François-Simon Déziel (France) : Basse, synthétiseur
Jonathan Drouin (DRouin/ Kangaroo Joe) : Saxophone, synthétiseur
Julien Harbec (Kilojules) : Batterie, tables tournantes
Thomas Hébert (Roboto) : Trompette, piano, synthétiseur
Louis-Pierre Phaneuf (Luis Clavis) : Percussions, voix
It’s the first night of Canadian Music Fest and as Music Vice contributors Caroline Aksich and I are taking in the scene at CMW ground zero, the Royal York hotel. We are waiting for Misteur Valaire, an electronic 5 piece from Sherbrooke Quebec with whom we’ll be interviewing tonight. Right now the hotel lobby is significantly quieter than earlier in the day when I was here for to grab my fest pass- and so it’s easy to pick out the Quebec fivesome goofing around on the mezzanine. The band helps us to push together some sofas to form a makeshift meeting space, and is delighted when we present them with a bottle of La Fin Du Monde (a classic Quebec brew). In a decision which is very Canadian, we conduct the interview half in French and half in English. The transcript has been translated into English however, to be more accessible to our readers.
Caroline: You guys grew up as friends–
France: No, not any more…
Caroline: So, you’ve been friends since you were six. What sort of games did you used to play?
France: We used to play capture the flag. We were in Boy Scouts together.
[motions to Luis and Jules]
Luis: Ringette and kick the can.
Caroline: Based on your songs it would seem you guys have pretty vivid imaginations. What were some of the imagination based games you played?
Roboto: We went through a Dungeons and Dragons phase that was fairly short, but intense.
Jules: It was easy it enough to imagine stories of knights on horses.
Caroline: What was the last book you read?
Luis: “City” by Alessandro Baricco
Jules: “Petite philosophie à l’usage des non philosophes” by Albert Jacquard
Joe: National Geographic
Caroline: What was your first favourite band?
France: Backstreet Boys!
France: I had a little Backstreet Boy phase. But I also grew to love the Beatles very quickly.
Luis: I don’t know how it goes but… [Hums a Quebecois tune from another era]
Jules: I liked Pearl Jam at a very early age. Probably before I started to like the Beatles.
Caroline: So, you all studied jazz at cegep (Quebec college equivalent)?
Luis: Yah, they were all jazz.
Caroline: All of you?
Luis: Except for me.
Caroline: What did you study in cegep?
France: Just drinking.
Jules: He didn’t even finish high school. That would have been too perfect.
Caroline: Have you always been a tight circle of friends, or have there been times when you’ve drifted apart?
Jules: Well, we just exchanged some girls.
Roboto: Yesterday. So, we had a rough part, but now it’s done.
Luis: The worst is behind us, so let take a look at the future.
Jules: Yah, it’s been a pretty hard day.
Caroline: When you’re pissed at each other how do you resolve it?
Luis: By talking and taking each others hands and balancing the body.
[They play a ridiculously fantastic game. The first person to laugh gets slapped in the face.]
Caroline: Is it your friendship that inspires the music, or does the music cement the friendship?
Luis: It’s all about cementing.
Caroline: Where do you live now?
Caroline: You do your recording there?
Caroline: So, you’re going to go on a tour soon–
France: We are on a tour. We are on the Toronto tour. — Yah, were back to France in one month, and then off to Germany.
Natascha: Is this your first time?
Luis: No, it’s our fourth time.
Natascha: Do you get a lot of people to come to the shows?
France: Yah. It’s always amazing.
Caroline: Do you get a better turn out there or in Ontario?
France: There, for now.
Caroline: Who is most at zen on the road?
Luis: I love it. In Europe I have my own spot under the seats. It’s
called the dead zone.
Roboto: Where the waste is.
Caroline: Who gets the most homesick on the road?
Luis: He does, for sure. [Points to Joe]. He’s got his 50 square meters that he calls home. Even in Montreal you can’t get him out.
