The boundless creativity of Laurent Bourque
Creative spurs don't always come to you in a straight line. For Laurent Bourque, endless touring and the usual grind back to writing again just left him in a rut. So instead he began a venture into writing with others that led to over 100 songs and eventually his latest record Blue Hour. We caught up with Laurent ahead of his Ottawa show on October 18, 2019 at the NAC to talk about switching gears, the power of co-writing and why he scrapped a record.
Ottawa Life: I heard you went through 150 songs to get to your 11 tracks in the end, so how did that process evolve and when did you start actually narrowing them towards an album?
Laurent Bourque: There was a bit of leapfrogging ideas, but it was mostly the co-writing sessions with different writers. We started sessions that weren't even for myself where songs came from and others were from sessions that were very spur of the moment like with Dave Monks. It took two years, so that made the volume. Just making something every day.
So in all that was there a point where you found the record was there or did it naturally come to a set of songs?
LB: It had to get to the point where I knew I had to stop and decide which ones I wanted to record. The Factor grant helped, and then I had to pick and reserve studio time. So when I had six months left, it helped me start cutting them down. It was pretty hard getting it down from 30 to the 11 I have though. That took a lot of collaborators and my producer Dan to help me figure it out.
You've discussed collaboration as a driving force of this album so who was key to that and what did it open up to you that simply writing alone would not?
LB: My last record was in 2014, and touring that for a few years I hit this block in 2016 where I was sick of playing all those songs and how they were presented. There were also a few major life events that came into play too. I had a record written, and I was working with Jamie Kronick, but I left the sessions dissatisfied with my own work. My new publisher introduced me to the idea of collaborating more, just getting in the room with others and maybe even writing for someone else. I hadn't felt that spirit in a while. Two years later I had a record of material, and I was learning to write on the piano the whole time, which was another element. It opens your arms to a lot of possibilities.
So you also scrapped an entire record, or is that exaggerating the reality of writing over 100 songs?
LB: So that scrapped record was specifically before the 150 songs I wrote. I ditched every idea and chord on that project, and started from scratch to build up a new arsenal of songs for this record.
I was interested in the flowing fabric concept behind the "Matador" video and how that came together with Julia Hendrickson?
LB: She's just a super talented visual director and she had never made a music video before. I liked that aspect of working with her, because it would be a challenge in that respect. I had a list of music video clichés I wanted to avoid, so we started with that and sent her the song. I told her to do whatever she wanted and she came up with what you see. It was really just letting her make the art she wanted. But I do really like how the people in the video show you their relationships with each other and that's the point of the song. Obviously there's a visual similarity to a matador but that's to the song as well.
Blue Hour also saw you teaming up with Dan Ledwell, so what did they bring to the record as a producer?
LB: He was amazing to work with. I'd had him in mind for a while. He's married to Jenn Grant, and has produced some of her work too. I met him through Jenn, and had him in mind for a while. What made it click was calling him and saying "Here's some songs and what I want them to sound like." He was relieved to not do a folk record, because he's done a lot of that. We both love Frank Ocean and Radiohead so we clicked on that front. It was nice to dive into the same pool even though we'd avoided it for so long. It was easy collaborating with him because we barely butted heads on anything. I like collaborating with people that have good ideas and want to take songs in directions I wouldn't. If I work on my own it can be too safe and my art won't thrive that way.
Looking to the collaborative nature of the album, how are you keeping that spirit for the show?
LB: It's all a full-band show. Coming off of that last tour, I was really sick of touring solo. All of the shows I can make it happen now are with a band, and reinterpreting the new record with them. I've also never played piano live for people before which is exciting. It's all new for me and I really like working with people. When collaboration goes well, there's no better feeling.