Dyslexic without knowing it, gay in a heteronormative environment, the Canadian Pierre Lapointe spent his youth “next to the plate”, but rocked by “Starmania” and Bran Van 3000.
Marked from an early age by the songs of Michel Berger, Quebec singer Pierre Lapointe, who released the album Purple Hour in February, tells us about his childhood in the suburbs of Ottawa, where he listened to the musical Starmania.
Where did you spend your childhood and in what environment?
I grew up in Gatineau, a small town fifteen minutes from Ottawa. Like most North American suburbs, Gatineau is built around a Grande-Rue where fast food restaurants, gas stations and the shopping center where my parents ran a “made in China” trinkets store are concentrated. I have a sister who is six years older than me. For vacations and celebrations, we met my father and mother’s family in Lac-Saint-Jean (where I was born), a seven-hour drive north of Ottawa. Over there it was freedom, we strolled on the edges of the beach and in nature.
At school, the learning techniques did not suit me at all, probably because of undiagnosed dyslexia. But my speaking skills were confusing, I looked like a bright kid but my grades didn’t reflect that at all. My parents often took me to museums. My mother, who had studied art history, painted for pleasure. It was she who introduced me to the great currents of plastic art. With my pocket money, I bought show tickets. I went to see everything that was happening at the National Arts Center in Ottawa. But, as a child and teenager, I always felt off track. The fact of being homosexual in an extremely heteronormous environment was very complicated, I had to manage to arm myself with several subterfuges to manage to get out of it.
Did your parents listen to music?
My parents didn’t really listen to music. We had a turntable that didn’t work and a few records that I had never listened to. I remember those of Nana Mouskouri and Gilles Vigneault. I was confused by the size of their faces, much larger than mine, in their album cover photo. They scared me. There was also the album Snows, by pianist André Gagnon. I still had a small record player on which I listened to my 45 rpm Business Blues, interpreted by Claude Dubois. I loved the melody and the punctuations of the female choristers who answered him: “What do you want my friend/ In life we do what we can/ Not what we want. » Claude Dubois had pulled off a masterstroke when he released the song with his publishing house, whose logo was a little penguin with a top hat and a cane.
What is your favorite childhood song?
I experienced my first big musical shock at the age of 5 when I heard Michel Berger sing Yes mom Yes on TV. His performance in front of a conquered audience singing in chorus with him deeply moved me. This song remained etched in my memory all my childhood without ever hearing it again. I found it only eight years later on a compilation by France Gall rented from the municipal library. When I was 8 years old, to celebrate 10 years of starmania, TV and all Quebec radio stations simultaneously broadcast a version of the musical sung by Martine St-Clair and the Groulx brothers. I had recorded it on a video tape which I watched on repeat for months. This event was the foundation of my path as a songwriter. Even today, unconsciously, I try to write Against each other without ever copying or equaling it.
What is the first concert you attended?
My aunt, a volunteer at the Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean music festival, gave us tickets to attend all the concerts. I particularly remember that of Jean Leloup, sacred monster and terrible child of the Quebec scene. I was 10 years old. He was wearing a top hat and had stopped singing in the middle of a song to retie his knee-high Doc Martens shoes. His freedom and his punk side totally seduced me. As a teenager, I saw Portishead live on their debut album tour, Dummy. At the time, trip-hop was not well known and the concert took place in a small improvised room in the Ottawa Convention Center, with carpets laid here and there and retractable walls. I also loved the group Bran Van 3000, which I must have seen seven or eight times in concert between my 15 and 17 years. And, of course, singer Lhasa de Sela, whose vocal amplitude and stage presence fascinated and inspires me to this day.
Did you learn music as a child?
I took violin lessons from the age of 5 with a teacher who used a Japanese technique where numbers replaced notes. Five years later, I entered a piano class at a private music school affiliated with the conservatory. As I had not learned conventional music theory, everything was mixed up in my head. The scores represented for me only a dance of small black dots. It took me several months to decipher a piece that once assimilated I played perfectly well. During the end-of-year competitions, captivated by my interpretation, the jurors could not understand my inability to assimilate the basics of music theory.
Devalued and convinced of being stupid, I stopped playing the piano at 15 and entered a renowned theater school to become an actor. Finally fulfilled in an environment that suited me, where freedom and maturity were assets, I was able to project myself into a future as an artist. During an acting class, I sang words I had written to a melody. Surprised by my vocal qualities, the teachers present that day decreed that I had to be a singer and simply threw me out to push me towards this new career. I was very disappointed but they were right.
After writing a few songs, at the age of 20, I won the prize at the Festival international de la chanson de Granby (through which Jean Leloup, Lynda Lemay, Safia Nolin and Lisa LeBlanc went). Claiming myself from the surrealist movement and the dadas, I sang poetry barefoot on stage with a franchouillard accent and an assurance to break everything. Quite quickly, the Audiogram record company signed my first album, thanks to which I was in thirteen categories at the equivalent of the Victoires de la Musique in Quebec. Forty-eight hours after the ceremony, I became famous.
Do you remember the first song you wrote?
I am 18 years old. This is the song with which I won the prize at the Festival international de la chanson de Granby. Her name was Pepiphony. In my memory, the text was not very good, but I recovered lots of little bits that I used for other songs later. I see it as a rough diamond that gave birth to other small diamonds, less rough, more constructed. Moreover, my company, my record company and my publishing house are called Pépiphonie, just like the last song of my last disc, purple hour, released in conjunction with the Nicolas Party exhibition at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.
Pierre Lapointe will perform the most emblematic titles of his repertoire at the Olympia on May 18, 2022. He will be at the Francofolies in La Rochelle on July 14, 2022.