I had a chat with Qubecois artist Vincent Roberge, aka Les Louanges, before the Polaris Prize gala where he’s shortlisted with his dreamy jazz-chillwave debut La nuit est une panthère.
How did you start out in music?
I did music all my life. As a kid I learned to play guitar, when I was in high school I found out that I like writing songs. I wasn’t very good at it at first but I kept on going. I studied jazz between high school and university, then I left Quebec City to go to Montreal to pursue music. Eventually I did an EP in 2016 and I did a lot of, um…not contests…but I don’t know how to say it in English! Like showcases. One in particular, Francouvertes, is where I met people that are now working with me at my label. I met my manager there. So they gave me the time and the money I needed to make the album I wanted. It came out in September 2018 and since then I’ve been touring the whole province of Quebec, going back and forth in Europe. Even played when the Cathedral was burning in Paris.
Has the Quebec music scene been welcoming?
It’s great. I got the approval of all my peers and the people I look up to in Quebec. Like Daniel Bélanger, who my parents would listen to when I was little. I always found his music very inspiring and he sent me an emoji of a thumbs up [Laughs]. Also guys I listened to a lot in high school and still do, who are still going strong called Alaclair Ensemble. They’re a rap group from Quebec. Now I kind of feel accepted in the music circle in Quebec and Montreal.
What do you think of your Polaris nomination?
When I got the call that I was nominated for the Polaris I was like ‘ah yeh they take French Canadians?’ [laughs]. The only French Canadians who won were Karkwa almost a decade ago. Those are guys that I looked up to so I was really proud to make the shortlist. I think we’re having a moment right now at the Polaris and beyond – we’re five Quebecers in the shortlist.
It’s big, even as a Quebecer, being in Toronto and being recognised. Just being in the shortlist I’m kind of proud of it. And it’s fun for our culture seeing that we can be appreciated even if we’re not speaking the same language. The same way that people from the rest of Canada or the U.S. can be appreciated in Quebec.
You’re playing your first Toronto show soon
Yes! 4th December at the Drake Underground. I was about to say Drake’s basement [laughs]. I’m a big thing now, playing in Drake’s basement!
You also mentioned playing in Europe. How was that compared to Quebec?
I learned that the French we’re speaking is…yeah the accent. They laughed a lot about the Quebecer’s accent [in the past] but right now we’re like, bringing new flavours to the game. I got people to the shows in France knowing the lyrics. I did a couple of sold outs, not in enormous theatres but still, I think it’s going well. We’re going back doing some dates this November.
Would you ever release more songs in English or do you prefer to sing in French?
In Quebec it’s a big thing – the language. I think writing poetry you gotta know the language deeply not just use a French word and translate it in English. I can communicate [a meaning] to you but I don’t think it would be great if I was to write poetry [in English] ‘cause it’s all in the little details and how you use the words. There’s a lot of people singing in English in Quebec and there’s people who are doing it well even if they’re Francophones. Just for me, I don’t think it would be great for the music if I was to write in English. I think you would lose some meaning. I’ll do some Franglais but I won’t go farther than this.
How are feeling about your performance tonight?
I wanted to get focussed for tonight. I slept the whole day, didn’t party too much last night, so I think I’m in shape. Last night I went to sleep at midnight and I was like “oh man I’m a good kid now.” [Laughs] Sound check went well, on stage it all sounds great. The songs we played them like a hundred times so I’m pretty prepared.
Is there a particular album in the Polaris shortlist you really like?
There’s a couple of people I know on the shortlist: Elisapie is up – she’s very good. I was a big fan of FET.NAT. They are from Quebec too. I saw them a couple of times live so…they’re pretty wild. I like them a lot.
The band PUP I like and Jessie Reyez; her popularity speaks for itself. It’s very well-made RnB. But all of the projects in the shortlist they’re very interesting. I don’t wanna leave anybody out!