Sylvain Cossette isn’t about to take a break just because he’s sold more than a million albums. “I see each new achievement as one more ‘step’ on my professional ladder,” says the guitarist and singer-songwriter as he looks back on a 25-year career bookended by the creation of the Anglophone band Paradox in the late 1980s and the release, in October 2014, of Accords, an album of original Francophone compositions.
Over time, this pure, self-taught artist added strings to his guitar and matured into a seasoned songwriter. “Comme l’océan, my 1994 album, marked the beginning of my solo adventure,” the musician recalls. “It was a turning point. I had started writing and composing more or less by accident, and my onstage introduction of “Tu reviendras” (“You’ll Be Back”), my very first self-penned song, was so tentative that the audience might have thought I was ashamed of it. Yet it went on to be included in the ADISQ Awards’ list of the 10 most popular songs of 1994, and won a SOCAN Award the following year. That encouraged me to write more songs.”
“I felt the need to perform more intimate, acoustic shows in the smaller venues I visited many years ago.”
Later on, Blanc (1996), a collection of original songs, remained on the Top 50 album chart for 50 weeks. “It was a revelation to me,” admits Cossette, who went on to consolidate his reputation as a songwriter and virtuoso singer with his stirring performance of “Que je t’aime” (“How I Love You”) on the self-produced and self-arranged Humain album, as well as with his role in 250 performances of the Notre-Dame-de-Paris rock opera, the Rendez-vous album, the Dracula musical, the writing of the Les 7 musical tale, his work on Andrée Watters’ albums and, more recently, the phenomenal success of his “Best of the ‘70s” series, with three CD releases and promotional tours.
Now the time has come for a simpler, more introspective career phase for the immensely popular artist: “After spending 12 years on the road with a 53-foot truck, and performing in Québec’s most prestigious venues with state-of-the-art equipment, I felt the need to perform more intimate, acoustic shows in the smaller venues I visited many years ago, like Québec’s Petit Champlain or Montreal’s Gesù Theatre. My Rétrospective piano-and-voice album, which I released last year, helped me make the transition between the ‘mad supershows’ of many years and what’s shaping up. My audiences often told me they wanted to her me perform my own songs again, and I heard them.”
Songwriting comes easily to Cossette, who explains that “it’s as if I have songs in my mind that are begging to come out. Channels seem to open up, and music and lyrics often align themselves in a couple of hours. I’m 51,” the road-weary performer adds, “and as I get older, I feel the need to simplify instead of accumulating. I’ve discovered the Pareto principle, the 80-20 rule. And I asked myself if I was willing to spend 80% of my time with the 20 people out of 100 who are my true friends. Now I avoid situations that lead nowhere, and I spend more time with the people who really matter – my children, my girlfriend, those who are close to me. This is more or less the theme of Accords. At 18, you’re running all the time. Then, you slow down, you can see better, you have a need to be at peace with yourself, with nature and with the world. You stop punishing yourself for past mistakes. You’re in a better place. There’s a feeling of serenity about this. Today, I make harmonious choices. In ‘Qu’adviendra-t-il de nous?’ [‘What Will Become of Us?’], I express my desire to go forward, to bite into life in spite of the fact that, one day, ‘everything will be gone.’ In ‘Notre monde’ (‘Our World’), I talk about a desire to use country roads instead of the highway the better to enjoy the company of your travelling companion.”
True to his musical roots, Cossette, on his brand new album, mostly uses guitars (of which he has acquired an impressive collection over the years) to express his moods using various folk, rock or ballad-like sounds. Locked away in his studio, he did almost everything himself – from instrumental tracks to voice, harmonies, arrangements and production – before handing the result to his guitarist and colleague Matt Laurent before the final mix. The recording was produced by S7, Cossette’s own production company.
Following an Accords fall promotional tour, the Cossette clan was planning a January 2015 series of small-scale, intimate shows featuring Matt Laurent and Martin Héon on guitars, Sébastien Langlois on drums and piano, Andrée Watters, and Cossette’s daughters Élisabeth, 23, on voice and bass and Judith, 24, who’ll be handling still and video cameras as part of a book she’s writing on her father’s career. The family that plays together, stays together.