Here’s the latest in our series of stories about the creative meetings between songwriters/composers. This one is about a longtime collaboration which has turned – with the release of a mere two albums – into one of the most prominent young duos on the Québec pop scene: Elise Larouche and Marc Papillon-Ferland, better known as Eli et Papillon.
Strangely enough, the duo’s success can be attributed, at least in part, to the fact that their first songs were pirated. But don’t think that we’re talking about fans illegally downloading their work; this is a completely different type of piracy, says Larouche.
“We launched a first demo,” unassumingly, like a message in a bottle, she says. “But it caught on like wildfire over social networks, in Québec, first, and then in the rest of Canada. Some of our songs even played on Brazilian radio!
“But then some guy in France stole one of our songs,” she continues. “I heard about it because Anglophone bloggers had tracked him down.” The usurper was more grotesque than criminal: using a fake name, he posted other people’s songs on his MySpace page pretending he was their creator. “That guy was totally oblivious: he used as-is audio files by all kinds of artists and posted them to his page, changing the title and making up names of collaborators,” says Papillon-Ferland, still in disbelief. Nonetheless, the scoundrel had an audience of two million followers, and shortly after his misdeeds were exposed by fans of Eli et Papillon, his MySpace page was shuttered.
In the end, the whole affair gave the duo unprecedented exposure. “Thanks to that episode, we got a lot of exposure on music blogs around the world and our demo sold like hot cakes,” says Papillon-Ferland. Thus, ten years after meeting for the first time, it became clear to El et Papillon that their particular brand of pop was going to become successful. They launched an eponymous first album in 2012, and that was followed by Colorythmie in 2015, both on the Maisonnette imprint.
Their latest opus saw their songs take an even more pop-oriented direction; they were a lot less introspective, with a lot less melancholy, than on the previous album. Says Papillon-Ferland: “I listened to a lot of stuff like Coldplay and Stromae; stuff with a lot of electronics in the production.”
“What truly set the tone for Colorythmie,” he says, “was meeting Soké (Zahir) and Yannick [Rastogi],” citing two composer/arranger/producers closely linked to Québec’s hip-hop, R&B and pop scenes. “Those songs were created on a beach, with a guitar, in a very happy mindset,” he says. As opposed to the first album’s tracks that covered topics such as Larouche’s health issues, or the problems they lived through as a couple (who are now much happier as best friends).
Their creative process is very complementary, “but it’s not limited to myself writing lyrics and Marc writing the music,” she says. Words do come more easily to her, maybe because of the influence of her aunt, who’s a poet. As for Papillon-Ferland, he was born into a family of pianists. “Curiously, only my dad doesn’t have a musical ear,” he says. “My mom and sisters are all pianists.” He learned to play violin, then piano, and pursued college and university degrees in the field. “I would love to do film music, some day,” he says.
“When you to Marc’s place, you’ll see all the violins he learned with, from the smallest to the biggest,” says Larouche. “He’s been doing it for such a long time, music has become a science to him, especially since he can read music and has perfect pitch. I approach it much more naively, to say the least.”
Says Papillon-Ferland: “We write very spontaneously. I invite Eli over and we just get into music without thinking about it. We start with a melody that I’ll play in different keys until it feels right. All the songs on the new album were born that way; either guitar and voice or piano and voice.”
Adds Larouche: “Oftentimes, I’ll come up with simple little ideas on guitar and voice. Then Marc takes it and does his thing, making it more complex and rich.” And when Papillon-Ferland goes at it, he goes all out: synth tracks, string arrangements, percussion.. Then Larouche’s quieter mind and clearer vision will start removing the clutter, allowing the song to breathe . That makes room for her voice – thin, unassuming and warm, but highly emotional, now a tracemark of the Eli et Papillon sound. “Words come after the melody and the groove,” she says. “And they come fast, because I already have an idea and some rhymes in my head.”
Papillon-Ferland has started writing, too. He jots his ideas down in a small notebook that he carries everywhere he goes. He’s started thinking about a solo album, and hasn’t given up on his desire to compose for the movies. That is, whenever he finds some free time in between the duo’s concerts and his gigs as a stage musician for the likes of Isabelle Boulay, Marie-Denise Pelletier and other mainstays of the Québec music scene. As for Larouche, she also writes for others, notably Carole-Anne, the Québec City singer who made her mark recently in La Voix, the Québec version of The Voice.
“I like working with Marc because of his pace,” admits Larouche. “It’s fast, efficient, and we have a deep mutual understanding of where we’re going with a given song. Say we’re working on an idea, I’ll say, ‘Hey, this would work with (hums a few notes)’, and ‘Boom!’ Marc always knows what I meant. Not everyone is this precise. I don’t know anyone else who can work that way.”