Pop Montreal 2011: Jean Leloup, Last Assassins kill musically
par Bernard Perusse
dans The Gazette, 21 septembre 2011

(Autre titre: Leloup's Last Assassins aren't just killing time: Star's garage-band side project is a true collaboration)

MONTREAL - Jean Leloup's gritty, garage-band side project, The Last Assassins, might be the first band to cite Jimi Hendrix and Sylvia Plath as its main influences.

The trio, which is augmented by a rhythm section on disc and on stage, is fronted by poets Virginia Tangvald and Mathieu Leclerc, who handle the lyrics and vocals while Quebec superstar Leloup hammers away at the guitar.

It's what he loves to do. "I was so happy!" an outgoing and jovial Leloup said during a recent interview at a Mile End café, when asked whether delegating the singing and words was difficult for him. "I'm basically not a good poet. I'm more of a story writer. Yet I can play the same guitar riff for four hours," he said, flanked by his two bandmates.

Later in the conversation, he said he has a habit of bringing his electric guitar outside, even during the winter, to explore riffs that, he said, need to get out. His neighbours, he said, are fine with that, even though he is often known to work the same phrase for several hours. They even comment on his more intriguing six-string ideas from time to time, he said.

"During the last two or three years, I've been playing guitar a lot more than writing words," Leloup said. While he was working on the soundtrack to his film Karaoke Dreams, Tangvald dropped by. She had sung background vocals on Leloup's 2009 release Mille excuses Milady. The two had met when she served him in a bar and he was taken by her accent and its traces of English and Belgian. Leloup's old friend Leclerc, who had worked with him since the 2002 album La vallée des reputations, stopped by to hear the sessions, too.

They were drafted into service. In Tangvald's words, he forced a microphone into their hands. "I said to myself 'Here's a chance to work with two people who will give me good lyrics.' What they did is much better than anything I would have done," Leloup said. The Last Assassins became the vehicle to bring those insistent riffs to the world.

Leloup said he will make the group part of his coming Electric Voodoo Night live show, which is on the Pop Montreal festival schedule and will also feature songs from his own well-loved body of work. "They were shy about being part of it," he said, referring to Tangvald and Leclerc.

But he wasn't taking no for an answer. "Jean traumatized us, shouted at us, punished us, flagellated us," Tangvald said, a mischievous smile crossing her face. "We cried through the night. We had nightmares."

"I got mad at them," Leloup admitted. "They've rehearsed a lot. There's no reason for shyness. In music, you don't make a living that easily. You have to put in the long hours if you want to reach the Hendrix grail or (come close to) Sylvia Plath's poetry."

Plath is Tangvald's favourite writer. She cites The Winter Trees as one of the books that gave her the courage to express herself through poetry. Leclerc said he's more partial to Alfred de Musset, Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs.

Leloup, however, clearly doesn't consider himself a literary figure. "I don't understand anything," he said. "It's as if I'm blocked. I understand Hendrix's guitar. I forced myself to write lyrics because we had to make records. Yesterday, I saw a cat on the street in the night while I was playing and these words came out: 'Hi, cat. What are you looking for? What are you doing there? Good luck.' " Laughter ensued around the table being used for the interview.

For the purposes of The Last Assassins self-titled debut, Leloup felt English lyrics from his poetic sidekicks were the best way to complement the stripped-down immediacy of the group's sound. Although the interview took place entirely in French, Leloup praised the succinctness of the English language. At one point, he was fascinated when the Gazette told an anxious publicist, in English, that the interview was winding down. He asked for a full analysis of the phrase.

"French people can't express emotions directly. They don't think it seems proper," he said, digging up the Steppenwolf hit Born to Be Wild as an example of the distinction. "Can you picture 'Né pour être sauvage'? " he asked, singing the well-known melody to the ludicrous translation.

"English has the quality of being able to express something very directly. I like the language enormously for that reason," he said.

Directness, he said, is just as important in music. "Nobody plays live (in the studio) anymore," he complained. "At one time, bands had to play so it sounded good with three musicians. They had to find their solution in a riff instead of adding tracks," he said.

"Now they don't even play together. The drummer and the bassist don't hear each other. They play to a click track. People say they love Bob Marley, they love Led Zeppelin, they love Hendrix, but you go into the studio and they put you to work with a click track. They do the exact opposite of the bands they say they love. What is their problem?"

In that sense, the refreshing and audible flubs on the Last Assassins disc bring a vaguely new sound to the table. "I decided to do something outside the format instead of becoming an old man," Leloup said.

"I see 70-year-old singers singing the same tunes for 30 years for a nostalgic audience. I don't like nostalgia. I find it boring. We evolve. Simple as that."

Jean Leloup, with The Last Assassins participating, performs Sept. 23 at 8:30 p.m. at the Rialto Theatre, 5723 Park Ave., as part of the Pop Montreal festival, which runs to Sept. 25. Support acts are Hotel Morphée and Beaver. Tickets cost $49. For details, go to popmontreal.com. For more Gazette of Montreal festivals, go to montrealgazette.com/festivalcentral



Photograph by: John Kenney, The Gazette. 1. Jean Leloup (left) enjoys having the words and singing provided by poets Virginia Tangvald and Mathieu Leclerc (background) when his garage style band The Last Assassins takes to stage or recording studio. The Quebec superstar says he has concentrated more on coaxing sounds from the guitar. 2. Jean Leloup (centre) and poets Virginia Tangvald and Mathieu Leclerc are peforming together for the 2011 Pop Montreal.
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Dernière mise à jour le 2 octobre 2011.
Conception: SD