Jean Leloup returns with new album, À Paradis City
par T'cha Dunlevy
dans Montreal Gazette, 30 janvier 2015

Jean Leloup does not exist on the same plane as you or I. The Quebec rocker, troubadour, wanderer, lover of life, semi-reformed reveller, would-be philosopher and general mischief-maker has always floated above the crowd.

That, along with a transportive catalogue of songs, has made him a hero in these parts - a free spirit, worn down but never quashed by life's weight, temperamental and at times troubled but forever bouncing back to go another round.

He arrived 20 minutes late for our interview, earlier this week, at his manager's office apartment in Rosemont. Scattered but in good spirits, he apologized for the delay, took out a cigarette (which he never lit), asked for a coffee and sat down to talk shop, which in his case is shorthand for a free-association game combining thoughts on life, travel, music and the people that he meets walking down the street.

"I went to Costa Rica for 6 months," he said. "I was up in the mountains in the middle of the country. I bought an old Land Rover ... I like anywhere I can drive on a dirt road, where the roads are bumpy and full of holes and I have to work the clutch. It's like walking but with an engine.

"I would (go exploring), look at the trees, then come back to the house I had rented - a wood house, built by this guy who had transported it piece by piece from down below and rebuilt it on top of this mountain. At night, I would set myself up and play songs, without thinking too much. I would write things down on napkins or a piece of paper. After several months, I realized I had a bunch of material.

"There were other pieces of paper from other places over the years - I ended up with 10 pages from a garbage bag full of lyrics, and I wrote 10 songs about my experiences."

À Paradis City (out Tuesday) is Leloup's first album in six years and his eighth collection of original material in 26 years. It's rootsy and raw, with elements of country-rock twang underpinned by his perennial guitar groove, offset by acoustic interludes of striking introspection. (Bonus: the CD booklet includes chord information so fans can play along.)

There are songs about: a sentimental drunk looking up at the stars and back on his life in the midnight hour (Willie); hope and despair (Feuille au vent); the death of a king (Le roi se meurt); a morbid butterfly (Petit papillon); and a misguided traveller (Voyageur).

Beautiful losers, to borrow the words of another famous Montreal poet. At the age of "fifty-...-three, I think," Leloup continues to be attracted to both the light and the dark sides of life, which more often than not go hand in hand.

"In my Land Rover, I was playing a character, wearing a hat," he said, "somebody going around the world in search of something. I'm very curious to see different places and meet people with different stories. (In Panama,) I met this adventurer who had been there 20 years and bought all kinds of land for development, but it didn't happen. This guy was walking around on acres and acres of uninhabited land and he didn't know what to do with it.

"I met another guy, un bonhomme, who was addicted to gambling. He was living in a cabin in the middle of nowhere, playing poker on the Internet, dreaming he would strike it rich. When I travel, I meet all these people who took off on adventures and ended up shipwrecked.

"I find that beautiful, humans asking themselves what to do (with their lives). Life is a trip."

And yet death is a recurring theme on the new album, turning up in song after song amid the dreams and regrets of Leloup's characters, as a counterpoint to life's beauty or vice versa.

"Death is always there," he said. "I realized that very young. I think I read a book on Buddhism, which said that if you want to live, you have to know you're going to die."

Though he's still very much alive, Leloup has experienced his own artistic death and rebirth through his music, declaring, "Leloup est mort, vive Jean Leclerc," and reclaiming his birth name in 2006, before returning as Leloup for his 2009 album Mille excuses Milady.

He sealed the comeback with a big free outdoor show in Place des festivals in 2012; and his popularity has not dropped a notch since, as evidenced by À Paradis City's robust advance sales. Not that he's keeping track. Leloup has always kept his career at arm's length.

"The word career - does that have to do with personal achievement or money?" he replied, when asked how he views his. "I want to go further, I'm starting other things, writing fiction these days ... I'm thinking of maybe doing some shows. I don't know, honestly. I always think of stopping."

Leloup has a love-hate relationship with work.

"I understood very young that what is extraordinary is to sit by the side of a lake and jump into the water," he said. "Ça c'est l'fun. And I understood that what is boring is to have a big house, big cars, to work all the time and never swim in the lake."

Which is not to say he's immune to life's trials and tribulations. The singer has hit rock bottom more than once, struggled with substance abuse, his own volatility and the entrapments of Quebec's star system. What has kept him relatively sane over the years - what has kept him coming back and kept his legions of fans coming back to meet him halfway - is, of course, the music.

"It's a funny thing, human existence," Leloup said. "What's cool is when you pick up a guitar, when you write, when you dream - poetry is very interesting. Everything I don't understand gets turned into characters and stories - it all comes together and takes on new meaning. The themes that preoccupy me - a certain nonsense in life, materialism, indifference - all become symbols, and by existing in the same song, they lead to something.

"That's reassuring, like someone who doesn't understand anything, is tired of life and at some point sits down, watches the sun come up and says, 'Okay, I understand.' "
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Dernière mise à jour le 31 janvier 2015.
Conception: SD