Zen Bamboo is a quartet from Saint-Lambert, on Montréal’s South Shore, that still rehearses in someone’s basement. Léo Leblanc, Simon Larose, Charles-Antoine Olivier and Xavier Touikan are tracing their own path as the proverbial and cliché “band from the ‘burbs” who dreams big; they feed the myth, and build their identities around it.
Their core audience, mainly young adults, frenetically consumes everything the band releases. “Some people are convinced we’re uber-cool, and that’s what surprises us the most,” says Simon Larose, Zen Bamboo’s lyricist and singer. Despite the fact that critics already foresee a future where big-name comparisons abound, the band members refuse any kind of pigeonholing, something they find “boring and unimaginative.”
After recording shoestring-budget demos last summer, the boys broke their piggy banks and cut 16 tracks with the help of producer Thomas Augustin (of Malajube fame), which they’ve since been releasing slowly. The four-song EP Volume 1: Juvénile, released last July, was followed last November, by the six-song Volume 2: plus mature, plus assumé – this time on the Simone Records imprint. “All the songs are from that one recording session,” says Larose. “So when we use the term ‘mature,’ it has more to do with the song selection than any kind of evolution between the two EPs.”
Maturity isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when you first meet the boys. All four are quite dissipated, and so deep in derision that you might think they’re making fun of you. To wit, they’ve all been saying for years that they’re all 19 years old, a claim which a quick Facebook search completely invalidates.
“If we’re going to argue about our maturity, I’d offer the fact that we drink less and three of us now attend university full-time, while Léo just got his Cégep diploma. Wouldn’t you call that wisdom?” asks Larose. “Plus, Volume 2 has a lot more reverb,” adds Charles-Antoine Olivier. “Normally, the more the reverb, the more the mature.” That’s not true of Mario Pelchat, we retort. They consult, not all entirely aware of who we’re talking about. (Mario Pelchat is a Québec crooner whose audience is mainly middle-aged women).
While a conversation with Zen Bamboo is more often than not chaotic, and frequently interrupted by buffoonery, their stage presence is seriously killer. The four members are clearly motivated by a desire to truly perform, so far convincing everyone that they have a bright future – to which they respond with laughter, convinced that their material is excellent, but that a wide audience is still not yet on the eve of materializing. “It’s that 10,000-hour thing,” says Simon. “If you do any task for 10,000 hours, you become expert at it. So, obviously, we’re getting better at it. If we kick ass onstage, it’s because we rehearse a lot.”
To them, “the switch is off” when they’re onstage. According to Simon, it’s the right place to think outside the box. If, for example, it’s not recommended to jump around and flail one’s arms on the bus, Zen Bamboo believes that it should be the opposite onstage. “I’m not about to start following any kind of etiquette onstage,” says Simon. “I’m not taking drugs, I’m not bungee-jumping. The stage is where I totally let go.” Their magic stems from such spontaneity. “The only time we tried to plan things was in Granby [at the Festival International de la chanson, in 2015]. We wore costumes, CAO [Charles-Antoine] wore a safari hat, and it was our worst show ever.”
Simon’s singing voice, at times nonchalant, at others high-pitched, but always unique, is at the centre of the band’s very precise arrangements – which reflect the amount of time spent rehearsing them. “I write the music and lyrics as a dialogue,” he says. “They’re mutually influential. Often, I’ll just spew words into my phone’s notepad, and later I’ll sit down and make sense of it all. It always takes a while before anything good comes out of it. I rarely like what I do. When I’m mulling over a song, I just get anxious.”
The band feels a need to come at topics from off the beaten path. “On ‘Si c’est correct,’ I like the fact that we talk about fucking from the angle of not doing it, in the end,” says Simon. “I like that fact that we’ve captured a sentiment that we rarely hear about. The one-night stand that doesn’t happen, people don’t talk about that.”
Releasing an EP every now and then is a curious approach, although it’s not uncommon to feel like releasing an album has no true meaning anymore. “We’re constantly recording,” Simon says. “I hate the classic Québécois circuit. I write two songs a week, I have 95 in the bank, making me neurotic. I have to get it out.” Zen Bamboo’s next goal is to play at every possible festival during the summer of 2018. “The festival of canned pork, of potatoes, of beets. We’re gonna play them all,” says Simon. “And we’re going to release music. A lot of music. Too much music. Very often.”