Fred fronts a band that is slowly gaining notoriety beyond his hometown of Ville de Québec. Every week, he takes English lessons with my aunt Barb. They translate songs he likes, or that he’s going to cover in his live show.
Fred speaks very good conversational English, but is trying to perfect his pronunciation. Consonant-to-vowel elisions are particularly challenging. Sometimes, if he feels like the lyrics aren’t to his taste, he’ll use the opportunity to enlist my aunt’s help in changing them.
The night I met him, he was going over Adele’s “Someone Like You” and Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Simple Man,” both of which he planned to cover at a battle of the bands, held at a local pub on September 25th.
Fred said he received an accordion from his uncle when he was six years old…one of those little hexagonal squeeze boxes. He got his first guitar two years later. He taught himself to play both, and enjoyed it a lot. Then high school came along, and sports was cooler than music. It was only after graduating that he remembered how much he’d enjoyed playing music, and picked it up again.
My aunt tells it a little differently. She says Fred was very shy and retiring, as a child, until one day he got up in front of the church and started singing and playing his guitar. She said he was like a different kid, whenever he had an instrument in his hands.
Fred started a couple different bands in the past few years, but now he’s entirely remaking his musical image as a singer-songwriter. He’s strategic about it–he writes most of his songs in English, and checks his lyrics with my aunt to make sure that they sound correct.
He played the show accompanied only by his guitarist, Max–it was pretty much just a showcase for his smooth, hard-edged rock baritone. He sounded great, and looked great, too, alone in the grainy spotlight. He did “Simple Man” credit, and made something pretty special out of “Someone Like You.” I didn’t think I’d ever like that song again.
But Fred didn’t really have a chance. He left the stage to a smattering of applause from the packed house; the rival band was greeted by throaty cheers and applause before they’d even picked up their instruments. All at once, it made sense why 90% of the spectators in the bar looked like they ate at the same community college lunch table.
The second band had two guitarists, a drummer, and a frontman in a T-shirt with the sleeves torn off, who threw himself with smiling menace at the kids in the front. They, for their part, were untying their long hair, to headbang with greater panache. A few self-conscious attempts were made at moshing, though it didn’t really take off beyond a good-natured headlock, and some flirty pushing between the sexes.
But when the emcee came back on the stage and made known that the battle would be won through shouts, that’s when we saw how the deck had been stacked.
Incidentally, punk is really big in Québec right now. Fred would have had to be performing against, I don’t know, Jill Barber, for his studded leather bracelet and ripped jeans to identify him with the zeitgeist.
Nonetheless, Fred looked and sounded really good. And according to my cousin Matt, who has known him since they were kids, Fred isn’t really concerned with winning competitions or local acclaim. He just likes to perform live and see what sticks.
Also, the week before this show, he met with a record producer in Toronto.