David Usher's New Album 'Let It Play' Is A Collection of English Versions Of French Songs
For his new album Let It Play, singer David Usher was inspired by artists with roots in such places as Granby, Sherbrooke, and Varennes.
The album, which is being released Nov. 4 on his own label Evil Empire, is a collection of English interpretations of some of Usher’s favourite French songs.
Let It Play features compositions by Quebec artists Alex Nevsky, Monogrenade, Dumas, Ingrid St-Pierre, Caracol, and Karim Ouellet as well as Manitoba-born Daniel Lavoie and Paris band Baden Baden.
It may seem like an unlikely project for Usher, who introduced Canadians to his distinctive vocal talents in the ‘90s as lead singer of alternative rock band Moist with Top 10 hits like “Silver,” “Leave It Alone” and “Resurrection.”
He built upon his fanbase as a solo artist, releasing albums that spawned hits like “Black Black Heart” and “Alone in the Universe.”
Born in England to Jewish Montrealer Dan Usher, an emeritus professor at Queen’s University, and Bangkok-born artist Samphan Chayaraks Usher, he spent most of his life in B.C. and Ontario.
Usher, 50, has lived in Montreal’s Plateau neighbourhood for many years and currently has two children, with actress-photographer Sabrina Reeves, in the French-language school system.
“I play with Québécois band mates and spend my days listening to French radio and consuming French language and culture,” he said, on his website.
“Through these experiences and despite my own challenges learning to speak French, I have been exposed to a ton of great French music and artists. These are amazing artists writing incredible songs but for the most part, these songs remain largely unknown and unheard outside of the French-speaking world.”
Usher set out to change that.
“The idea is always to be trying something new, changing the parameters of the process I’m working in,” he explained. “The question I am always trying to answer is: What will make this fun and challenging for me and interesting for the people listening?”
He wanted to keep the artists’ original feelings but reimagine the lyrics and their meanings. As much as possible, he recorded his vocals over the songs’ original music tracks.
“Sometimes I’ve stayed true to the original French lyric at least in sentiment, other times the sounds of the words in French have inspired lyrics in English that have nothing to do with the original,” he explained.
Of course, language is a touchy subject in Quebec. Usher said he consulted with his francophone friends and band mates before reaching out to the artists.
“A few thought I was crazy, a few ignored me, but most loved the idea and the risk of experimenting with a linguistic mash-up,” he recalled.
“These musicians were incredibly open and adventurous to allow me to mess with their art.”
Usher also enlisted Quebec’s Marie-Mai to help him mess with his own art. The pair recorded a bilingual version of his haunting solo hit “Black Black Heart.”
The song -- which appeared on Usher’s second solo album Morning Orbit and samples "The Flower Duet" from the Léo Delibes opera Lakmé -- was written by Usher and former Moist member Jeff Pearce. The new French lyrics were written by Marie-Mai with Montreal songwriter-producer Fred St-Gelais.
Track listing for David Usher’s Let It Play:
“They Will Believe (In This Love)” with Alex Nevsky ("On Leur A Fair Croire")
“We Will Be Free” with Monogrenade ("Ce Soir")
“Let It Play” with Dumas ("Ne Me Dis Pas")
“No Cure” with Ingrid St-Pierre ("Tokyo Jellybean")
“Black Black Heart” with Marie-Mai
“Dream of Flight” with Baden Baden ("Le Courage des Oiseaux")
“War Again” with Karim Ouellet ("L'Amour")
“Who Knows” from Daniel Lavoie's Qui Sait
“Nothing To Lose” with Baden Baden & Ingrid St-Pierre ("Evidemment")
“Asleep Underwater” with Caracol ("Blanc Mercredi")
“Till The Night Is Gone” with Monogrenade ("De Tout Façon")