Anatomy of an Album “Let It Play”
by David Usher
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
6) “War Again” with Karim Ouellet
7) “Who Knows” from Daniel Lavoie's Qui Sait
8) “Nothing To Lose” with Baden Baden & Ingrid St-Pierre
9) “Asleep Underwater” with Caracol
10) “Till The Night Is Gone” with Monogrenade
Listen to a mixed montage
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, Fred St-Gelais, 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.
The Artists (endless thanks for their generosity and trust)
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!
David Usher is a multi-platinum, Juno Award winning artist, best selling author, entrepreneur and keynote speaker. As a solo artist and with his band Moist he has sold a combined 1.4 million albums and performed all over the world. He has had #1 singles singing in English, French and Thai. When David is not making music, he is equally passionate about exploring the intersection of art, technology and
data. His creative studio, Human Impact Lab brings together artists, designers, game developers and interactive programmers to work on innovative social impact projects.
A few examples of process:
• They Will Believe (originally On leur fait croire by Alex Nevsky’s) stays closer to the original lyric although Alex’s song felt to me to be more about a relationship between two people (partly because of the video) where my lyric is about the indestructible power of love, beyond race and sexual orientation. A love is love anthem, especially pertinent in the era of Trump. “Here under god, light up the stars, they will believe in this love”
• We Will Be Free (originally Ce soir by Monogrenade) Again with this song I strayed from the original meaning. The instrumental inspired a story of two lovers in a refugee camp torn apart by war and violence and forced to run for the boarder. The “We will be free” melodic refrain is not part of the original song.
• Who Knows (originally Qui sait by Daniel Lavoie) I had tried to get the rights to use the instrumental version of Marie-Pierre Arthur’s cover of the song which I love, but in the end we couldn't get it sorted, so I recorded a completely new version.
Let It Play: