——— Was bass your first instrument? Years back my brother had a guitar laying around the house that I would pick up and mess around on. I’d actually watch RHCP’s “Live at Slane Castle” on my computer and try to learn certain licks by ear and play along. Later that year I asked my parents if I could rent a bass, to which they replied “they’d think about it”. At Christmas there was a bass starter kit under the tree, and my mind was blown.
I can’t find 3! The first two I remember wanting to buy…but that my parents bought for me were vinyls: John Cougar Mellencamp (Hurt So Good), Joan Jet and the Blackhearts (I love Rock n roll) and on tape the first two I bought for myself were Michael Jackson (Thriller) and Men Without Hats (bought with my Brother) for the song Safety dance. Other tape (records) bought a little after that: Appetite for Destruction (Guns), Tesla, Bon Jovi, Ozzy, Def Leppard..
AND HOW DO YOU RANK THEM TODAY?
Classics! Really good songs still. I’m not the type of person who got “trapped” in the 80’s…but I have to admit that the quality of songs during that decade is phenomenal. We turned our backs to 80’s music in the late 90’s until recently. When we look at the top 40 from 1980 till 1989, we realize that a lot of those songs are still “up to date”. Especially the “New wave music” and the “Rock” music…but no so the Hair metal bands..
DID YOUR FASCINATION WITH MUSIC, LIKE SO MANY ARTISTS, BEGIN IN THE HOME WITH FAMILY?
Absolutely. MY father was an italian immigrant from Rome Italy. He came to Canada with a plethora of music styles as he was also a musician himself. The Beatles, Elvis, Southern American music, Italian classics etc, played continuously on our turn table but also “Live”. Parties at my house were legendary…My father was one of the best “entertainer” I’ve ever seen…
As he (my dad) fell in love with the french Canadian culture (The Quebec Culture), he also learned a lot of folk music form here. As you can imagine, mixing the Beatles, italian classics and french traditional folk would rock any party, in any country!
Those were fine days…. I started playing with him at the age of 12-13. Started with some back vocals and easy rythms. Things moved forward pretty fast though, as I was really passionate about it. By the age of 14-15, I was playing at parties (with my buddies trying to impress young girls!), camping trips etc…at the age of 17-18, I played my first “bar gig”
My father passed in 2002… We played hundreds of times together at our house or at relatives for Christmas, Easter, New Years, name it. Since he passed, I’ve never played a single note at a home party again. It was his kingdom…he did it so well.
WHEN DID YOU START ACTUALLY WRITING SONGS AND CAN YOU DESCRIBE THE WRITING PROCESS FOR YOU?
My first melodies (with bad lyrics) were written between the age of 15 and 18. Although I do not consider them as “songs”. My first real song was written in College at the age of 19. The song is called “Unexpected”. This song followed me for quite some time since it was kept on my first english album in 1999. It was written after a young hockey player, Travis Roy, at Boston University (I was also a player at UMass, Lowell), became quadriplegic during a hockey game. This accident really moved me.
After that song, it took me a few years to write again. As for song-writing itself, it always has something to do with emotions as far as I’m concerned… Self doubt, happiness, love, death, anxiety, substance abuse etc… are all topics I have sang about in my career.
It usually starts with what some of us here call “yaourt”. A melody with no real lyrics… It can, or almost sounds like real words but they aren’t. They are just there to guide you to an emotion that will end up leading you to real words. Once the melody starts to take form, then real words come naturally….
I wrote strictly with the acoustic guitar for 10 years… The first song I’ve ever written on the piano is a song about my dad called “Un monde sans mon père”. ( A world without my dad).
Today, I’d say that 60% of the songs I write begin with the piano, the other 40 is with the guitar. Same deal….Most of the time, melody, then lyrics. I have also done the opposite (lyrics first) since I write for others quite often. I love it…. Completely different dynamics, but challenging.
Writing is a full time job for me…and although I do it more with my “head” then with my “soul” lately, there is always a way to put “heart” and honesty into it… Obviously, i’ts different when the writing is for my own material….then soul comes first.
IF YOU WERE TO HAND A DISC TO MR. BIG IN AN ELEVATOR LIKE IN THE MOVIES WITH ONE TRACK OF YOURS ON IT, WHAT WOULD IT BE?
