Roch Voisine knows the question is coming, but he still doesn’t have a satisfying answer as to why it has taken him 12 years to record a new English studio album.
The New Brunswick-born singer — who has lived in Quebec since he was a teenager — has sung in both of the country’s official languages since the start of his career. His first big hit, Hélène, was en français, but he went four times platinum a few years later with the English-language album I’ll Always Be There.
So it’s surprising to realize that Movin’ On Maybe, his new album, is his first in the language of Elton since Higher in 2002.
“I don’t know, there’s no excuse,” said Voisine, in an interview this week in the cafeteria of Radio-Canada. “It’s hard to explain. It’s mainly because I spent a lot of time in Europe. I started working on this project almost eight years ago and it aborted because I had to go back over there. We had a project over there that couldn’t wait and then we had a lot of success with the French record. To make a long story short, there are no excuses. But finally I’m very happy that I can finish those songs I started seven years ago.”
Some of the songs on Movin’ On Maybe actually predate Higher. He talks of going through his tapes — cassette tapes! — and finding old English songs he didn’t even know existed. As is often the case with Voisine, some of the tracks have a country flavour, aided in no small measure by the fact part of the recording was done in country mecca Nashville, including several produced by Chad Carlson, who won two Grammy Awards in 2010 for his work with Taylor Swift.
Another song, I Will Remain, is a duet with former Glass Tiger frontman Alan Frew, and The Gift features Texan country singer Katie Armiger.
Musically, the new collection doesn’t stray far from the adult-contemporary sound that has been Voisine’s bread-and-butter since he topped the charts on both sides of the Atlantic with Hélène in 1989.
While there has been over a decade between English albums, Voisine said he has always felt closer to the world of anglo pop.
“Everything is written in English and then it’s adapted in French,” he said. “It’s been like this for 30 years. Every once in a while I will write a French song on my own. It just comes out this way. I was more influenced by Gordon Lightfoot and Jim Croce and Harry Chapin and the Eagles and Elton John. I was not really into French music. I lived in New Brunswick, a quarter of a mile from the American border. Most of the stuff we heard when we were kids was English music. When I picked up a guitar, I wanted to sing like Gordon Lightfoot.”
He discovered franco music when he and his family moved to Quebec when he was 12, finally hearing ’70s bands like Harmonium, Beau Dommage and Offenbach. But he started writing in French only in his mid-20s when he moved to Montreal to pursue a music career.
“The people I met in Montreal were francophones and they told me — ‘You have a lot of talent but if you want to make it in this province, you better sing in French.’ I said ‘OK.’ I said I don’t write in French but they said don’t worry, we’ll find people who can help you.”
Things are heating once again for Voisine in France thanks to the Forever Gentlemen project. The first volume of this collection of covers of classic crooner tunes from the’50s and early’60s sold more than 350,000 copies in France since its release last year and the second was just launched in France. Voisine sings a few songs on each of the albums, alongside Paul Anka, Corneille, Garou and Gad Elmaleh. The albums have not been released in Canada.
But as usual, he’s juggling the careers in the two languages. The new Forever Gentlemen disc is already selling well in France, but at the moment Voisine is doing shows in English in Canada, including gigs Dec. 5 and 6 at the Olympia in Montreal. The Montreal shows will also focus on Voisine’s English material.
Source: Brendan Kelly / The Gazette
Photos: Pierre Obendrauf / Montreal Gazette