Photo: Dominic Berthiaume
His name isn’t Personne, and he’s a somebody. Behind the pseudonym is Jonathan Robert, illustrator, director of several music videos and, incidentally, guitarist and singer in Corridor. His new solo effort, Disparitions, is an album where nods to classic rock and spaghetti Western soundtracks are intertwined with Personne’s very personal indie rock. It’s also an album that capped a low point for the musician. After a very busy year, Jonathan Personne had found himself at the end of his rope. Not necessarily unhappy, but overwhelmed, exhausted. Disparitions was a sort of valve and an outlet for the artist, a way to find himself and recharge his batteries. Jonathan Robert tells us about his reappearance.
PAN M 360: What does the title Disparitions (“disappearances”) mean to you, and why in the plural? There are several disappearances?
Jonathan Personne: I always title my albums with the title of a song that appears on it. I did that for my previous one, Histoire Naturelle, and for Corridor as well. I try to choose the song that best represents the vibe of the album. “Disparitions” talks a lot about the last year, which was pretty special. A lot of things happened in my life. The signing [of Corridor] with Sub Pop, the tours that followed… So, in 2019 I released my first solo album Histoire Naturelle, then we composed, recorded, and released Corridor’s Junior, there were other tours, I made three music videos, did a lot of illustrations… Arriving in the summer (2019), I had a big shutdown, I had pushed myself to the limit. I didn’t recognize myself anymore. I realised that I was neglecting my personal life in favour of my professional life. So I had to keep only what was essential, and say no to several professional offers. And I also didn’t want to make so much music that I would be fed up with it. So I took a little break, and it did me good. So by disappearance, I mean that I was the one who was disappearing with all that.
PAN M 360: Who did you work with for this record?
JP: I went to Pantoum studio in Quebec City. I particularly like this studio because they record in analogue. I was looking for a sound that didn’t seem to be tampered with. I worked with Emmanuel Éthier (Chocolat, Bernhari…) for the production, and Guillaume Chiasson (Ponctuation, Bon Enfant, Jésuslesfilles…) for the sound engineering. These are people I know well. I like to be with friends to record, I feel more comfortable. We’ve done it quite a bit live, as a group. I wanted to keep those little flaws that give charm. It was my first time recording outside of Montreal. When you record in a studio in Montreal, you go back home after the session, you go back to your little habits while there, we were all focused on the project. We only had that to do. We recorded in the fall of 2019, in about a week.
PAN M 360: How did the songwriting go?
JP: The first album, I did it over four years on a 4-track. I had no knowledge of recording. That was different, I didn’t know what I wanted. For this new album, I had ideas for songs that were a few years old. Last summer, after the episode of overwork, it inspired me to write new songs and rearrange the others. Then I made it all happen with my musicians.
PAN M 360: What is the difference between Histoire Naturelle and Disparitions?
JP: For Disparitions, I wanted to try more indie-rock patterns, even make a more classic rock album. I don’t know if I succeeded. I can’t put into words what a classic rock album is, but in my head and what’s on the album is what I had in mind. I also had inspirations from spaghetti Western soundtracks that I wanted to add through it all. I went in two directions, mixing them together. The first album is more dreamy, it has an aspect I wouldn’t call melancholic but a bit nostalgic. While for the second record, I was looking to do something more raw. I put much less effects in my voice.
PAN M 360: What makes Jonathan Personne different from Corridor?
JP: The themes are much more personal in my solo projects. When I write a song for Corridor, I don’t know whether it’ll be me or Dominique (Berthiaume) who will sing it. But in this case, I know that only I will sing. I get more emotion out of it.
PAN M 360: Would Jonathan Personne be a vehicle for doing everything you don’t allow yourself to do with Corridor?
JP: With Corridor, there is an effort to compose as a group; we all come up with our own ideas. While with Jonathan Personne, I have a lot of things in mind to put together the song – the drums, the bass line… It’s really another trip. With Corridor, I’m not able to make a demo, whereas I don’t have any problem with Jonathan Personne…
PAN M 360: You were talking about classic rock a little earlier, the press release also mentions it, just like the spaghetti Western soundtracks. If I hadn’t read it, I would never have noticed it…
JP: That’s quite all right! My intention was to do that, but I know I always get lost on the way. (laughs)
PAN M 360: The song “Terre des hommes” has a little riff from “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” by Blue Öyster Cult, doesn’t it? Is that your classic-rock wink?
JP: I’ve been told that! I was thinking more like Neil Young with Crazy Horse, or something like that. I have some pretty classic-rock references on this album. Take the song “Springsteen”, I named it like that to confuse the issue, because it’s more “Sultans of Swing” by Dire Straits that inspired me for this song. The goal was to take elements from the ’60s and ’70s that have always influenced me, from the ’80s too, and put it all together.
PAN M 360: Aren’t you very indie or alternative in your musical tastes?
JP: Yes, I like things from the ’90s, even 2000. On the other hand, I try not to let myself be influenced too much by these genres of music, or by what’s being done at the moment. I know that inevitably I’m going to do something that will have a contemporary flavour, there’s no escaping that. The fact remains that I didn’t make a retro album but rather added elements, or retro winks. The goal is to appropriate the genre, but not to copy it.
PAN M 360: You do a lot of illustrations – do you create the design for all your covers?
JP: Yes, and I find that quite important. Some people use their faces more to sell their music, but I have always opted for an illustration. I’ve been drawing for a long time. I started by making flyers for shows, then posters and videos.
PAN M 360: Any projects in the near future? There are many musicians who, as soon as their new album is released, are already working on another one at this exceptional time.
JP: That’s what’s happening to me at the moment, I’m already working on the next album. As much as I didn’t have time for myself a year ago, now I have plenty of time for myself. And there’s also a new Corridor album in the works. And I’d say that’s a bit of a deal for me because I prefer to compose and record rather than tour. I love doing shows, that’s clear, but I have more satisfaction in creation…. I’ve nevertheless enjoyed the last few months, I won’t hide it from you (laughs). What’s a pity is that we were on a good track with Corridor. We were starting to do shows again, tours, we had booked dates in great festivals, we had better conditions, we had momentum and all that disappeared… Well, I’m not the only one in this situation so I shouldn’t cry. But fortunately it doesn’t stop me from making music, so it’s not all fucked up!
• A Disparitions listening session takes place on September 10, 2020 at L’Esco (free event)
• Jonathan Personne is on stage at the Rialto Theatre on September 23, as part of the Pop Montreal festival