Hungry like Leloup
par Chris Yurkiw
dans Montreal Mirror, 20 mars 1997
"Ladies and gentlemen! After one year, after two years--John The Wolf!!!"
And so Jean Leloup introduces himself at the beginning of "Le Monde est à pleurer," a tasty disco-folk-rap number from Le Dôme, his first album in not one, not two, but six years. It's been six years since L'Amour est sans pitié, five years since Leloup's mega-hit "1990," and three years between his last concert appearance in 1993 and a triumphant return at last year's FrancoFolies. Le Dôme soon followed last fall, and so did a different Leloup.
Gone were the battered top hat, the flamboyant costumes and the pushing of a "bad boy" personality that begged a cult. The deranged man was a changed man: more reflective, substance-free and less the flashy frontman of the rocking La Sale Affaire than the instigator of a joyous Montreal jam band that included everything from hip hop to tam tams, flamenco flourishes to country contes. Jean Leloup seemed to be working on his music now--and loving his work all the more for it. They called him "more serious" but ironically, Leloup was taking it all more in stride. Life wasn't for music--music was for life; that's what Leloup seems to have discovered these past few years...
Mirror: So you're in Paris right now?
Jean Leloup: Yeah, we're rehearsing for the tour and I'm doing some promotion for the release of Le Dôme here in France. Doing promotion means that you say to the media "I exist." But it's not big-time promotion like around the time of "1990"--that was too much. I hate promotion. Talking about myself all the time makes me feel like an egomaniac.
M: Would you agree that there has always been a strong French (as in France) vibe in your music and in your stance?
JL: Yeah, it's probably because I went to French schools. When I was a kid my parents were teachers in Togo, a former Belgian colony. There are so many dialects there that the common language in schools is French, and you get the kind of education they get in Belgium. Then I went to a French high school in Algeria, where you learned about the French Revolution and stuff. And the library was full of French literature, where I discovered Molière and Jean de la Fontaine--someone who I still like a lot. So yeah, I've got a background in French culture and you can still see it in me at 35.
M: And what can you still see in yourself from the African factor in that experience?
JL: I think it gave me a great love for rhythm--for simplicity and rhythm. We lived in a village in Togo and you only had the basics there. There was no Nintendo and we didn't even have a TV--I just played with the local kids. So I think it gave me this love and respect for what you can do with nothing, with just a drum and a guitar. And in these countries you don't have the star phenomenon. Sure, some people had more of an ability to play music, but the whole village participated in these jams. You didn't have a show like here, with an audience just looking at the musicians like they were on TV. That's what I retained from Africa: when you play for the public, you're jamming with the public.
M: Both of those ideas are evident on Le Dôme--there are a lot of songs based largely on acoustic guitar and percussion or drum loops, and you played with some 40 people in making the album...
JL: Yeah, I needed to discover myself on this album. I stopped recording and touring for those years because I had some money, because of all the attention around "1990." But I had never really researched my music well, I had never schooled myself in music. So on Le Dôme, I forced myself to jam with a lot of people, because I wanted to learn stuff I knew I didn't know. I used to do a kind of music that was based more on composition and that becomes the centre of how you operate. But now I'm working with a band that jams all the time and I have this love of jamming and letting the people express themselves. I'm thinking of doing a show at Les FrancoFolies where the audience can bring instruments and jam with the band.
M: What else have you been doing since we last saw you in 1993?
JL: I got into some sports--yoga, tennis--because I wanted to learn about the body. I think there's a connection between the synchronicity of the body and the rhythm of music. I wanted to travel, so I went to Brazil and Cuba where I played with some musicians. I went to Costa Rica too and tried being a surf bum--I couldn't really pull that one off. You know, I did all that shit you can't do when you don't have any money. It was time for me to breathe, time to think about myself and to learn things. But mainly, for five years, I was composing and discovering rhythm and trying to learn who I was in music. When I released my first two albums I was rushed. I was doing it to do something, to live. But now music has become a way for me to learn how to live.
M: Were you tired of the fame, of the game?
JL: Yeah. To be famous is exciting and everything, but it's gross too. To get too far into the image stuff, you know, like Indiana Jones playing the guitar being Jimi Hendrix, that's the shitty side of fame. I'm really normal, full of anxieties, afraid of life. I ask myself a lot of questions about where I'm going.
M: So who who are you playing with these days?
JL: I'm playing rhythm guitar myself, which I've never done before. I have another guitarist, Mark Lamb, who's in the Honeymakers. Alex Cochard is on bass--he was the guitarist in my former band, La Sale Affaire. My drummer used to play with TSPC, and there's a back-up singer from Newfoundland named Monica Hynes. And James DiSalvio is the DJ in my live band,when he has time. But these days he's getting set for the release of his own band's album, Bran Van 3000--really cool stuff. He works with me a lot on music and videos. He directed and he's in the new video for "Johnny Go," and he's the one, with his friend E.P. Bergen, who taught me how to work with samplers and stuff. We help each other a lot. We're friends.
M: When your first two albums came out you were in your late 20s. Now you're 35. Can Jean Leloup still be the "jeune loup" at this age?
JL: No, I don't want to be that. I'll admit that I used to be on a big fucking ego trip--maybe that's normal for someone who's 28. But yes, it's late to be a rock star at 35, and I don't want to be a rock star. I'd like to be a writer, doing poetry and playing a bit of guitar too. For me the lyrics are paramount. The words tell a story and the music is the soundtrack of the film. And that's why I work with rock bands, because I find that my lyrics tell stories that are "rock 'n' roll." But over the past five years I've realized that I really do love the music too, and I'm not thinking so much about a career but just playing music all my life. I want to do other things too, like music therapy for people in difficulty--children and dope addicts.
M: Does that come from your own struggle with addiction? We heard all kinds of rumours about what was happening with you the past few years.
JL: Yeah, I had a problem with alcohol and other drugs. But I realized that I was lacking in a lot of ways and that, you know, substance abuse is a problem with your ability to live life. I had some time to think about myself and I realized that I wanted to grow up, in a sense, yet become a child, in another sense. You know, kids don't like alcohol, they don't like coffee, they don't like cigarettes. They don't like to alter themselves with stuff like that. And I don't want my life to end like that. The song "Edgar" [about the demise of Edgar Allan Poe] is about that. I still smoke cigarettes, but not many anymore. Even that's too much.
M: We won't have wait six years for the next album, will we? Jean Leloup at 40?
JL: No, the next album is in one year. Le Dôme should have been a double album, because we have tons of new songs--some that we're already doing live. So the next album will come out soon. Then after that tour, I think I'll quit.
M: Really? Quit rock? Music? Everything?
Jean Leloup plays the Spectrum this Friday & Saturday, March 21-22 (sold out) and April 25
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Dernière mise à jour le
7 août 2000.