It’s been more than a decade since country-punk trio WD-40 has offered us new material. The release of La nuit juste après le déluge…, their fifth album – fully rowd-funded in less than 72 hours (!) – signals the return of one of the last still-active, ferociously independent cult bands to come out of Québec’s early-‘90s alternative rock scene. We meet Alex Jones, his inseparable brother Jean-Lou, and drummer/archivist/communications person/chief bottle-washer Hugo Lachance, as they step off the stage after a memorable (as always) launch party at Montréal’s Lion d’Or.
WD-40 are celebrating 25 years of existence, or survival; of rockin’, of underground-classic songs, of excess, of not-always-controlled wipeouts, of aborted near-successes, and of often mythical and sometimes pathetic gigs. But always true to a reputation for authenticity that’s guided this Saguenay-born band since its inception.
Upon listening to La nuit après le deluge…, it’s clear that the band’s unexpected return wasn’t motivated by profit, or any desire to surf a wave of nostalgia for a bygone era. The vast majority of their 10 new songs mirror recent events, painful ones, yet expressed with more poetry and subtlety than on their previous efforts – with none of songwriter, singer, and bassist Alex Jones hurt feelings spared. The man can’t help singing the truth, to whoever cares to listen.
The genesis of the album dates two years back, a time during which Jones was going through a painful breakup. “Three-quarters of those songs were written during the year of my separation,” says Jones in the lobby of the Lion d’Or, where die-hard fans say hi to him, one by one, as they leave the venue – after buying a T-shirt at the merch table. “We’ve gotten back together since, she and I… But it still is the album where I bared my soul the most, it tells the story of what I went through, the story of my life. That’s what I’ve always done, but nowadays, the consequences are much more dire.
“It’s one thing to be 20, to go on a bender and to cheat on your girlfriend. But when you’re 40 and you cheat on your girlfriend, and there are kids involved, a mortgage to pay… That’s heavy, trying to find a balance, to make everything work again, that’s what inspired the lyrics on La nuit juste après le deluge… I didn’t write it verbatim as I used to do; instead, I tried to capture the essence of the feelings I had. I ended up with nothing, I hit rock bottom, just like when I was a junkie… I create in pain and withdrawal.”
“The only reason I’m interesting is because I create music. Otherwise, I’m a complete nobody. It’s what gives my life meaning, and what makes my daughters proud of me.”
Pain and withdrawal, for all their creative impetus, have also been Jones’ worst enemies. The man has fallen off the addiction wagon more than once, using various substances to fill the void and numb the pain. So much so that he couldn’t keep up. “I didn’t have anything left, I’d even sold my clothes!” he admits. “But I pulled myself up by the bootstraps, I quit music, had kids, bought a bungalow in the ‘burbs, dove headfirst into [Québec] TV series [most notably Au secours de Béatrice], climbing the ladder from set technician to artistic director. And it helped me tremendously, it was how I earned a living for four years.”
As far as the music goes, La nuit juste après le deluge… is a bona fide WD-40 album, but with a greater rockabilly and psycho-billy influence. This new stylistic direction perfectly integrates into the band’s musical personality, yet gives this album a clearly defined edge. “That’s where I wanted to go, and I asked Yann Perreau if he would care to be involved in the production of the album,” says Jones. “I met with him in a café one morning, and he invited me back to his place. We drank rum and listened to the demos in his kitchen, and he’s the one who said I should explore the rockabilly side of things more. In the end, he was too busy to help with the production, but I did heed his advice! It’s his contribution to the album. I love Yann!”
In the end, it’s Mingo L’Indien, keyboardist and guitarslinger of the “petrochemical rock” outfit Les Georges Leningrad who was in charge of the recording, production and mix for La nuit juste après le deluge… It’s a choice Jones doesn’t regret for a second, despite the man’s peculiar personality. “Mingo’s a very elusive man, a truly strange man,” says Jones. “The songwriting and recording sessions were spread out over three years, and we needed somebody to corral all of that in, so that it could end being somewhat cohesive. He did a great job.”
As this impromptu interview draws to a close, Jones won’t let go. WD-40 is his whole life. Nowadays, his desire for recognition is more aligned with the actual chances of achieving popular success. (His goal, now, is to get invited to play the music variety TV show Belle et Bum.) He’s as convinced as ever that his place is onstage, no matter which one, as long as he and his partners-in-crime are welcome – in order to celebrate and share the cathartic effect of rock.
“The only reason I’m interesting is because I create music, otherwise, I’m a complete nobody,” he says. “It’s what gives my life meaning, and what makes my daughters proud of me. That means that as long as people call me to play somewhere, I’ll go. I’m not going to wait 11 years to release another album. It’s what I like the most in life and it’s not going to stop. Life is way too short. Now is the time to do things. If you do nothing now, nothing’s going to happen later.”
WD-40 will be back on the Lion d’Or stage on March 2, 2018, during Montréal en Lumière.