether musical or otherwise, remains most elusive. On “Repartir à zéro,” two elements presented themselves. “I remember stepping outside after a dinner with friends and there was a nice breeze outside,” says Faubert. “There wasn’t a soul on the street. I could hear my footsteps, and I was a little weary. The environment was already a pressing matter back then.”
That how these lyrics ended up in the song:
Who will be the first one to blow the planet up…
Getting clean water and air back, is that a naive dream?…
Not bowing down any more, moving forward fearlessly
Imagining earth as a Garden of Eden
“Actually, if you think about it, it’s still a very relevant song,” says Faubert. “Water, air… Nowadays, with the nuclear menace between North Korea and the U.S… Not to mention Trump turning his back on the Paris Accord… But it’s also a hopeful song.”
“When Danièle showed up with those lyrics, we’d already worked on a few songs in the studio,” says Gauthier. “As the album’s producer, I was partly in charge of giving it a direction, and we’d articulated the album around a specific sound. I read the text and I said, ‘Wow!’ Those lyrics blew me away. It was incredibly beautiful.”
Instinct Above All
So beautiful, indeed, that the accompanying music was born of an instinctive creative process. “The piece of paper with the lyrics on it, I left it on my kitchen table,” says Germain, genuinely moved. “I read it over and over again until I knew it by heart.
“A lot of times when I compose, I’ll get stock a little on certain parts before getting to the point. In this case, I heard the first few chords in my head, no need for a piano or guitar. I almost composed the entire song in my mind. Flashes like that don’t happen often. And at some point, I told myself, ‘Wow! That’s it.’ That was an intensely joyous moment.”
Thirty years later, the melody of “Repartir à zéro” hasn’t aged a bit. Neither has its subject matter, or video, where images of Jo Bocan as a child and as an adult are cut with images of war, famine and racial struggle. The clip could be re-shot with recent images. “Repartir à zero” is a personal song with universal subject matter.
“I don’t know that I’m trying to be universal when I write, but the text has to be about something that I really care about,” says Faubert. In this instance, the writer (Faubert), the composer (Gauthier) and the singer (Bocan) all benefited from it.