“After each show, there’d be this guy who’d come to me and say, ‘You made me cry with that song for your son.’ I don’t want that anymore,” says Dany Placard matter-of-factly. Spring has not sprung, but for Placard it’s time for a spring cleaning, and that starts with the songs that make up the singer-songwriter’s repertoire. “A lot of them I got rid of,” he goes on, as if to underline the musical and lyrical departure of his splendid and surprising sixth solo album, Full Face.
We reach him in Paris, where he’s touring as the bassist for Laura Sauvage during her European stint. He undertook his spring cleaning before getting on the plane… He bought all of his albums on iTunes “because the actual CDs were stored in [his managment team] Costume Records’ offices.” Out of his entire repertoire, he picked 25 songs, many of which he’d never played live, and some even dating back to his first solo album, 2006’s Au rang de l’église.
“I listened to everything. So, see, songs like ‘Santa Maria’ , or ‘Au pays des vieux chars,’ my ‘country-er’ songs, if you will, they just don’t fit in my universe right now,” he says. “Same for the more personal songs I’d written on Démon vert , the songs for my kids… I don’t feel like making people cry anymore. I want to take them with me on a journey. I want to move them, but in a different way. I want to make them think. About the lyrics. All that has a lot to do with depression.”
“That” refers to Full Face, a recording that was necessary to Placard’s mental health. A record that’s a reaction to his previous records, and to an entire year spent in the studio working on other people’s music. “I did eight productions and lost myself in the process,” he explains. “When you produce, all you do is listen to other people talk. Then, you put your ideas on the table, but in a messy way, trying all kinds of stuff. It’s draining.”
To shake off his studio funk, he needed to get back to writing. That finished him. “I said to myself at some point: You need to start writing. And that’s how I ended up not wanting to go out anymore: no happy hours, or record launches, or anything else,” says Placard. “I spent a good three months at home with just my family. They’re the ones who helped me, who made me want to smile again.” From this professional and creative exhaustion came a record “that I’m proud of, now”, says Placard, assuring us that he’s now doing well.
The songs on Full Face are like nothing we’ve ever heard before from Placard. Yesteryear’s folk-rock and country have disappeared. “I’ve been wanting to do something more ‘out there,’ more grandiose,” he says. “I wanted strings and keyboards, I waited to used keys, because they’re back in fashion now.”
But above all else, he forced himself to write differently. “As soon as it started leaning towards folk, I left the song behind,” says Placard. “I tried composing with guitars I didn’t use for that activity before. I bought new ones, I tuned them differently. As soon as I hit a familiar writing pattern, I moved away from it immediately.”
The same was true for guitarist and co-composer Guillaume Bourque, the only member left from his old band. “He bought a four-string, baritone guitar, just to see if he could write differently, to break his old habits,” says Placard. “I would come up with a basic idea, a musical theme I’d come up with on the guitar, and he would try to come up with a different one on top of it. He would say, ‘Let’s try and add a chord or two in there, just to break the mould, so it sounds less square.’”
Guitars are one of the key elements on this gem of an album, one that’s surprisingly groove-oriented, and miles away from Placard’s usual raw folk sound. Two-thirds of the album tackles, head-on, the depressed state he was in for a few months. Despite that, he insisted on creating an album with luminous music, despite the dark lyrics.
“I said to the boys, look, we all know how I’m doing,” says Placard. “You’ve read the lyrics and heard how I sing them, but I don’t want us to go there musically. I don’t want a musically ‘deep’ album. I want something dynamic, rhythmic – there are even some world-music rhythms on there.”
The spring cleaning isn’t over yet, says the singer-songwriter who believes that Full Face – and his burnout – is the beginning of a new creative cycle.
“I already have a new band project I’ve started with some friends,” he says. “I started writing new songs right away, because I don’t want to wait another three years before I release a new album. I think it’s going to move further away from folk, without becoming full-on rock. I’m 41, you know, I no longer have anything to lose. I prefer trying stuff rather than boxing myself into a crowd-pleasing format. That being said, I don’t think I’ve disappointed my audience, because I know they’re loyal.”