Everything you need to know about Vincent Vallières is contained in one photo inside the booklet for Le temps des vivants, his latest and seventh album. In the picture, he’s at home in his songwriting environment. On his work table are various objects, packets of guitar strings, a dictionary; behind him is a wall of records, a few guitars and a picture of Yvon Deschamps. This is where the first drafts of songs make their way to the second-stage lab.
Following up after such a fruitful, lengthy adventure as the Fabriquer l’aube album is no small feat. “On va s’aimer encore,” remember ?
“I told myself, pause for a moment, and see what the future has in store for you,” says Vallières. “Ever since I started in 1999, it’s the same cycle. I finish an album, tour, and repeat. As the years have gone by, I’ve learned to say no, because I’ve worked really hard throughout my career so that people would say yes to me. We concluded our biggest tour two years ago at the Festival de la Poutine, and when we parted ways, I told the guys, “Don’t wait for me, you’re free. Find work elsewhere, because I don’t know when I’ll get back to work.’”
Michel-Olivier Gasse and his girlfriend launched into the Saratoga adventure, drummer Simon Blouin ended up touring Europe with Véronic Dicaire, and André Papanicolaou produced several albums and is embarking on a tour with Pierre Flynn. These guys were Vallières’ crew on three of his albums, Le repère tranquille (2006), which sold 45,000 copies, Le monde tourne fort (2009), which sold nearly as much, as did Fabriquer l’aube (2013).
During this two-year hiatus, Vallières renewed his love of music, attended tons of concerts, and spent countless hours crate-digging at Montréal’s vinyl paradise, Aux 33 tours.
“The process leading up to my phone call to François Plante [Vallières’s new collaborator] was long, but I never doubted my capacity to write new songs,” he says. “Can I still surprise myself, out-do myself? Which, ultimately, boils down to: Can I be better?” The answer took the guise of the prolific musician and record producer Philippe B. Vallières needed a straightforward opinion.
“I told him, I’ll play my tunes for you and you tell me what you think,’ because I knew he could totally diagnose them,” says Vallières. “Then I hired George Donosso III [guitars, drums, etc.], who works with The Dears, and has very set, clear ideas about the sound of his productions. They’re not necessarily fans of my music, so they don’t see my songs in the same way a fan would. That’s what I wanted from them: to be shaken and de-stabilized. We jammed in our rehearsal space, looking for sounds, adding synth bass, farfisa organ or some vibraphone, stuff I’d never done before, but always with respect for the energy of the demos.
“And after playing different versions of the demos, I ended up re-writing whole verses, and I even slowed some songs’ tempos.” “Pays du nord” is the perfect example of what Vallières means by that. It took several attempts to come to fruition. “In the end, the final sound of that song re-shaped the lyrics,” says Vallières. “The character in the song embarks on a kind of wandering, he moves on and night falls, but I changed the story. In the beginning, there were children…”
Vallières has won several awards, most notably the Prix Félix-Leclerc de la chanson in 2005, the Prix Gilles-Vigneault in 2007, the Song of the Year Félix in 2011 (for “On va s’aimer encore”), as well as many Francophone SOCAN Popular Song awards: “Café Lézard” in 2008, “Entre partout et nulle part” in 2011, “On va s’aimer encore” in 2012, and “Loin” and “L’amour c’est pas pour les peureux” in 2015.
Le temps des vivants is clearly a new direction. It’s obvious right from the album’s first notes. It was a team effort, which also involved a returning Papanicolaou on guitars as well as Amélie Mandeville’s voice. The songs are rejuvenated by bolder sounds. It’s still undeniably Vincent Vallières, but the road travelled is not the same. It’s more modern.
Is he ready to play live? “Not so long ago, the music world was quite different,” says Vallières. “In that way, radio was helpful to me. When you play a festival with 30,000 people in attendance, and it’s no longer just your fans who know more than half of the set list, but pretty much everyone there, and people are flicking their lighters and singing in unison, it’s quite a wonderful thing. People identify with songs, they want to listen to them.”
And buy them, he could well have concluded.