1) “They Will Believe (In This Love)” with Alex Nevsky
2) “We Will Be Free” with Monogrenade
3) “Let It Play” with Dumas
4) “No Cure” with Ingrid St-Pierre
5) “Black Black Heart” with Marie-Mai en français
6) “Dream of Flight” with Baden Baden
7)“War Again” with Karim Ouellet
8) “Who Knows” from Daniel Lavoie's Qui Sait
9) “Nothing To Lose” with Baden Baden & Ingrid St-Pierre
10) “Asleep Underwater” with Caracol
11) “Till The Night Is Gone” with Monogrenade
Anatomy of an Album “Let It Play”
by David Usher
I love ideas...
Experiment & Change
We live a world where ideas run like water. In my brain, my job as a creator is to keep trying to experiment with new forms and challenges, like going from fronting a rock band (Moist) to making my first solo folk record, Little Songs...from a life as a musician to becoming a Keynote Speaker and writing a book about creativity and innovation, Let the Elephants Run...or to founding the Human Impact Lab at Concordia University.
Musically, after 11 albums I wanted to try something different. Over the years I’ve sampled opera and Gloria Steinem speeches, I’ve sung in English, French and Thai. I’ve made rock records, folk records, pop records and recorded with many talented people. I’ve recorded albums in the biggest studios in Toronto, Nashville, NYC and LA and also sitting in my kitchen on the Plateau in Montreal. The idea is always to be trying something new, changing the parameters of the process I’m working in. The question I am always trying to answer is: What will make this fun and challenging for me and interesting for the people listening?
I have been living in Montreal for many years now and we have two kids in French school. I play with Québécois band mates and spend my days listening to French radio and consuming French language and culture. Through these experiences and despite my own challenges learning to speak French, I have been exposed to a ton of great French music and artists. These are amazing artists writing incredible songs but for the most part, these songs remain largely unknown and unheard outside of the French- speaking world.
I recently joked with a very well known friend of mine from here in Montreal who was getting hounded by the French press that he could go to the England to escape, he laughed and said that he if he really needed a break he could just go to Westmount for the day. In popular music, language is the great divider.
The Idea Arrives
Music is: instrumentation, melody, feeling, sentiment, and lyric/poetry and it is only the last element, lyric, that creates separation by language. So I started to wonder if I could reimagine these songs in a different way, with the original music but with adaptations of the lyrics in English? Keep the artist’s original sentiment, but fuck with the poetry. Keep the feeling but experiment with the meaning. To provide some balance to the experiment, I also asked a French artist I trust, Marie-Mai to adapt and sing one of my biggest songs Black Black Heart in French. Throughout the album wherever possible I’ve used the original instrumental tracks from the original songs.
Its one thing to have a crazy idea, it’s another to do it.
Language is a very sensitive issue in Quebec so I tested the water carefully, first with my close friends Genevieve Borne, co-producers Fred St-Gelais and Luc Tellier, Marie-Mai, Guillaume Doiron and my trusted band mates Francis Fillion and Louis Lalancette. What do you think? Cool not cool? They loved the idea so I immediately started reaching out to other artists. A few thought I was crazy, a few ignored me, but most loved the idea and the risk of experimenting with a linguistic mash-up. These musicians were incredibly open and adventurous to allow me to mess with their art.
Song choice has been tricky. The songs had to have a melody that I believed I could embrace and legitimately reinterpret. It's a pretty nebulous thing and perhaps impossible to pin down, but certain melodies hit my ear and just make my imagination run....
Sometimes I’ve stayed true to the original French lyric at least in sentiment, other times the sounds of the words in French have inspired lyrics in English that have nothing to do with the original.
Getting a label on board.
Well it turns out when you have a crazy idea, crazy shit happens. Because I am using most of the original instrumental recordings from the French songs, the business end of this project proved to be endlessly complicated with many stakeholders and rights owners of those masters. A lot of the rights stay with the original artists so the simple reality of this is that there was a lot less ‘upside’ for me to offer a new label to partner with us to spearhead the release. So, after many deals almost taking shape, in the end the choice was simple, give up or put it out on my own.....
Yes, it’s coming out on my own label, Evil Empire.
A huge thank you to all the artists, labels, publishing companies that have joined me in this crazy experiment. You have all been incredibly open and gracious. Special thanks to my friend Genevieve Borne who has been an advisor throughout the project. And, a giant thank you to my manager Graeme McDonald for sticking with this endlessly complicated project even when it seemed impossible!
Original French song titles and performers (Quebec and France):
1) “They Will Believe (In This Love)” with Alex Nevsky ~ "On Leur A Fait Croire" (Alex Nevsky) QC
2) “We Will Be Free” with Monogrenade ~ “Ce Soir” (Monogrenade) QC
3) “Let It Play” with Dumas ~ “Ne Me Dis Pas” (Dumas) QC
4) “No Cure” with Ingrid St-Pierre ~ “Tokyo Jellybean” (Ingrid St-Pierre) QC
5) “Black Black Heart” with Marie-Mai ~ “Black Black Heart” (David Usher) QC
6) “Dream of Flight” with Baden Baden ~ “Le Courage des Oiseaux” (Dominique A) FR
7) “War Again” with Karim Ouellet ~ “L’Amour” (Karim Ouellet) QC
8) “Who Knows” from Daniel Lavoie's Qui Sait ~ “Qui Sait?” (Daniel Lavoie) QC
9) “Nothing To Lose” with Baden Baden & Ingrid St-Pierre ~ “Evidemment” (Baden Baden) FR
10) “Asleep Underwater” with Caracol ~ “Blanc Mercredi” (Caracol) QC
11) “Till The Night Is Gone” with Monogrenade ~ “De Tout Façon” (Monogrenade) QC
“Dream Of Flight": From Baden Baden's cover of the Dominque A song "Le Courage des Oiseaux FR”.