While everyone, including creators, is self-isolating as much as possible, can we already predict an exceptional musical harvest in the wake of the COVID-19 situation? KROY is adamant: “There’s going to be a baby boom and an album-boom.”
After all, it’s often in the worst of times that artists are at their best. A prime example of this is La Bolduc’s timeless classic, written during the Great Depression: Ça va venir, découragez-vous pas (“Things Are Gonna Get Better, Don’t Give Up”). Her song was a comforting message of encouragement and an ode to resilience, sung with her signature “turlute” that’s still heartwarming to this day. Just like the intimate catastrophe of having your heart broken, social and global crises such as the COVID-19 situation are a source of inspiration for lyricists. That which contaminates our collective mind will necessarily percolate into popular music.
Isolation and solitude will undoubtedly be ubiquitous themes in the music that will come out of this event. “Hey, I’m always writing songs about that!” says KROY, bursting out in laughter. “But I do feel like it will be a hot topic in the coming months: the need to connect, to stay together, the desire to be surrounded by people, and missing human and community contact.”
“It’s the small, individual stories that are going to come out of this huge subject, that will be interesting.” – Nelson Minville
Nelson Minville, who’s written more than 350 songs – for the likes of Céline Dion, Paul Daraîche, and so many more – thinks the effects of this slump and suspension of the normal course of things will take a while to seep into radio playlists.
“It’s too early to tackle the topic head-on,” he says. “It’s the small, individual stories that are going to come out of this huge subject, that will be interesting. It’s as if someone asked me to write a song about the environment, but the environment in and of itself is not a subject. The real story is a grandfather who goes for a stroll by a river with his grandson and says, ‘You see, we used to fish, here.’ Now that’s a song! The environment is not a song, it’s too vast, it’s boring. There’s going to be beautiful songs that come out of this, no doubt, but they won’t necessarily be about the pandemic itself. There’s going to be stories that come out of the subject.” Someone losing their job, or losing a loved one, for example.
Creating on the Spot
Artists are a reflection of our society, as clichéd as that sounds. It’s even more obvious during crucial, strange times like these. They become the voice of the many.
At this juncture, where everything still feels raw, and we’re still struggling to adjust to social distancing, Michel Rivard has decided to tackle the situation head-on, and deliver one song a day. Cœur de Pirate promptly answered the call of premier Legault and, in a song, invited her fans to stay home and stop the propagation of the coronavirus. Her humorous exercise was echoed in a similar one by singer-songwriter and producer Laurence Nerbonne. On March 18, she posted her very entertaining “COVID-19 Remix” online.
“I wanted to express the overwhelming worry everybody feels this week,” she says, “while we waited for the borders to be closed, finally, and for the U.S. to react, and Trudeau to snap out of it. It’s kind of my job to take the pulse of society and turn it into art to make people smile. That’s the main reaction I got from people. It made them laugh.”
But beyond themes directly linked to the virus, the self-isolation instructions have forced authors and composers to get back to their drawing boards, if only to kill time. Stuck between four walls, as if they were on a writing retreat in a remote cabin, there’s plenty of pportunity to take advantage of this truly exceptional situation by creating new material.
Choses Sauvages’ Marc-Antoine Barbier is one of them. “We were in our van to go play in Alma and Dolbeau just before this all started,” he says. “Our last gig got cancelled… There are no more shows happening, Félix and Thierry work in bars, and I freelance in cinema, where filming has also been cancelled… We’re all somewhat off now, you know. We’re all on EI now. So we’re focusing on composing, and that’s going to be a full-time job for a while.”
For creators who aren’t fuelled by jam sessions, introspection remains the most fertile ground for verses and choruses. Just as Nelson Minville (“I spend my life with my head between speakers trying to come up with words”), Laurence Nerbonne, or Camille Poliquin, a.k.a. KROY. Hubert Lenoir’s creativity blooms in silence and ennui. “In my case, seriously, I was already almost self-isolating for about a month,” he says. “So when it happened, I told myself, ‘OK, I guess I’m just gonna carry on what I was already doing.’…This comes at a time where I’ve stopped giving shows. My last tour was in Europe last November. I’ve been in a creative mood since then.”
Whereas others are rushing to get material out, whether it’s to change their minds, or out of fear that the public will forget them, the “son of no one” says he’s serene, even relaxed, and he’s thankful. “I’m really lucky,” says Lenoir. “If this happened two years ago when my album was coming out, it would have been rough to see all my shows cancelled… Even if the shows are just postponed, there is a question of timing… My thoughts really go out to all my colleagues impacted by all this.”