nice to meet you
Hubert Lenoir on Mosh Pits, Freestyle Skiing, and his Daring New Album
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Hubert Lenoir didn’t think his debut album Darlène would blow up the way it did. The Québécois singer’s glam-rock concept album, which chronicles the love story between a young woman from Quebec and a suicidal American tourist, was lauded by anglophone critics despite being mostly in French, and was shortlisted for Canada’s Polaris Music Prize, a rare feat for francophone artists in Canada. As a result, Lenoir and his controversial stage antics—including improvised nudity during an appearance on Quebec’s version of The Voice—have become an overnight sensation in the region. Since then, the 27-year-old singer has performed with the Strokes, and collaborated with Mac Demarco. Last week, Lenoir released his second record, PICTURA DE IPSE: Musique directe. The album’s Latin and French title, which translates to PICTURE OF MYSELF: Direct music, is inspired by 1960s Quebec’s cinéma direct [direct cinema] documentary film movement that focused on the connection between film and reality. To mark the release, Lenoir spoke to Interview about the aftermath of his meteoric rise to fame, signing to an American label as a French-speaking artist, and the obsession with recording the news that shaped this new album.
On the conception of PICTURA DE IPSE: Musique directe: When I finished touring Darlène, I started working on music again pretty quickly. Music comes easily to me, but I had a mental block in terms of lyrics and what to write about. What I had gone through with Darlène had been so chaotic, and when you witness something really shocking, for a moment you’re just stunned by what you just saw. At the same time, I had all these iPhone recordings I’d been collecting for a while, which was kind of an obsession I had with sound in general. I was recording conversations, news segments that were about me, stuff like that. So, when it came time to start work on the new album, I was feeling a lot of depersonalization. I found my recordings and realized I had something that could help me build myself up again, and create a self-portrait.
On selfies: I was looking through my camera roll to see if there was something that would pop out to me [for the album cover], and there was this picture [of myself] with a filter that I found really funny. And selfies are kind of the modern self-portrait.
On working with Mac DeMarco: That was kind of at the beginning of the craziness, right before COVID. When I came up with the concept for the album, Kirin [J Callinan] invited me to come to Los Angeles and work on his album. So we were hanging out and one thing led to another and Kirin brought me to Mac’s. “Secret” was born from a jam session with him. It was really natural, I didn’t go there thinking I was gonna work on my album.
On signing with an American label: After I finished my album, [Terrible Records] liked it and offered me something. I was really excited because for me music is really a universal language and I’ve never contextualized my art as something that’s only French. I’m deeply Québécois, and PICTURA DE IPSE: Musique directe, being a self-portrait, is more Québécois than anything. I can’t pretend I talk differently, so it was great to see that they were down to get into it, despite that.
On what he’s listening to these days: Earlier today I was listening to a Brian Eno album with John Hassle called Possible Musics, which is really great. I’ve also been listening to this country song that’s been playing on the radio called “Get Along” by Kenny Chesney. And Sign o’ the Times by Prince.
On moshing: Darlène wasn’t mosh music yet people were doing it [at shows], which I thought was sick. I guess that’s what they felt like doing in the moment. The people who do that listen to my music, but they also listen to stuff that moshes more, so for them it’s natural to go to a show and do that. I like the energy and I like stage-diving, even if it’s pretty far off from my personality.
On his hidden talent: I’m really good at skiing because I did it for a long time. I did freestyle competitions, and I think people would be impressed if they saw videos. It might be the second-best thing I’m good at, after music.
On childhood dreams: When I was younger I dreamt of being a rockstar. And I was watching a video of a show where I was stage-diving and I thought “Oh shit, I kinda became what I wanted to be.” I’m always surprised when I see videos of shows and I’m like, “That’s really me? That’s some rockstar shit.” But in my head, I don’t see it that way. Now that’s not what I want at all, but it’s kinda rare for people to have their dreams from when they were 14 come true.
On fitting in: Sometimes people have a really hard time understanding that I’m not French [from France]. I’m far from being French. In my life I’ve never felt in my place, I always felt like the outcast or the alien, and the album talks about all that struggle. Before Darlène came out, I lived in this bubble where I was kind of protected from the cruelty of the world. And Darlène really propelled me towards that outside gaze, and that’s what the album talks about, that coming-of-age. And it’s weird to now be in this English context where I’m a francophone artist, and I fit in even less.
On his relationship with clothes: Clothes are just something that you wear and that make you happier. I think when you wake up in the morning and you feel like wearing something, you’re excited to get dressed because you know it’ll make you a little happier that day, so I try to see clothes as something that brings me joy.
On his hometown: Obviously, I grew up [in Quebec City], so there’s this attachment that has led me to want to live there above any other city in the world. On a Tuesday or a Wednesday night, don’t look for anything to do in Quebec City, there’s nothing to do. So it’s very calm there, but it’s nice because you feel secure. But also, there are a bunch of creatives who live there, so you have the calm side of a small city, but it’s a small city with a bunch of artists. A lot of people I collaborate with are there, so that might be the thing I love the most about it. It’s hard to find cities in the world that are just the right size, I’d say.