Musiciens Je Veux Frencher | Violett Pi
@ Commission des Liquers for POP Montreal 9/20/12
We are standing next to a urinal. Karl tells me about his shirt. “I prefer ugly things because I know exactly why they’re ugly, whereas beautiful things I can’t always explain why I find them beautiful…” He looks down at his t-shirt. It reads, “TITS. You know when they’re real.”
I first saw Karl perform on Boulevard St. Laurent back in August. It was an outdoor arts festival with lots of young mothers pushing baby carriages and swinging their Longchamps. They would press their fingers into their ears, startled, as they hurried past. I sat on the street curb and watched the social experiment unfold. I loved that he scared yuppies. I loved that he danced gracelessly, erratically, dressed in an orange jumpsuit.
“So, tell me about your dance moves.” My voice echoes in the tiled bathroom. “Er..uh…dance moves?” He looks at his manager, Shanti, who has been nominated as our photographer tonight. “Yeah, we can call that ‘dancing’ I guess…” she says.
After I’d seen him on Saint Laurent, I went back to my apartment and Googled the shit out of him. Karl Gagnon is the lead singer and songwriter of the three piece VioleTT Pi. Online I found some upsetting videos of serial killing skeletons, blindfolded sex scenes, and possible exorcisms.
“Is there a relationship between death and sex in your music?” I ask. His eyes are so bright and expressive. Yes, he says, it’s like a hamburger: “Death is like life’s bitterness, but when you put a little sweetness with it, you can wash anything down. Death and love, together it makes a fucking delicious Big Mac.” He’s obviously not taking me seriously.
Shanti steps in shyly, “Just a note of psychoanalysis: sex represents both life and death because when you make love, the union of two bodies results in the interpretive ‘death’ of the individual.”
We both blink at each other. “Exactly,” he says, “Really the link between love, sex, death, in my music or otherwise, c’est la vie—I’m less interested in people directly but rather the complicated relationships between us.”
He talks fast, stuttering, his eyes restless and darting, making stream of consciousness associations and tangential subject changes. I try to keep up, thankful for the voice recorder. I’m getting kind of faint with all the images of sex and death and corporal unity. He pauses, locking his ice blue eyes with mine, “Am I going too fast?” he asks. Beat. “Non, non,” I lie. Beat. Smirk. “You could go faster.” All three of us swallow a that’s-what-she-said. He launches off again, this time talking about charisma and how it transforms physical beauty.
We’re exchanging glances about charisma and chemistry, when Shanti stops us. We feel the first band’s opening song tremble the floorboards. “You guys are going to have to kiss, like, now.” She has to go photograph downstairs. I layer on extra lipstick to be sure it will smear. He prefers the ugly, right? Shanti leans in, “Ok. Ready,” she muffles, her eye pressed against the viewfinder. Karl slides his arms around my waist; I pull him closer. I feel the cold metal of his septum ring against my upper lip. We hear the shutter click wildly. “Mmmm” he breathes out. I blink my eyes open again. He smiles wide. Shanti looks down at her screen and then back up at us. “Guys, it looks too romantic.” I look over Karl’s shoulder at the dripping toilet. The absurdity of this scene is barely believable.
“Ok, so this one has to be trashier.”
“Right. Trash. Got it.”
“We could wrap ourselves in toilet paper-”
“Yes!” He grabs a giant wheel off the back of the toilet.
“Or, we need wildly lapping tongues-”
“Yeah, like lick the side of my face-”
This side? Err.. that side? Um… Neither of us really knew how to navigate it. A trashy tongue wrestle usually happens more organically—ahem, drunkenly—often the result of missing someone’s mouth. Actually choreographing one took a lot more courage than I expected. Pioneering a new genre of gonzo journalism is not recommended for the weak stomached. We’re giggling uncontrollably. Karl takes both of my cheeks in his hands. I cinch my eyes closed. He runs his tongue along the top of my palate. The shutter clicks rapidly.
Shanti runs off immediately to photograph the opening band. That leaves us, dazed and tongue tied , standing at the bathroom sink. We’re wiping red lipstick off our faces, glancing at each other out of the corner of our eyes. I kind of want to have another go. But now that the journalistic context had dissolved, I can’t work up the courage. I look at myself hard in the mirror. You just rubbed his grizzly beard all over your face—with his band manager paparazzing you—in a toilet stall. And somehow post-photo, you start feeling shy? What is this column doing to you? I hand Karl a wad of tissue and we both exit the bathroom, snickering like school children. We stop short, faced with an audience of crew members and musicians drinking beers on the sofas outside. Their heads all look up at us in chorus. Mélanie Boulay smirks, “You guys have fun in there?”
“Just doing a quick interview,” Karl says, ducking toward the couch.
“An interview…” they elbow each other. The scrutiny on all their faces is menacing. I get the head-to-toe eye check from everyone in the room. If I’m not careful, I’m really going to get a reputation around here. I consider for a moment whether or not that’s a bad thing. This must be what it feels like to be a slutty high school student. It’s kind of thrilling.
We sit down on the couches as the rest of the band members filter downstairs or over to the bar. Emboldened, I cross my legs and target the more personal questions. If someone just ran their tongue along the roof of your mouth, does that give you clearance to ask about their sex life? I’m going with yes. Fetishes? When she keeps her shoes on. Stilettos? Converse. Little black dress? Gym shorts. He says, “I don’t understand taboos. Sex and death, they’re like politics or money at the dinner table. It doesn’t make any sense why sex is such a taboo—we all know everyone’s doing it.”
With Karl, I love that you can never predict what’s coming next. And I’m fairly certain he doesn’t know what’s coming next either. “People can come watch the show multiple times and it will never be the same. I let out whatever I’m feeling at the moment.” On stage he oscillated between a chirpy, operatic head voice, and a throaty screamo. He batted his eyelashes, singing in falsetto. He roared, clawing manically toward the audience, neck veins bulging. You could see deep into his mouth as he sang; he took heavy gasping breaths between lines. He finished the chorus and spat.
“Sometimes when I get on stage I’m funny. Sometimes I’m sloppy. Sometimes I’m just fucking mean. Or if I really want to make love, I’ll be super sensual. Music acts as a kind of intermediary between me and my emotions…” So then what was he feeling right now? Babbling into the microphone, he leaned his head back, revealing only the whites of his eyes under his fluttering eyelids. As the song escalated, the front row balked, folding their raincoats tightly against their bodies, backing away from the stage. He swung the mic stand wildly, skipping back and forth. His madness was gleeful and terrifying. I couldn’t take my eyes off him. I was sweating through my pearl-buttoned cardigan. I was gripping my waist with one hand, and pressing my palm against my solar plexus with the other. He fell to his knees, wailing into the mic, flailing around the front of the stage. My fingers inched up around the base of my neck. The people around me stopped dancing, pressing closer to each other. The music seemed to incite some kind of internal frenzy in him. It frightened me. And I liked it. His volatility made everyone uncomfortable. He tore the chords from one of the monitors and launched it across the stage and into the wings. There was gasping and hollering, but no cheers.
I left the venue jumbled and riled. I felt like I needed a post-coital hug or something. But there was no time. It was the first night of Pop Montreal, and I had to leave for the next concert. I looked back quickly as he stomped off the stage. His silver septum ring glinted under the stage lights. I buttoned my coat, smiling smugly, remembering how cool it felt against my lips.
Lead photo by Akim Gagnon; following photos by Shanti Loiselle.