If emotion were currency, Antoine Bédard’s compassion would have him drowning in wealth. But as things stand for the Vancouver-based Montreal native, wealth is the furthest thing from his mind.
“It all comes down to feelings,” Bédard says, describing his brilliant release, Going Places, to me over the phone from Quebec.
The voice behind the one-man band Montag, Bédard may be shy, almost introverted in interview, but his music lays bare emotions with the kind of eloquence rarely witnessed outside a Joni Mitchell record.
In 2005, at age 27, Bédard encountered the driving force behind his music — and his move to BC. “I fell in love with a boy and I moved to Vancouver for him,” he gushes. “It was life-changing, that’s for sure.
“The whole record was inspired by my relationship with my boyfriend,” he continues.
“The cheerfulness and the playfulness of the record come from this amazing relationship.”
“Best Boy Electric,” a boy-on-boy duet, narrates Bédard’s romance. “It was a refreshing experience to sing along with another guy!” he says.
The pop track’s theatrical arrangements, redolent of musicals he admires, capture his childlike joy and refusal to take things too seriously.
“It was the first time ever that I allowed myself to be silly,” he says. “I like laughing, and I didn’t want to fake it by being intimate and tortured and serious.”
Asked about other artists who do fake it, Bédard’s reluctance to judge might be mistaken for diplomacy — but there is clearly no politic behind it. “You have to be who you want to be,” he ingenuously confides.
For Bédard, to compose songs with an air of joy to them was a deliberate choice. “Real happiness is never represented anywhere. It’s taboo to be happy… you’re supposed to be miserable. There are serious things happening, I understand. But if you want your life to be happy, there’s nothing stopping you.”
“This record is about allowing yourself to be happy,” he continues. “People keep things inside too [often].”
Bédard’s writing comes from a more trusting, benevolent perspective. “I think people can find a lot of warmth and comfort in it, because that’s how I felt when I was recording it.”
Going Places sees Montag develop a sonic playground — a sequential mythology that allows its listeners to explore a planet that evolves and adapts with each listen. Like Tori Amos’ Boys for Pele or Kate Bush’s Never For Ever, the songs on Going Places can be, to some, frustratingly inaccessible.
“I see [the record] as a school exercise, where you can interpret it in your own way,” he says. “The meaning is up to the listener.
“People need something easy,” he continues. “They need something they can hold onto right away.” He compares popular music to fast food. The metaphor is a fairly obvious one: fried in fat and deeply forgettable, the Billboard Top 40 is something he passively avoids.
“People don’t have the patience for thoughtful, deeply layered music,” he notes.
Certainly, his compositions — intricately rendered and richly layered — require an actual attention span and invite the listener to travel the challenging, though never overwhelming, terrain of his sonic structures.
“The whole record is about travelling,” Bédard says. “Going Places is about trying to connect all my different worlds.”
Going Places takes its audience across the globe, following the path Bédard forged as he and his collaborators exchanged music through cyberspace and old-fashioned correspondence and built upon each other’s inspirations. Bédard emphasizes this as the literal aspect of the album’s title, and describes the music as a patchwork of different sounds, recorded separately, and assembled on his computer.
“It’s a very spontaneous process,” he says, adding that lots of improvisation found its way into the songs.
Perhaps even more moving than his writing, however, is his producing. Bédard believes that if he’d been signed under a major label, the intimacy of his work would have been diluted. That Montag is self-produced has strengthened him, he says.
A huge record deal would have been “tough” to handle, he says, although commercial success would have been a given.
“My record will never be a bestseller, and I’m okay with that,” he says. “I find the money where I can find it and I make a living out of it. I don’t feel I have to change my music or make compromises to sell more records; it’s never crossed my mind.
“I actually never imagine myself selling out,” he continues. “I don’t think I have the personality to do it. I don’t have the story, I’m not out there, I’m not outrageous. Even if I tried I wouldn’t sound commercial.”