Joe: Come on, it’s at least 500 meters squared.
Natascha: What city on your tour are you most excited to visit?
[All simultaneously]: New York.
Natascha: Have you been to New York?
Luis: Not for music.
Caroline: Are you even playing New York on the tour?
Luis: Nope, not yet.
Natascha: What’s your favourite Canadian venue?
Luis: El Mocambo!
France: Sept-Îles is always fun.
Roboto: It’s little corner up north… with some beautiful girls.
Natascha: Would you say that performance is an important part of what you do?
Luis: It’s very important. It’s maybe the most important.
Jules: It’s the whole point of the project.
Luis: The reason we started giving away our albums for free was to get people to come to our live shows. I don’t think people can really understand us till they see us play live. The live performance brings another element to the music.
Natascha: The last two albums were PWYC.
Luis: No, the first one was totally free at first, after we decided to offer it as PYWC when the second album came out.
Natascha: Can you explain why?
Luis: No. Fuck. [laughter] … When we first started playing shows in Montreal we wanted to attract people to our shows, so we thought the best way to do this was to give our album away for free on the internet. It worked really well. We started to get a lot of e-mails from people who were downloading the album. We cultivated a fan base that would pay to come and see our live shows. When Golden Bombay came out we thought that the best thing to do was to have it come out simultaneously in stores and online, for PWYC.
Caroline: How many albums have you sold in hard copy versus in soft-form?
Luis: I don’t have any hard numbers. But the ratio is about 50:50 since Golden Bombay.
Caroline: What is the revenue like on average for the PWYC albums?
Luis: It’s about $3 on average, but that includes those who pay nothing for the album. For those who do pay, they pay on average $7 an album.
Natascha: Do the music is perceived differently outside of Quebec?
Roboto: In Canada we haven’t played a lot. We’re in the process of developing that.
Joe: There’s a French saying that goes “No one is a prophet in their own country.”
France: They really take to us in Europe, more so than they do in Quebec.
Luis: It’s easy to develop our fan base in Europe. They’re really receptive to our sound and I think they were waiting for this kind of sound. In Quebec it works well, but in the rest of Canada it needs a little work.
Natascha: In your latest album you are moving to more English samples, was this intentional?
Luis: That was not a goal. That was due to the nature of collaborations. Those in the US and English Canada have a difficulty understanding the funny part of it– the self-mocking, kitsch, cheesy quality.
Caroline: Does Quebecois camp translate outside of Quebec?
Luis: Yah, mostly in Europe. Anglophones are not used to the idea of camp. They don’t seem to get that we’re not a stupid boy band, but we’re just laughing at ourselves.
Natascha: How did you come to collaborate with the artists that were featured on Golden Bombay?
Luis: We grew up with Fanny [Fanny Bloom of La Patère Rose]. And they [motions to Roboto and Jules] are still playing with them sometimes. There was a mix between people that we wanted to work with and people that we’ve just gotten to know with time and through life. So a mix of friends and people we respected from the Montreal music scene.
Caroline: Did they approach you or did you approach them?
Luis: We approached them.
Natascha: Your live shows incorporate a lot of dance and costume. How often do you change the costumes and choreography?
Jules: Maybe every time we drop a new album.
Natscha: Do you think there is any resentment for French bands that decide to sing in English or switch to English?
Luis: There’s a respect when your music is good. There is a disrespect when you are changing your language to make more money and a bigger market.
Natascha: You were on the Polaris long list last year. Were you excited to see Karkwa, a French band, win?
Natascha: What do you think this means for the larger Canadian music scene?
Luis: I think it is just makes it democratic. There are so many bands coming out of Quebec and Canada right now. I think it’s pretty much 50:50. So, it was about time.
Natascha: What’s your vice?
Joe: Scratch lottery cards.
Luis: Cadbury creme eggs.
© Natascha Malta, Music Vice
Internet links: Misteur Valaire