Five Questions With David Usher
David Usher is a creative tour de force. As the front man of the internationally acclaimed rock band Moist, and as a solo artist, David has sold more than 1.4 million albums, won countless awards—including five Junos—and performed at sold-out venues around the world. Believing that creativity and creative success is a learnable skill that anyone can master, his unique and dynamic presentations employ music and video to show audiences the steps they can take to stimulate the creative process at home and at work. David has just released his newest album, Let It Play, and FYI Music News caught up with him to talk about the work:
After 11 albums, David Usher wanted to try something different. Although best known by many as lead vocalist for CanRockers Moist, after branching out as a solo artist in 1998, Usher has dabbled in folk and pop, along with singing in the multiple languages he is able to speak.
The longtime Montreal resident has fully embraced Francophone culture, but on his latest album, Let It Play, Usher had the idea of combining Canada’s official languages in a unique manner. The album’s 11 tracks are based on original songs by Francophone artists, but with lyrics presented in either straight English translations or, in some cases, inspiring entirely new lyrics.
Knowing full well the sensitivity needed to pull off such as project, Usher assembled a trusted group of collaborators, including Genevieve Borne, Marie-Mai, Guillaume Doiron, co-producers Fred St-Gelais and Luc Tellier, and band mates Francis Fillion and Louis Lalancette. Often he used the original recordings as backing tracks, leading to more complications than Usher was expecting in terms of rights and licensing, and once all of the legalities were sorted out, he opted to forgo any further wrangling with a potential label and release Let It Play on his own label, Evil Empire.
The album is another example of Usher’s work in trying to build bridges between artists and other members of the creative sector through his Human Impact Lab at Concordia University, as well as through his book, Let The Elephants Run.
There were obvious challenges in making Let It Play, as explained well in the press release, but was there a tipping point when you knew you had to see it through?
The actual songwriting and recording was the easy part. I loved the original songs, so I already had a melody and lyric cadence to work with. Once I keyed into the theme and then a new direction, the songs wrote themselves. It was pretty amazing for me to be able to just focus on lyrics. I tend to be fast in the recording studio; I like to capture a feeling and then move on. Usually it’s a pass to get the mood and sense of range and then a few passes of the song itself. Because I have such great trust in my collaborators, Fred and Luc, it makes the creative process much easier.
I imagine your audience is no longer just Moist fans. What’s been the reaction to this record been so far?
So far the reaction has been really great. The most important thing to me was the original artists’ reactions to my versions of their songs. They gave me the permission to mess with their art and I didn’t want to fuck up that trust. Once I had their blessing, it gave me the freedom to let go of the rest.
It seems like you’re always trying new things. What has been the biggest change in your life over the past year?
Launching the Human Impact Lab at Concordia University has been the biggest challenge. Now that we have everything up and running, we have some great projects and partners, so it’s getting easier.
Do you feel as if being able to sing in different languages has been a benefit to your career, and would you encourage other artists to try it?
Yes, for sure. I’m always looking for new challenges. I like to feel like I’m doing something that is out of my comfort zone, and singing in new languages is always a challenge.
What are some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned as you’ve built your career, and what advice would you give?
Every project is an experiment. We never know how things are going to turn out. But in music everything starts—and ends—with the song. It is the basis of everything. Focus on songs first, and once you have that then the rest is possible.