One can safely say that creation comes easy to Zachary Richard. To wit, the fact that, in October 2011, the singer-songwriter launched Le fou, his 20th album, a fact that leaves him completely unfazed. “Ten, thirty or twenty thousand records, it doesn’t matter to me. What matters are the emotions they carry.” The man is clearly still very inspired, always on the lookout for words and sounds. As a matter of fact, when we interviewed him, Zachary Richard confessed he was gripped with a writing frenzy at the time. “I wrote to songs in two days. I wake up at night to write the melodies I hear in my dreams. Luckily for me, I’m disciplined enough to wake up and write them down when that happens.”
“I wrote to songs in two days. I wake up at night to write the melodies I hear in my dreams.
Yet, at the heart of this candid confession lies the very core of the creative process of this Louisianian, a process that is comprised of inspiration and hard work. He is diametrically opposed to the cliché of the artist hunched over his writing desk just as anybody with an office job would. He works by letting inspiration come as much from within as from what surrounds us. “The image I like to use to describe the way I work is that of a seal hunter who waits, harpoon in hand, near a breathing hole. But you have to get on the ice for that. It’s one thing to be on the lookout, but you also need to be in the right place. One of the ways you do this, as an artist, is to have your antennas out, to observe and to feel.”
The first demos for Le fou were recorded in Montreal in the small studio located a few floors down from the condo he shares with the love of his life, Claude Thomas. Zachary Richard has worked this way ever since Cap enragé. It all starts with his guitar and a bit of rhythmic information imparted, preferably, by a human and not a machine. There is a simple reason for this preference. The artist relies on spontaneity to explores a song’s shape. To do this, he relies on his precious creative partner, Nick Petrovski. From there, musicians from Québec and Louisiana are added to the project, old friends who Zachary Richard remains loyal to, as if they allowed the Acadian and American artist to feel anchored despite always being split between Québec and Louisiana. Among the members of this inner circle are drummer Justin Allard, bassist Sylvain Quesnel, guitarists Éric Sauviat and Nicolas Fiszman, as well as pianist David Torkanowsky. Yet, the moment Zachary Richard feels his recording session is slipping back into a comfort zone, he stops everything and hits the road. You see, even though he loves people, the man is a lone wolf who prefers communicating through his music.
Le fou sees the man getting back to his Louisianian roots, which is felt as much in the lyrics as in the melodies. Zachary Richard believes in commitment whether in life or in music. Born in the U.S., he decided to embrace his roots and the diversity if his identity after discovering the melodeon, or diatonic button accordion, in the 70s. Since then, his love of everything Cajun and French, the language of grand-parents, has never stopped growing. He acquired a place in Montreal in 1998 and started using French only in his personal log. To him, the stake is unmistakable: managing to preserve the exotic aspect of Louisianian speak while using a near-perfect yet regionalist French that remains as universally understandable as possible. “Speaking French in North America is defiant, hard-headed. Sometimes, I wonder what I’m doing, because I could have had a very successful career in English… But to me, French is a treasure trove. I take comfort in the fact of going against the grain and resisting the forces of assimilation to preserve the world’s diversity.”
Despite this bias, to Richard commitment does not mean protesting or propagandizing. He prefers the roads of the heart, going back to the simple things that make one want to write a song in the first place. The song entitled “Le fou” is the perfect example of this. “I never put a song to the service of a cause. Les fous de Bassan is obviously a pro-green song that I’m proud to sing, but the inspiration is not to write a song to save the Earth. I was simply moved to tears to see a magnificent bird sullied in the most ignominious way, no longer able to fly because its wings were covered in oil. That’s the emotion at the root of the song, not the cause, which is something that is intellectual. It’s the heart that matters the most to me.”