It’s very difficult to answer…I’ll say: “The Choice Is Yours“. It’s a song I have not yet released…. but:the track pretty much sums up everything that I am as a human being, an artist, a singer song writer.
Very good… the most important show I’ve done in France was in a 13th century Castle in the French Alpes… What was really for about that experience is that 16 of my faithful fans from Canada made the trip to Europe with me ! They followed me on tour for 10 days and on the 10th day, we played a sold out concert in the Tallard Castle. On top of the 16 that made the trip, about another 15 french Canadian fans joined us on the last day to attend the Castle concert….. One word : Magical!
IT’S BEEN A FEW YEARS NOW SINCE YOUR LAST FULL LENGTH RELEASE, L’OPNION DES AUTRES, ANY PLANS FOR A NEW DISC?
The french canadian market (95% in the Province of Quebec) is pretty Small…..only 6 million people. In order to have a great quality of life, one has to find multiple ways to make a living. As far as I’m concerned, in the last couple of years, I have found ways to position myself (and my studio), in great position. Lately, I have been writing for other artist that are much more « commercial » and « popular » then me ! Interesting copy rights come along with that. Also, I have been hired to write « thème songs and « music » for many TV shows. Some of then are « daly » shows. Interesting copy rights and publishing rights come along with that as well.
As for my own material, It’s been too long LOL. Textbook story : Since my last full length CD « L’opinion des autres », I have lost a little bit of momentum. I’m now on my own with no record label, no manager and no bullshit. My last record deal experience was brutal. I’m excited about doing things slowly and on my own.
WHAT DO YOU CONSIDER YOURSELF FIRST AND FOREMOST TODAY: A PERFORMER, A SONG-WRITER, A SINGER OR A PRODUCER?
Probably the most “unanswerable” question ever! But let’s be honest here… I ain’t “the producer”, but I’m pretty good at it. I’m not a “singer”. I’m a singer–song-writer that can sing…but I’m not “the singer”! I think I’m a “performer” and a “song writer”….that produces music and sings his heart and soul out.
CANADA’S OBVIOUSLY HAD SOME GREAT ARTISTS OVER THE YEARS: WHAT’S THE CLUB SCENE LIKE IN QUEBEC FOR NEW MUSIC THESE DAYS AND ANY ARTISTS GRABBING YOUR EAR?
The club scene is very healthy for new upcoming bands. But unfortunately, it’s hard to make a living playing “clubs” with original material. That being said, Montreal is probably the best “stepping stone” in all of North America for “indie music”. I’ve been an “Arcade fire” fan for years… So cool to see them do so well.
Patrick Watson, Malajube (french), Karkwa (french), Stars etc….There are also other “main stream” bands or singers that do really well, and although it ain’t my type of music, it’s fun to be able to appreciate other’s talent and success (Celine Dion for example)
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO A YOUNG ARTISTS RECORDING THEIR FIRST DISC?
Cliché stuff but so freakin true: Be yourself. Don’t let the “web”, “youtube”, “instant star’ bullshit syndrome get to you. IT DOES NOT MAKE YOU AN ARTIST AND IT WILL NOT GIVE YOU A CAREER OF ANY KIND. Write your own stuff cuz that’s how real careers are built. If you do not write your own stuff, then find the right songs for you.
Work. Dedicate yourself….Work…Never give up…. Cuz if this is really what you want to do, there will never be any other options anyways! You might as well work. Oh yeah…have fun along the way!
WHAT PITFALLS NEED AMERICAN BANDS BE AWARE OF WHEN VENTURING NORTH TO PLAY DATES IN CANADA (OR QUEBEC?)
No too many…. Be polite. Be open… Be respectful. Yes, a little cliché but…..Break the stereotype: Show us that you “understand” that although “America” is a great country, that you “ain’t” different then any of us or any body else for that matter. We love that especially in Quebec! We are a nation of our own…we speak French, we have a different culture, we have a different back ground, different traditions……Know a little bit about us (Canada or Quebec) before you head up here…it’ll show that you “care”. Do the same in Europe and anywhere else your music brings you! ~ Christiansbrocca.fr
It was a very long time ago (1965?) but I think the first song I played on drums was “Little Red Riding Hood”, by Sam The Sham and the Pharaohs.
