Canadian, France based artist, guitarist and composer Eric Chenaux is one of my favorite musicians and he represents a certain type of freedom which is not so common for independent music. And it is no coincidence that Constellation Records, the label which most embodies this kind of concept, has released all his solo albums since 2006.
His work is characterized by very original poetics and the embracing verve of his emotions was given ample voice through a variety of form and “moods”. He has been a major figure of DIY and experimental music in Toronto throughout the 1990s and 2000s, progressing from local postpunk legends Phleg Camp and Lifelikeweeds, towards a highly distinctive technical and gestural mastery of amplified acoustic guitar, according to his biography.
He has released his first solo full-length called More Remote Than The Puma in 1999 and then the first album with Constellation Records in 2006, Dull Lights. Slowly Paradise is the latest album which was released in 2018. Check our talk with artist who details his roots, the beginnings, the collaboration with Ryan Driver and much more.
Let’s start from the current situation. How are you living these strange times and what are the main concerns as an artist?
I am not sure I am have much to add to the current conversation concerning the current situation. Not much different for me than for many others and that said, it is different for everyone, depending on innumerable factors. I spent the lion’s share of the confinement in the countryside of france (Correze) so it was different for me than for those up in Paris or in any other large city. I had access to outdoor space and was not really confined so to speak. I do not have many concerns as an artist that would differ from other’s concerns. It has of course put into question traveling in general, but I often have that question.
When did you start to play guitar? Considering your relationship with the instrument and your music, your different projects, what is your way to give new shape to the sound over the years?
I do not really remember when I started, perhaps around the age of 10? I do not have a precise memory. The music that I make emerges from the music I hear, so for the most part it has been shaped by those I play and played with, records I hear and the conversations around how we are hearing them. But I will try to be a little more generous here as I think your question is a good one. In 2007 ( I had to look that up) I was invited to perform at an experimental music festival in Kuala Lumpur and before my solo performance they screened Derek Bailey’s film Playing For Friends On 5th Street. I spent the duration of the screening wondering what I would have to add to the room after such wonderful music and about half way through the film I decided I would try to pay attention to anything and everything that I did not hear Derek doing and what occurred to me first was that he did not bend the strings. He hit them flat and was always in tune. So I decided that during my performance I would only bend the strings as much and as perversely as possible. My guitar playing changed substantially that night. So, to add to the first part of my response here, music can be shaped as much by what we don’t hear, or we are always hearing what we don’t hear and that is an implicit part of hearing, part of dancing. I am not sure there is a clear line between what we hear and what we don’t.
You started your career with bands as Phleg Camp and Lifelikeweeds. What are the most vivid memories of those years?
Most of my memories of that period of time are related to traveling through the USA, which we did a lot of. I am trying here, sitting at the kitchen table, trying to think of something resembling a story that I can recount and nothing is coming to me. I will go outside and smoke and see if anything materializes out there in the garden. Ok, something came to me. Phleg Camp were playing a concert in LA and we spent some days with my friend Tomas who later played in a band called Slug, and he also wrote for a hip hop magazine that may have been called URB, yes I just looked it up and indeed it is called URB. Tomas took us to a dance club that exclusively played, or at least that night, dancehall reggae and we danced all night. I believe that that was the first occasion where I realized how much I like to dance and since then dancing has continued to be one of my favourite ways of listening to music.
“More Remote Than The Puma” is your first album which was released in 1999. What pushed you to go solo and how was born that album? What was your main focus?
I started to play solo after Lifelikeweeds disbanded and I had no one to play with, and I was getting very interested in improvisation. I was studying guitar and composition with Lloyd Garber who had a huge impact on how I heard music. He introduced me to the music of Misha Mengelberg among other european improvisors. That record came out of that time. As a child I listened to the spanish guitar player Carlos Montoya and when I listen to that record now I hear a lot of that in it. It is the worst flamenco record of all time!
One of my favorite albums is “Warm Weather With Ryan Driver” which has also a wonderful artwork. How was born the fruitful collaboration with Ryan Driver?
