The release of Oobopopop, their bubbly but unpronounceably-titled album, is an opportunity to discover the leaner, meaner version of the formidable groove machine formerly known as Misteur Valaire. But fear not, the five-headed beast hasn’t lost any members, it merely simplified its name, reducing it to a simple surname. Enter Valaire, the latest incarnation of a constantly evolving band.
Yet, it’s only at the very end of our conversation that we touch on the name change, which turned out to be the least traumatic decision in the group’s history. When asked about it, KiloJules, Luis, Tô, France and DRouin can barely remember when it happened. No endless debates, just a desire to take things to the next level and subtly mark the passage. Change in continuity.
And there’s a lot of change on this very funky album, starting with the presence of a singer who could almost be considered a new, full-fledged Valaire member. Alan Prater is a living legend who once shared the stage with Michael Jackson. The Florida-born singer and musician is a familiar face to patrons of Montréal’s Dièze Onze bar, where he has a weekly gig with The Brooks. “The album’s underlying intention is quite simple: do some good to the people who hear it,” says Luis. “The lyrics are lighthearted and straight to the point, and they fit perfectly for Alan’s personality, because he’s a real party machine!”
There are other voices on the album, most notably Luis’, as well as those of their BFFs Fanny Bloom and Camille Poliquin (Milk & Bone). New York-based rapper Kahli Abdu and Pierre Kwenders are featured on the excellent “Apata Palace,” an explosive afro-funk,/hip-hop/soca number. Still, Prater’s voice stands out. “We used to pick our guests according to each song; if it had a rock or hip-hop vibe, we’d pick a singer that would be a good fit, without trying to establish continuity,” Luis explains. “It’s a fact that up to now, we’d never tried to define where vocals fit in Valaire,” admits Tô. “Enter Alan, and we immediately clicked. The first time he came in the studio to record his vocal track, he didn’t hesitate for a second and sang ‘I do the Oobopopop,’” remembers Jules. “It came out so naturally that we were all floored.”
“Everybody contributes their ideas and the ones that stick are the ones that best serve the song.” – France, of Valaire
When asked to describe the overall sound of their new offering, the band members turn to this journalist – “You’re the specialist, aren’t you?” says France with a wicked grin – but ultimately agree and settle on “funky.” The inspirations for the album were a trip to Louisiana (“We were just looking for somewhere warm in February”, offers DRouin), piles of 70s vinyl, and endless vintage hip-hop listening sessions. From that, the band members simply let the groove build organically. “Of all our albums so far, I think this is the one that will age the best, because it’s our most coherent yet,” says France.
That begs the question of how the songs – and cohesion – are born in this leaderless group. Who sets the tone? Everyone and no one, apparently. “Everybody contributes their ideas and the ones that stick are the ones that best serve the song. In the end, no one really knows who did what,” says France. “Certain members of the band have known each other for 25 years, so let’s just say our ego problems have long been resolved!” quips DRouin. “Strangely, though, we still haven’t found the Valaire recipe, but we’re still looking,” admits Luis. That’s not to say Valaire is devoid of a modus operandi: “The one thing that’s changed the most in the way we create over the years is technology. We use Dropbox a lot,” says Tô. “Even if we’re all in the same room, as soon as one of us comes up with a nice riff or a good sample, we drop it in the box,” Jules explains. “Once it’s there, everyone is welcome to use it, revisit it, transform it.”
Thus, by pilfering their sonic treasure trove, the Valaire boys came up with their most organic album yet. “We’re like an old couple; there’s a ton of stuff that happens naturally, without the need for words,” says Luis. They may be an old couple, but thankfully for us, their passion hasn’t dwindled.