Jonathan Personne

Photo by Dominic Berthiaume

Jonathan Personne steps out from the woods with his third album

We spoke with the Corridor singer and solo artist about his new, self-titled LP, launching with a POP Montreal show later this month.

His stage name might translate to “no one,” but don’t get it twisted: Jonathan Robert is definitely someone.

Not only is he the frontman of local indie rockers/Sub Pop signees Corridor, Robert is also known by the moniker Jonathan Personne as a solo artist. His self-titled third album — sixth in total including Corridor’s albums — was released by Bonsound on Aug. 26, having released his previous albums on the now-defunct Michel Records. 

“I didn’t want to get too overwhelmed before the release, so I just took an easy summer,” he says. “I used to do everything: being all over the place, doing the music videos, waiting last minute for stuff. It kills me every time. I let someone do the next music video for me. It’s new for me, letting things go.”

Robert spent two months writing the songs at a cottage he and two friends had bought a couple years back near the Laurentians, where he’d also spent most of the pandemic’s onset. Making them with only his vocals and an acoustic guitar while surrounded by nature and no outside noise, he’d then spend about two or three weeks in the studio.

Composing the songs was done quickly with just his vocals and an acoustic guitar, while three days were spent afterward finishing the songs with other musicians before spending several weeks in the studio. Meanwhile, the mixing process with local veteran producer Emmanuel Éthier — followed by the birth of Robert’s child in between — took longer to get through.

“We had four albums at the same time, and I released my last album at the end of 2020,” Robert continues. “There was no rush. To release two albums in the same year would’ve been for nothing. We were still at the height of the pandemic back then, so I knew I could wait a little.”

Despite the circumstances behind its creation, Robert stresses that this is not a pandemic album. In other words, don’t expect his sophomore LP to be his answer to Taylor Swift’s Folklore. It’s also an album that one of Robert’s press releases describes as being “more polished and less lo-fi” than previous releases.

What motivated this? The almighty dollar — or at least, the kind you can get through grants, which Robert received prior to the album’s creation, allowing him to make the album in a proper studio.

“At the beginning, I liked the lo-fi approach, but I didn’t love it — either with Corridor at the beginning, or even with the first two Jonathan Personne albums,” he says. “The first [Jonathan Personne] album [2019’s Histoire naturelle], we did that with no money at all. We recorded it ourselves with a Tascam machine. It’s just what we had.

“There was no intention with that. We were just making something on the side. There were more and more eyes turned on the project since the second album, so I took the opportunity to make something bigger. I think it’s the logical succession of the second Jonathan Personne album.”

Across eight tracks, we’re treated to just about the full range of Robert’s musical oeuvre. On some, you hear twangy, distorted guitars (“Deux yeux au fond d’une pièce noire”), or bluesy, Tom Petty/Neil Young-ish backdrops (“Le fou dans l’arbre”). 

On others, such as “À présent” or “Après tout,” there are lush, heavily layered, acoustic guitar and string-driven ‘60s arrangements that evoke the Beach Boys, the Mamas and the Papas, Scott Walker, the Velvet Underground (whose influence can be heard on “Un homme sans visage” and “Gold Rush”) and Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound. Robert says this approach was intentional, while also trying to give it a more present-day flair.

“We tried to emulate [the ‘60s Wall of Sound vibe] in some kind of way. 40 layers of guitars, strings, stuff like that — but not recorded at the same time,” he continues. 

“We were trying to do that, and at the same time, have a different, more modern approach about it. With the first song [“À présent”], we were thinking about the song ‘Lady (Hear Me Tonight)’ by Modjo. The sidechain electronic effects, we tried to mix that with a Scott Walker-type song.”

Also heavily inspired by other cinematic, orchestral-sounding ‘60s acts like the Carpenters and Lee Hazlewood, Robert admits that his forthcoming third album had a more “rock n’ roll approach” than he’d initially expected. Challenging as this may be, he invites opportunities to tackle each project differently than the last.

“It’s nice to have a perfect blueprint of what you want to make. But at the same time, the quick, fast and surprising approach is really fun, too,” he says. “With the previous album [2020’s Disparitions], I really thought about it for too long. I didn’t want the same thing to happen. Just let the shit happen. Let’s take some risks.”

One of the first things that jumps out with the self-titled third Jonathan Personne album is its artwork, designed by Robert himself. In it, two young children are seen in front of a bush, observing a pile of a dead person’s bones. This juxtaposition manages to be hilarious and depressing at the same time, even if the album itself has no specific theme and Robert couldn’t find a fitting title for it.

“I was kind of in a bubble, with the dark side right behind,” he says. “My girlfriend was suddenly pregnant. We were feeling good in a really bad moment. There’s a duality… Every song is composed like a story, or a fable, and always has some kind of a sad ending to it.”

The album also includes a heavy use of sampling (inspired by Oneohtrix Point Never), a skill he honed during the pandemic using Ableton. Conversely, one track, single “Rock n’ roll sur ton chemin,” dives into the pathetic-yet-endearing stubbornness of certain people nostalgic for long-gone historical eras —particularly those who’ve listened to the same tunes and frequented the same bars for 30 years.

“There’s beauty in being devoted to what makes them feel alive. At the same time, there’s a pathetic aspect to it,” he says. “The first example that comes to mind is boomers who think nothing has been made after Pink Floyd… There’s a certain generation who thinks music stopped after that.”

As he gears up to play his album release show on Sept. 28 at the Fairmount Theatre for POP Montreal, Robert admits he hasn’t practiced the songs since they were recorded — adding that his approach with performing those tunes could differ from gig to gig.

Regardless, Robert — who’ll be heading back to the studio with Corridor in November — is proud of how “powerful and big” the album feels, even though he tells us earlier in our chat that some songs’ arrangements were more cut down than usual. 

“You want to add some stuff, and sometimes after the mastering, it goes on Spotify and sounds really tiny,” he says. “But it doesn’t for this album. I’m kind of surprised, because I was often deceived by the mastering. I’m happy about it.” ■

For more about Jonathan Personne, please visit his Bandcamp page.

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