DRUMMER JOKES ASIDE, IT SEEMS THE BEST ARTISTS (AND PRODUCERS FOR THAT MATTER) CAN PLAY SOME DRUMS, OR IN FACT BEGAN ON THE DRUMS: HOW DID UNDERSTANDING RHYTHM HELP YOU AS A SONGWRITER AND PRODUCER?
There’s this presumed orthodoxy that everything begins with piano … learn to play piano and the rest will follow. That’s why so many kids are forced to take piano lessons. If it were up to me, I’d say “start with drums and the rest will follow”. Rhythm is the most basic musical building block.
I took piano lessons like every other kid of my generation — except the ones who took accordion lessons! — but it’s drums that taught me how to play music with feeling. Even now, when I play guitar, I play like a drummer.
WHAT WAS THE ALBUM THAT GOT YOU HOOKED ON ROCK & ROLL AS A KID?
I wasn’t aware of albums when I was a kid. It was all about singles, 45 RPM vinyl disks. The first ones I bought were “She Loves You” by The Beatles and “Glad All Over” by The Dave Clark Five.
HOW DID YOU COME UP WITH THE STAGE NAME ‘RODNEY HIGGS’ WHEN YOU WERE IN PRISM AND DOES HE, AS AN ALTER-EGO OF SORTS, EVER PAY VISITS TO YOUR MIND SET?
I live part-time in London … I have an apartment in Kensington. I’ve always loved Sherlock Holmes, that whole Victorian-era thing. Rodney Higgs sounded like a character from a Sherlock Holmes story.
DID BEING FROM CANADA MAKE IT HARDER TO BREAK INTO THE MUSIC INDUSTRY AT LARGE OR DID YOU SEE IT AS AN ADVANTAGE?
I’ve always wondered if it made a difference. There were hundreds of bands in Los Angles, all of them within walking distance of the big label offices. Whether it was Devo from Akron or Nirvana from Seattle, I think there was some novelty attached to bands that were from somewhere other than LA. So yes, I think it helped to be from Vancouver.
IN YOUR PARTNERSHIP WITH BRYAN ADAMS, HOW DID YOU GUYS WORK ON SONGS TYPICALLY? DID THE APPROACH CHANGE AT ALL OVER THE YEARS OR DID YOU HAVE A FORMULA TOGETHER?
No formula, but certainly a democratic approach to writing songs. There’s no ego … the best idea wins, no matter who came up with it. We both write melody and we both write lyrics. We can bounce lyrics and melodies back and forth until the best idea becomes apparent. Sometimes I’ll play guitar, sometimes bass, sometimes piano. It depends on the song. Bryan usually plays guitar when we write, although he’s actual a very good piano player.
An interviewer once asked Lennon to divulge the secret of the Beatles’ success. Lennon replied, “We were a really good band!”. And they were. Listen to their recording of “Kansas City”, which is straight from their Hamburg set-list. That’s four guys in a studio, singing and playing at the same time. No ProTools or overdubs, just a really good band taking their Hamburg club show into a recording studio. That’s where they got good, playing eight hour sets at the Top Ten Club and the Kaiserkeller. There’s no substitute for that kind of apprenticeship.
HOW DO YOU RATE RINGO AND WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE OF HIS DRUM TRACKS IF YOU HAD TO PICK ONE?
Ringo is one of the best rock drummers, ever. Bonham may have been heavier, and Stewart Copeland may have had more finesse, but you won’t find a more tasteful drummer than Ringo. Plus, he basically invented the drum fill as we know it.
My favorite Ringo tracks include “Lovely Rita”, “Carry That Weight”, “Ticket To Ride”, “Rain”. For that matter, he played great on everything. Never the same feel twice.
DO YOU STILL PLAY ‘SONG DOCTOR’ AND DO YOU MAKE HOUSE CALLS?
I don’t like the “song doctor” label. It sounds like all I do is fix other people’s songs, or contribute the last 10% to fine-tune the song for radio. I might have done that a few times over the years, but 99% of the time I start from scratch, sitting in a room with Bryan Adams or Steven Tyler, blank page, no clue where things are headed, and somehow you come up with a song. That’s a great feeling. That’s what I love about my job … creating something from nothing. – JIM VALLANCE