The first time I played a duo improvisation with Ryan was in the very late 90’s at a club called The Cameron. And that concert hit me like a brick. He is one of my favourite musicians of all time. Surreal to the bone. We have a trio with Doug Tielli called The Draperies, another (with Doug) called The Reveries and a busking duo called The Guayaveras. And Ryan continues to play on my records. I love everything he does and listen to his music all the time. I can not reccommend anything he does enough.
Let’s talk about your 2018’s album “Slowly Paradise”. In my opinion, it is the most balanced album of your career; there is a kind of fluid fusion of your different music souls. Is it right or I am wrong?
Of course you are right. How could you not be? Though I am not sure what you mean by balanced but it sounds quite nice. With that record I started to collaborate on the lyrics with Ryan Driver. That is perhaps one of the most formidable ingredients of Slowly Paradise for me. From the outset of the compositional process I wanted to hear something lush, like a magnolia tree.
You are with Constellation Records since 2006. What does it mean to have a label like Constellation behind your works?
I am not sure that I would be playing the music I do if it were not for Constellation. They asked me to make my first solo song record (though it took years before I actually recorded solo) which created some forks in the road that I have followed. They paved and continue to keep that road in repair.
You are from Canada but based in Paris. I’m very interested to the connection between the places we live over the years, the territorial geography of our roots and the art. How do you feel these themes connect to your music and your way of thinking music? What are your favourite places which have inspired you the most?
I am glad you asked me this question, especially now, as Mariette and I have moved from Paris to a farmhouse in Correze, which is in south-central France, so place has recently been occupying my thoughts. Although sequential time is at odds with what I love about music, or with life in general, I will try some chronology ( and I apologize dearly for the dire autobiographical tone) here and see how that pans out.
1986 (suburbs of Toronto): I met Sean Dean and we started to play music that would become Phleg Camp. He is a couple of years older than I and exposed me to a lot of music that I had not heard as well as having the idea of starting a band, which had never really crossed my mind. I owe a great deal to him. I am not sure I would be a musician now if it were not for his generosity and inspiration.
1995 (Toronto) or something like that: I met Michelle McAdorey and played bass in her band Crash Vegas.
Again, it brought me back out to the world after a hermetic period. One night she played Archie Shepp’s Blasé, which floored me completely, and opened me up to the world of beautiful thornyness. The version of Sophisticated Lady on that record, sung by the majestic Jeanne Lee is still a song I listen to almost every week
1997 or something like that: here is a doozy! A wack of folks that would become dear friends and stain every corner of thoughts. I won’t list them all here. A couple of years later, with the composer Martin Arnold, we started Rat-drifting, an experimental music label releasing that was happening at that place and at that time, though I can’t say that the music was timely! The music of Toronto, or at least the music made by some folks in Toronto, is some the strangest and most beautiful music I have ever heard. Most of my music is an hommage to music from there, especially now that I am quite far away. . It is not a place in the in the singular sense. It is not a world, but opens up towards worlds. In 2010 or 11 I moved to Paris and brought those worlds with me and play to to those worlds in what one may wish to call An Aberrantly Nostalgic Way – a rogue attachment to a place or time that never existed. In this way my music is always out of time.
Perhaps we can say that place is out of time or untimely. I hear untimelinesses in all of the music I listen to. So, although I have not taken us up to the present, it seems the next question is now knocking at the door!
Ritual question. Have you seen or heard anything good recently?
Kelly Reichardt: First Cow, Martin Arnold (everything on his soundcloud page), Nastassja Martin: Croire aux Fauves, Elizabeth Grosz: Chaos, Territory, Art, Simone Forti: Handbook In Motion, Steve Paxton and Simone Forti in Conversation, Jyoti: Mama You Can Bet, Mike Cooper: Rayon Hula, Ryan Driver: New Twigs, DD Dorvilliers: Only One Of Many & Choreography, a Prologue for the Apocalypse of Understanding, Get Ready!, Keith Hudson: Playing It Cool, Lojii: lo&behold, Helen Merrill: The Complete Helen Merrill on Mercury, Arlt: Soleil Enculé, Jurg Frey: String Quartet #3, Eucalyptus: Kick It Til You Flip It, The Brodie West Quintet: Clips, The Titillators: Your Kind Of Music, Thorpe: Love & Weather.